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Sifting through 82 hours of Andy Kaufman’s private anti-comedy field recordings
10:36 am

Pop Culture


Last week Drag City released Andy & His Grandmother, previously unheard “field recordings” made by the legendary dada anti-comic Andy Kaufman in the late 1970s. The tapes show Kaufman pulling friends, family members and total strangers alike into his provocative acts of real life mayhem and reality-altering pranks. (My best friend once gave him a lift home from LAX. Kaufman, then a highly recognizable face on network television, walked up to his girlfriend at baggage and asked for a ride home. I asked him what it was like and he said flatly “Really weird.”).

Andy & His Grandmother was edited down from from 82 hours of micro-cassette tapes by Vernon Chatman, one of the geniuses behind Wonder Showzen (he’s also the voice of “Towlie” on South Park) and Rodney Ascher (the director of Room 237). I posed a few questions about the release to Vernon Chatman over email:

Eighty-two hours of raw material to sort through is a daunting task, to say the least. How did you attack the “not enough hours in the day” problem? Were you just listening to Andy Kaufman in the car for months on end? Multi-tasking while listening to Andy Kaufman’s private recordings seems like it would be a difficult thing to do.

I had to rage against my deep inherent laziness and force myself to sit upright, undistracted, with headphones on, listening to every second of the tapes, taking notes.  So it took way too long – a couple years passed between receiving the tapes and honing the final cut with Rodney. There was a lot of marinating in different approaches and shifting ideas around.

A few times on the tapes, Andy would randomly call up a stranger who had sent him a letter, and invite the stunned fan to spend an afternoon with him – just running errands and stuff. Occasionally, listening to the tapes felt like I got to be a fly on Andy’s face for the day.

What was the signal to noise ratio like, the solid gold stuff vs the recorder merely being switched on? I would think some of it, maybe a lot of it, would be incoherent.

Tons of it was indeed incoherent. I think he was interested in the ambience and texture of his life as much as the moments of lucid goofiness he created.  He’d record a blaring party.  Or the rumbling white noise of a drive to the airport in his car. Or a casual meal with his parents. But mostly the tapes showcased Andy shifting in and out of performance for the benefit of no one/ himself/ the tapes. He was always on the lookout for ways to give people an experience. For the album, we focused on those moments.

Did certain themes present themselves as you went through the tapes? What was the editing philosophy?

There didn’t seem to be any guiding theme, other than Andy’s personality, his impulses. The editing philosophy was to follow Andy’s lead as much as possible—to zero in on the moments where he spelled out his intentions and execute them as we thought he would have. The overall goal was to not craft a biographical or historical document, but build an album of tracks – an entertaining interesting strange funny honest experience, as true to Andy’s intentions as possible. Of course, it isn’t possible to fully achieve that goal, but we figured don’t mess with his tapes if you aren’t going to try. 

In these field recordings, were there certain “sleight of mind” tropes that Kaufman utilized to get his put-ons moving in a Kaufman-esque direction?

Well, I know from Lynne [Margulies, Kaufman’s girlfriend] that occasionally Andy put on little costumes when he would go out messing with people in public. But most of the stuff on the tapes were bits he created spontaneously. He slid invisibly in and out of performance. Sometimes he would use the sliding back and forth to further befuddle folks around him. His greatest “trick” might have been his weird combination of relentless commitment and infinite slipperiness. He never had to hide an ulterior motive because all (none) of his motives were ulterior. He had no corners to get cornered into. He was compelled to meddle in any available cranny, and equally interested in every type of reaction.

He’d get obsessed with certain things – he loved tormenting one particular woman, a good friend of his, whom he couldn’t help winding up just to see her spin. We thought briefly about making the whole album only tracks of Andy infuriating this woman.  But there was too much other great stuff.

The liner notes aren’t very forthcoming about what’s what. Were you able to piece together the context for most of the things you selected or was that mostly mysterious to you?

A lot of it was like holding my head under murky water with open eyes, looking around trying to cobble a sense of what the hell is going on. More often than not, the context became clear. One time, Andy was talking openly on the phone with a sweet young lady about how desperate he was for some help getting laid (or as Andy called it, “getting some hey-hey-hey”). After 5 minutes, I realized the woman on the other end of the call, happily trying to help score him a little hey-hey-hey, was Andy’s sister.

How much of it was labeled in a useful manner to a future Andy Kaufman archivist like yourself?

Andy labeled the tapes in an almost illegible scrawl. I couldn’t understand most of the labels until after I listened to the tapes. I kept only scrappy sloppy disjointed notes to myself.  Also I dribbled a lot of gravy on them. Maybe there should be a website that just runs the tapes uncut on a loop forever. And plays a live video feed from one of Andy’s favorite brothels or/and petting zoos to go along with it.

