Saturday, December 31, 2005


As I type, I'm listening to Morton Feldman's Piano and String Quartet, played by the Kronos Quartet with Aki Takahashi on piano. It's possibly the most purely beautiful CD I own - the 1984 ECM recording of Arvo Pärt's Tabula Rasa is a close second. But the cover is hideous. A full-frontal nude portrait of Feldman himself would probably have been an improvement.

The closest thing I'm gonna make to a New Year's resolution is this: sometime in 2006, I will make it all the way through Feldman's six-hour String Quartet No. 2. It's one of those CD sets I bought because the idea of it seemed cool - a single piece of music spread over five CDs! - but really, who has time to actually listen to the thing from beginning to end? Obviously not a guy who's editing one book, writing another, pimping a third, editing a magazine full-time and freelancing at night. But I swear before "god" and all the clerks at Kim's that before 365 more days have elapsed I will sit down, maybe with a nice book and a caffeinated beverage or two close at hand, and listen to it - from the beginning all the way to the end, with no breaks except maybe to answer the door and pay for the pizza.

If you're reading this, Happy New Year and thanks for stopping by. Please buy my book. See you next year.

Thursday, December 22, 2005


Jacked from Edroso:

Four jobs you've had in your life: Magazine editor, freelance writer, Quick Chek cashier, auto parts warehouse worker.

Four movies you could watch over and over: Road House, Apocalypse Now, Repo Man, Blade Runner.

Four places you've lived: Brooklyn, NY; Burbank, CA; Elizabeth, NJ; Westfield, NJ.

Four TV shows you love to watch: "The Shield," "Nip/Tuck," "Family Guy," "Headbangers' Ball."

Four places you've been on vacation: Cancun, Barbados, Chicago (okay, this one was to interview a band, but it was fun), Toronto.

Four websites you visit daily: The Corner, Atrios, No More Mister Nice Blog, Alicublog.

Four of your favorite foods: Pizza, ribs, steak, lasagne.

Four places you'd rather be: at a death metal show, on a porn set talking smack with the crew, Canada, Spain.

Friday, December 16, 2005


The January issue of The Wire (not in US stores yet) contains a feature I wrote on Noah Howard. The extended transcript of my interview with him is available on their website, here.

I wrote about Torche in the Scene this week. (Remember the discussion of The Big F? Here's where I bring it up again, for money this time.)

And in today's mail, four T.Rex 2-CD sets arrived - The Slider, Dandy In The Underworld, Zinc Alloy And The Hidden Riders Of Tomorrow and The T.Rex Wax Co. Singles A's and B's 1972-77. (Also, the 3-CD Grateful Dead Fillmore West 1969 set I bought a couple of weeks ago, and some absolute tripe - Jackson Browne's Running On Empty, now expanded to a CD/DVD pair; Jerry Garcia's Garcia Plays Dylan, another 2-CD set; the soundtrack to the musical Jersey Boys, about Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons; and Loggins & Messina's Sittin In Again At The Santa Barbara Bowl Live.)

Almost all of this stuff is gonna go straight to the used CD store at first opportunity. I might hang onto the T.Rex singles collection, but I'm more likely to just suck it into my iPod and rid myself of the physical item. I don't really get them; they seem like rock music for small children. There are one or two songs with decent riffs, but there are twelve or thirteen other songs that recycle each of those exact same riffs, to severely diminished effect. So, no, Bolan was not a genius, or anything like it. It seems to me that he was actually pretty much the ultimate embodiment of the kind of thing that gets huge in England and makes absolutely no sense in America. Which is fine. Brits and Anglophiles can love his stuff for the rest of their wack-ass, misguided lives if they want; it means nothing to me. But neither does The Slider.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005


Ornette Coleman has been named one of the New York Observer's "Power Geezers" - folks who are in their prime, creativity- and impact-wise, while being chronologically headed for the grave. The big news in this article: the promise of multiple new CDs, including maybe one from the Carnegie Hall show I saw the other year, that was literally breathtaking in its speed, force and brilliance.

