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‘Live animals are known to be devoured’: Brion Gysin and Paul Bowles’ Sufi recordings

Part of Ira Cohen’s layout for the Jilala sleeve (via Granary Books)
Brian Jones Presents the Pipes of Pan at Joujouka was not the first album of Moroccan music inspired by the kif-smoking literary expats in Tangier. In 1964, Brion Gysin and Paul Bowles taped the Jilala brotherhood, a Sufi order whose ritual dance and music were supposed to exorcise evil spirits and heal the sick. The LP Jilala, released a year or two later by Ira Cohen, brought these recordings into limited circulation and preserved them for posterity.

Poet, musician, traveler, author of The Hashish Cookbook, and director of The Invasion of Thunderbolt Pagoda, Cohen was another Olympian of the arts who had joined Burroughs, Gysin, and the Bowleses in Tangier in 1961. (My old employer Arthur Magazine brought out Invasion of Thunderbolt Pagoda on DVD ten years ago, with new scores by Acid Mothers Temple and Sunburned Hand of the Man supplementing the original soundtrack by founding Velvet Underground drummer Angus MacLise.) Years before his psychedelic photo experiments with Mylar, Cohen edited the literary magazine Gnaoua, named after a form of North African religious music that’s related to but distinct from the Jilala’s. 

It’s not entirely clear how Jilala is connected to another Paul Bowles recording project involving the same collaborators, time, and place. Bowles wrote Cohen in 1966 about donating the profits from something called the “Hypnotic Music record” to the Timothy Leary Defense Fund. In a footnote, the editor of Bowles’ letters says this refers to a compilation of Hamatcha, Jilala, Gnaoua, and Aissaoua trance music that was put together from tapes made separately by Bowles, Gysin, and Cohen and released by Cohen. However, the Independent reports that the Hypnotic Music record was an unrealized project, so perhaps Bowles’ editor has conflated it with Jilala, which Discogs lists as the sole release on Cohen’s Trance Records.

I would be delighted to be proven wrong about this. Does anyone have a copy of the Hypnotic Music record?

The cover of the original issue of Jilala
Before putting Jilala in your gym playlist, you should probably read Cohen’s liner notes (reprinted in full at Big Bridge and Discogs) so you know what you’re getting yourself into. The Jilala knew how to pitch a wang dang doodle with their flutes and drums. The bath salts of their day, these religious tunes have been known to make listeners eat live animals, slash themselves with knives, and drink boiling water straight from the kettle, as Cohen tells it…

More after the jump…

Posted by Oliver Hall | Leave a comment
‘Shock And Awe’: How platform shoes, mascara and glitter saved rock ‘n’ roll

In 1972 rock music rolled out of the 60s as pale and cold as a corpse on a hospital gurney. There was the occasional death twitch but rigor mortis had set in and for most of us rockers there was a sense of hopelessness as we listened to vapid shit coming out of our radios.

How bad was it? Here’s the top ten tunes of 1972 according to Billboard magazine:

1 “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” Roberta Flack
2 “Alone Again (Naturally)” Gilbert O’Sullivan
3 “American Pie” Don McLean
4 “Without You” Harry Nilsson
5 “The Candy Man” Sammy Davis, Jr.
6 “I Gotcha” Joe Tex
7 “Lean on Me” Bill Withers
8 “Baby, Don’t Get Hooked on Me” Mac Davis
9 “Brand New Key” Melanie
10 “Daddy Don’t You Walk So Fast” Wayne Newton

That list is completely devoid of anything that remotely could be called “rock and roll.” With the exception of Joe Tex’s “I Gotcha,” virtually every song falls into the easy listening/pop category. Sentimental, corny, goofy, maudlin and over melodramatic, none of this stuff rocks. The closest the top 20 got to rock that year was Neil Young’s “Heart Of Gold.” And as lovely as that song is, it’s one of Neil’s most middle-of-the-road creations and still more folk than rock. In the entire Billboard top 100 of 1972 there are two songs that could be categorized as hard rock with some bonfide badass attitude. They were Alice Cooper’s “School’s Out”  and T.Rex’s “Bang a Gong (Get It On).” Elton John, Derek And The Dominoes, Badfinger and The Hollies all had hits with power ballads or top-forty schlock. The Hollies aping Creedence Clearwater with “Long Cool Woman (In A Black Dress)” may be memorable, but it also could have been recorded by just about any half-decent band. Completely unidentifiable as a Hollie’s song. 1972 was also the year that arguably the greatest rock composer of all time, Chuck Berry, released “My Ding A Ling.” This was the kind of shit that made a rock fan like myself weep.

In 1972, I was 21 and writing record reviews for a newspaper in Boulder, Colorado. At the time, record companies were very generous in sending out review copies of LPs to just about anyone claiming to be a rock critic. As a result, I was receiving well over a hundred copies of new record releases each month. Every day the postman would drop a load of vinyl on my front porch and I was like a kid at Christmas. Unfortunately, most of the freebies were real shit. But some good stuff would squeak through and occasionally the good stuff would be better than merely good. There were records among the dross that would eventually change my life.

