Sunday, September 30, 2007
The evening that ended up inspiring and reviving Peter [Zaremba] came in inauspicious circumstances. The Fleshtones had driven up from New York to play a weekend in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, both decent performances in front of encouraging crowds. The next day, in a fiercely driving rain, they departed Monkton, New Brunswick for Quebec City. “The rain turned into ice,” Peter remembers. “Ice, ice, ice. And little by little that became snow. By the time we were heading across into Quebec, we were in the first really bad blizzard of the year. Somehow, we pushed through.” Quebec City was a good, reliable place for the Fleshtones to play, a region where they had fans who dependably turned out for shows. The venue where they were playing was one of their favorites, a building dating to the eighteenth century that rubbed up against the old walls and cannons of the city.
But the snow accumulation was so heavy that everyone assumed the snow would be canceled. “We showed up and played the show to, maybe, seven people. We had to. It was semi-heartbreaking. We had really battled through to get there, at times literally plowing through snow on the road, maniacs driving through this storm on roads that were solid ice. We made it to the show, and only a few friends showed up.” Some kids informed the guys that the Fleshtones were playing at the wrong venue (“They always say that,” laments Peter) and invited them to soothe their spirits at a friend’s video club down the block. “We hung out there and the guy gave us whatever we wanted to drink. People were smoking hash oil, and normally I would not do that, but that night I felt, What the hell. So I’m smoking and drinking and watching video clips.”
In the looped and blurry shenanigans of a night marked by sinking valor and rising sorrows, somebody at some point slid Elvis Presley’s 1968 television “Comeback Special” into the VCR. “I hadn’t watched that since the seventies,” Peter says. With increasing attention, Peter and the small crowd watched the show, and by the end were glued to the set. “What struck me that night was a real revelation: Elvis was constantly able to transmit the rhythm of whatever song he was singing to the viewer. Always! He was a conduit. He was genius! He could do it. You didn’t have to struggle to understand where the beat was because you were watching it and he was giving it to you, and he just wouldn’t stop! It was amazing. He was really transmitting the 2 and the 4 to an audience which has trouble finding the 2 and the 4. It was infectious and wonderful.”
Watching thirty-two-year-old Elvis find and translate the beat – watching Elvis find himself again after the calcified years in Hollywood singing appalling soundtrack songs – was nothing short of inspirational to Peter. Like so many before him, Peter had somehow forgotten about Elvis, had taken him and his mythic status for granted. Peter watched Elvis bathed in the red, mock-heroic E-L-V-I-S lights swing into a gospel number that built and built and built, Elvis trying to top himself with each sweaty measure, reaching an ecstatic point and then leaping on top of it, offering his hand to the crowd and leaping back into the thrill of performing. “Sometimes I find and transmit the beat, sometimes I don’t, but watching Elvis made me feel so much better,” Peter says passionately. “I had an epiphany that night. It gave me a renewed desire to sing and to be onstage. I’ve gotta do more, I’ve gotta help people, I’ve gotta be onstage. That night I’d been asking myself, Why do this? It’s so disappointing and I’m making a fool of myself. It’s hard not making any money and going home broke.
“During the drive back the next day, everyone was really down. I was very upbeat. Guys, I said, We watched Elvis!
“I was reenergized.”
Peter had needed a visceral reminder of Why and How, and he got it, cutting through his own blues on a frigid night hundreds of miles away from home. The evening was buried deep in a glum era that was fated to end.
The simple but profound sight of Elvis Presley rediscovering the joy that had made music a spiritual and sexual force not only invigorated and fortified Peter, it helped to smooth out the contradictions that had been building inside of him. “Let contradictions prevail!” sang Walt Whitman. “Let one thing contradict another!” The bardic Whitman recognized that what makes us complex and interesting as individuals are our contradictions, the mess of humanity worth singing about.
