Thursday, January 29, 2009

Halo of Flies - "Death of A Fly" (Scale 19A)

Halo of Flies Death of A Fly 7-inch cover

So what might "Death of a Fly" conjure in my mixed-up mind, so cluttered after the collection of 43 years of cranial junk?

Well, informed of the famed Funeral for a Fly long ago by a thrift store Robert Ripley paperback, I cannot help but think of the darkened ruins of a mausoleum built on Equiline Hill by the Roman poet Vergil. I think of a common housefly laid to rest 2000 years ago in a massive marble catacomb with paid mourners feigning grief by torchlight as their wily patron looks for one of the most twisted tax breaks ever. And I think of Vergil himself, as emcee and chief eulogist for his supposedly beloved pet that night, wearing a tight black t-shirt underneath his tunic, stepping to the mic and wailing on about the "DEATH OF A FLY!" before stepping back and letting Hazelmyer take one of his quāālude freight-train solos.

The A-side of the Halos' sixth 7" is some of the greatest scuzz-rock in this half-acre or hell's, and Vergil would know, too. Tom Hazelmyer said that he wanted to play like Scratch Acid, but all his fingers could do was play Wayne Kramer. Don't let that fool you; like their conceptual forebears The Sonics and The Stooges, Halo of Flies will reveal themselves as damned good musicians on those occasions when you dig past the glorious aural sludge.

Garage rock became garbage rock and ex-Marine Hazelmyer's thinly veiled contempt for most on this mortal coil became the fuel for not just a lo-fi band with all the right modpunknoise influences, but also an entire goddamned record label--though let it be said right here and right now that I sure as hell don't go in for that 300-copy limited edition bullshit.

Anyway . . .

There was once a man who disguised himself as a housefly
and went about the neighborhood depositing flyspecks.
Well, he has to do something hasn't he? said someone to someone else.
Of course, said someone else back to someone.
Then what's all the fuss? said someone to someone else.
Who's fussing? I'm just saying that if he doesn't get off the wall of
that building the police will have to shoot him off.
Oh that, of course, there's nothing so engaging as a dead fly.
I love dead flies, the way they remind me of individuals who have met their fate . . .

That's a more recent poet, Russell Edson, and the name of the poem is "The Death of a Fly," encountered 15 or so years ago when Cerveza was snarfing down the profoundly weird prose-poetry of Edson like cough syrup or something. I doubt Vergil would have approved, but I have an idea that Hazelmyer would, especially the part about "individuals who have met their fate."

Halo of Flies Music For Insect Minds Original CD cover

Halo of Flies - Music For Insect Minds - 04 Death Of A Fly.mp3

This file was removed March 13, 2009. If you're still way interested in coming up with a copy of this--and really can't figure out where you might get one--drop me an email and I'm sure I'll be able to figure something out for you.

File under: Garbage Rock

Monday, January 26, 2009

TV on the Radio - "Bomb Yourself" from the CD Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes

TV On the Radio Desparate Youth Blood Thirsty Babes CD coverIt's not altogether inappropriate that "Bomb Yourself" is a song at war with itself, a song whose gentle textural backbone is diametrically opposed to its subject matter, a song that soothes and terrifies both at once.

Almost as important as the notes and bolts to TV on the Radio's sound are the spaces in between. Sounds do indeed swirl on top of the pumping dubstep bass; guitars fuzzed out and detuned, the shaky voice of Kyp Malone, inhabiting the nether-octaves. Other guitars, scratchy, and nervously tapped.

But the space between them all is so large, you can hear the wind rushing through the gaps. "Bomb Yourself" is like a sonic sculpture--you think of one of those limestone hoodoos in the National Parks out west, opening themselves up from the inside, a monolith with a soundhole eroded by wind and by time.

In all my experience, the only band that ever sounded this open, this cool, and this spacious was Nice Strong Arm, but even they got a little more claustrophobic once they moved to New York. I'm going to argue that TV on the Radio are informed by their environment. But if so, the boundless windblown sound they manage to conjure even as they work amid the metropolis has got to be their greatest achievement.