You write in the liner notes that you can’t really learn anything about a person from listening to 82 hours of them on tape. C’mon! Nothing?

Here’s something I didn’t exactly learn, but that I had confirmed: Andy really seemed to be, in every crevice of his life that I got to peek into, as driven by sincere kidlike wonder as I had hoped he was.  There was no evidence of a cynical or needy ego manufacturing his persona or contriving a myth – even though he enjoyed playing around with all that stuff, his creative urges all seemed to come from an utterly pure place.

Buy Andy & His Grandmother on Amazon

Posted by Richard Metzger | Discussion
The ‘Rusty Knife’ of Arigó, Brazil’s amazing psychic surgeon
11:55 am



With their sleeves surreptitiously stuffed with chicken blood and pig guts, so-called “psychic surgeons” have been hoaxing the vulnerable (the most vulnerable) for centuries.

Yet every vein of the paranormal has its hero, its standard-bearer… and psychic surgery is no exception. Nestled in its dubious and oft-maligned ranks is the charming, beguiling and relatively well-authenticated instance of Arigó, Brazil’s celebrated “surgeon of the rusty knife.”

Regardless of its veracity or verifiability, it is an incredible story—science and spirituality shaken together into a narrative cocktail worthy of the finest magical realist imagination.

Born José Pedro de Freitas in 1921 on a farm in the Brazilian Highlands, Arigó was an entirely unschooled miner up to the age of thirty. Then, however, his life took an unexpected turn, when he became plagued with terrible depression and headaches and hallucinations. A local spiritualist informed him that the maladies were symptomatic of a spirit’s attempting to work through him: they would persist, he was assured, until he obeyed the entity’s bidding.

How Arigó first succumbed to the will of this sprit (ostensibly a German surgeon called ‘Dr Adolphus Fritz’, who died during WWI) is one of the more colorful episodes of a colorful life. Attending some political convention with fellow miners around 1950, an entranced Arigó reportedly entered a sleeping senator’s hotel room, and carved out a recently diagnosed tumor with his razor.

A little later, he similarly plunged, blade first, into an unwell relative’s vagina, plucking the cancer from her uterus. In both instances, the recipients of such spontaneous and unorthodox treatment apparently experienced no pain or panic whatsoever, nor subsequent infection, and were completely healed—all elements that remained characteristic of this strange surgeon’s practice for years to come. (Arigó never, I should stress, made use of any anaesthetic.)

Arigó went on to treat thousands from every walk of Brazilian life, from peasants to politicians, sometimes up to 300 a day, never accepting payment, diagnosing with instant, unerring accuracy, and occasionally complimenting his free jazz operations with detailed prescriptions this illiterate and unschooled man would churn out in an unusually academic example of automatic writing. While at his work Arigó would speak, fittingly enough, in a thick German accent.

Although he operated in relative harmony with the medical profession—sometimes he would send people away without treatment, telling them a less transcendent physician would suffice—this establishment still persecuted him, in concert with the Catholic church, and Arigó would serve some time in jail for unlicensed practice. He died in 1971, a controversial legend and enigma.

Now cop the following: the American intelligence asset, psychic researcher, and author of The Sacred Mushroom Andrija Puharich’s account of his own time with Arigó—and his own brief but remarkable experience under the latter’s notorious blade. The not-a-little sinister Puharich’s credentials are far from impeccable (he was, after all, patron of that “spoon-bending” charlatan and spy Uri Geller), but his tale is still a powerful one…

Finally, watch some of Puharich’s bizarre footage for yourself, and see Arigó gouging out cysts, fishing out tumors and whipping out cataracts as if it ain’t no thing, while his unflinching patients sit there cool as cucumbers. You even see him rooting around in a guy’s skull.

While I would hardly describe the following as “safe for work” (puss flies, blood oozes), your correspondent happens to be an almighty wuss about this kind of thing, with an outright phobia of doctors, surgeries, surgeons, gory flicks et al— yet still managed to find this footage quite bearable. Either because it’s uncanny. Or because it’s bullshit. Take your pick…

Posted by Thomas McGrath | Discussion
Insanity: Female inmates of California prisons coerced into tubal ligations
04:29 pm

Class War


Female Prisoner
Between 2006 and 2010, at least 148 female inmates were sterilized by doctors under contract with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, according to a report by the Center for Investigative Reporting.

Though there was no official state approval for the tubal ligations—commonly known as having ones “tubes tied,” a procedure in which the fallopian tubes are blocked or cut, permanently sterilizing the individual—the state is recorded as having paid doctors $147,460 to perform ligations between 1997 and 2010.