Self-centered and self-effacing. Controlling and reckless. Silly and smart. Bigheaded and humble. Difficult and generous. Intolerant and curious. Peter Michael Zaremba had amassed a hoard of tensions that motivated him as a man, a songwriter, and a performer. As the Fleshtones approached their twentieth anniversary, those tensions would continue to pull Peter and the band in interesting, sometimes maddening, directions. The Fleshtones were embarking on an era wherein they would make music that thrilled them, satisfied them, and energized them, but that threatened to make their already obscure status vanish entirely.
Friday, September 28, 2007
Here's a brief excerpt from Chapter 3 - "Let's Talk in French".
Céline's ineluctable Quebeckitude remains a block for anglo audiences abroad. When British writer A.A. Gill, in a 2003 anti-Vegas diatribe in Vanity Fair, attacked her "ungodly French-Canadian glottal accent," it was remarkable less for its rudeness than for being unusually well informed. To most of the English world, Céline's Frenchness remains a vague thing, almost an affectation; that it represents a whole culture groping its way to self-determination doesn't translate. She is condemned to a kind of pidgin otherness that gains her little in empathy or exotic allure because few know how to place it within standard North American racial and ethnic matrices. If she fails most non-fans' authenticity tests, the trouble may be not only her showbiz upbringing but that her personal touchstones are off the map. Her commercialism does not get the kind of pass given a rapper who fixates on "gettin' paid" or a country singer who thanks God for the hits that rescued her from a Southern shack. Since Quebec is a null set in the popular imagination, Céline is judged by middle-class standards in which "sellout" is always a handy stick to slap down the overreaching.
When Céline talks in the first-person plural – we achieved this, we hoped for that, we decided to make this record – she is speaking of herself, René, her producers, her Charlemagne clan and all of what's called "Team Céline," but symbolically it includes Quebec's extended family. Where she comes from, collectivity counts, and her gains are the gains of a people. It is a recognizable ethic in an African-American star, but in Céline it doesn't read: She represents for an opaque referent, rendering her meaning illegible.
Which brings us back to the September 2005 Larry King interview. There's no denying its spectacle. From the first, Céline, who had just given a million dollars to the New Orleans relief effort, was in tears. She gasped over explaining the disaster to her son René Charles. She demanded to know why it was hard to send helicopters to rescue New Orleanians from rooftops when "it's so easy to send planes in another country to kill everyone in a second!" The centrepiece was her paean to the joy of looting: "Oh, they're stealing 20 pair of jeans or they're stealing television sets. Who cares? They're not going to go too far with it! ... Some of the people who do that, they're so poor they've never touched anything in their life. Let them touch those things for once!"
Then Larry King, with jawdropping crassness, asked if she had a song for the occasion. Céline did not break into Motorhead's "Eat the Rich." She wiped her eyes and sang "A Prayer," which she'd recorded with blind Italian opera guy Andrea Bocelli, purring piously of "a place where we'll be safe."
"Let them touch those things" instantly joined the annals of unhinged celebrity utterance; the hymn was consigned to plastic showbiz sanctimony. But every second was quintessentially québécois: the pro-American but anti-Washington stance, the class consciousness (what other white pop star would not only excuse but advocate poor blacks ransacking retail stores?) and the intense identification with New Orleans, which Quebec sees as both a cautionary tale of language loss and a distant-cousin outpost of joie de vivre in stiff-necked America. She shrugged off the million bucks as the least a happy entrepreneur could do, and sang when called upon like the dutiful national daughter ever ready to put her gifts into service.
Because most viewers couldn't see the link between the nègres blancs of Quebec and the creole blacks of New Orleans, Céline's state seemed out of all proportion. But in that light it was as culturally sound as rapper Kanye West's televised outburst the next week that "George Bush doesn't care about black people."
Thursday, September 27, 2007
you: wedged by the door; me: bearded & reading - m4w - 28
Reply to: email@example.com
Date: 2007-09-22, 1:10AM EDT
me: bearded, blazered, podded, reading "noise/music," & too frozen to really talk before you disappeared into the wilds of east williamsburg...
you: wedged in the corner by the door on the L-train when I got on at bedford, asked what i was reading just before you got off at graham.