From ‘72 to ‘75, when I did most of my reviewing, the albums that blew my mind were coming from reggae artists like Bob Marley and Toots And The Maytals followed by Brit rockers T.Rex, Roxy Music, David Bowie, Mott The Hoople, Cockney Rebel and American outliers Lou Reed, The New York Dolls, Sparks, Alice Cooper and Suzi Quatro, among a handful of others. What these performers shared in common was an energy that recalled some of the best of 60s garage bands, British Invasion, doses of psychedelia and a theatricality that was eccentric, fresh and provocative. Their songs tended to be short and to the point, with strong hooks and infectious beats. And they were sexy! This was the beginning of what eventually became known as glam rock. I know calling Marley glam is a stretch but let’s face it, Bob was glamorous and songs like “Lively Up Yourself” could be dropped into a mix with Bowie and Marc Bolan without missing a beat. Even if the twain does meet, we’ll still keep reggae out of the mix for sake of argument.

Glam rock blew open the doors for the punk scene that quickly followed on its heels. There’s not a single rock band that emerged in 76/77 from CBGB, Max’s, or The Marquee Club that weren’t inspired by glam bands. A few hate to admit it, but most know it’s true. From Johnny Rotten to Joey Ramone to Patti Smith, the visionaries in platform shoes with glitter in their hair like Marc Bolan, Bowie and The Dolls turned budding punks’ heads around and pointed them in a direction that would change them forever… just as they did for me.

Glam rock was fun at a time when rock wasn’t. The music I loved had become too self-important or too inconsequential to capture my heart and gut. Easy listening “elevator music” on MOR radio tossed with the pompous orchestral rock of Emerson, Lake and Palmer and Yes and the blowhard power ballads of Kansas and Styx created a mind salad that was all cellulose and little fiber. Even bands I had once looked to for some hard-edged three-minute rockers, The Who, for instance, were creating pretentious rock operas that were large-gestures but intellectually feeble. I wanted plain old pinball machines without the wizards. When rock songs started taking up entire sides of an album, I found myself dragging out my old Seeds and Music Machine albums. Few rock artists could sustain the longform song for me. Only the Doors, Jimi Hendrix and The Velvet Underground could pull that off.

So glam put the fun back into rock. It also put sex back into rock and returned some color, glitter and style to a musical culture that had turned to faded denim, faux blues and pretentious bluster. It was bigger than life, but as light as moonbeams. While Rick Wakeman and Mike Oldfield were pumping hot air into the balloon of pop culture, Sparks and Roxy Music were sticking needles in it. Underneath their wild threads and crazy hair, the glam rockers were smirking at the artifice of it all, using the theater of rock and roll to remind us that rock music was as silly as it is essential.

Simon Reynolds book Shock and Awe: Glam Rock and Its Legacy, from the Seventies to the Twenty-first Century is the definitive book on the music and pop culture explosion that put style, extravagance and a sense of—yes—absurdity back into rock and roll. Written from a place of genuine love for his subject, Reynolds’ 700 page history is formidable in its research and thoroughly entertaining. It’s smart without being academic and contains none of the “hey look at me” smarty pants rock crit that focuses more on the writer than the subject at hand. Reynolds is passionate about what he’s writing about and it’s truly infectious. From the big lights of Bowie, Roxy and Bolan to lesser known, but equally amazing, groups like Wizzard, The Sensational Alex Harvey Band and The Tubes, Reynolds covers dozens upon dozens of artists starting with proto-glamster Jerry Lee Lewis, The Stooges, through the rock scenes impacted by glam including punk, new wave, hair metal and techno. Like with his terrific book on post-punk Rip It Up and Start Again: Postpunk 1978-1984,  Reynolds obviously knows what he’s talking about. As well-researched as his books are, they’re never larded with too much minutiae or footnoted to death. They move like rock and roll moves. Shock And Awe has the energy and exuberance of a tight chugging Marc Bolan guitar riff. You can dance to it. Buy it here. Really, buy it. At 12 bucks it’s a fucking steal. Thank me later.

After the jump, a special video mix inspired by ‘Shock And Awe’ containing songs from Marc Bolan, Mott The Hoople, Slade, Roxy Music, Suzi Quatro, Cockney Rebel, Sweet, Wizzard, Sparks, Mud, The Osmonds and Jook….

Posted by Marc Campbell | Leave a comment
A young Patti Smith and Jonathan Miller star in a 1971 BBC doc about New York City

Jonathan Miller became famous in the cast of the great 1960s comedy show Beyond the Fringe, sharing the stage with Peter Cook, Dudley Moore, and—I can’t tell if a heart emoji would be out of place here—playwright Alan Bennett. To this day, Dr. Miller is well-known in the UK as a public intellectual, prominent atheist, TV documentarian and opera director. (During the early 1980s, Miller was briefly famous in America, too, as the host of the popular PBS history of medicine, The Body in Question, and as the author of the best-selling book of the same title. He was often a guest on Dick Cavett’s talk show for an entire week at a time.)

In 1971—YouTube says ‘72, but I’ll take Miller’s biographer’s date—Miller returned to New York, a city he’d first visited when Beyond the Fringe played Broadway a decade before, and he brought a BBC camera crew. West Side Stories: Two Journeys into New York City juxtaposed his impressions of New York City and those of a very young Patti Smith.

