Friday, September 14, 2012

Brian Eno & David Byrne - "Qu'ran" used to be From the CD My Life in the Bush of Ghosts

I've been turning this one over in my head for a few weeks, and wasn't really sure when I would begin to write, but with the attack on the Libyan consulate Wednesday, and with the death of Ambasasador Stevens, it very much seems to me that the world is in its woeful conditions conspiring to let me know that now is the time to set figurative pen to proverbial paper. You may know the story with this song, with this album. If so, perhaps my telling its story through mine own eyes will keep the tale from becoming wearisome on third or fourth or fifth reading. So then, Mr. Brian Eno telegraphed to the world in his typical obfuscatory way that he had taken an interest in The Talking Heads when he named a track from his 1977 album Before and After Science with an anagram for the band's name. During the following year, drawn, as he told Kurt Loder, to the Heads' "very, very attractive material," King Eno took on the lead hat as the band's producer. By 1979, Eno's already deep interest in world music had been transmitted to the band, evidenced by the inclusion of "I Zimbra" on Fear of Music. "Zimbra," described by Wikipedia as "inspired by African cultural music" and highlighted by Eno as "a step forward," quickly became Jerry Harrison's favorite song, and thereafter became the planned springboard for the band's next album, which would eventually be released as Remain in Light. But before The Talking Heads reconvened, Eno and head Head David Byrne began recording My Life in the Bush of Ghosts. Like Remain in Light would be, My Life was focused on layered afro-beats and had its many protuberant percussive elements glued together by a sort of spastic funk guitar. The biggest difference, really, between the Eno/Byrne album and the Talking Heads album is that the Heads album has Byrne in a conventional rock vocalist role, whereas with Bush, the vocal center of the album was taken by various and sundry samples that Eno and Byrne had dredged up. Most of these samples were religious in nature. Beyond the song we're looking at today, "Help Me Somebody" and "Come With us" both used samples taken from the broadcasts of radio evangelists. "The Jezebel Spirit" actually featured excerpts from a tape-recorded exorcism*, while "Moonlight in Glory" samples an old spiritual sung by the Moving Star Hall Singers of Johns Island, South Carolina. Clearly, and as you would expect, both men did their their homework when assembling this album, but what I thought when I first bought the Bush CD back in 1986 or 1987, and what I'm thinking right now as I listen to some of these tunes for the first time in probably 20 years, is that when you get a couple of cosmopolitan art school intellectuals dealing with these kinds of, let's say, esoteric sources, the potential for having it all look like a pair of highfalutin'self-congratulatory eggheads taking the piss out of those they feel to be their intellectual or cultural inferiors is, on thought, pretty fucking great. Jon Pareles, in a negative review for Rolling Stone that nevertheless gave the album 3-1/2 stars, wrote that My Life "raises stubborn questions about context, manipulation and cultural imperialism," and in the end asked "does the global village have two-way traffic?" Perhaps Eno and Byrne saw the question coming. Taking a lead that few would follow, E & B (and even more importantly, their crack legal team) sought to obtain permission for all the samples used on the album. In one case, that permission was denied by the estate of Kathryn Kuhlman, and "Into the Spirit World"--with samples from the charismatic faith-healer's services--became "The Jezebel Spirit" with the aforementioned exorcist. And I'd thought--it makes sense that--this was because of their appropriation. Byrne said, in his go-to Pitchfork interview that "[w]e made a big effort to try and clear all the voices, and make sure everybody was okay with everything. Because we thought, 'We're going to get accused of all kinds of things, and so we want to cover our asses as best we can.'" But maybe, it occurs to me, they were so fastidious because they were feeling guilty, for their cultural and intellectual snobbery, for their neocolonialism. I bet that's part of it. I bet you. And if so, fine. If an intellectual's got his snobbery, then a liberal's got his guilt. Don't want to monkey with either. But I ask: be careful what you give away to assuage your self-reproach. "Qu'ran" had as its centerpiece sample an excerpt from "Recitation Of Verses Of The Qu'ran (Al-Ateuf, near Ghardala, Algeria)," the first track on The Human Voice in the World of Islam, a very thorough ethnomusicological joint released the year before Before and After Science was. When I purchased My Life ten or so years later, what the clerk handed me was the first edition of the CD, and "Qu'ran" was included. But when the disc was reissued for the United States in 1990, "Qu'ran" had been removed. Byrne to Pitchfork again:
Way back when the record first came out, in 1981, it might have been '82, we got a request from an Islamic organization in London, and they said, 'We consider this blasphemy that you put grooves to the chanting of the Holy Book.' And we thought, 'Okay, in deference to somebody's religion, we'll take it off.'