Thanks for the tip-off to Wendy, who has never knowingly missed a connection in her life ;)
Tuesday, September 25, 2007
Here's an extract from the book:
Like Tigermilk, Sinister was a well-plotted record, created in quick succession over eight days in the studio with little fuss or discussion, just Murdoch's desires articulated and fulfilled. With Murdoch perhaps living out too literally his desire to have "the trumpet...be as important as the guitar, the cello...as important as the piano," he seems to have forgotten the guitar altogether. The record was improbably ambitious for an indie pop group at the time, and in retrospect having almost complete novices record a sophisticated chamber pop record on a shoestring budget was perhaps not giving these songs the framework they deserved. As Nicky Wire had observed of C86, "It wasn't a political thing. It was a poor thing." And in her 1997 Puncture piece, Jenny Toomey also noted that the Belles' "recurrent themes of aspiration, enthusiasm, and quiet persistence in economically depressed, disenfranchised, isolated Scotland might well be the 90s equivalent to punk rock."
This was part of Murdoch's early, stated desire to "draw in my audience, instead of bombasting them," as he wrote to Jeepster in a letter (reprinted in Just a Modern Rock Story) outlining his hopes for Tigermilk. "No regular rock venue is set up to deal with the subtlety of singing. Volumes are laughably loud...But in the intimacy of someone's bedroom, when they've just got the record home, there is no scope for any bullshit. To absolutely absorb somebody as they listen to the LP through on their mono Dansette is what I really want. Who wouldn't?"
This sadly antiquated dream could, in 1996, almost only come from an indie pop kid, someone raised on the joy of the 45, on sitting through music one song at a time and being forced to swap a record out in order to hear another one. That's a bit old-fashioned now, and it's a shame, as music has seemed to slip all too easily into the background of many kids' lives.
In the iPod era, we perhaps spend more time hearing music than at any time before but less time listening to it - it's almost always relegated to background/ambient noise, and typically something we do in isolation. Instead, music is increasingly a lifestyle accoutrement, a soundtrack to the other foregrounded things you're doing in your life rather than a central activity. (Among those other things are playing video games or watching DVDs, both arguably now more popular youth cult entertainment choices, and both of which inherently cannot be engaged with as a background activity.) The act of sitting and listening to a record and doing nothing else is sadly antiquated. The idea of doing that with someone else, and talking about music, is possibly even more rare. It seems rare that someone immerses himself in music - let alone allows himself to be drawn in by it, as Murdoch had hoped. Perhaps not surprisingly then, indie rock trends in the early iPod era have favored bombastic, platitude-shouting groups such as the Arcade Fire rather than more delicate, private obsessions.
The mp3 revolution - for all the good it's done as a flexible, democratizing means of hearing, sharing, and storing music - is almost inherently a "backgrounded" means of collecting sounds. Removing the need to own a tangible product in order to acquire music, the mp3 gives listeners no album art, no liner notes, no photos - nothing but the music itself. All investigation of a group, should one become curious, is left online, a process that opens up every lock and secret at once and encourages fans rather than artists to fill in those blanks, whether on blogs, amazon.com reviews, comments boxes, or wikipedia. Like the Sinister List was forced to do, listeners now quite often tell a musician's narrative.
Friday, September 21, 2007
Here's an extract, from chapter 3...
Like "One," "Until the End of the World" is also a conversation, this one between Jesus and Judas some time after the Crucifixion and Judas's suicide. Like the Inferno, "Until the End of the World" imagines Judas in hell. His circumstances and countenance, however, are quite different than Dante imagined, if no less tragic. Here, Judas is presented as something of a bon vivant, holding court in his little chamber of doom. He has all the affectations of what the philosopher Allan Bloom termed "debonair nihilism," a fashionable and stylish flirtation with oblivion that sees the world as an ironic joke and uses that as an excuse to live if anything goes. Nihilism is the belief that human existence has no objective truth, meaning, purpose, or value. In its "purest" form, it is usually associated with real violence and destruction of the physical, mental, and, ultimately, spiritual kind. Debonair nihilism is not the cold, dark, real nihilism of someone like Nietzsche, but a glib sort of indifference that seeks only fleeting pleasure as it slouches toward nothingness with a nod and a wink...Debonair nihilists are mere poseurs. "Give me oblivion," they proclaim, "but not right now."