She looks and sounds like Rimbaud if he just stepped away from a stickball game, which is to say she’s already, as Oliver Stone made Ray Manzarek say, “making the myths.” Patti talks Godard, rock journalism, “slopping the hogs,” spending the whole day on 42nd Street for fifty cents, and the first porno double feature she watched (Orgy at Lil’s Place and Blonde on a Bum Trip), all with unusual verbal facility and charm for a 24-year-old.

In my whole life, no matter where I lived—Chattanooga, Chicago, South Jersey—I was always an outcast. Y’know, even in my own neighborhood, even in my own family. I looked different than my whole family. I always felt alien. Not that I wasn’t loved, but people thought I was weird-lookin’ and skinny and all that. I had an eyepatch which I’ve since got rid of. And I never had no friends or boyfriends. When I came to the city, my whole life changed.

The uploader of this footage, YouTube user Pheidias Ictinus, claims it was the cameraman’s idea to interview Patti:

This film was made by the director Tristram Powell. At the suggestion of his cameraman he went to meet Patti and she ended up as an integral part of the film he was making with Jonathan Miller. The decision was made on the fly, during filming in New York, it was not part of the original concept. That’s what you call creative freedom.

Who would Jonathan Miller’s cameraman tell him to interview in today’s Manhattan? Some tech guy? I can’t wait to turn on the TV in 2047 and hear some tech guy reminisce about New York on the roof of the Chelsea Hotel. Lord, take me now. . .
Watch after the jump…

Posted by Oliver Hall | Leave a comment
The 13th-century ‘thinking machine’ of Ramón Llull

Ramón Llull, via Alchetron. The ribbon in his mouth says Lux mea est ipse dominus, “My light is the Lord himself”
There’s an exhibition at Barcelona’s CCCB called “The Thinking Machine: Ramon Llull and the ars combinatoria,” up through December 11. Including work by Arnold Schönberg, Athanasius Kircher, Giordano Bruno, Leibniz, Italo Calvino, John Cage, and Salvador Dalí, the show makes its case for the influence of the Catalan philosopher Ramón Llull (1232-1316, sometimes anglicized “Raymond Lully”), who might be credited with inventing the first computer, or its primitive ancestor.

I first became aware of Llull and his contraption in Jorge Luis Borges’ Selected Non-Fictions, which reprints “Ramón Llull’s Thinking Machine,” an article Borges wrote for El Hogar Magazine in 1937. Borges gives the most lucid description of the machine I’m aware of, starting with its simplest, two-dimensional form, a circle divided nine times:


It is a schema or diagram of the attributes of God. The letter A, at the center, signifies the Lord. Along the circumference, the letter B stands for goodness, C for greatness, D for eternity, E for power, F for wisdom, G for volition, H for virtue, I for truth, and K for glory. The nine letters are equidistant from the center, and each is joined to all the others by chords or diagonal lines. The first of these features means that all of these attributes are inherent; the second, that they are systematically interrelated in such a way as to affirm, with impeccable orthodoxy, that glory is eternal or that eternity is glorious; that power is true, glorious, good, great, eternal, powerful, wise, free and virtuous, or benevolently great, greatly eternal, eternally powerful, powerfully wise, wisely free, freely virtuous, virtuously truthful, etc., etc.

I want my readers to grasp the full magnitude of this etcetera. Suffice it to say that it embraces a number of combinations far greater than this page can record. The fact that they are all entirely futile—the fact that, for us, to say that glory is eternal is as rigorously null and void as to say that eternity is glorious—is of only secondary interest. This motionless diagram, with its nine capital letters distributed among nine compartments and linked by a star and some polygons, is already a thinking machine. It was natural for its inventor—a man, we must not forget, of the thirteenth century—to feed it with a subject matter that now strikes us as unrewarding. We now know that the concepts of goodness, greatness, wisdom, power, and glory are incapable of engendering an appreciable revelation. We (who are basically no less naive than Llull) would load the machine differently, no doubt with the words Entropy, Time, Electrons, Potential Energy, Fourth Dimension, Relativity, Protons, Einstein. Or with Surplus Value, Proletariat, Capitalism, Class Struggle, Dialectical Materialism, Engels.

Then, Borges moves on to the more elaborate version of Llull’s thinking machine—the one with three revolving disks, illustrated below: 


If a mere circle subdivided into nine compartments can give rise to so many combinations, what wonders may we expect from three concentric, manually revolving disks made of wood or metal, each with fifteen or twenty compartments? This thought occurred to the remote Ramón Llull on his red and zenithal island of Mallorca, and he designed his guileless machine. The circumstances and objectives of this machine no longer interest us, but its guiding principle—the methodical application of chance to the resolution of a problem—still does.


Let us select a problem at random: the elucidation of the “true” color of a tiger. I give each of Llull’s letters the value of a color, I spin the disks, and I decipher that the capricious tiger is blue, yellow, black, white, green, purple, orange, and grey, or yellowishly blue, blackly blue, whitely blue, greenly blue, purplishly blue, bluely blue, etc. Adherents of [Llull’s] Ars magna remained undaunted in the face of this torrential ambiguity; they recommended the simultaneous deployment of many combinatory machines, which (according to them) would gradually orient and rectify themselves through “multiplications” and “eliminations.” For a long while, many people believed that the certain revelation of all the world’s enigmas lay in the patient manipulation of these disks.