Which islamic organization is to me unclear. Enoweb--the other major source of information on this thing after Byrne's Pitchfork interview--seems unsure as to whether it was "The Islamic Council of Great Britain" or the "World Islamic Council." Enoweb directly quotes Opal Information, a newsletter at the very least sanctioned by Eno, as saying it was the "World Islamic Council," whereas it was Eno scholar Gregory Taylor who told us that it was the "Islamic Council" thing, so perhaps we should go with the former as the authoritative answer. Byrne has unfortunately not specified, and in any event neither organization is listed by the Muslim Council of Britain as one of its affiliates. I think this state of affairs--that we don't even know the catalyst for this removal of art--highlights quite well the sometimes shadowy nature of censorship, but. Regardless. My Life's pressing history in America, at least, is interesting. The album was conceived, executed and premiered at a time when the Iranian Revolution and subsequent Hostage Crisis that together forever altered the fates of two nations were uppermost in the American mind. Its first printing (with "Qu'ran") and its second (without) sold through as Islamic revolutions flared, then failed, in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Lebanon. But its first printing as a CD in 1986 (again with "Qu'ran") came during a fallow time for Islamic fundamentalism, at least in the eyes of the Western world. The CD's second printing (without "Qu'ran," then and ever after) came in 1990, when the Ayatollah Khomeini's fatwa against Salman Rushdie still cast a large and sinister shadow. And in 2006, when the album was given a lavish expanded edition for its 25th anniversary, the Jyllands Posten, or Danish cartoons, incident was worldwide news. Chris Dahlen, who conducted the interview with Byrne for Pitchfork to coincide with the 2006 reissue, understood the nature of things quite well, I think, though I suspect he draws the wrong conclusion:
I know these things have flared up over the years, but with the recent Danish cartoon incident, it became not just an issue of respecting someone's religion. It became very combative. People began taking sides. And I think that’s maybe why people look at the omission of ‘Qu'ran’ a little differently now. At the time you could say it’s out of deference to somebody's request, but in the wake of this recent controversy, people were lining up saying, 'No, you have to print that on a billboard in Times Square, just to show them!'
He was exactly right. The recalcitrance of Kathryn Kuhlman's estate (and that nagging guilt) was no doubt foremost in Eno or Byrne's mind when a reply to the Islamic Council's letter was composed. Byrne spoke of "deferring" and Dahlen of "respect," and who can fault anyone for such politenesses? But world events since MLitBoG's initial release have coalesced in such a way that makes it clear that Islamic Fundamentalism does not consider the matter one of politeness. It is obvious to me--and I wonder why it isn't obvious to all--that the jihad, the mujahdeen, whatever you want to call it, considers speech contrary to the law of Islam to be a capital crime, a crime punishable by death. You really don't need to point at anything beyond Khomeini's fatwa upon Rushdie to illustrate. But one can cite the assassination of Theo van Gogh, death threats upon Ayaan Hirsi Ali, those Danish cartoons, the blowup that surrounded Everybody Draw Mohammed Day, the firestorm surrounding the clown Terry Jones, the shitstorm around the accidental burning of Korans in Afghanistan earlier this year, and now, this whole Innocence of Muslims thing that got our ambassador killed, just to get started. Sure, some of the instigators were clowns, or worse. But here's the thing about the free speech that the Western World has found it meet to champion: popular, or accepted speech doesn't need to be protected. The United States Supreme Court, a body which by this time has spoken eloquently in favor of the necessity of equality under law, has found in favor of Nazis who wished to march through the Jewish part of town. Think about that before moving to the next paragraph. But to pre-empt myself before I stray too far from the topic at hand, let me conclude: I do not fault Eno or Byrne for acceding to this mysterious Council's request in 1982. I could probably go either way on the decision to re-delete the track in 1990. But I do believe that it was incumbent on the pair, as artists, as liberals, as simply people who avail themselves of the right to speak freely, to reinsert the track in 2006, with Jyllands Posten and the death of Theo van Gogh looming big in the rear view mirror. There is a war on, with Ambassador Stevens only the latest casualty, and this war has a lot less to do with towers crashing or with subways imploding than it does with the ability to speak freely in support or in criticism, a tradition that the United States has, for all its many faults, consistently and rightly embraced. Eno and Byrne, who have both spent great deals of time in that country's biggest and best city, should have paid more attention to what was happening each morning on its streets. David Byrne & Brian Eno - Quran.mp3 104 kbps mp3, up forever File Under: Neocolonialism * David Sheppard, author of On Some Far Away Beach: the Life and Times of Brian Eno, claims therein that Eno recorded the exorcist himself, in September 1980. But I'm not sure whether to believe this or not, because on the same page, Sheppard tells us that the Human Voice album (cf later on) was one of Eno's. Which it's not. So he may not be a trustworthy source. But still, the image of Eno crouched down in the darkened pews, holding a Panasonic tape recorder as this maniac pentecostal does an exorcism, is so wonderful, I wanted to share it. (Return)

