The 200 Blows

Truth or Dare: Have You Ever … ?

Duck — it’s a blog meme! These doing-the-rounds toys propagate more than they’re read, so I’m making it easy to avoid; click on the MORE link if you’d like to see it, and if you’ve already rolled your eyes just thinking about it then move along, nothing here to see.

This game goes like this: what follows is a list of 200 things that one might or might not have done. The ones I’ve done are in boldface. Some are annotated a bit. And a couple are just none of your business, though all the responses are true. My total? 97 of 200 are yes.

Credit where blamed: I ran across The 200 Things first at Sheila A-Stray’s Redheaded Ramblings, and followed it back as far as an entry in Realization, where it might have started.

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Posted in General Musings |

Be Vewy Vewy Quiet

No answers here, CharlesAfter posting last week about Charles Ives’s The Unanswered Question, I find myself Jonesing to hear the piece. I’m at the office and my CD’s are resting quietly at home, as CD’s are wont to do. Nothing matches live spatial music concert hall performances of The Unanswered Question, in which the various instrumental voices are scattered around through the performance space in balconies and wings and such, making a call-and-response effect that can’t be caught on two-channel stereo. But still. I hanker.

Google brings me soon enough to the Smooth Channel in the listening room of American Mavericks, a wonderful radio series on modern music (hosted by Suzanne Vega). The Smooth Channel won’t cough up my Ives — I think it had just gone past in rotation — but there’s plenty of stuff that’s either invisibly ambient or done in the kind of twisty sonics that bleach cubicle walls whiter and make the computer clench its teeth. This is just fine for an afternoon in the middle of One Of Those Days At The Office™.

So I’m reading and typing along, not paying much attention to the music, when I notice that the speakers have gone silent and I’m typing without accompaniment. A quick click over to the playlist, and … yep. They’re playing 4’33″ by John Cage.

4’33″ is Cage’s “silent piece,” in which a pianist opens the piano and sits in front of it without playing. It’s a tremendous subversive thought experiment in some ways, and in others it’s a delightful lesson in listening; the piece famously shifts the focus of the performance from the notes set down by the composer to the layers and rhythms and natural flow of ambient noise we don’t usually hear, until someone does something as pointed as sitting in front of a piano and not playing it.

I’ve never actually seen 4’33″ (the piece runs precisely four minutes and thirty-three seconds, thus the title), and of course the funny thing is you really can’t just do it yourself at home; it’s as much about power structures and cultural dicta as it is about preordained sound. On the radio, it’s strange and ballsy and as foolish as it is strong.

I zap out emails to Pierre and to my friends Rob Schwimmer and Mark Stewart of Polygraph Lounge (and most recently of the Simon & Garfunkel band as well — some pop act, so I hear). Mark and Rob are brilliant musicians, and of a po-mo classical bent when they bend that way. Hilarity ensues.

Pierre: How was the sound quality, then?
Linus: Well, you know, it was an mp3 stream, so it sounded all compressed and brittle.

Rob: Was it up to tempo? Is there an extended play version?
Linus: Perish forbid. This was the radio edit…

Mark: So, if 4’33″ is performed in the forest and no one is there to hear it——does it make a sound?
Linus: I think you’d have to ask the forest…

Links:

Posted in Music Theory |

Show Tunes Redeem Themselves

I detest the concept of musicals, and especially loathe the kind of situation where apparently perfectly sane and hale individuals suddenly feel the urge to throw their arms into the air and blare thundering crescendos just because they haven’t done it for, oh, a good 10 minutes already.

But all is forgiven!

Posted in Music Theory |

Onward, Pussycat

I was never a huge fan — eh eh, he said “huge” — of Russ Meyer, though the man could name a movie with the best of ‘em. Whatever issues other people had with him, I didn’t share them. Mostly I just never quite got around to seeing his pictures. My tastes in femmes fatales don’t run to the buxom, so there was no, you know, pressure to get acquainted with the, um, body of work.