Sunday, December 11, 2005


"We had such a ball. We arrived at the hotel in DC, in the evening, and the gig's the next day. And he shows up a few hours after I do and knocks on my door and says 'Wanna hang?' I go to his room and he's got his boyfriend there, his manservant, whatever, and my wife's there with me, we're drinking champagne, and suddenly it's like 5 in the morning and I'm like, 'Cecil, I really gotta head to bed, we got the gig tomorrow,' and he says 'Yes, I'd like to meet at 9 o'clock.' I'm like, 'Cecil, it's 5 in the morning.' He's like, 'Yeah, we'll meet at 9, have some breakfast, go to the place, check it out, and maybe rehearse a little bit.' All right. And literally on the dot, 9 o'clock, there he was at breakfast, and we ate, and went straight to the space, which was the library of Congress, and we literally played for five hours straight. It was just the most amazing day. It was just insane. He's laughing hysterically, we're going through different ideas, and we literally went almost straight through for five hours. And I was exhausted by the end of this. And he was like, 'Let's go back to the hotel and get a little dinner, and then we'll do the gig.' So we did, and went right back to the gig, played two huge sets, then hung out all the next night, and I got on the plane a few hours after that. It was an intense 36 hours with Cecil Taylor. It was amazing, though, because he was so cool. He wasn't a drag, like, 'You've got to do it this way or that way.' He just showed me some of the notes he was working on, these cluster chords, and it'll just take this shape here, that shape there, okay, let's go. And it just turned into a big free thing, using very simple ideas. And maybe in that five-hour session during the day, when we were blowing through stuff, he maybe made two suggestions the whole time. 'More of this chord here,' or 'If I do that, you do this,' but very subtle. Most of the time it was just laughing, having a good time. He's one of those people that for years has been saying 'One of these days, we should do something,' and it's like, yeah, I'll believe it when you call me up. And then suddenly there it was, I got the call."

That's a quote from an interview I did with violinist Mat Maneri in about 2002, talking about his 1999 Library of Congress duo gig with Cecil Taylor. To my knowledge, they've never played together since. If you want to hear what the result of no sleep and five hours of rehearsal sounds like, pick up Algonquin and be prepared to have your skull torn open and your brain thoroughly massaged into a new and more enjoyable shape.

Friday, December 09, 2005


As a bunch of people on each coast probably already know, Lewis Lapham is stepping down as big boss man at Harper's, a magazine that features an occasional fascinating article wedged into a thick mass of indigestible lefty crap. There's an interesting article on the changes in New York magazine. A sample excerpt:

>In fact, most of Harper’s is not fusty and Euro-lefty, Lapham’s “Notebook” column notwithstanding. But because his 2,500-word essays lead each issue, they tend to color one’s sense of the whole magazine. And they all amount to pretty much the same contemptuous, Olympian jeremiad: The powers-that-be are craven and monstrous, American culture is vulgar and depraved, the U.S. is like imperial Rome, our democracy is dying or dead. All of which is arguably true. But, jeez, sometime tell me something I didn’t know, show a shred of uncertainty and maybe some struggle to suss out fresh truth. “Everything I’ve written,” he says, “is a chronicle of the twilight of the American idea.” He seems so committed to the decline-and-fall critique, and so supremely uninterested in the novelties and nuances of everyday life and culture, it’s hard to take his gloom altogether seriously.

Lapham's a bad joke, and it's long since past time he left. I just wonder whether replacing him with a guy who comes from enough money that he could start at Harper's as a 29-year-old intern is the right recipe for change.

Thursday, December 08, 2005


Why does the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame hate prog? Yes, Rush, King Crimson - all well past the 25-years-old-or-older cutoff, but never even nominated as far as I know, and certainly not admitted. And forget about Van Der Graaf Generator or Can or Tangerine Dream or any of a dozen others. What's up with that? Billy Joel and James Taylor, yes, but King Crimson, no? One more reason to burn the joint down, as far as I can see.


Posted on ILM, to be precise.

Thinking The Unthinkable About John Lennon
By Lester Bangs

You always wonder how you will react to these things, but I can't say I was all that surprised when NBC broke into "The Tonight Show" to say that John Lennon was dead. I always thought that he would be the first of the Beatles to die, because he was always the one who lived the most on the existential edge, whether by diving knees-first into left-wing adventurism or by just shutting up for five years when he decided he really didn't have anything much to say; but I had always figured it would be by his own hand. That he was merely the latest celebrity to be gunned down by a probable psychotic only underscores the banality surrounding his death.

Look: I don't think I'm insensitive or a curmudgeon. In 1965 John Lennon was one of the most important people in the world. It's just that today I feel deeply alienated from rock 'n' roll and what it has meant or could mean, alienated from my fellow men and women and their dreams or aspirations.

I don't know what is more pathetic, the people of my generation who refuse to let their 1960s adolescence die a natural death, or the younger ones who will snatch and gobble any shred, any scrap of a dream that someone declared over ten years ago. Perhaps the younger ones are sadder, because at least my peers may have some nostalgic memory of the long-cold embers they're kneeling to blow upon, whereas the kids who have to make do with things like the Beatlemania show are being sold a bill of goods.