"Until the End of the World" begins with the wail of the banshee and a muffled funeral cadence ushering the listener toward the portal of the Otherworld, the realm of the dead. As we move further down into the abyss we pick up speed, and the fuming riff of a panoramic guitar reveals the landscape of damnation. There we find Judas looking every inch the decadent sophisticate. He is all dressed up with no place to go, elegantly wasted on God-knows-what, and feigning a sort of sardonic surprise to the presence of Christ before him. Recalling the last time the two of them were together, Judas reminds Jesus what a cosmic party-pooper He was. Sure, Judas stole money from the group, and he may have even tried to slip Christ a mickey, but stuff like that happens between friends, right? Besides, Jesus had His own way of leading people on and getting them to do what He wanted anyway. And hadn't they once been as thick as thieves, as close as bride and groom?
Then Judas cuts to the chase, bringing up the moment he will think about for all eternity. That time in the garden, when he kissed Jesus? He was only playing around, having a bit of fun! Things just kind of got out of hand. It is a shame how it all went down after that, but really, what's the big deal? Was it the end of the world? No! Here is Christ before him, looking better than ever, and just think of all the good He was able to achieve because of Judas's little "mistake."
So what does Christ have to say? Up to this point he has been very quiet, content to allow Judas to speak his piece. The conversation has actually been more of a monologue. Then Judas begins to break down a bit, and we hear the still, small voice of Jesus gently repeating one word: "love." Had He come to tell Judas He still loves him? Or was He there to remind Judas how he had failed to keep the greatest of God's commandments, the one that says we are to love each other? Is He there to comfort and forgive Judas, or to pass everlasting judgment upon him?
Christ's words of love, whatever their intent at that moment, finally penetrate the glibness and cynicism of Judas's debonair nihilism. He makes his confession. He tells Jesus about the recurring nightmares he has been having, of how the sorrows he has tried to kill have only grown stronger, like resilient bacteria that mutate and become immune to antibiotics. Judas is infected, he knows that. The jig is up, the scoundrel has been found out. He is overcome with remorse and regret, but overjoyed at seeing his Master again. He reminds Jesus of the promise He once made, that He would be with His people always, even to the end of the world.
As the song moves towards its finale, things get a bit ambiguous. A hot, sharp guitar pierces the atmosphere like a lightning bolt. As the listener is ushered back through the gates and away from the realm of the damned, we hear chanting. Is it Jesus repeating His words of love or is it Judas moaning his eternal regret? It is impossible to say. What happens in hell stays in hell, and what happens between Jesus and Judas is a private matter. The song burns to an end and the door slams shut. A few faint traces of smoke rise and dissipate, and the echoes of the funeral drums trail off.
We have been to hell and back. Heavy stuff for a rock and roll song.
Tuesday, September 18, 2007
"I think our records will be very different from our stage shows...inevitably," Peter Jenner told a Canadian radio reporter a few weeks before Pink Floyd signed to EMI. He went on: "Firstly there's a three minute limitation, secondly you can't sort of walk around the kitchen humming to the Pink Floyd. I mean, if you had the sort of sound they're making in the clubs coming over the radio while you were doing the washing up, you'd probably scream! I suspect that our records are bound to have to be much more audio...they are written for a different situation. Listening to a gramophone record in your home or on the radio is very different from going into a club or into a theatre and watching a stage show. We think we can do both." Thirty five years later, Peter said: "A lot of their live gigs would be considered self-indulgent waffle if you went to hear them now: the most appalling self-indulgent waffle, unless you'd taken plenty of drugs. You know, a bit like dance music now!"