Meyer died over the weekend at the admirable age of 82, leaving a legend behind him but apparently not much else. In this our outlaw age, his CNN obituary closes with this fabulous line:

Meyer married three times. His studio said he left no survivors.

No prisoners either, presumably.

Yesterday the FCC announced that it will levy a fine of $550,000 against various CBS affiliates for the Janet Jackson Superbowl Breast Affair. Making Janet the proud owner of perhaps the costliest mammary in media history. For that kind of money you’d think at least we’d have had the pair of them, on the Jumbotron perhaps. With Russ Meyer directing.

Posted in General Musings |

A Geordie in Hoboken

First the good news:
- Boom Boom
- Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood
- San Franciscan Nights
- When I Was Young
- We Gotta Get Out Of This Place
- Hey Bo Diddley/Not Fade Away
- It’s My Life
- Little Queenie
- House Of The Rising Sun

Now the bad news:
At the Hoboken Art and Music Festival last Sunday afternoon, Eric Burdon fucked up every single one of them. Every single one. Now, lest you think that, maybe, this was just a matter of an aging singer having gone over the hill and being unable to reproduce faithfully the hits of yesteryear, let me add immediately that the two new songs, Once Upon A Time and Over the Border were good. Perhaps not splendid nor magnificent, but solid songs well done, that demonstrated if need be that Eric Burdon, without a doubt, still has it.

Why then that travesty of a “Tom Jones in Atlantic City” performance on all the classics? The weird pronunciation (“Cadellac” anyone?), the forced stutter (“aga-ga-ga-gain”, “n-n-n-n-n-night”), the microphone thrust again and again into the crowd for a sing-along, the plodding reggae beat on “Don’t let Me Be Misunderstood” and the plodding beat –period– on “Hey Bo Diddley“? Isn’t the Bo Diddley Beat part of Drumming 101 anymore? The rest of the band did leave the stage during the drum solo, though… Hmm…

Yet, so much was right. The magnificent bass lines were mostly well preserved, and the voice –even though it has lost some of its snarl– was mostly spot-on when not being wasted on gratuitous oddities. So, what did go wrong? I can only surmise that Eric Burdon is in fact utterly sick and tired of his old catalog and can’t stand the thought of having to go through yet another one of those “oldies nights,” since the new songs do sound good and sincere, while all the “hits” careen out of control and end up invariably wrecked on the wayside.

Most heartfelt shout from the audience: “More new stuff!” You don’t hear that at a Bruce Springsteen or a Rolling Stones show, do you?

And our thanks to the Fleshtones for not just going through the motions and giving us instead a rousing performance, worthy of the dimmest dive in Greenpoint, Brooklyn!

Posted in Music Theory |

Contemplation of a Serious Matter

In its six or so yearning minutes, Charles Ives‘s famous chamber composition The Unanswered Question takes you in hand and gives you a longing look and a nudge and a nod of gentle recognition. But that’s not all. In brief, sure strokes it also draws the surrounding days, and captures the enervated breath of seasons in which our questions might go unanswered.

With a bit of musical charcoal and a dab of gouache modulation Ives gives us a time that could be September: the summer sun machine clattering down low in the sky, soon to land, the pell-mell days grinding their gears on failing cogs. Autumn touches your face each time it comes, and lingers.

And I find myself wondering: What the hell happened to my Sloan t-shirt? I used to wear it all the time, and I haven’t seen it in ages. Unanswered, indeed.

Posted in General Musings |

Johnny Ramone 1948-2004

Kitty Kowalski just forwarded the news that Johnny Ramone has just died in his sleep at home in Los Angeles. He was 55 and had suffered from prostate cancer.

An era has truly ended.

Posted in Music Theory |

It’s All Weird

Sometimes, it gets really tiresome to hear people comment on how weird New York is and all that but, frankly, why is there an M14 bus that plays The Star Spangled Banner from its front-left wheel well when the door opens? Surely Bus Stop would have been more appropriate! (I had no idea it was written by Graham Gouldman, by the way. Google and learn!)