Yet this gorgeous, spacious, minimalism they achieve is set off against lyrics that are dire and worrisome indeed. Allmusic says that "Bomb Yourself" is an "antiwar meditation," but I've looked hard for the last hour and I can't find it.

Oh, I'm sure TVotR think war is bad, and I'm sure they're the good guys, but as you grab the words away from the otherworldy harmonies, separate them from the spacy swirl of electronics, all you find is a hint of apocalypse.

Not like the apocalypse you might find in a Metallica song, brought on by Chthulhu or some scimitar-clutching warrior. No, keeping in mind that TV On the Radio were formed in the short aftermath of 9/11, the apocalypse they touch upon is the same one we all worry about, the kinds that New York and Bali and Madrid have seen a share of.

As Dan Aykroyd might say, it's real wrath-of-God type stuff:

Your final fantasy
For your final days
Oh baby it's the infancy
No fucking around, the beginning of the end times is what that sounds like to me.

TVotR aren't even necessarily taking sides in this final dark fantasy. When they tell us that
TV dinner
has overfed your fears
they're certainly not talking about the mujahdeen. It's about us, how we've abridged our own liberties, how we've burned ourselves fighting fire with fire. But unless I miss my mark, the family that's being made and then killed dead is in the Middle East, and the TV is tuned to Al Jazeera.

Fact is, there are folks fixin' for a battle. Not just Al Qaeda and the rest of the Global Jihad on the other end, but also the evangelical right and the PNAC, back here under the flag, and looking out--as TV on the Radio does--over New York Harbor.

I realize that's controversial interpretation, an interpretation that even Mssrs. Adebimpe, Malone and Sitek might themselves take issue with. Blender said the song was about the Iraq War, and we can all get safely behind that, right? We're all against the freaking war. But is it that outrageous for a band born under the cloud of windborne debris left by the Towers to be a little bit nervous as they look around?

I think not, though you're free to differ. But at least if the words might make one nervous, the sounds can still chill you down.

TV On The Radio - Desperate Youth, Bloodthirsty Babes - 08 Bomb Yourself.mp3

This file was removed March 9, 2009. If you're still way interested in coming up with a copy of this--and really can't figure out where you might get one--drop me an email and I'm sure I'll be able to figure something out for you.

File under: Combat Rock

Friday, January 23, 2009

Neil Young - "Revolution Blues" From the Album On The Beach

Neil Young On the Beach Album cover
In Jimmy McDonough's excellent biography of Neil Young, the author calls into evidence the recollections of actress Charlotte Stewart, who had been hanging out at drummer Dallas Taylor's house the night of the Manson LaBianca murders. She remembers Steven Stills and David Crosby bursting into Taylor's living room, armed to the teeth, and panicked, too. Howled one of the pair, "they're killing all the people with estates!"

When I first bought On the Beach and first heard "Revolution Blues," I had no idea the song was about Charles Manson. I just knew that I'd rarely heard any vocal performance so scathing and full of bile. Even though the music couldn't have been more different, it still seemed to me that 2 or 3 years before the eruption of British punk, and five or six before the afterbirth that was American hardcore, Neil Young had written a song instructing the kids of the yet unborn genres exactly how the sneering and the snarling should be done.

Even for fans of Black Flag and COC and the rest, it don't get any more antisocial than the lyrical capstone:

Well I hear that Laurel Canyon
Is full of famous stars
I hate them worse than lepers
And I'll kill them in their cars

Of course, now that I know the song is about Manson, now that I know that Young had written the song from the point of view of Manson, I still think about punk rock, about the mordant black humor in bandnames like Ed Gein's Car or Jodie Foster's Army, or of that bumper sticker I still remember seeing in that record shop on my first trip to New York City: Free Dahmer.
  The palm tree that had been made
famous on the Tonight's The Night
 tour reappears on the beach.

Punk rock knew it took some balls to identify with a psychopath, and knew that they invited revulsion in doing so. The revulsion engendered was actually the point. And while it might be hard to say that Young was inviting revulsion by writing "Revolution Blues," the phrase "willfully perverse" does come to mind. But Young was already in The Ditch, and once he'd put out a record that resembled career suicide as much as Time Fades Away did, the risks in writing a song like "Revolution Blues" couldn't have seemed that much more dangerous.