By 1967, the sounds you might hear on the radio while washing up were reaching new realms. Thanks to the Beatles and the Byrds, the mind-expanding influences of Ravi Shankar and John Coltrane permeated the mainstream within tight pop song structures. However, the album format was becoming the home for lengthening durations, moving towards a distinct new market. Love's Da Capo had the side-long 'Revelations'; there was 'East-West' by the Butterfield Blues Band; the Chambers Brothers scored a U.S. Top 20 hit with an edited version of their eleven minute invitation to psychedelicize your soul, 'Time Has Come Today'; even the Rolling Stones broke their normally concise limits with eleven minutes of 'Going Home' on Between the Buttons.
The six tracks on side one of Piper brought fresh, exciting textures, but the biggest surprise awaited listeners who didn't know Pink Floyd's live work over on side two: an extended blues jam is one thing; an organic free improvisation number is another entirely and Norman Smith was ready to let one be heard. Peter Jenner: "It was definitely the deal that - hey, here you can do 'Interstellar Overdrive', you can do what you like, you can do your weird shit. So 'Interstellar Overdrive' was the weird shit...and again, hats off to Norman for letting them do that."
More than any other track, 'Interstellar Overdrive' highlights the dichotomy of Pink Floyd. It was the anthem of the underground set at the UFO club; taken on the road, where crowds expected pop hits (and maybe knew only 'See Emily Play'), this jagged musical landscape certainly opened the minds of some audiences to new ideas, but for many others it was a confusing, disturbing catalyst for a hail of missiles directed at the band.
Peter Jenner remembers how Syd Barrett hit upon the central riff: "I tell the eternal story (and my recollection is probably a complete lie by now) but my feeling is that I said to Syd, 'Hey, there's this great song by Love I've just heard - it went like this...' I hummed it and because my singing was so spectacularly out of time, out of tune and all the rest of it, he said 'Is it like this?' and when he played it, it came out as a different song and that was 'Interstellar Overdrive'." The irony is that this skewed inspiration did not come from one of Arthur Lee's own songs: Jenner hummed Love's cover version of the Burt Bacharach / Hal David tune 'My Little Red Book', which first appeared in the movie soundtrack of What's New Pussycat? "Love were quite influential, we all liked Love," remembers Jenner. "Imagine singing that out of tune. It shifted pitch and got squashed!"
The downward progression that is 'Interstellar's opening theme has a beautiful simplicity to it. Even if (like myself) you're not happy changing chords on a guitar, you can play this: start at b - seven frets up on the e string - and descend, fret by fret. Like the most direct ideas, of course, the truly inspired part is that nobody thought of it before! This riff subsides into a five note bass figure which acts as a springboard to freeform "intuitive groove".
Several versions of 'Interstellar' are extant in addition to the finished album cut - far more than any other piece from Pink Floyd's early days. There are alternate mixes and edits of the EMI recording, live tapes and two earlier studio recordings. They chart the development of an innate understanding between four individuals and the best of them, by far, provides an interesting link to a key event in underground culture...
Monday, September 17, 2007
Sunday, September 16, 2007
Thursday, September 13, 2007
Continuum will have a little stand there (table number 70!), along with around about 100 other booksellers, publishers, authors, lit-mags, and more. So if you're at the Festival, do come and say hello to us. We'll have a whole bunch of 33 1/3s for sale, as well as a choice selection of some of our other books.
Authors taking part on the day include:
and many, many more. Glorious sunshine, a cool autumn breeze - it'll be wonderful!
Wednesday, September 12, 2007
Mike Fournier will be talking about the Minutemen on Rich Ladew's "End of Radio" show on WMUA out of Amherst, Mass. this Thursday (9/13) sometime between 8-10pm EST. You can stream it live!