More after the jump…

Posted by Oliver Hall | Leave a comment
Prostitutes, mannequins and street traders: The flâneur who photographed Paris, 1890s-1920s

Prostitute, rue Asselin.
Eugène Atget first tried his hand as sailor, actor and painter before discovering his true vocation as a documentary photographer on the streets of Paris.

Documenting city life combined Atget’s passion for photography with his life as a flâneur. A flâneur is someone who strolls aimlessly through a city with no particular place to go—the route steered only by curiosity and chance. A flâneur dwells between the twin poles of private reverie and public space.

Novelist Charles Baudelaire first described a flâneur in an essay titled “The Painter of Modern Life” in 1863:

For the perfect flâneur, for the passionate spectator, it is an immense joy to set up house in the heart of the multitude, amid the ebb and flow of movement, in the midst of the fugitive and the infinite. To be away from home and yet to feel oneself everywhere at home; to see the world, to be at the centre of the world, and yet to remain hidden from the world…

Paris has long been hailed as the city of the flâneur. Its streets and boulevards invite perambulation and drift. Its arrondissements are filled with hidden beauty that trigger involuntary memory. Marcel Proust—the writer who coined the term “involuntary memory”—lived and worked in Paris. Like one of Proust’s characters, a flâneur wanders a city’s streets open to their “madeleine moment.”

Atget (1857-1927) wandered through Paris dressed in a large dark cloak, his camera and tripod in hand. He strolled, sauntered, until something triggered a response which he stopped to photograph. A chance encounter with a prostitute idling by her front door; a hawker selling wares from a cart; a maitre d‘s face at the door of a restaurant; a shop window filled with mannequins; or the empty cobbled street still fresh with the impression of activity.

Atget’s street photography captured a Paris that was fast changing. Its once golden age of the flâneur was being opened up to the motorcar and a system of signage, roads and roundabouts.

Atget lived in direst poverty throughout his life. For twenty years, it’s said, he lived on a diet of milk, bread and sugar. All other foods, he declared, were a poison. According to the American photographer Berenice Abbott who literally discovered Atget and his voluminous collection of photographs—or documents pour artistes:

In art and hygiene he was absolute. He had very personal ideas on everything which he imposed with extraordinary violence.

He applied this intransigence of taste, of vision, of methods, to the art of photography and miracles resulted.

Prostitute waiting at her front door, 1921.
Soldier with prostitute.
Three prostitutes, rue Asselin.
More of Atget’s Paris street life photography, after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
The Dangerous Minds interview with Little Annie (Annie Anxiety Bandez)

Photo by Clinton Querci
The strange and fabulous career of Little Annie, also known as Annie Anxiety and Annie Anxiety Bandez, is like an index of Dangerous Minds’ musical obsessions. We wriggle in the web she weaves. Some connections are personal: DM’s own Howie Pyro was the bassist in her first band, Annie Anxiety and the Asexuals—Annie says below, “Howie is the reason I ended up on stage”—and DM chief Richard Metzger has mentioned his friend’s encounter with Annie at an Islington anarcho-punk festival in 1984. But then, consider that she’s worked with Crass, Coil, Marc Almond, Current 93, Nurse With Wound, Adrian Sherwood and the On-U Sound crew, Youth, Kid Congo Powers, ANOHNI (formerly Antony Hegarty), Keith Levene, Swans, et al.—and then, consider what a shame it is that every article about Little Annie has to mention all these associations in its opening paragraphs, when her own performances, her own powers, are so extraordinary. That’s why all those people wanted to work with her in the first place.

On Little Annie’s latest album, Trace, she is both the torch singer she claims to be and the streetwise narrator of “Bitching Song,” who patiently explains why, no matter your profession, location, or standing in this world, you’re just another bitch. Her wonderful memoir, You Can’t Sing The Blues While Drinking Milk, published in 2013, is scarce in hardcover (this looks like your best bet), but the Kindle version is a steal at $4.99.

When I called Annie last week, my first question was about Hermine, the hurricane then approaching her current base of operations, Miami. Thanks to Julian Schoen and On-U Sound for putting me in touch with this great artist.

Trace (2016)
Annie: I haven’t seen the news all day. I was out shooting. It’s like the rest of the planet; it’s getting gentrified, Miami, so I was out shooting some of these Darth Vader buildings that are going up about ten miles up the road.

Dangerous Minds: So you’re taking pictures, you’re documenting the gentrification of Miami?

Well, you know what it is, a friend of mine, she said—because I love buildings—she goes, “These are really ugly, you’ve got to shoot them” [laughing], you know? And they really are, they’re really sinister-looking skyscrapers. I love skyscrapers, but we’re below sea level here as it is, and they’re really like… gunmetal gray. Like, everything you wouldn’t do in this kind of light, just really ugly. Almost so that they’re beautiful. They’re so sinister, they almost have a kind of eerie beauty to them. I just got a high-definition camera finally so I could shoot and print for online stuff, and I thought, “Oh, that’s a good place to start. Let me get my chops going on some ugly.”

Man, it did not disappoint. They’re using all these gunmetal grays; it looks like either it’s the Church of Scientology or Masons, there’s something really… like prisons for the very rich, you know? Really grim.

So how did you wind up in Miami, Annie?

