Here’s another groovy communique from our good buddy Tim Stegall.
With guitarist Greg Ginn’s much vaunted resurrection of Southern California hardcore punk legends Black Flag (featuring Jealous Again-era vocalist Ron Reyes) not set to debut until a May 14th date in Luxembourg, Ginn’s been beaten to the punch. Flag, the band of ex-Black Flag members re-banded to give the people their take on the classics, debuted April 18th at an invite-only show at Redondo Beach Moose Lodge No. 1873.
Over 34 years ago, the same rented hall hosted the debut of Black Flag. Much as then, FLAG (comprising original vocalist [and Circle Jerks/OFF! leader] Keith Morris, bassist/songwriter/conceptual mastermind Chuck Dukowski, drummer [and Descendents/ALL mastermind] Bill Stevenson, guitarist [and 3rd Black Flag vocalist] Dez Cadena, and Descendents/ALL guitarist Stephen Egerton deputized in Ginn’s stead) eschewed a stage and played on the floor through a rented PA, right in the faces of the less-than-200 guests.
As you can see in the video below of the entire gig, the band played with the same ferocious precision, commitment, and articulate rage as Black Flag in their prime. Hard to call this a revival or a cover band, when you receive music this fierce and real, played with clear love. Amazingly, Morris even ably handles later Henry Rollins-era material that he never sang, like “My War” and “Rise Above,” with the grace and ease of one who owns the song (if you can call screaming and completely exploding “grace and ease,” that is).
What you get, basically, is Black Flag’s Damaged lineup, with Ginn replaced and Morris standing-in for Rollins. Then Dez unstraps his Les Paul somewhere in the mid-point and assumes the mic, unleashing a slew of 3rd lineup hits.
The proof’s on the tape: Flag is clearly as much Black Flag as what Ginn and Reyes will be unleashing shortly. And they still kill ants on contact….
I was going to post a short notice about these two sure to be interesting evenings at NYU this week, but I thought the story told by the press release was worth presenting here in full.
Of mild interest to DM readers, my own tape-recorded recollections of the late Nelson Sullivan are part of this archive (I knew Nelson and rented a tiny room from him for about 6 months in his ramshackle house at 5 Ninth Ave. when I was 21). Robert Coddington, who valiantly cataloged this amazing collection and kept it together, is a friend of mine and someone I hold in high regard. It’s really a tribute to his scholarship and tenacity that this collection is going to be housed at NYU, where it belongs, for future scholars who want to understand what happened “downtown” during the 1980s (I can’t help but to add “...before NYU drove up the property values and forced all of the bohemians out!”). Robert, and the wonderful Dick Richards, the real hero of this story (and a man who should have a documentary made about him) have done history a big favor, they really have.
The 1980s were the plague years in NYC, make no mistake about it. A lot of us had close friends who died. But it was also a fun, decadent and deeply weird time to have been young. Sullivan’s tapes capture that time like literally nothing else could.
Long Days’ Journey Downtown—Nelson Sullivan’s Video Archive Back in NYC After 23 Years
Completing a trek across many miles and more than two decades, a remarkable trove of video tapes chronicling the golden age of New York’s 1980s club scene is back where it was created—in downtown Manhattan. In October, New York University’s Fales Library & Special Collections accepted the Nelson Sullivan Video Archive as a donation from Atlantans Dick Richards and David Goldman, and Robert Coddington of Durham, N.C.—operating collectively as the 5 Ninth Avenue Project.
On April 25, the Fales Library will host a panel discussion to mark the archive’s official entry into its collections. Coddington will talk about Sullivan’s body of work, and how he and his partners worked to preserve it. Several artists featured in the video tapes also are expected to attend and add their recollections of Sullivan and the scene he documented. The event begins at 6 p.m. on April 25 at the Fales Library, third floor, Elmer Holmes Bobst Library, 70 Washington Square South. This event is free and open to the public.
In the early 1980s, Nelson Sullivan began using then-newly available portable video technology to document the highs and lows of downtown’s world of invites, catfights, train wrecks and rising stars. The equipment was heavy and expensive, but night after night Sullivan lugged it along from SoHo to Coney Island and all points inbetween—from huge discos (like Limelight and Tunnel) to tiny dives (like the Pyramid) and private parties (where he circulated with Warhol-era superstars and freshly minted celebrities like RuPaul and Deee-Lite).
Sullivan’s video archive grew rapidly, taking up shelf after shelf in the creaky three-story townhouse he rented in the Meatpacking District (at 5 9th Ave. and Gansevoort, today site of the restaurant 5 9th). And while he accommodated friends’ requests for copies, he jealously guarded the original tapes—confident he would one day devise a way to present them to the world. Finally, in the spring of 1989, Sullivan decided to make the collection his life’s work: He quit his job at the famous Joseph Patelson Music House (just across from Carnegie Hall’s stage door) and set out to launch a public access cable program showcasing his tapes. But tragically, after completing just one episode, he died of a sudden heart attack in the early morning hours of Independence Day. Seven years after it began, Sullivan’s quest to document the downtown scene was over.