Young and Manson share the same November 12 birthdateDavid Crosby played rhythm guitar on the record, but the song clearly spooked him. When Young suggested that CSNY play the song on one of their stadium tours, Crosby fought him over it. Young told McDonough that Crosby "didn't think it was safe to do it. Didn't want people to get the message, y'know, about rock and roll stars being worse than lepers. Heh heh. Didn't want that vibe out there."

Neil Young, however, I guess, was comfortable with it, comfortable with the apocalyptic imagery that almost seems as if it were copped from the Book of Revelations. Comfortable with the bloody fountains, comfortable with the ten million dune buggies comin' down the mountains. Comfortable, and pretty courageous, actually, as he gleefully put his own forehead squarely in the crosshairs.

Neil Young - On The Beach - 3 - Revolution Blues.mp3

This file was removed March 9, 2009. If you're still way interested in coming up with a copy of this--and really can't figure out where you might get one--drop me an email and I'm sure I'll be able to figure something out for you.

File under: Ditch Music

Monday, January 19, 2009

The Smashing Pumpkins - "Cherub Rock" from the Album Siamese Dream

The Smashing Pumpkins Siamese Dream CD coverI have no idea if anyone might agree with me on this, but whatever, it's true for me, and more importantly, germane tonight, that a relationship with music--caring about what you listen to to the extent that you groom your iPod playlist, or take pains to ensure that you have something good to listen to during lunch break or while driving, or while shopping--can sometimes be just like a relationship with your honey, with your sweetheart, with your lover.

Clearly there's an investment, and you always love them, right? But sometimes you just have a bone to pick--and you gotta pick it. Doesn't mean you don't love them, it means you do.

Like with "Cherub Rock." Not that it's not a great song, not that it's not an interesting one. But track one from Siamese Dream and I are gonna have a heart-to-heart, and I guess you, dear reader, are invited.

What's interesting lyrically is that the song overtly addresses the question that The Smashing Pumpkins--by the very nature of their career and the music which filled it--posed perhaps more directly than any other band in la historia de la musica rock: where exactly should the interface between perceived indie cred and mainstream success lie?

Billy Corgan would have it that the song is ironic, but I'm not so sure. Veneration from the underground is seemingly sweet, but when they turn on your sellout ass, wouldn't you rather have the green crispy?

Far be it from me to take issue with that. It was apparent to me as soon as I bought an album by SWA or Gone from SST back in the days when indie/major meant much more than it means today: There were too many bands on independent labels who sucked, and too many good ones on the majors, for me to find fault with anyone selling out.

So I'm glad you made your money, Billy. And if Steve Albini finds y'all distasteful, well, I'm sure you're not losing sleep.

No, the real issue I have with "Cherub Rock" is not what it sold, but how it sounds.

Even that's not right, of course the tune sounds awesome. I hear the snare drum crackling, the sweet little chiming intro and bam! I'm cranking Jr. way the fuck up. Gain increase is the natural and immediate response. The song is incredibly visceral, and at the right volume level the thing just sends waves and waves of dynamic force across your body.

But goddamnit--and usually I'm realizing this yet again by the time Billy's telling us "hipsters unite"--it's too perfect. Goddamnit, it's too fucking perfect.

Nothing fucking sounds like this. No matter how hard you practice, you can't plug in your scarred-up Les Paul copy and sound like "Cherub Rock." You can't do it.

And that's because the whole song is built on artifice. It's built on Butch Vig doing 40 overdubs, each having been tweaked in their sound curve in some way or the other, and it's built around a solo that was constructed more by messing with audio tape, not guitar strings. Shit, even Vig realizes the problem; he's told people that he and Corgan and the rest of the band just didn't care if anyone thought Siamese Dream was overproduced.

And why the hell not, would be my question to him.

I'm no purist. I like a raw sound, I love the Replacements' records on Twin/Tone, I love Exile on Main Street, I love Tonight's The Night, I love dirty crankin' rock 'n' roll with nothing but an empty picture window between me and the guitar, between me and the bass. But I can dig me some production values, too. I love King Crimson and prog rock and I like a good bit of The Cure and '80's New Wave and some of the slicker stuff from the Beatles, too. Shit, I love Psychocandy and even some of the shoegaze it spawned.