In other weird news, the NY Daily News reports that the Columbus Citizens Foundation is appalled at the movie Shark Tale:

The “bad guys” in the film have names like Don Lino, Luca, Giuseppe and Gino, and use Italian-American phrases like “capeesh,” “consigliere,” “maronne” and “agita” … DreamWorks has already bowed to some of the criticism, changing the name of one of the gangster sharks from Don Brizzi to Don Feinberg.

Will the real Don Feinberg get into the fray?

Posted in General Musings |

- 33 -

2002: September 11th is palpable after a year of grappling with the rage and sorrow pent up in downtown’s root-canal crater. The sky is bright and fine, but our inner dust cloud hasn’t lifted yet, and it feels like it never will.

I am in love, and I take the day off to meet Her in Union Square Park. She is small and brilliant, athletic, gifted and desperate, outgoing and disturbed. She wears brown corduroy bib overalls that make Her look fat in Her head. She is the most beautiful woman I have seen all year. She is 26 and claims 21 to cushion an acting career that will not happen.

We are often in Union Square; her shrink has offices nearby. A month ago we arranged to meet at the Starbucks on the park’s east edge, and we swarmed into each other’s arms, blissful, hungry. Strangers over coffee took paparazzi pictures as we clung together, eyes closed, devouring. Somewhere we must be hung on walls, frozen light in that long chemical moment.

Today on September 11th we miss Minority Report and see One Hour Photo instead. Her favorite flavor is not in stock at the Häagen Dazs, so we buy some chocolate and peanut butter ice cream confection from the market and She devours it on the street. She is tacky and sticky and briefly sweet. She belches, and holds up the empty pint container: “Serving size, one,” She says. Ice cream is everywhere. I want to lick her hands.

There is a kitten’s head tattooed on Her belly, low on the right side, just above Her pelvis. Later, grabbing dinner at Radio Perfecto before Marwood in the East Village, She swaggers at the table, holding up the overall bib with Her thumbs. “Want to see my Pussy?”

2003: This year September 11th is not a giddy day, nor a peaceful one. We don’t need to prove any more that our lives take us around the town — they do that naturally. If anything there’s a sense of dread about the approaching day. No one wants to commemorate it, but on the other hand, how can you not? I go to work. I pretend it is the 10th, the 12th.

At work I do not work. We are all on edge, there are tears barely hidden behind stiff faces. There’s a lot of nervous coffee and a lot of walking around and we’re all a bit too loud, a bit too shrill. A few attorneys were at the office early when the planes hit two years ago, and they remember the glass-walled buildings across the way juddering and rippling with the shock wave. They remember the sound. You can’t describe sound. You can only remember it, and say over and over again, “I remember it.”

I am writing a long post on The Velvet Rope about being in Brooklyn on September 11th, watching the heavy cloud of smoke across the river, and it’s like pulling a splinter of bone out of raw meat. I weep, ice broken inside and water flooding out. Our Pepper partner Seth is a World Trade Center survivor, and he calls from Brooklyn where he’s at The Waterfront Ale House, wanting company. I join him, and we drink.

2004: The clouds finally part early this summer, without fanfare and without notice. Last year you could look at any photo of New Yorkers and know in a moment whether it was taken Before 9/11 or After. No one After 9/11 smiled like they did Before; gay and carefree came with a shadow and a memory of the dead. The endless wet smell of concrete ash and underground fire lingered in our faces like stale smoke in the house after a party. Now at last we smile, when we smile, with all of the heart.

There’s a boat trip today, and I love my boat trips. The Good Ship Ventura leaves from North Cove, just west of Ground Zero. I turn on the radio, figuring a couple of hours for work and errands and then the usual mad dash to get there in the nick of time. On WNYC the World Trade Center memorial is in progress; the families are reading the names, the thousands of names, of the dead. I tune in late in the list — in R? is that where I join? — and an hour later my heart is broken, my cheeks are wet.

