Igor Stravinsky, drawn by Picasso on New Year’s Eve, 1920
The great Russian composer Igor Stravinsky felt that if one was going to become a great composer, one also had to be a great conductor. Stravinsky recorded many of his works more than once, improving as a conductor over time.
Unlike most of the greats of classical music, with Stravinsky, whose career spanned much of the 20th century, we have audio and visual documentation of him actually conducting and playing his own music. The various Stravinsky Conducts Stravinsky albums released by Columbia Records are an essential part of any decent music collection.
This performance was taped in Spring of 1959 when Stravinsky was visiting Japan. The maestro is seen here conducting “The Firebird” (the 1945 “Symphonic Suite” version, not the 1910 ballet) with the NHK Orchestra:
Much more Stravinsky conducts (and plays) Stravinsky after the jump…
Les Blank was one of the most talented and prolific documentarians of all time—many know him for his wildly variant choice of subjects. He did a doc on women with diastemata, one on the sustainability of the Chinese tea market, and my favorite, the 20-minute-long anti-capitalist classic, Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe, in which Werner Herzog (you guessed it) eats his shoe (He lost a bet). Blank’s wheelhouse however was always regional American music and The Blues Accordin’ to Lightnin’ Hopkins—a gorgeous little film—radiates with his reverence for the Texas legend.
The short avoids explicit biography, choosing instead to record intimate musical moments and the ambient humanity of Hopkins’ world—it even credits “the people of Texas, 1967” among its “cast.” There are amazing performances of course, but they’re set against the lush community of Centerville, Texas, Hopkins’ boyhood town. His hypnotic performances emanate from living rooms, dirt roads, a barbeque and even a black rodeo—it’s an ethnographic pictorial as much as anything.
Hopkins was a bit of an anomaly as far as bluesmen went, though much of his early story is reminiscent of his peers. He actually met Blind Lemon Jefferson at a church picnic in Buffalo, Texas when he was 8, eventually becoming his protégé. He tried to break into music early on, spent some time in a labor prison in his twenties, and eventually returned to Centerville to work as a farm hand. Hopkins only managed to avoid blues “has-been” and “never-was” cliches with a bit of luck and a tenacious recording schedule.
By the 1950’s he had gained a following, and he just never stopped working. Hopkins not only rode the folk revival, he adapted to the changing scene, even recording an album with Texas psychsters the 13th Floor Elevators. He toured constantly and was the poet-in-residence of Houston, Texas for 35 years. He remains the most prolific blues recording artist.
On Halloween night of 1998, Shellac and David Yow of Scratch Acid/Jesus Lizard fame indulged their silly side, pretending to be The Sex Pistols for a set of scorching music. The location was Lounge Ax, the legendary venue on 2438 North Lincoln Avenue in Chicago that had been pummeling audiences with awesome music since 1987. (It closed in 2000; you might remember it as the venue in High Fidelity where John Cusack first meets Lisa Bonet.)
The first performers were Ms. Fits, an all-female Misfits cover band. During their set, Shellac’s Steve Albini stood right in the middle of the audience “to loudly support” the openers, who were facing “a tough crowd.” The middler, Sixto, featured members from Seam and Dis—they’re still active, at least judging by their bandcamp page.
When the crew put up three microphones for the final set, a rumor briefly flared up that this was going to be a Big Black reunion. What the audience got was a lot more special than that: Shellac with David Yow as a spot-on Johnny Rotten doing most of the songs off of Never Mind the Bollocks. Bob Weston was Sid Vicious, Todd Trainer was Paul Cook on drums, and Albini was Steve Jones.
David Yow stalked onto the stage, in full 1970’s-era Johnny Rotten attire to the letter. Bleached and spiked hair, psychotically glaring at the audience, the whole nine yards. He’d done his homework on this one. He was followed by the three Shellacs, with Steve Albini doing his best Steve Jones in vinyl pants (!) and a red doo-rag on his head. Bob Weston *was* Sid Vicious, in spiked black hair, mesh shirt (with scratches and scars visible underneath), glassy-eyed, and an impressively bloody IV bandage on his arm. Only Todd Trainer seemed to buck the whole Pistols image. I mean, he could have found one of those big sweaters or something. Paul Cook had style too.
Anyway, they ripped into “Holidays in the Sun”, and that set the tone for the evening. Yow had Rotten’s nasal Brit accent down pat, even in song. He pulled the whole thing off so well, I tell ya. Weston kept coughing up “blood” and running into things. Steve’s guitar sounded kind of sloppy, but I don’t think Jones could have done it any better. Between songs the band taunted the audience in mock cockney accents, Steve asking if there were “any PAA-ties about”. The audience responded by throwing chunks of a dismembered jack-o-lantern at the band.
The setlist was confined to material from Never Mind the Bollocks, including “Bodies”, “Submission”, “Anarchy in the U.K.”, and closing with “God Save the Queen”. Yow seemed to remember the words to them better than he remembers the words to Jesus Lizard songs.