Mostly I'm about what sounds good.

So why does "Cherub Rock" leave me with such an uneasiness? Why does the lead single from the second Pumpkins album bother me when the entirety of Loveless doesn't? Hell, when (No Pussyfooting) doesn't?

After a little thought, I think it goes back to our song's theme, preferring the money over the honey, not that there's anything wrong with that. All Billy Corgan ever wanted to do was be in lead an arena rock band. Albini derisively compared the Smashing Pumpkins to REO Speedwagon, but it's a good comparison. That's what Corgan wanted them to be. 200 nights a year in front of 15,000 kids every night, playing the number one song from the number one album.

Only problem is, you can't play "Cherub Rock" live, or you can't play a meaningful version of it, because most of it is stuck in the studio. So 200 nights a year, you gyp 15,000 kids a night.

Although there are a few select parts of their discography that I love, I was never, not even as a teen toting my pipe and clad in my concert jerseys, that much into Queen. I certainly never attended one of their shows. But a friend had gone to see Queen when they were touring off Live Killers, and he told me how the band simply left the stage during the operatic section of "Bohemian Rhapsody." And I was like, what a fucking rip-off, I could listen to it at home for that.

And when I later became familiar with "Death on Two Legs" or "Brighton Rock," while I loved the way the tunes sounded, a part of me could only think of how crappy they would sound live with the massive overdubs stripped away.

So while Kurt Cobain made the most famous '70's band/90's band comparison of all when he said that Nirvana were nothing but Cheap Trick 20 years later, I might suggest that it is even more apt to call The Smashing Pumpkins, Queen Redux.

It's one thing for a couple of heroin scuzzballs to record some dark, achingly beautiful chainsaw in a hurricane record that swirls through a bespeakered room like their own opioid dreams. No-one goes to see those bands, anyway, at least not until they do a reunion show at Coachella.

But when you decide to become the biggest touring band in the world, don't you at least owe it to your fans to record music that you can actually play live with some sort of authenticity?

The Smashing Pumpkins - Siamese Dream - 01 - Cherub Rock.mp3

This file was removed March 2, 2009. If you're still way interested in coming up with a copy of this--and really can't figure out where you might get one--drop me an email and I'm sure I'll be able to figure something out for you.

File Under: Overdub Rock

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Megadeth - "Good Mourning/Black Friday" From the Album Peace Sells . . . But Who's Buying?

Megadeth Peace Sells But Who's Buying? CD coverOne of the more intriguing gifts I ever received from my mother (and whether it was Channukah or birthday I can no longer recall) was the original Book of Rock Lists by Dave Marsh.

Considering that the book was released in 1981, I probably first got my hands on it in late '82, when I was 17. And then as now, I found the book a mixed bag. My two favorite bands when I was 17 were Yes and Iron Maiden, neither of whom received much in the way of positive press in the book. Iron Maiden weren't mentioned at all, and Yes only made it into the book as number 9 in a list of worst album titles (for Tormato).

So I had limited use for that, and for the extensive space the book gave over to Elvis and to doo-wop and to girl groups. But at the same time, my Beatles period had been recent enough where I found the full chapter devoted to them quite interesting. And I loved the bit of trivium that informed us how "Nobody But Me" (which I wouldn't hear for another 4 or 5 years) used the word "no" 100 times in its brief 2:16. And I still chuckle at the highlight of the book's "most excessive psychedelic bandname" list, which was, no shit, "Transatlantic Chicken Wicken # 5."

But the list that captivated me the most, and the one I'm going to return to today, is the short list on page 208, the one in which "Timothy Leary Lists the Techno-Erotic Vector Bands." The list was presented without explanation, and here it is in its entirety:

1. David Bowie
2. King Crimson
3. Manuel Gottsching
4. The Jimi Hendrix Experience
5. Roxy Music (when Eno was in the band)
6. Klaus Schulze

I definitely dug the King Crimson reference, as I owned both In The Court of the Crimson King and Discipline. But Jimi Hendrix had never moved me as much as he had some of my friends, David Bowie was familiar to me basically through "Space Oddity" (the one song that I remember FM radio of the time playing), and the other names meant absolutely nothing to me.