I can't mourn John Lennon. I didn't know the guy. But I do know that when all is said and done, that's all he was--a guy. The refusal of his fans to ever let him just be that was finally almost as lethal as his "assassin" (and please, let's have no more talk of this being a "political" killing, and don't call him a "rock 'n' roll martyr"). Did you watch the TV specials on Tuesday night? Did you see all those people standing in the street in front of the Dakota apartment where Lennon lived singing "Hey Jude"? What do you think the real--cynical, sneeringly sarcastic, witheringly witty and iconoclastic--John Lennon would have said about that?

John Lennon at his best despised cheap sentiment and had to learn the hard way that once you've made your mark on history those who can't will be so grateful they'll turn it into a cage for you. Those who choose to falsify their memories--to pine for a neverland 1960s that never really happened that way in the first place--insult the retroactive Eden they enshrine.

So in this time of gut-curdling sanctimonies about ultimate icons, I hope you will bear with my own pontifications long enough to let me say that the Beatles were certainly far more than a group of four talented musicians who might even have been the best of their generation. The Beatles were most of all a moment. But their generation was not the only generation in history, and to keep turning the gutten lantern of those dreams this way and that in hopes the flame will somehow flicker up again in the eighties is as futile a pursuit as trying to turn Lennon's lyrics into poetry. It is for that moment - not for John Lennon the man - that you are mourning, if you are mourning. Ultimately you are mourning for yourself.

Remember that other guy, the old friend of theirs, who once said, "Don't follow leaders"? Well, he was right. But the very people who took those words and made them into banners were violating the slogan they carried. And they're still doing it today. The Beatles did lead but they led with a wink. They may have been more popular than Jesus, but I don't think they wanted to be the world's religion. That would have cheapened and rendered tawdry what was special and wonderful about them. John Lennon didn't want that, or he wouldn't have retired for the last half of the seventies. What happened Monday night was only the most extreme extension of all the forces that led him to do so in the first place.

In some of this last interviews before he died, he said, "What I realized during the five years away was that when I said the dream is over, I had made the physical break from the Beatles, but mentally there is still this big thing on my back about what people expected of me." And: "We were the hip ones of the sixties. But the world is not like the sixties. The whole world has changed." And: "Produce your own dream. It's quite possible to do anything...the unknown is what it is. And to be frightened of it is what sends everybody scurrying around chasing dreams, illusions."

Good-bye, baby, and amen.

- Los Angeles Times, 11 December 1980

I don't like the Beatles much. I own the Plastic Ono Band's Live Peace In Toronto, which I play the second half of occasionally. But that's beside the point. There are ideas in this piece that make it at least as worthy of annual repetition as William Burroughs' Thanksgiving Prayer (which I forgot to post this year). Whether you like or liked the Beatles or not.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005


Playboy in Braille. I guess Hefner was hedging his bets, in case that myth about jacking off making you go blind turned out to be legit. The man's a genius, I swear.

Sunday, December 04, 2005


Today I'm writing a little piece on a Florida heavy rock quartet called Torche, who've been getting compared to Queens of the Stone Age because both bands have big loud guitars but also, like, choruses 'n' stuff. But the minute I put the CD on I was baffled. They don't sound anything like the Queens. Nor are they "stoner metal," the other tag every other hack slaps every band with loud guitars and less-than-160-bpm rhythms these days. This album sounds like late-80s/early-90s proggy-hard-rock, pre-grunge division: they're clearly lifting from Soundgarden, Jane's Addiction (Nothing's Shocking only), King's X (lotsa soaring vocals) and even also-rans like Saigon Kick and the reason for this post, The Big F.

I felt fairly safe in claiming nobody remembered The Big F but me until today. They were a power trio composed of the former bassist and drummer from Berlin and some guitarist. Their first album came out in 88 or 89 on Elektra, had no information on who was in the band, had ugly cover art (a weird little two-ears-and-a-knife thing heisted from Bosch, on a black background), and sank like a stone. They were dropped within months of its release. But it was a really good record - sludgy, loud, a slight edge of L.A. hard rock but with more meanness and misanthropy, like if the Cult had decided to rip off Blue Cheer instead of Steppenwolf for Electric. I used to like this album a lot back when it first came out, but it disappeared in one of my many CD purges of the last 15 years. I think I'm gonna get me another one, though, since it's available for, no kidding, eight cents plus shipping from Amazon.

But like I said up top, I thought I was the only person who remembered this band, until I Googled them and discovered this page. I feel really mentally healthy now.

Thursday, December 01, 2005


They're playing in Cleveland sometime soon. Here's why you should go see 'em, if you're in the neighborhood, or buy the album if you're not. And use the free stencil, dammit!