Yow ended the evening by asking, “Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?” and the band walked offstage, barely an hour after they started. For a long time, nobody left. The house lights came up and nobody left. Todd Trainer started taking his drum set apart and people booed. It finally registered that that was the evening, that they weren’t going to get anymore, and they weren’t getting any Shellac songs.
As attendee Andy Larson wrote ten years later to the day, “steve albini said something like ‘does anyone know where there’s a party about?’ in a british accent—and i believe only that. walking up lincoln ave. after the show i passed bob weston (sid vicious) and said ‘hey—great show’ and he said “right” in a british accent.”
There’s no video of the show, and scarcely any pictures—at least on the Internet. The b/w shot above is the only one I could find. There is, however, fairly good audio, which you can download here in flac format.
1. Holidays In The Sun
3. Pretty Vacant
6. New York
7. Anarchy In The U.K.
8. God Save The Queen
The poster for the show was done by Illinois gig poster legend Jay Ryan of The Bird Machine. The poster run had a limited run of only 100 pressings, which combined with the specialness of the gig makes this an extremely hard-to-get item.
Baltimore’s mercurial post-hardcore zen masters Lungfish have always been a connoisseur’s buy. Their music was repetitive, meditative, and cosmic. A typical song would feature no chorus or bridge, only one cyclical guitar riff, while the band’s resident mystic, the imposing, bearded, shamanic Daniel Higgs, would issue lysergic declamations that sounded for all the world like some kind of scripture. Their fan base was never large, but holy hell, is it devoted—Lungfish fans are often the kind of music dorks whose faces will absolutely light up if you give them a chance to gush about the band.
They released 10 albums, an EP, and a collection of outtakes, none of which sounded terribly different from one another, every one of which I absolutely adore. Their last album of new material, Feral Hymns, is now nine years old, and apart from the 2012 release of A.C.R. 1999 a “lost album” from years earlier, there’s been no activity from the band. Singer Higgs has pursued a solo career, releasing impenetrable albums of ultra dense mysticism on which he plays banjo and Jews-harp, and he’s sung for the more accessible Swedish band Skull Defekts (very good stuff, BTW). Their deliberate, immersive guitarist Asa Osborne has been releasing work under the name Zomes. However, I’ve been unable to find an actual announcement of the band’s breakup, so I’ll keep hoping for Lungfish album #11, which will of course sound like all the others. And I will fucking love it.
Here’s a best-of/overview I compiled because why not.
“All Creation Bows” from Feral Hymns, 2005, the other Lungfish album I’m going to wear through the grooves on before I die.
“You are the War” from Feral Hymns, 2005
Here’s a cool thing: Radio Waves for Viewing, a “documentary” on the band made from a Higgs radio interview that’s been goosed with music, live footage and rare photos. This will give you as good an idea of what’s crawling around in the man’s very, very different mind as anything.
Marc Bolan and Gloria Jones at Rod Stewart’s party at Morton’s on the night that he died.
Although many of his songs refer to cars, Marc Bolan himself was deathly afraid of driving, fearing a young death. Despite owning his famous white Rolls-Royce (among many other ostentatious vehicles) he never learned how to master an automobile. On September 16, 1977, two weeks before Bolan would have turned 30, returning from a party thrown by Rod Stewart, he was killed when the purple Mini being driven by his girlfriend, American soul singer Gloria Jones (she recorded the original version of Ed Cobb’s “Tainted Love”) hit a chainlink fence and then a tree near Gypsy Lane in Southwest London. Neither passenger was wearing a seatbelt. The accident occurred less than one mile from Bolan’s mansion in East Sheen.
The funeral held four days later at the Golders Green Crematorium was attended by Les Paul, Rod Stewart, Bolan producer Tony Visconti, Eric Clapton and a contingent of sobbing fans. A swan-shaped floral arrangement calling to mind Bolan’s first big hit record, “Ride a White Swan” was displayed at the ceremony. Gloria Jones, hospitalized with a broken jaw and arm was not to find out about Marc’s death until the day of his funeral. Within a few days their home was looted by thieves.
The crash site has become a shrine to his memory with fans making pilgrimages to leave flowers and tributes and is maintained by the T.Rex Action Group. Today Gloria Jones runs a charity dedicated to Bolan’s memory in Sierra Leone.
The images here are courtesy of a new website devoted to nostalgia, Flashbak and the Press Association. Follow Flashbak on Twitter and Facebook.
A young couple comfort each other in front of the floral white swan.
Members of Marc Bolan’s family. Gloria Jones’ brother, Richard Jones, in hat behind them.
Rolan Bolan’s godfather David Bowie—who would quietly provide for Gloria and Rolan and paid for his education—arrives at the service.
Rod Stewart and friend.
What was left of the purple Mini.