In fact, the name Manuel Gottsching meant absolutely nothing to me until about twenty minutes ago.

But something about the title of the list stayed with me. I didn't know what the hell a techno-erotic vector was, and I'm betting Timothy Leary didn't either. Clearly Mr. Leary was using the word "erotic" in a different way than is usual, or else King Crimson wouldn't have been on the list. Even a pimply longhaired freak who wouldn't be getting laid for quite some time to come could see that.

So without necessarily getting a clarification from Timmy, I just assumed that the word erotic had been placed there for cadence, or for attetion-getting purposes, and I focussed on the "Techno" and the "Vector" part of it. The whole thing began to have a meaning to me, and I'll fully admit this meaning may have been entirely separate from any meaning that it may have had for Leary or Marsh or anyone else involved.

 Click for larger version in new window 
 Dave Mustaine in front, Vic Rattlehead in back, ca. 1987.
Photo by my dad, I swear to God

But goddamn if the Mahavishnu Orchestra when I first heard them a couple years later didn't seem like a Techno Erotic Vector band. And damn if fucking Megadeth, when I first heard Peace Sells in '86, didn't seem that way as well. In fact, Peace Sells might just be the Lord Emperor of "Techno Erotic Vector" records.

What the fuck is this?

Well, it's sort of an intuitive thing, but the first requirement somehow seems to be a shiny guitar, sleek and fast, not sludgy or droning. So you can see Hendrix and (at least Belew-era) Crimson and Mahavishnu and yes, Megadeth. I think that's the techno part, if you can keep the trashy dance music fad of the 'late '80's from polluting your thinking here. And the vector part, the appeal to math and complexity, well, the same bands do fine here, as well.

Forget the lead breaks, just listen to the rhythm guitar throughout "Black Friday." It's absolutely sick, vectors going off in every which direction, changing speeds, too. And shit, even if you're not really getting this whole Techno-Vector oncept I'm trying to convey, I'm pretty sure you can still appreciate the way in which this music stands out. Metal has this reputation of sounding alike, but fact is, very little sounds anything like Peace Sells. Metallica are the first band discussed when the topic of speedmetal comes up, but as good as they are, even the rhythms on Master of Puppets are practically childlike compared to the ones on Peace Sells.

And Chris Poland may have been a heroin addict, but his jazz-inflected solos run rings around Kirk Hammett's. It's said that Poland has a severed tendon in the first finger of his left hand, a handicap which allows him greater flexibility while playing the guitar. And that makes me think of perhaps the third requirement for a Techno-Erotic Vector band. They need to be flexible. Certainly Megadeth is just that on "Good Mourning/Black Friday."

Megadeth - Peace Sells But Who's Buying - 5 Good Mourning, Black Friday.mp3

This file was removed March 2, 2009. If you're still way interested in coming up with a copy of this--and really can't figure out where you might get one--drop me an email and I'm sure I'll be able to figure something out for you.

File under: Speedmetal

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Sound of Chirping Crickets

I am aware that this blog has a couple or more lurkers. (Hello lurkers!) And I am also aware that in addition to the undoubted great and admirable discipline these lurkers display in resisting the base and common urge to comment, they also possess a great intelligence and erudition.

Unfortunately this intelligence and this erudition have left no trace, and this blog has most resembled a ghost town over the six weeks that I have operated it.

Not that I don't love writing the pieces, mind you, but one of the joys in blogging is the interaction, is the response, is the sense of community. And La Historia has been lacking somewhat in that regard, no way around it.

At first I tried submitting to the aggregators, to The Hype Machine and, but I think they might be prejudiced against blogs with few or no comments, so these sites have basically ignored my entreaties. What are you gonna do.

Well, I thought that a small investment in advertising might help. Starting tonight, I will be running a periodic ad at Pat's Fantasy Hotlist, a sci-fi blog I visit frequently. And if things go well, I'll also have an ad at Ground and Sky, the well-established progressive music review site.