That’s a good question. You know, it was a place I had no interest in whatsoever. I’d been down here with some friends of mine whose father used to live down here; I came down in ’93, you know, and really it was only a place I ever went to go somewhere else.

New York, I had to move, and all of a sudden I realized, even if it was possible to live anywhere, I realized I wasn’t interested in any of it. So I don’t drive—I’m a confirmed non-driver—and I couldn’t think of where I could live on the East Coast that was near an airport for work, or where I could get away without a car. Miami, it’s difficult, but you can be a non-driver down here. And then, I kind of fell in love with it… one morning I woke up and said “Miami.” I was thinking about that today, I was trying to figure out how that happened.

’Cause I could picture you in Cuba somehow.

In my neighborhood? You could be anywhere in Central America or South America. I would say it’s around 90 percent Spanish-speaking, and there’s French. You hardly ever hear English in my neighborhood. You could walk down one street and it looks like Rio, and another street will look like the West Indies. It’s all new for me.

I guess I was starting to dislike myself. I was starting to become one of those perpetually angry [New Yorkers], “This is gone, and this isn’t like this anymore,” so I wanted somewhere where I didn’t know what it was like, so I have nothing to compare it to. I can’t get nostalgic over it because I don’t know what it was.

Sure, I can imagine. I’m from Los Angeles, and that’s changed so much over the last 20 or 30 years. And New York was so fabulous at one point.

Some of it here feels like New York in the ‘80s. Not always in a good way, too. What I do love about it is what I hate about it. It’s very corrupt. You know, like, I love this: their idea of gentrifying one area was to put a strip joint in it. [laughs] And that’s what I love about it. Literally, like New York used to be, like you could walk a few blocks and you were in a different world? Miami still has that flavor. Not so much the beach, but the inland. My neighborhood’s the last old neighborhood which hasn’t been fucked with yet. They want to, but you’ve got a mixture of, like, millionaires living next to Section 8. It’s really like an eclectic, wonderful little neighborhood two blocks from the beach. But because it hasn’t been gentrified, people don’t want to move here, which is why I wanted to move here. I really do love this area.

But L.A., I’ve got a little crush on Los Angeles from the last time I went there. I was with Baby Dee and we played downtown L.A. and it’s so beautiful, the light! The way the light hits things and the buildings.

There’s something special about the light here, for sure.

It was just gorgeous. We played in a place where Charlie Chaplin had a fistfight with Buster Keaton or something, and the upstairs place, it was some kind of—not three-quarter housing, but some kind of housing association… 

But then you go out, by the same token, I would be there all day, and like, thinking like I’m walking through Calcutta to get home, because I’ve never seen homelessness and pain like that! You’ve got these beautiful buildings, and then the homeless thing in downtown L.A., I just felt so bad for people.

Oh, it’s disgraceful. It’s kind of like what I imagine happened in New York under Giuliani. As the city becomes gentrified, they’re just shoving homeless people into different quarters of town where they’re getting more and more pressed together. There are blocks that are just covered with tents.

Yeah! That’s what I’m—I couldn’t believe it. I was outside having a cigarette. I must have had—in less than 20 minutes, ten people came up and asked me for money, you know? Which I would have gladly given. If I knew I was going into that, I would have gone in with food or something.

Miami is terrible. There’s no safety net for people. There’s no social services as such. They blame the homeless—‘cause we are fighting, they want to gentrify this area—and people will say things like, “If we let the developers in, then it will solve the homeless problem, and the rapes will go down.” And I go, “Wait: unload that sentence. You just called homeless people rapists.”

There’s this way that they deal with the homeless, is to criminalize them. New York is terrible, but Miami… and L.A., I love it and hate it.

State of Grace (with Baby Dee, 2013)
You’re singing my song, Annie. You know Howie Pyro writes for Dangerous Minds?

I love Howie! You know that I’ve known Howie since I was sixteen years old.

He was in the Asexuals, right?

Yeah. Howie is the reason I ended up on stage. Because we were hanging out, we really were like punk kids in the sense of like punk, juvenile delinquent, like little silly kids—we used to put “KICK ME” signs on people’s backs. We were totally juvenile. They asked me to support them, the Blessed, and I’m like, “Yeah!” And I didn’t know what “support” meant. So I had to throw a band together or something. Howie and them really kind of were the ones who—I was writing poetry and doing little bits of I don’t know what, but I didn’t have any direction, I was just being a kid, you know? And it was really because of the Blessed that I ended up in show business. I love Howie; I love those guys so much.

When did you have a sense that you had this voice? I know you didn’t set out to be a performer, and they encouraged you to go on stage. But when did you realize that you had this talent? I just read your memoir, so all this stuff is fresh in my head, you singing at the park in the a cappella group as a teenager…

You know what? It was funny, because I really didn’t realize I had a voice until… actually, very recently. Like, I knew I had a very good sense of… I’m very percussive, so I’ve always had like a sense of cadence. I mean, I was told not to be in the choir, because I was basically a contralto when I was a child. I had this voice—I was a belter, and I could belt like an old gospel singer when I was a little kid, you know? I could belt out old blues songs, and I sounded like I’d been drinking whiskey at age seven, you know what I mean? I had that kind of voice.