Sullivan’s one-of-a-kind archive might have been picked apart by souvenir-hunters—or worse, left on the curb—had it not been for Dick Richards. Though grief-stricken at the loss of his lifelong friend—the two grew up together in rural South Carolina—Richards acted quickly, flying to New York, securing the collection, and shipping it to the Atlanta home he shared with his domestic partner David Goldman and his business partner Ted Rubenstein (co-founder, with Richards, of Funtone USA, which released RuPaul’s first three recordings).
“The video archive Nelson had created was so extraordinary that I knew I had to do whatever I could to save it,” Richards recalls. “What Nelson was doing was entirely unique. When you watch the tapes, you’ll search in vain to find another person who’s video taping these events. With AIDS ravaging the community and changing it forever, his was basically the only personal video testimony of a scene that was rapidly disintegrating.”
Back in Atlanta, Richards publicized the tapes by showing selections on “The American Music Show,” the weekly public access cable program he co-produced with Potsy Duncan and Bud “Beebo” Lowry.
Then, on a 1993 trip to tape the show at Foxy’s Lounge in Chicago, Richards and Goldman met Robert Coddington, who was involved in the Windy City’s club scene and burgeoning Queercore movement. Coddington, 23, longed to learn about the wild days that had preceded his own coming of age in the gay community, and upon hearing about the archive was eager to learn of the lost landscape it revealed.
“As a young gay man at the time, I had this acute sense that I was arriving at a fabulous party—five minutes after the lights came on,” Coddington says. “I knew that AIDS was ripping apart the gay culture that had existed before. I began to ask myself What was that world and what were those people like? Upon experiencing Nelson’s tapes, I began to learn the answers to those questions.”
Beginning in 2001, Richards and Coddington worked together to organize and chronicle the collection, producing four highlight DVDs (“Mad About Manhattan,” “The Club Kids,” “Nelson Sullivan’s Fabulous Friends,” and “Legends of New York”). In 2004, Coddington edited Sullivan’s “My Life In Video” for the New Museum’s East Village USA exhibition, which also featured works by Basquiat, Kenny Scharf, Keith Haring and Nan Goldin. In 2007, Coddington presented and discussed archive highlights at Atlanta’s Eye-Drum Gallery. Richards launched a YouTube channel dedicated to the collection: To date, it has logged more than 750,000 views.
Sullivan’s videos have been shown in more than 20 solo and group shows and film festivals across Europe, Australia, South America and North America. Videographers from Switzerland and France produced short documentary films on Sullivan for Europe’s ARTE channel. Los Angeles-based World of Wonder created a film on Sullivan for Britain’s Channel 4.
But as the collection’s fame spread, its ultimate survival was far from certain. The archive of more than 600 tapes remained boxed in a back room at Richards’ and Goldman’s century-old house in Inman Park (site of the 1864 Battle of Atlanta). Without an institutional “forever home,” the three partners feared the tapes’ initial escape from the dumpster might have been only temporary.
That’s when Sullivan’s videos got a powerful champion in the form of the Fales Library. The addition of the archive brought an exciting new dimension to Fales’ Downtown Collection, which already included the papers of such influential entities as the Gay Cable Network, the Red Hot Organization, Dennis Cooper, Michaelangelo Signorile, Richard Hell and Ande Whyland.
“Nelson Sullivan was the chronicler of the demimonde downtown New York scene,” said Marvin J. Taylor, director of the Fales Library. “He was everywhere that was important at just the right time. But, he was more than that. When Nelson turned his video camera on himself as flaneur of downtown, he found his own artistic, queer, postmodern voice. We’re honored to have Nelson’s videos here at NYU.”
“Seen on the Scene”
Here are a few of the personalities of note featured in the Nelson Sullivan Video Archive. Click on the links to view selected clips.
A lecture/screening presented by Robert Coddington will take place on Wednesday April 24 at the Einstein Auditorium in NYU’s Barney Building on Stuyvesant Street. It is free and open to the public and will feature videos of Keith Haring, Rock Steady Crew, RuPaul, Leigh Bowery, Ethyl Eichelberger, Fran Lebowitz, Michael Musto, Lady Miss Kier and more…
The following evening, Thursday April 25th, at the third floor Fales Library at the Elmer Holmes Bobst Library on Washington Square South, there will be a celebration of the life and work of Nelson Sullivan with Michael Musto, Lady Miss Kier, Robert Coddington, drag historian Joe E. Jeffreys, performance artist Flloyd and photographer Paula Gately Tillman.