Hopefully this helps. I believe in the work I'm doing now that I've initiated this blog, and I don't think I'm out of line trying to seek out an audience for it.

If I am in fact fortunate enough to draw a Hotlist reader over, or a Ground and Sky person, and they do feel so inclined to comment, I might ask that they just give a brief shout out to their referrer. That way I can continue with what's working, and skip what's not.

And if nothing works, well, at least I gave it a whirl.

Thanks for reading, think I'll write me a Megadeth post Thursday evening.

P.S. Thought I might post the ad I'm running:

Monday, January 12, 2009

Boris - "Heavy Friends" from the CD Heavy Rocks

Boris Heavy Rock CD cover
Holy shit, oh my God, oh my God, La Historia Jr. has just reminded me of what I first had revealed unto me a few months back: This is so fucking heavy, oh man, this rocks so much I don't know if I can squeeze the words from my brain to describe it.

In fact, thanks to the wonders of javascript and interactive forms, I probably don't even need to.

Listen for yourself (and listen loud!) then write your own Boris blogpost! Hell, you don't need poor overwhelmed rastronomicals to deliver the spuzz on this stuff. You can pass judgement in a blogospherical way all by yourself.

Just pick a verb from Dropdown A, pick an adjective or adjective phrase from Dropdown B, pick an object from Dropdown C, click the Instant Blogger button, and you're good to go . . .

Your Very Own Boris Post/Review Below

Boris - 01 - Heavy Rocks - Heavy Friends.mp3

This file was removed February 20, 2009. If you're still way interested in coming up with a copy of this--and really can't figure out where you might get one--drop me an email and I'm sure I'll be able to figure something out for you.

File under: Japanese Stoner Rock

Friday, January 9, 2009

Pink Floyd - "Arnold Layne"

Pink Floyd Arnold Layne Dutch 7-inch coverSo I'm sitting in my car listening to La Historia Jr. Friday afternoon, stuffing my face, back and forth between my bag o' pickles and my turkey sandwich and my chili powder-seasoned potato chips, while the playlist from the new autofill starts delineating itself from the top, song by song.

After my beloved mp3 machine runs through Slayer's version of "Abolish Government" and a live version of The Nice's "America", there it is, and fucking well it is, too. "Arnold Layne," Syd Barrett's perfect little mutant pop song, the Madcap's twisted and addled and beautiful ode to the underwear fetish of a transvestite, flows from iPod to adapter to car speaker to brain, and a thought hits me with the force of Kurtz' diamond bullet.

Shit, If La Historia De La Musica Rock were a house, "Arnold Layne" would be one of its building blocks. *

Translucent, distorted, see-through, baby blue, "Arnold Layne" seems nearly irreducible, like the platonic ideal of the psychedelic pop song. While you might be able to combine what incredibly enough was Pink Floyd's first single--and perhaps Barrett's greatest song--with some Texas punk rock, say, to come up with the Butthole Surfers' "Cherub," or maybe mix the thing with some goth tune to get Blur's "Death of a Party," you absolutely cannot go the other way.

Pink Floyd Works CD coverYou cannot break the song down into any underlying components. It's as if psychedelic pop--the entire fucking genre--sprung forth fully formed from Barrett's psyche like Athena birthed from the forehead of Zeus.

Looking around at, I see that someone had called the song "Beatlesque," but no, wrong. The Beatles could not have performed "Arnold Layne," they could not have written it. For one thing, Lennon and McCartney sang in an American accent, and one of "Arnold"'s most complete charms is that Barrett sings in his native British accent. And of course, whenever the Beatles wanted to get psychedelic freaky, they'd break out the cellos and the oboes and the violins. Whereas the spaciness and the creepiness, the moonshine and the washing line, to the Floyd song lies primarily with Rick Wright's Farfisa organ, not only expressed in the ascendant solo halfway through, but also in the ornate window dressing to Barrett's tense rhythm guitar it provides the rest of the way.