Also from Mike: "My friends in Campaign for Real-Time are doing a month-long residency at Great Scott in Allston before they go to L.A. to record some more songs. The residency, titled "Making Mondays Tuesdays," features a bunch of bands, local wackos, and a certain jackass who's going to lecture the crowd on the role of the Black Panther Party in contemporary punk. Flyer is attached."
Sunday, September 09, 2007
A detailed chronicle of what is arguably the greatest live album of all time. Wolk shrewdly frames Brown's 1962 Apollo performance against the tense backdrop of the Cuban Missile Crisis - many in the audience feared they had less than 10 days to live.
The other books included in the feature are:
Room Full of Mirrors: A Biography of Jimi Hendrix, by Charles R. Cross
I, Tina, by Tina Turner with Kurt Loder
Divided Soul: The Life of Marvin Gaye, by David Ritz
ego trip's Book of Rap Lists, by Jenkins, Wilson, et al
Can't Stop, Won't Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation, by Jeff Chang
Sweet Soul Music: Rhythm and Blues and the Southern Dream of Freedom, by Peter Guralnick
Flyboy in the Buttermilk: Essays on Contemporary America, by Greg Tate
Thursday, September 06, 2007
Can silence be "noisy"? Why do punk bands downplay their musical abilities? What do 37 minutes of ceaseless feedback and squawking birds tell us about the human experience? Calling upon the work of noted cultural critics like Jean Baudrillard, Georges Bataille and Theodor Adorno, philosophy and visual culture professor Hegarty delves into these questions while tracing the history of "noise" (defined at different times as "intrusive, unwanted," "lacking skill, not being appropriate" and "a threatening emptiness") from the beginnings of 18th century concert hall music through avant-garde movements like musique concrete and free jazz to Japanese noise rocker Merzbow. Ironically, it is John Cage's notorious 4'33", in which an audience sits through four and a half minutes of "silence," that represents the beginning of noise music proper for Hegarty; the "music," made up entirely of incidental theater sounds (audience members coughing, the A/C's hum), represents perfectly the tension between the "desirable" sound (properly played musical notes) and undesirable "noise" that make up all noise music, from Satie to punk. Hegarty does an admirable job unpacking diverse genres of music, and his descriptions of the more bizarre pieces can be great fun to read ("clatters and reverbed chickeny sounds... come in over low throbs"). Though his style tends toward the academic (the "dialectic of Enlightenment" and Heidegger appear frequently), Hegarty's wit and knowledge make this an engaging read.
Also, it has a super-cool cover.
Wednesday, September 05, 2007
Here's the first paragraph of the review:
Hip Hop sociology makes me more nervous than a label head in front of a young Kris Parker. I’ve read enough longwinded academic diatribes on the place of 2Pac’s poetry within the black cultural discourse to know that most of the stuff is A) boring and B) written from Viacom’s perspective of “Hip Hop history”. The problem is that most writers with book deals would prefer to have their teeth pulled out rather than discuss the actual music on a rap record and as in all things Hip Hop, it’s the story that sells, not the music. This said, when I learned that the 33 and 1/3rd book on Tribe’s debut was going to be equal parts memoir and album analysis, I got ready for a bumpy ride. It’s to author Shawn Taylor’s credit that People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm works as both a look back at how A Tribe Called Quest changed Hip Hop as an art form and a culture as well as one individual’s coming of age story within that same cultural framework.
And you can read the whole thing right here.
Tuesday, September 04, 2007
The official launch celebration for Stephen Catanzarite's 33 1/3 on U2's “Achtung Baby” will be this coming Saturday, September 8 at 7:30 p.m. in the studio theater of the all-new Lincoln Park Performing Arts Center in Midland, PA. Joining Catanzarite will be Dan LeRoy, author of the 33 1/3 on the Beastie Boys' “Paul’s Boutique” for a reading and book signing. Catanzarite and LeRoy will then be hitting the road over the next few months on their “Words + Music” tour, visiting school students throughout Pennsylvania to discuss writing and popular music (and writing about popular music!). Updated info will be available at www.stephencatanzarite.blogspot.com.