According to inmates and prisoner advocates, women who underwent the surgery (while incarcerated at the California Institution for Women in Corona or the Valley State Prison for Women in Chowchilla) were coerced into agreeing to tubal ligation. The women were signed up for the procedure while they were pregnant—inmates who had served multiple prison sentences or had several children were suggested for the operations.

Though state funds for tubal ligations have been restricted since 1994—requiring approval from a health care committee and investigation into each individual case—doctors continued to perform the ligations under the assumption that they didn’t need permission. Officials claimed that the operations were performed to benefit the health of women who had undergone multiple C-sections; women were told that the ligations would be empowering, putting them on equal footing as women on the outside.

However, women who underwent the ligations stated that they had only had one C-section, were repeatedly pressured into agreeing to surgery and were not told why the surgeries were considered necessary. One inmate was pushed by a doctor to agree to ligation while sedated and strapped to a surgical table. Though in an altered state of consciousness, she successfully resisted—records show that doctors had tried talking her into ligation twice previously, without providing any reason or justification. Other ligations were pressured for while women were undergoing labor—which would be illegal in a federal prison, and has been ruled coercive, as the trauma of labor can impair a woman’s decision-making process.

Corey G. Johnson—the reporter who broke the ligations story for the Center for Investigative Reporting—told me that interviewing the women who had undergone the ligations was an at-times grueling process due to the suffering they had withstood.

“The women have expressed sadness, mostly, with dashes of anger and reluctance,” he explained. “Prison is not a happy place, and many of the women I spoke with experienced various traumas while on the inside. It hasn’t been easy reliving those moments.”

Questioned about the ligations by Johnson, officials claimed that the $147,460 the state spent on the procedures was minimal “compared to what you save in welfare paying for these unwanted children—as they procreated more.”

Johnson relayed that the public and governmental reaction to the story has been massive:

“The public’s response has been overwhelming. Strong outrage for the most part—with some counter voices of support for the doctors involved. The interest has crossed gender, religious, political and geographic lines… Reaction from governmental actors has been what I expected. Lawmakers called for investigations. The federal office in charge of prison healthcare told me they thought the story was fair. They’re now responding to legislative questioning. And the state correction department—where these surgeries sprung from—has been quiet and virtually non-responsive.”

Forced sterilizations of prisoners, the poor and the mentally ill were only officially banned in California in 1979. From 1909 to 1964, California was the United States’ top sterilizer, forcing surgery on over 20,000 men and women under a statewide eugenics program so successful that even the Nazis asked for California’s advice in the 1930s.

Much like the justifications given by the Valley State officials above, the reasoning behind California’s early eugenics program was to save the state money by reducing welfare and relief. But California was by no means the only state running a eugenics program on its citizens—32 states in the US passed laws allowing forcible sterilization in the early part of the 20th century, beginning with Indiana in 1907; by 1979 over 60,000 Americans had been sterilized.

The dark history of America’s eugenics programs is only now being publicly re-assessed. 2003 saw California’s then-Governor Gray Davis issue a formal apology for the program. Some states, like North Carolina, are considering reparations.

With the old wounds of California’s history freshly re-opened, the state is calling for an open investigation of what happened at the California Institution for Women and Valley State. But for the women who underwent ligation, the damage is already permanent.

Get Jason Louv’s new free ebook, “The Apocalypse is Cancelled,” here.

Posted by Jason Louv | Discussion
The Band Who Fell to Earth: Early DEVO live at Max’s Kansas City
05:42 pm



An excerpt from Kevin C. Smith’s new book, Recombo DNA: The Story Of Devo, Or How the 60s Became the 80s.

While CBGB was ground zero for what had become known as punk, Devo would play the majority of their New York gigs at Max’s Kansas City. Once a favorite spot of Andy Warhol’s and his entourage, it had also served as the epicenter of the glam-rock scene of the early 70s. It was also where David Bowie and Iggy Pop first met. Located off Union Square, two blocks from Warhol’s Factory, it was “the exact place where pop art and pop life came together in New York in the 60s,” as the artist put it. “Teeny boppers and sculptors, rock stars and poets from St Mark’s Place, Hollywood actors checking out what the underground actors were all about, boutique owners and models, modern dancers and go-go dancers—everybody went to Max’s and everything got homogenized there.”