“Moondog” by Dimitri Drjuchin, acrylic on canvas, 20” x 20”
Longtime commentor and sometimes Dangerous Minds guest contributor Em, will be joining us for the next several months as a blogger.
Hello, gang. I’m stoked about guest-blogging on Dangerous Minds for the next few months. Although I’m not as good a writer as Marc Campbell, and don’t have links of Tara or quite the incendiary comments of Richard, Paul or the others, hopefully for a few months I can keep you reasonably entertained as I dig out stuff that I’ve either run across over the last bunch of years, or that has slapped me across the face recently that I think you might find interesting.
Some of my interests include weird bands and labels (eg Facbn and the Factory spinoff labels), drugs (though in recent decades only caffeine and alcohol have passed these lips, sadly), crypto-anarchy (I was an outspoken member of Cypherpunks for many years), and even gay culture (so much of it happened around me here in NYC in the 70s and 80s and I only recently started digging into it). Oh, even though I work in a “too big to fail” bank, I actually originate from a family of classical and jazz musicians, so maybe I’ll dig out some of those stories too, many of which will be jaw-dropping to some of you straights out there.
If we’re lucky, we’ll have some frikkin’ fun, bustin’ chops and takin’ names, and when we get sick of each other I’ll retire to haunt the comments boards with the rest of you.
My first post is about the legendary New York City weirdo, Moondog.
You know what? Sometimes I catch myself thinking that New York, these days, sucks. Yeah, we now have better food, less crime, and the streets are cleaner, but back in the day, rent control combined with respectably high crime rates meant that real characters could find a place to live they could actually afford, even if it was roach-infested and visited by the occasional super rat. One such character was Moondog, kind of an archetype and patron saint for all New York street characters. But Moondog wasn’t just a grade-A great American eccentric, he was a brilliant composer and, indeed, the real father of minimalism. Oh yes he was.
Moondog was born one Louis Thomas Hardin, in 1916, and moved to New York in the early 1940s whereupon he began occupying the corner of 53rd Street and 6th Avenue for several decades.
As a kid I remember seeing Moondog walking down the street with his staff, home made clothes and his distinctive Viking helmet, but I did not realize at the time that Moondog could not see, having been blinded by a farming accident involving blasting caps when he was 16. Hardin had gone on to study and learn music at various academies for the blind.
But most people did not know that… indeed, my father, a musician who used to walk uptown from Tin Pan Alley to visit with Moondog on matinee days, didn’t seem to know much about Moondog’s compositions, or that he had been friends with Charlie Parker (who wanted to record with Moondog but died before he had the chance), Charlie Mingus, Leonard Bernstein and Lenny Bruce. Janis Joplin recorded one of his songs (“All is Loneliness”) and believe it or not, so did Julie Andrews!Andy Warhol designed one of his album covers, featuring the his own mother’s handwriting.
From that little piece, along with the timing (approximately 1968), it’s clear that Reich and Glass both regarded Moondog as basically the father of minimalism, and when you listen to Moondog’s pieces (the earliest of which were released in the early 1950s on 78 rpm records) you hear it very quickly.
Moondog’s music is in many ways unique. Though arguably minimal, there’s a sort of mountain man purity to the pieces that urban Reich, Glass, and La Monte Young don’t really share. Sometimes, these little pieces can bring you to tears with their gentle radiance.
Though most of Moondog’s compositions feature traditional instruments, he also incorporated sound effects (such as tugboat horns) into his music, along with parts played by his own musical instrument inventions, such as the trimba, oo, and hüs (and in that sense he reminds me of another major league New York City character, Rahsaan Roland Kirk ).
Although I could swear that I remembered seeing Moondog as late as perhaps 1976, by 1974 he moved to Germany, where he resided as a revered figure until his death in 1999, though not before returning to conduct the Brooklyn Philharmonic.
A movie about Hardin’s life, The Viking of Sixth Avenue has been made by Holly Elson and will be shown this year, but of course, hep cat reader of DM that you are, you will already have checked him out most thoroughly before everyone else climbs on the Moondog bandwagon!
Below, Moondog’s Moondog album from 1969. Check it out and tell me it’s not wonderful:
(Did you listen long enough to hear Moondog recite some of his cryptic poetry?)
Or “drunk with desire”! Is she so overcome by the magical magnificence of this Jethro Tull tee-shirt that she had to rip the shit right off of him? Apparently so.
According to the 1970 ad (yes, I’m actually typing this out for you. No copy and paste action from me):
You say you’re not making it with the local lovlies? That when you make Paul McCartney eyes at alluring little honeys in violet hip-huggers they respond by frowning and suggesting, “Jerk off, loser”? That even the offer of a seat next to you at a Led Zeppelin concert is insufficient inducement for a far-out nubie to spend part of the evening with you?