A post I wrote on the same album in 2022: X

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Taste - "Catfish" From the CD Taste

Interesting, this internet thing. We all know about those NSFW photos and just the other day I found out that they're now calling the two girls one cup stuff NSFL, or Not Safe For Life, but is the internet Not Safe For Truth?

Check out our man William Rory Gallagher as a case in point where it may not be. Awesome guitarist, and seemingly an awesome guy, at least when he wasn't engaged in drinking himself to death. Stories about how he avoided the limelight and detested the starmaking machine abound. Rory just wanted to play his music, and who can argue with that?

No-one, of course.

But in casting our 'net for information on Gallagher, I kept coming up with this supposed quote about the man, goes something like this:

Interviewer: So what's it like to be the greatest guitarist in the world?
Jimi Hendrix: I dunno, go ask Rory Gallagher

A quick Google search for the phrase 'go ask Rory Gallagher' right now yields a supposed 88,100 matches, and while the murkiness of the deep web allows us to discount such a high number of results, clearly, this is a quote that's been repeated often on the various music pages of the internet.

And it's not there right now, but historical versions of Gallagher's Wikipedia page repeat the quote as well.

It's a quote that you want to believe: it casts a good light on both the quoted and the quotee. Hendrix, sometimes seen as arrogant while he was alive, seems humble, and Gallagher, always respected but never venerated when he was around, is recast as a Titan.

But almost immediately, the purported quote begins to tug at those strings which control your credulity. To me, at any rate, the question seems a little stilted. Would any interviewer, especially before Hendrix' death, actually ask the man "what's it like to be the greatest in the world?" It seems unprofessional, and anyway, I think that at the time, the common wisdom was that the greatest guitarist was in fact Eric Clapton. The graffito on the streets of London, after all, was never "Hendrix is God."

Rory GallagherAnd while Hendrix would often enthusiastically drop the names of guitarists he admired, the printed record shows that most often the guys whose names he'd drop were called Buddy Guy or Albert King. It is true that Hendrix mentioned Billy Gibbons to Johnny Carson one night . . . but even there it's interesting that we can find actual citations from the pre-internet era to back this up. My Illustrated Encyclopedia of Rock from 1977, for example, includes in its ZZ Top article a reference to Hendrix' statement about Gibbons, yet says nothing about anything Jimi may have said about Gallagher.

Does anyone know to whom Hendrix might have been speaking when he said this thing about Gallagher? Well, looking further, someone over on Amazon actually specified Rolling Stone and said that the interview was held in the wake of Woodstock . . . which is what you'd kind of expect to read, no?

But at any rate, I took the bait. I went ahead and bought Rolling Stone Cover to Cover, and once I got the thing, it was very quick: there are no instances within the pages of Rolling Stone between the magazine's birth in 1967 and Hendrix' death in 1971 where the name "Hendrix" and "Gallagher" cohabit the same article.

And there are only four if you expand the dates to the complete 40 years. I read each and every article. None mention the quote we're looking for.