Pere Ubu had played at Max’s at least a year earlier, and were in fact the only non-New Yorkers among the eight bands to feature on the compilation album Max’s Kansas City 1976 (reissued in 1978 as Max’s Kansas City—New York New Wave). Devo made their debut at the venue immediately after their second CBGB show on May 25 1977. Having worn their yellow HAZMAT suits at CBGB, at Max’s they unveiled some new finds: high-waisted, billowy, knee-length Gurkha shorts (as worn by the Nepalese military units from which they took their name) and white suspenders. These baggy, pleated shorts were entirely out of step with prevailing trends of the 70s but predated the look of the 80s.

Devo would return to Max’s for more shows during the summer, fall, and winter of 1977, one of which was attended by an aspiring music journalist, Byron Coley, who would later travel with the band on their first major-label tour just over a year later and write about the experience for New York Rocker. They had an intriguing way with introductions. “I personally fell in love with Devo during the summer of ’77 at Max’s Kansas City,” Coley later wrote. “What made the show so special for me was the moment when Bob Mothersbaugh got so carried away with his solo on ‘Smart Patrol’ that he jabbed his guitar into my ear and actually drew blood. Ya hear that, babies? Blood! You think I’d spill the very essence of life over some band I hadn’t taken a mighty big hankering to? Damn straight I wouldn’t. When he jabbed the same guitar into my pal Strato’s eye (blackening it for a long two weeks), I knew this was indeed the band for me. Their swell costumes and even sweller songs had me in their sway. Call me a fool, I call it rock’n’roll.”

Each of the band’s forays to New York drew bigger crowds than the last, and their reputation increased correspondingly. The main booker at Max’s, Peter Crowley, would later describe the band’s performances there as “a giant showcase. They were already becoming famous and all that . . . but they were not identified with Max’s as struggling beginners. They were already kings of the underground. By playing New York, they then got the international reputation.”

For their second appearance at Max’s, Devo shared the bill with the equally misanthropic New York bands The Cramps—featuring transplanted Akron native Lux Interior—and Suicide. The latter group regularly caused genuine riots—including one in Belgium that had to be dispersed with tear gas—with their performances, which featured Martin Rev’s primitive organ and rhythm boxes and Alan Vega’s confrontational stage demeanor. He would routinely taunt pugilistic audience members with a bicycle chain, and sometimes barricade the exits so audiences were forced to stay and listen. Suicide shows would culminate in the ten-minute ‘Frankie Teadrop,’ a harrowing tale of a desperate factory worker’s murder of his wife and six-month-old child. “People would run, screaming,” Television guitarist Richard Lloyd recalled. “The whole crowd at CBGB would go outside . . . it was dreadful. But that’s their charm.”

The band’s formation in 1970 preceded Devo’s by a few years, but the impetus was the same. “The Vietnam War was going nuts with Nixon dropping bombs everywhere,” Vega recalled. “Suicide was very much a reaction to all the shit that was going on around us.” For all the nihilism and cynicism, however, one of the band’s defining works was ‘Dream Baby Dream,’ which Vega described as being “about the need to keep our dreams alive.”

Before the show at Max’s, the legendarily confrontational Vega let down his stage persona long enough to go and introduce himself to Devo in their dressing room. He was shocked at what he found. “I opened their door and they were all doing calisthenics,” he recalled. “When they performed, they were almost like a calisthenic—all in unison with their movements onstage—like a machine. When I looked into their dressing room and saw them doing all their movements I just cracked up.” Nonetheless, Vega got on well with the band, and remembered them signing a record deal shortly after the show. It was not the first time that had happened. “This was test for the band: if the band could play to a Suicide crowd and get over it, then they got signed.”

Although Devo found acceptance within the burgeoning underground rock scene in New York, they realized that their unique worldview could not have been fostered there. In Akron, they had been allowed to develop in isolation, whereas audiences in New York had been able to watch bands like the Ramones and Talking Heads evolve over time. “When Devo finally popped and were able to drive in our Econoline van from Ohio to New York City and play shows, people were disbelieving that it could have even happened,” Mark recalled. “They were like: how did we not know about this? . . . People were mystified. They wanted to know what Akron was.”

Jerry had a similar backhanded compliment for his hometown. “Devo couldn’t have come out of LA or New York. Cleveland and Akron are like the boot camp to the world. If you can survive those places and still be a functioning human being, you can go anywhere. It’s pretty brutal. It was industrial then, and it was very blue-collar, and it was very hostile to creativity. So the bands that had the balls to do something in the face of the rejection and threats really got strong.”

An excerpt from Kevin C. Smith’s new book, Recombo DNA: The Story Of Devo, Or How the 60s Became the 80s.

Hardcore DEVO has just been re-released by Superior Viaduct/Boogie Boy Records.