It’s only in the last couple of years where I’ve realized the ability I have, you know, like the physicality of singing? I realize that it’s not something that everybody has. ‘Cause I didn’t know what I was doing, I would luck into things, but I never knew how I got there, from point A to B. I just did it because it had to be done. I think it was on the Swans tour: I go, “Wow, now I’m understanding what people say, singing from the diaphragm, and the rest.” I actually didn’t realize what I was born with, you know? I’m shaped like a singer. Some of it actually happens from singing, you get a wider ribcage just from singing. But it was only really recently, I go “Wait, I could do that!” Or that I actually trusted my abilities. I always kinda knew my abilities as a writer, and to keep time: I write like a drummer or a conga player. But it was only really recently that I knew I had something.

It sounds crazy, doesn’t it? Make it all the way through a career [laughs] before you start realizing. Because I’ve never had a pretty voice. I can do that, but if it was pretty, it was by accident. So now I go, “Oh wait, when I do this, this happens. Oh wait, I can get from this octave to another octave.” I’m only just starting to grasp what I’ve been blessed with. Yeah, so, just recent! [laughing] Last few months.

Well, you had an instinctive sense probably of how to work an audience, right?

That, yes. Live, I’m able to… hear people. Even if it’s silent, there’s something I hear from them, a dialogue that I’ve always kind of tapped into. And I don’t know why…

That’s why acting was so hard for me. Acting, I’m starting to learn, you’ve got to access a different part of you. But where there was something on stage, maybe it was what people get from gospel or something—I go into the zone, and when I’m in the zone, I’m able to supersede any ideas of myself, or anything. It’s probably the only time in my life I’m not in my head. I’m totally not in my head. I’m totally not conscious. It’s the safest place in the world, the stage, and it’s because it’s a dialogue, and I don’t know what it is but that’s something I’ve always had, which is why the stage felt so good. You know, to look straight in people’s eyes on stage. 

I mean, recording, I spent my On-U Sound years really getting into the technical side of, not the machinery, but of sound and of craft and the music part. But that other part, that was something that was always there. And it was a problem acting, because I’m so much myself on the stage, and when you go onstage and act, it’s not about being yourself. I mean, I’ve lost parts because I go in and I start rewriting the script in my head. And they want an audition, and you go in, you start going, “That doesn’t feel honest,” and acting isn’t honest. It’s about being believable.

When you’re singing with an audience, it’s absolutely about trusting that they can be themselves and you can be yourselves, because you have a moment of—fuck, it sounds really pretentious, but it’s almost like Zen—you’re so in the moment. Your mind can’t wander; if it does, you’re not in it. You don’t give a fuck what anybody thinks. You know when it’s right. It doesn’t happen all the time, of course, but fortunately, most of the time, where you’re absolutely in this kind of weird communion with other people. It’s such a gift to be able to go there.

Songs from the Coal Mine Canary (2006)
You’re an ordained minister now, Annie?

Yeah. I became ordained basically because I did needle exchange for a while. My main function was, I was outreach, so I’d be on the stroll with sex workers at night, like if they need condoms or syringes or something. But it almost became your beat, where anything that happened within a certain mile radius, I felt like, I gotta deal with—you know, you get a drunk that would fall down, break their arm.

What happened was, I had to call 911. I got the ambulance, and I asked where they’re taking the guy, ‘cause a lot of time with drunks, they would drop them off around the corner, and I wanted to make sure. And they go, “Why, who are you?” And I was standing in front of a church, so it just came out of my mouth, I go, “I’m his minister.” And they go, “Is that your church?” And it was St. Mark’s Church, which is huge, and I go, “Yeah, that’s my church.” And their tone totally changed. It was like, “You don’t understand, we get so burnt out, we pick up the same people day after day, and then they’re right back in the street again,” and all of a sudden they wanted to confess. So I go, “Wow, this could work, you know? Maybe this minister thing isn’t a bad idea.”

Much more after the jump…

Posted by Oliver Hall | Leave a comment
Patti Smith’s review of ‘The Beach Boys Love You’

The Beach Boys Love You, from 1977, is not everyone’s favorite Beach Boys LP, but it is Bucks Burnett’s. The onetime manager of Tiny Tim believes Love You is of a piece with another ‘77 record that nearly everyone regards as a classic, David Bowie’s Low. Burnett wrote in a recent Facebook post:

My bizarre theory is that the two albums are almost interchangeable. Here it is, ugly medicine in a plastic spoon; this was Brian Wilson’s Berlin trilogy, in one album. Low is Bowie’s Love You.

If you aren’t familiar with The Beach Boys Love You, it’s called that because it was dedicated to Brian Wilson by the other members of the band. One might question whether the album was really the other Beach Boys’ to make a present of in the first place, since its major selling point was that Brian Wilson himself not only produced it, but had written or co-written every song. (“Happy birthday, honey. Here’s that delicious cake you made!”) But it’s the thought that counts, right?

Many of the songs—especially those credited to Brian alone—are marked by an unconventional approach to lyric writing, compared to the way the art is generally practiced by the human people of the planet Earth. Take the often-mocked (but lovely) “Johnny Carson”:

He sits behind his microphone
(John-ny Car-son)
He speaks in such a manly tone
(John-ny Car-son)

Ed McMahon comes on and says “Here’s Johnny!”
Every night at 11:30, he’s so funny.
“It’s nice to have you on the show tonight
I’ll see your act in Vegas—outta sight!”