If you go to the 4:15 mark below, you’ll see color footage of Marc Bolan’s funeral.
The massively influential Sheffield industrial/dance band Cabaret Voltaire—or at least one of them—will play their (his?) first gig in over two decades this summer at the Berlin Atonal festival.
Berlin Atonal is delighted to announce that it will host the very first Cabaret Voltaire live performance in over 20 years. Cabaret Voltaire’s blend of dance music, techno, dub, house and experimentalism made them, without a doubt, one of the most influential acts of the last 40 years. With a line up now consisting solely of machines, multi-screen projections and Richard H Kirk, the first Cabaret Voltaire performance of the 21st Century – featuring exclusively new material and no nostalgia – promises to be formidable.
By forming in 1973 and making music that was unquestionably industrial, Cabaret Voltaire managed the interesting feat of forming an influential post-punk band before punk existed. Like Suicide, they were noted for combative and baffling live performances that could lead to audience violence against the band, but when their notoriety led to a deal with Rough Trade Records, they broadened their sound, releasing albums like Red Mecca, a prescient concept album on which the band compared the rise in Christian extremism to the rise of militant Islamism (this in 1981!), and Micro-Phonies, whereon they tamped down on the dissonance a bit and made music for the dance floor, which strongly influenced Ministry’s turn towards the aggressive on Twitch. In the late ‘80s, they toyed with EBM and house, but by then they were behind the curve, not ahead of it.
In this video from Italy’s Rai TV network, Ralf and the boys treat us to an Italian version of “Pocket Calculator,” the first single off of their 1981 album Computer World, if not the most successful single (that would be “Computer Love”).
On ‘Pocket Calculator’, Ralf shows how electronica has dispelled all the sweaty guff and ludicrous posturing of the cock rockers because the star of the show isn’t even a real instrument. It’s a battery-powered hand-held abacus which can sound a jingle and is operated not played.
Take that, “cock rockers”! Thank goodness Kraftwerk was around to dispel all of that “sweaty guff” going around.
This video dates from 1981, the year the single came out. It appears that Kraftwerk released “Pocket Calculator in five languages—English, German, Spanish, French, and Japanese—but not in Italian, so they must have cooked this version up especially for their appearance on Italian TV. In a second video below, someone collected the English, German, French, and Japanese versions as well as this Italian one, leaving the Spanish-language version (”Calculadora De Bolsillo”) out—I haven’t been able to find audio of the Spanish version. The same video includes 1991 reworkings of the English, German, and Japanese versions.
If you’d like to see sheet music so that you can play “Pocket Calculator” on a Casio VL-80 calculator, we’ve got that over here.
Kraftwerk performing “Mini Calcolatore” on Italian TV:
Who would have thought you could make music from speeches by George Bush and Donald Rumsfeld? Well, this is exactly what minimalist composer Graham Fitkin and percussionist Joby Burgess did in 2008 with their number “Chain of Command.”
Fitkin wrote “Chain of Command” which uses samples taken from speeches by Dubya and Rumsfeld about Guantanamo Bay, the Iraq War and the inquiry into prisoner abuse and torture at Abu Ghraib. These extracts were then carefully edited, manipulated and slowly rebuilt to create a “confrontational and direct work, which examines the use of constantly looped, loud music, 24 hours a day, as torture at Guantanamo.”
Performed by Burgess on his xylosynth (“a hybrid instrument somewhere between a xylophone and a synthesiser”) “Chain of Command” is a powerful piece of political music.
In this highly amusing “personal service announcement” shot sometime during the 1980s in the smoky kitchen of a greasy spoon somewhere, Laurie Anderson praises the lack of nationalistic bombast in our national anthem and describes “Yankee Doodle” as a “surrealist masterpiece.” The clip can be found on her Collected Videos, released in 1990. Unfortunately, it’s available in VHS format only.
Anderson is a national treasure—I can’t think of anyone else delivering a disquisition this thoughtful, original, whimsical, vivid, and bizarre (in the loveliest sense). As it happens, I agree with her on both counts. We’ve heard an awful lot of national anthems during the World Cup, and “The Star-Spangled Banner” is one of the finest out there; of course, “Yankee Doodle” is delightfully silly.
Since its inception in 1985, the Farm Aid benefit concert has become an annual event (there have been 27 of them so far). It might surprise you to learn that Los Angeles punk pioneers X played the first two. As John Doe was always one of the more countrified punk artists, maybe it isn’t that surprising after all.
The clip below comes from their second appearance, which indeed occurred exactly 28 years ago, on July 4, 1986, in Manor, Texas. “4th of July,” which was written by Dave Alvin of The Blasters, hadn’t been released yet, it would appear on See How We Are, which would come out in 1987.
It’s been a rough year for Exene, what with her incoherent online ramblings causing such an uproar and leading to questions about her mental state, so it’s nice to remember her in better times.