“Mongoloid” and “Gut Feeling” live at Max’s Kansas City in 1977
More live early DEVO at Max’s Kansas City after the jump…

Posted by Richard Metzger | Discussion
Alan McGee on his label’s new signings, The Rolling Stones’ tour and if Oasis are about to reform?
10:12 pm



I heard this rumor that Oasis will reform. So, I contacted Alan McGee, former head of Creation Records, and present boss of 359 Music, to find out if it was true…

You know it’s summer when they appear. Crowds of youngsters with rucksacks, tents, and crates of beer gathering at train terminals and bus stations. Their faces relieved by the finish of another academic year, and excited by the promise of distant, euterpean delights. This is the season of music festivals across Britain, from the farm fields of Glastonbury, in Somerset, to the disused airfield in Kinross, where T in the Park is held. The television and print media is saturated with these events, sending chipper young presnters to gush and gawp, or disgruntled, older reporters to dig in with all the young things, and send back epistles full of bile.

Some of their ire is understandable, as the festivals have changed so dramatically from their make-do beginnings, into near corporate enterprises. You can also see it with the acts. Once it was bands or artists on their way-up. Nowadays, it’s mainly a showcase of for aged stars to perform their greatest hits.

At T in the Park, the headliners this year were The Killers, Rihanna and the terrifyingly bland Mumford and Sons, who also (unbelievably) headlined at Glastonbury, along with The Arctic Monkeys and, of course, the oldest rockers in town, The Rolling Stones.

McGee didn’t go to any of the Festivals this year. He watched them on TV.

Alan McGee: “I despise Glastonbury because it’s like a middle class festival,” he tells me over the phone. “If you were from Glasgow, and you were going to Glastonbury, you need five-hundred-quid to get there. Who’s got five-hundred-quid to go to a fucking gig?

“I think it’s really middle class, and has little to do with what music should be about.”

I asked McGee about The Stones, the one band Glastonbury organizer, Michael Eavis had tried to book since the festival began in 1970. The Stones took to the Pyramid Stage and, depending on your age, were either electrifying or disappointing relics.

Alan McGee: “I think, to be honest, The Stones are now probably far too old. I love them, don’t get me wrong. When I saw them at Twickenham in 2007, they were only about 63, and they were still tight, they still had it. But hitting 70, they are losing their power now. It’s probably an unfashionable thing to say, because you’re expected to say, ‘Yeah, they’ve still got it.’  I know Bobby [Gillespie], saw them at Hyde Park and he was was raving about them. But for me personally, watching them on the TV, I thought they were losing power.

“The thing is Keith is busking it a bit because he’s got arthritis, and Ronnie’s carrying the whole thing. Keith only really plays offbeat chords, and you can see he’s not on form.”

Rock journalist Charles Shaar Murray summed-up The Stones performance as a magnificent, great ruin, that had to be seen. He also highlighted Mick Taylor’s cameo, which only limned the lack of Keith’s playing. But what about Jagger? His energy is incredible and he often carries the band with him, but at times, I feel that Jagger performs at the audience rather than to them. McGee thought differently.

“I think Mick Jagger is beyond criticism,” he said. “Mick Jagger is the show. He carries it absolutely.

“I think Mick Jagger and Ronnie Wood are still tough. Ronnie Wood is playing for both himself and Keith, and Mick, well they need Mick to keep the show going, he’s just bursting.” 

Keith does some stuff, “Satisfaction” was good, but I think he’s busking it, and I think we need Mick on stage, because I don’t think Ronnie can do the whole thing, it’s impossible to play all Keith’s parts and his parts.”

Alan McGee is on a wave of success at the moment. He has confirmed his first six signings to his new label 359 Music, and his autobiography Creation Stories, which comes out in November with Pan/MacMillan, is being raved about, and having seen an unedited version I can only agree with the praise. It is also been rumored that Creation Stories is about to be optioned for a feature length film. Indeed, there’s another rumor about Oasis reforming I want ask Alan about. But that can wait. we talked more about festivals and the difference in audiences.

Alan McGee: “I love Scottish audiences, I must admit. Probably biased, but there you go. The only thing that is better than Scottish audiences are Mexican audiences—they’re more mental, believe it or not. I’m not taking the piss, they’re great, but they get that mental that at some gigs they cage in the audience.

“I’ve seen Nine Inch Nails and Placebo both play to 20,000 people in Mexico City, and there is a wire in front of the bands, all the way round. That’s not to keep the band in, that’s to cage in the audience. It’s a bit like the Barrowlands [a famous venue in Glasgow] except it’s not 2,000 people, it’s 20,000 people.”
More from Alan McGee on his new signings, and whether Oasis will reform, after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
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