Consider also that a site known for doing such things has deconstructed a suspiciously similar claim made about Hendrix and what he never said about another somewhat obscure guitarist, Phil Keaggy. Urban legends mutate, while the truth has a tendency not to.

This may or may not be Mythbusters. I guess it's entirely possible Hendrix said the thing to a reporter for Creem or to some college kid scribing for his newspaper. And I guess I should mention here that at least one person on the Rory Gallagher Forums believes Hendrix may have said such a thing at the Isle of Wight festival in 1970. But there are no pre-internet references that I can find, and I fucking looked. I have questions about what kind of professional journalist would ask such a leading question, and really, considering how so much of what came out of Hendrix' mouth was spacily disconnected, I kinda doubt the succinct answer as well.

So for me, the truth of this quote is convincingly busted, regardless of the 88,100 php or cfm pages that might pop up saying otherwise. And regardless of the next version of Mr. Gallagher's Wikipedia page, that no-one reading this can tell me won't say the very same thing, with citations to the same incorrect pages I've just (more or less) busted. The internet is nothing if not incestuous, and v 2.0 is itching to cite . . . as long as you're not too worried about rigor.

All such despairing for the shaky status of truth on the nets doesn't mean, of course, that we still can't enjoy Gallagher's music. And I wholeheartedly suggest that we do. I've linked for you here the song "Catfish," from the first Taste album. It's a blues standard that Hendrix also covered, and while I love both versions, I think I like Rory's version--sludgy, bloozy, powerful-- better.

File under: The Muck of the Irish

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Explosions in the Sky - "The Birth and Death of the Day" from the CD All of a Sudden I Miss Everyone

Explosions in the Sky All of a Sudden I Miss Everyone album cover
I posted something at my Tumblr about the Explosions in the Sky gig I went to last night, and by the time I was done with it, I realized the piece was long enough to post here


I don’t know about you, but there are really three places where I listen to music: on my 45-minute drives to and from work, while doing the grocery shopping, and while bopping around the house on a Friday night or Saturday afternoon.

The point is, always I’ve got time to kill when listening. I don’t mind your expansiveness of concept right then. In fact I welcome it, You wanna take 20 minutes to do your Impressions of the Revealing Science of God? Great. Want to stretch out and use 19 minutes to paint me a picture of Swastika Girls? Kick-ass, I’ve got time.

It may seem incongruous to describe Explosions in the Sky as driving music, but I think that’s exactly what they are. They start with this tiny, quiet smidgen of a lyrical idea, and then keep piling on to it. Fifteen minutes later, the band is indeed exploding.

But you gotta have that fifteen minutes. If you”re in and out of the shop, let’s say, like I am at work, you either catch the beginning or catch the end, but not both. And the beginning makes the end, and vice versa.

While it seems that much of the (very large) audience last night knew EITS’ music better than I did, I still noticed something interesting: the cheers, when they came, were typically not at the end of the songs, but rather at the end of the explosions. Many of their songs have quiet codas reprising the beginnings, and several times last night I couldn’t hear these soft endpoints ‘cause the crowd was going nuts.

To me, that says that the crowd was there for the crescendos. Hell, the crescendos were what I was there for. Their crescendoes are awesome. But I also found myself at times kind of waiting around for them. The buildups that seem like necessary world-building while I’m driving seemed kind of interminable while I was standing on my tired and achy dogs in the packed and sweaty performance space.

Nothing to be done for it, not really. That is the kind of music Explosions in the Sky makes. They can’t cut it down or edit it, at least I don’t think they should. They and we just have to live with it: The music’s integrity relies on parts that don’t translate as well in a live situation.

On the other hand: When they had it going, the racket they made was as powerful as anything I’ve ever heard in my life. I say that even though I’ve seen Sonic Youth three times. I once saw a unknown band named Polline’ open up for the Mercury Program and I had thought that the capstone to their show was as unholy a noise as I was ever likely to hear. Explosions equalled if not surpassed it.

And they are like Sonic Youth, because when they get going, you’re not sure that everything you’re hearing is actually there, if you know what I mean. Everything is swirling so quickly and so loudly that your mind is a little unsure of how to process it all, and sometimes it makes things up to fill in the gaps. It can be audio pareidolia: you hear bells and voices and whistles and other non-existent aural patterns amidst the buzzsaws.