"Arnold Layne" was released March 11 of 1967, and by the end of January 1968, Barrett had been effectively fired from Pink Floyd. The band then underwent a long mutation, moving from the deeply influential psychedelic pop it pioneered with Barrett to long spacy jams that, though phenomenally popular with listeners worldwide, was nowhere near as influential among musicians. Although Dark Side of the Moon and The Wall made the Floyd a whole bunch more money, it was "Arnold Layne" and The Piper At The Gates of Dawn that literally invented a sound and launched 1000 inferior bands.

Pink Floyd - Arnold Layne.mp3

This file was removed February 20, 2009. If you're still way interested in coming up with a copy of this--and really can't figure out where you might get one--drop me an email and I'm sure I'll be able to figure something out for you.

File under: Psychedelic Pop

*La Casa De La Musica Rock
Click to see bigger house in new window  (back)

Monday, January 5, 2009

Charles Mingus - "The Clown" from the Album The Clown

Charles Mingus The Clown Original LP cover
Having recently sailed through that time of the year when the voice of the late great Jean Shepherd is most frequently heard, I thought a post regarding Shepherd's NEXT-most famous contribution to the world outside of late-night radio might be in order.

Those who've only been exposed to Shepherd through the perennial Christmas classic that is A Christmas Story will probably be surprised at the unrelenting darkness of the humor that makes up "The Clown," but Shepherd, going back to his brilliant improvisational radio shows at WOR New York, had always had a large melancholy streak--and sometimes the streak turned blacker.

As early as 1951, before he even got to WOR, Shep had said of the nostalgia he wove in his emerging, nascent radio shows: "Childhood seems good in retrospect because we were not yet aware of the basic truth: that we're all losers, that we're destined to die and death is a defeat."

Shepherd famously thought much of A Christmas Story to be as sappy as those pink bunny ear slippers, and he lost arguments with director Bob Clark over whether he should be allowed to inject darker nuance into the yuletide movie script.

Later, after the unaltered Story started to become the cable-channel perennial, Shepherd was given the creative sayso he'd wanted the first time around, and delivered A Summer Story, which beyond a lifeless peformance from Charles Grodin as the Old Man, was plagued by a bleak storyline, and ironically--or not--had none of the nostalgic magic we tend to associate with Shepherd.

Charles Mingus The Clown Alternate CD coverMingus himself fought depression, and perhaps in that battle thought of the sardonic anecdote that is told about Grimaldi; at any rate, he would revisit the Clown motif with the tune "Don't Be Afraid, the Clown's Afraid Too," from 1971's Let My Children Hear Music.

But back to 1957: Mingus--who had frequently sought to blend spoken word with complex jazz--had developed a loose-knit storyline about a clown who only makes the big time after shooting himself dead in front of an audience. The hipster world of New York night people that Shepherd created in his radio monologues and Mingus' hard bop jazz world had some little intersection: Shepherd wrote a column on jazz for Audio Magazine, and frequently emceed important jazz shows in Gotham during the late '50's.

At some point Shepherd was invited by Mingus into his sessions, and during rehearsals, he honed Mingus' rough idea into the tragicomedy we have here, this waltz-driven monologue, these bleak musings over the bouncy slide trombone, this treatise from two immensely talented yet often unsatisfied men on the seemingly endless appetite for schadenfreude displayed by human beings.

Charles Mingus The Clown - 4 - The Clown.mp3

This file was removed February 20, 2009. If you're still way interested in coming up with a copy of this--and really can't figure out where you might get one--drop me an email and I'm sure I'll be able to figure something out for you.

File under: Bigger than Dubuque

Thursday, January 1, 2009

The Breeders - "New Year" from the Album Last Splash

The Breeders Last Splash CD cover
"New Year" is for me the kernel of a mystic vision. Using only 17 different words, Kim Deal transcribes for us the displacement of ego that occurs among religious mystics and the takers of hallucinogenic drugs.

It's also the soundtrack to the ancient fertility rite that is each year symbolized as the calendar changes, sun + rain + home = newness + rebirth.

Happy new year, and let it be truly new . . . .

The Breeders - Last Splash - 01 - New Year.mp3

This file was removed February 12, 2009. If you're still way interested in coming up with a copy of this--and really can't figure out where you might get one--drop me an email and I'm sure I'll be able to figure something out for you.

File under: The lovely and wonderful Kim Deal

I am the Sun I am the New Year