When guests are boring, he fills up the slack
(John-ny Car-son)
The network makes him break his back
(John-ny Car-son)

Ed McMahon comes on and says “Here’s Johnny!”
Every night at 11:30, he’s so funny.
Don’t you think he’s such a natural guy?
The way he’s kept it up could make you cry.

Who’s a man that we admire?
Johnny Carson is a real live wire.

I think Bucks might be onto something. As far as I can tell, Beach Boys fans who hate this record just can’t stand the words, while I find them oddly affecting. Who but Brian Wilson could have seen his own body torn on the gears of showbiz in the image of Johnny Carson, of all people, or heard “such a manly tone” in the Tonight Show host’s voice? Is the objection that these lyrics give too clear a view into Wilson’s pain and confusion? Whatever: I don’t recall anyone disputing this album’s musical merits, and in my opinion, reconciling oneself to lyrics such as “Honkin, honkin’ down the gosh-darn highway / Tryin’, tryin’ to get past them cars” and “Love is a woman / so tell her she smells good tonight” is an excellent form of spiritual discipline.

Patti Smith looked into this controversy at the time, and “you’re into it or you’re not” was her conclusion. From the October 1977 issue of Hit Parader, here is the confirmed Johnny Carson fan’s review of The Beach Boys Love You:

More after the jump…

Posted by Oliver Hall | Leave a comment
William Burroughs: Scans of his porn mag articles

Humanity’s underrated. It’s one of my tenets. It’s easier to indulge the negative than give press to the creative, the good and the generous. The other day, my colleague Martin Schneider wrote a fine post on William S. Burroughs’ connection with Wilhelm Reich and his orgone box. By its source, Martin’s post reacquainted me with Burroughs writings for porn magazines in the 1960s and 1970s.

Years, ago I had a friend who owned two pristine copies of one these skin mags. He prized these editions not for any titillation but for Burroughs’ articles contained within. I recall one was on Scientology. The other I think was on space travel.

Martin’s link led to a cornucopia of Burroughsian materials. That one individual (Jed Birmingham) has spent so much time carefully sourcing and scanning Burroughs’s adult magazine work for others to read/access/download was another confirmation of humanity’s good points.

Before Graham Masterton was better known as an author of best-selling horror fiction, he was deputy editor of “gentleman’s entertainment magazine” Mayfair. Started in 1965, Mayfair was modeled on the hugely successful Playboy magazine. The canny Masterton wanted Mayfair to be a similar mix of quality writing, top notch interviews and classy erotica. One of the best things Masterton achieved with Mayfair was to commission William Burroughs to write for the magazine.

Masterton had corresponded with Burroughs from the time the Beat writer was living in Tangiers. When Burroughs relocated to London, Masterton visited him in his cramped attic apartment to enquire if he had anything suitable for the pages of Mayfair.

From this meeting in 1967, Burroughs contributed a regular column for Mayfair under the heading “The Burroughs Academy.” The gig allowed Burroughs to write about his personal preoccupations (Scientology, sexuality, mechanisms of media and political control) and test out various ideas (drugs/space travel) in the magazine’s pages between 1967 and 1969. It also supplied him with a steady income so he could write his novels.

Mayfair was primarily sold in the UK. It had a limited circulation which meant most of Burroughs’ fans missed out on his monthly bulletins. They were eventually gathered together in (an equally hard to obtain) edition Mayfair Academy Series More or Less.

But it’s thanks to Jed Birmingham over at the Reality Studios that we can read Burroughs’ articles (though by no means comprehensive) as they were originally published in magazines like Mayfair, Screw, Swank and Wildcat.

Below are scans from Wildcat that published an extract from Burroughs’ novel Junkie, plus an interview from Swank. There are also the first four Burroughs Academy articles and one short story from Mayfair. More can be viewed/downloaded here.
More readable scans of Burroughs’ skin mag articles, after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
‘My Life in Orgone Boxes’: William Burroughs on his sexual science experiments in OUI magazine, 1977

Burroughs contemplating an orgone box
As a contributor to this blog, I spend a lot of my time poking around looking for suitable subjects that might please and edify the DM readership. When I come across an item uniting William S. Burroughs, Wilhelm Reich, Jack Kerouac, orgasms, heroin, Jean Cocteau, and even tangentially Kurt Cobain that has not been written about all too much, I can be sure I’m in the ballpark of a good DM post.

In 1977 OUI magazine published an item by William S. Burroughs with the title “My Life in Orgone Boxes,” in which he explained that he built his first orgone accumulator in 1949 on the farm of a friend named Kells Elvins in Texas. Among other things, in the article Burroughs addresses Jack Kerouac’s fictionalized version of Burroughs’ device as presented in On the Road but insisted that the account was “pure fiction.”

That Burroughs used an orgone accumulator is (a) pretty well known, and (b) not very surprising, given who Burroughs was. But let’s back up a moment here. What is an orgone accumulator, anyway? (It’s sometimes called an orgone machine or an orgone box.) Reich was in the first wave of post-Freudian thinkers, and he attributed his discovery of “orgone energy”—that is to say, energy with the capacity to charge organic material (cellulose), unlike electromagnetic energy—physical manifestations of sexual energy—as occurring in January 1939, after working off of Freud’s theory of the libido.