Then, fella, whatchoo need is a SUPER-OUTTA-SIGHT-JETHRO-TULL-T-SHIRT of the sort worn by the fullest-handed rakes everywhere.
These eye-catching sartorial groovies, which are guaranteed to reduce even the haughtiest of lovlies to a mound of hot pulsating flesh, are a divine shade of yellow designed to to flatter even the swarthiest of complexion, are the three-buttons-at-the-neck style recently made all the rage by your sharper English groups.
Chances are this was a Jethro Tull publicity joke-ad to garner attention for their 1970 Benefit album. It’s still an amusing concept, though, AS IF a woman would have been caught dead at a Jethro Tull show. I mean, come on...
Although history will recall the Van der Graaf Generator as being a “progressive rock” group, in many respects, this assessment has more to do with timing than the actual music this far ahead-of-their-time band actually made. Imagine if Pawn Hearts, their masterpiece, was released in 1981 instead of 1971, if you take my point.
It wasn’t for nuthin’ that the likes of John Lydon, Julian Cope and Marc Almond were such massive fans of the group. David Bowie, it is alleged, once refereed to himself the “poor man’s Peter Hammill”!
And speaking of Pawn Hearts, this is an album I’ve loved for decades, and yet I remained blissfully unaware of the existence of this single, solitary live filmed performance of “A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers,” the sprawling, 23-minute-long epic suite consisting of ten separate movements that takes up the entirety of that album’s side two. I found this by accident yesterday, looking for something else. My jaw dropped as I watched it.
This 1972 performance from Belgium television—which is nothing short of astonishing and quite intensely intense—was shot piecemeal and edited together because it was impossible to play the song all in one go. Apparently, this is the only time “A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers” was ever performed live like this by the original classic line-up of Hugh Banton, Guy Evans, Peter Hammill and David Jackson.
Peter Hammill told this to the Sounds music paper about the theme of the enigmatic suite:
“It’s just the story of the lighthouse keeper, that’s it on its basic level. And there’s the narrative about his guilt and his complexes about seeing people die and letting people die, and not being able to help. In the end - well, it doesn’t really have an end, it’s really up to you to decide. He either kills himself, or he rationalises it all and can live in peace… Then on the psychic/religious level it’s about him coming to terms with himself, and at the end there is either him losing it all completely to insanity, or transcendence; it’s either way at the end… And then it’s also about the individual coming to terms with society - that’s the third level…”
According to Peter Hammill, writing on his website just a few days ago, Van der Graaf Generator will be performing “A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers” each night of their upcoming 2013 summer tour dates.
There’s a fascinating must-read short profile of Kim Gordon in this month’s Elle by Lizzy Goodman. In it, the Sonic Youth co-founder discusses being single again at the still Sonically Youthful age of 59, divvying up those pop culture treasures she and Thurston Moore must’ve amassed over the years and her breast cancer treatment:
“We have all these books, records, and art and are getting it all assessed; that’s what is taking so long,” she says after ordering a glass of rosé. But both have moved on. Among her suitors are a restaurateur, an architect, and an actor. “It’s just weird,” Gordon says of navigating new romance. “I can’t tell what’s normal.” And Moore has regularly been seen with the same woman, fueling the rumor that his affair helped doom their marriage. “We seemed to have a normal relationship inside of a crazy world,” Gordon says of her marriage. “And in fact, it ended in a kind of normal way—midlife crisis, starstruck woman.”
Some years ago, a woman Gordon declines to name became a part of the Sonic Youth world, first as the girlfriend of an erstwhile band member and later as a partner on a literary project with Moore. Eventually, Gordon discovered a text message and confronted him about having an affair. They went to counseling, but he kept seeing the other woman. “We never got to the point where we could just get rid of her so I could decide what I wanted to do,” Gordon says. “Thurston was carrying on this whole double life with her. He was really like a lost soul.” Moore moved out. Gordon stayed home and listened to a lot of hip-hop. “Rap music is really good when you’re traumatized,” she says.
The first few months were rough. “It did feel like every day was different,” she recalls. “It’s a huge, drastic change.” But slowly things improved. She adjusted to the framework of semisingle parenthood. (Coco, their only child, is now a freshman at a Chicago art school.) Gordon kept their colonial filled with friends—a musician, a poet, and Moore’s adult niece, with whom Gordon has remained very close. “Sometimes I cook dinner and just invite whomever,” she says of her improvised family life. “Everyone helps out a bit with the dogs. It’s a big house. It’s nice to have people around.” Things were stabilizing. Then Gordon was found to have a noninvasive form of breast cancer called DCIS. “I’m fine; it’s literally the best you can have,” she says of her diagnosis, which required a lumpectomy. “I didn’t do radiation or anything, but I was like, Okay, what else is going to happen to me?”