Or maybe they’re there after all. . . .

Anyway, in a nutshell, put up with the boring soft parts, as the loud parts are fucking incredible with this band.

The other thing that needs to be said is that Explosions thrash around. Mightily. Nearly spastic Michael James was dripping sweat five minutes into the show. All three guitarists are out of control at various points, sometimes all three of them at once. It was a joy to see them so very much into the music, and let's single out Munaf Rayani as a man who Pete Townsend could take to heart for the abuse he dishes out to his Fender.

And yo, loved the Texas flag draped over the amplifier.

Explosions in the Sky - All of a Sudden I Miss Everyone - 01 The Birth and Death of the Day.mp3

File under: Driving Music

Friday, June 8, 2012

Fleetwood Mac - "Hypnotized" From the Album Mystery to Me

Truth be told, Fleetwood Mac and I have never really seen eye to eye. When I was growing up, at a time when Rumours was ubiquitous, the teenage metalhead and/or prog freak I purposely molded myself into wasn't part of their demographic. Not even close. And now that I more closely match that (older, white, politically liberal?) demographic, the ship that might have once done the soft California rock thing for me has long since sailed.

I may not hate them, but--with the one exception I'm getting to in my typically slow fashion--Fleetwood Mac's influence on my listening habits has been next to nil. "Rhiannon" and "Don't Stop" and the rest of the Mac's massive seventies radio hits have been like neutrinos, all around me, unavoidable, yet so wispy and insubstantial that they've passed through me inert and whole, colliding with nothing of myself, reacting with nothing at all I keep internal.

Words are funny things. Rotate them a quarter turn, and all their nuance changes. I dismiss Fleetwood Mac by saying they're "insubtantial," but 90 degrees away from insubstantial is "ethereal," and ethereal can produce a very nice feeling indeed.

"Hypnotized" is, I think, Fleetwood Mac rotated their own quarter turn.

It's the same kind of story That seems to come down from long ago Two friends having coffee together When something flies by their window It might be out on that lawn Which is wide, at least half of a playing field Because there's no explaining what your imagination Can make you see and feel

Seems like a dream They got me hypnotized

Now it's not a meaningless question To ask if they've been and gone I remember a talk about North Carolina and a strange, strange pond You see the sides were like glass In the thick of a forest without a road And if any man's hand ever made that land Then i think it would've showed

Seems like a dream They got me hypnotized

They say there's a place down in Mexico Where a man can fly over mountains and hills And he don't need an airplane or some kind of engine And he never will Now you know it's a meaningless question To ask if those stories are right 'cause what matters most if the feeling You get when you're hypnotized

Seems like a dream They got me hypnotized

Cadres of English blues fans and Peter Green cultists probably curse the name of Bob Welch for the band's detour into Yacht Rock after Welch arrived.

Fine. But to me, Welch's standing as one of the seventies' premier songwriters is cemented by this song and this song alone. And if it's Yacht Rock so be it. Van Morrison and Stevie Nicks and scores of Druid metal acts have attempted to shine a light Into the Mystic, but none, I think, have illuminated that foggy inconstant world quote so well as "Hypnotized."

what matters most if the feeling You get when you're hypnotized
Hell, there are books written on the subject that don't get it so right. I don't truly believe that Don Juan ever levitated or that space aliens created a lake in the Carolina woods or that a Mothman flew over Point Pleasant or that malign spirits ever crept over the sandy floors of the Chase Vaults.

But there's a little dreamy fugue we all enter when just thinking about these fantastical and sadly unreal things, isn't there? If these things are not real, at least they can give us this wonderful, fleetingly-grasped, dreamy fugue state.

What's remarkable about "Hypnotized," its music, its lyrics, is it's another transport in.

The fugue, the trance, it's just like the daydream reverie you feel when Bob Welch's atmospheric guitar fills fly by. It's just like the slightly unreal shimmer that Mick Fleetwood's triple-time beats can bring to things, and it's just like the mysterious soft keen of Welch's and McVie's voices combining, just slightly offtune, just slightly outside the sad and boring reality we're all forced to inhabit.

RIP Bob Welch