That night the columns of light shriek skyward. I hope God will see them.

Posted in General Musings |

You Don’t Know Jack

Introducing the Sound of Jack Grace - check him out… but you really should know Jack. Jack Grace is one of the fundaments of the New York country music Man-in-Black-and-Blues scene — and yes, there is country in Gotham. You’d be surprised. There’s plenty of it.

New York’s Urban Opry is lean mean underdog stuff, so don’t look for glitz and rhinestones and waily hanky-tonking of the “Achy Breaky Heart” variety. Expect wit and whiskey, rough edges and rough riders, gleeful denim and yoked shirts fine enough to make Joseph tremble. Expect hats. Impeccable, improbable hats. Expect charm, stubborn politesse, and, well, Grace. As in Jack. And remember, Jack Grace is not Johnny Cash. He just sounds like him, sometimes.

As I’ve noted elsewhere in Pepperland, the Jack Grace Band mailing list is a wealth of fun and head-scratching joy. From his “dogs” email sign-offs —

Dogs dreaming about a car made of meat (mmmmmmmmmm),
Jack Grace

– to the heights of everday cocktail anxiety and discovery, Jack’s occasional missives wander down the mailspool innocently, full of weird scenes from the fantasy factory.

Jack on Christmas Songs We’d Like to Hear:

1) Capt. Kirk’s “I’ll Have a Blue Christmas, Without Spock”
2) Mayor Bloomberg’s “All I Want For Christmas Is A Personality”
3) Saddam Hussein’s ” I (gulp) Won’t Be Home For Christmas”
4) Britney Spears’ “Hey I Wrote A Really Crappy Christmas Song”
5) George Bush’s “Even At Christmas, I Suck”

Jack on July 4th:

Burt Reynolds and I had one helluva fourth of July party over at Madonna’s place in the Hamptons (Madonna was away and Burt had the keys). We ordered fifty bushels of oysters, nine cases of steaks and whole buncha booze and just told the store to deliver it to the Madonna residence and to bill us later. We invited a few hundred close friends and a few people we hate but like to pick on and let the fireworks begin. Sly Stallone was the first to throw Britney in the pool (a trend that continued through the night), but once Don Rickles began making out with Connie Chung … we knew the party had truly begun. Maury Povich jumped on Rickles, Reynolds jumped on Povich, Chung jumped Reynolds and Britney … got thrown in the pool. I didn’t know how to break up the fight, it was quickly escalating into a battle, thank god Chuck Norris began lighting all the fireworks he had smuggled up from Mexico. Norris knows how to put on one helluva fireworks display, everyone was engrossed and all was well until the finale exploded on top of the house and set Britney’s hair aflame, I grabbed her and threw her in the pool, the house was another matter it didn’t burn down but it stank of smoke so we left Norris to clean it up and moved the party to Alec Baldwin’s. Burt immediately started viciously picking on Billy Baldwin, so Burt and I got thrown out and headed over to Billy Joel’s place for some Chinese food, we grabbed the keys to one of his boats, collected Rickles and boated over to Nipsey Russell’s place on Fire Island for a nightcap and a chance to sleep it off.

Jack on how it’s More Fun To:

1) eat cheese with Nipsey Russell at the Playboy mansion, than it is to watch Dick Cheney pretend to smile as if he has any morsel of humanity inside his rotted blown out dung for a soul.

2) drink Martinis with Burt Reynolds in the green room with Professor Plum than it is to have a car break down on the GW Bridge at rush hour with a 5 pound bag of cocaine in your trunk.

3) have sex than it is to have a goiter.

4) listen to Neil Young’s “On The Beach” (while on the beach) than it is to have to take an office job under a fluorescent lamp next to a really big Dave Matthews fan.

5) dance to Led Zeppelin’s “Dancing Days” than it is to dance to Donald Rumsfeld’s “The Eagle Will Soar”(or whatever the hell that song he penned is called).

Dogs inventing can openers,
Linus

Posted in General Musings |