One of the first experimental orgone accumulators. Note the stack of Reich/orgone publications propping the door open. Much larger version here.
Reich was sure that he had discovered the secret to manipulating and enhancing sexual experience by removing/satisfying electric blockages within human beings. Quoting from his book The Function of the Orgasm: Sex-Economic Problems of Biological Energy (The Discovery of the Orgone, Vol. 1):

The orgasm formula which directs sex-economic research is as follows: MECHANICAL TENSION —> BIOELECTRIC CHARGE —> BIOELECTRIC DISCHARGE —> MECHANICAL RELAXATION. It proved to be the formula of living functioning as such. … Research in the field of sexuality and bions opened a new approach to the problem of cancer and a number of other disturbances of vegetative life.

Check that out: “the formula of living functioning as such,” wow. Reich’s idea was that orgone energy was virtually everywhere and pointed to both the aurora borealis and the blue tint seen in sexually excited frogs as evidence. As he put it in The Function of the Orgasm, “‘Biological energy’ is atmospheric (cosmic) orgone energy.” Then:

The color of orgone energy is blue or blue-gray. In our laboratory, atmospheric orgone is accumulated or concentrated by means of an apparatus specifically constructed for this purpose. We succeeded in making it visible by arranging certain materials in a specific way. The blocking of the orgone’s kinetic energy is expressed as an increase in temperature. Its concentration or density is indicated on the static electroscope by the differences in the speed of the discharge. The spontaneous discharge or electroscopes in non-ionized air, a phenomenon designated as “natural leak” by physicists, is the effect of atmospheric orgone and has nothing to do with dampness. The orgone contains three kinds of rays: blue-gray, foglike vapors; deep blue-violet expanding and contracting dots of light; and white-yellow, rapidly moving rays of dots and streaks. The blue color of the sky and the blue-gray of atmospheric haze on hot summer days are direct reflections of the atmospheric orgone. The blue-gray, cloudlike Northern lights, the so-called St. Elmo’s fire, and the bluish formations recently observed in the sky by astronomers during increased sun-spot activity are also manifestations of orgone energy.

It was later realized that Reich’s device for enhancing sexual stimulation with electricity was more or less a modified Faraday cage.

As Burrough writes in the OUI article, in addition to the one he and Elvins built, Burroughs also made a smaller version, a “potent sexual tool” constructed “from an Army-style gas can.” Burroughs used the smaller tool inside the larger box, “held the little one over my joint and came right off.” Then, in an aside, Burroughs explains that Jean Cocteau used to ejaculate without using his hands as a kind of party trick. Some trick!
More after the jump…

Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
Classic Penguin sci-fi covers from the 1970s by David Pelham

Night of Light by Philip José Farmer
David Pelham was art director for Penguin Books during the 1970s and was responsible for a great many arresting and distinctive covers for many of the sci-fi novels Penguin put out during that time, which is one of the great periods for sci-fi writing in general. Many of the images on this page come from a series that came out in 1972-73 that used (as Penguin often did and still does) visual cues to signal that books belong together. In this case the series had in common white text and a black background, bold use of primary colors and a strong horizon line that in some cases (Sirius, A Cure for Cancer) is cleverly adapted for a slightly different purpose.

Pelham did many Penguin covers for works by J.G. Ballard and was in close contact with the author in the process of creating them. Ballard actually named a character in “The Reptile Enclosure” after Pelham. After one meeting during which they had looked over Pelham’s mockups for a series of Ballard covers, Pelham scribbled some notes that were obviously based on Ballard’s comments, and they make for a resonant and Ballardian piece of poetry: “monumental / tombstones / airless thermonuclear landscape / horizons / a zone devoid of time.”

Pelham’s most famous cover was for Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange, and fascinatingly enough, Pelham himself doesn’t think much of it:

When I was Art Director of Penguin Books I had to create this image in one night. We planned to bring out a film tie-in of Burgess’s wonderful book to coincide with the release of the movie, and we obviously urgently needed a strong cover image that related to the film. When Stanley Kubrick unaccountably refused to supply us with promotional press shots I immediately commissioned a well-known illustrator to help out. The result was not only unacceptable but it was also inexcusably late, so we were horribly out of time. Having already attended a press screening of Kubrick’s film I had a very clear image in my mind’s eye as to how the cover should look and so, collecting up a few supplies from the art department, I sped home to my Highgate flat to create the cover myself. I remember a motorcycle messenger arriving at 4.30am to deliver the ‘repro’—that is the typography—for the paste up. This of course was a long time before the age of computers, and everything was done with ink, glue and ‘repro’, which had to be painstakingly stuck in place on a base board. Another messenger arrived at 7am to whisk the artwork off to the printer. Consequently I had not had time to properly scrutinize the image, to make the small adjustments and refinements that I still believe it needed. So now, every time I see that image, all I see are the mistakes. But then, maybe it’s those unfinished rough edges that contribute to its appeal. Who knows?

In 1996 Eye Magazine wrote that Pelham’s covers “dignify the books with symbolic images that help to convey the conceptual sophistication of the writing inside.” For more of Pelham’s covers as well as many striking Penguin covers by other artists, check out the well-curated website Penguin Science Fiction.

A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut
Many more of Pelham’s spectacular sci-fi creations after the jump…..

Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
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