Recently, Jez Kerr of A Certain Ratio has been posting some interesting stuff on his Facebook page, including his own (excellent) recent recordings, along with some fascinating “rarities” (if there’s still such a thing in this digital age) from ACR. Among them is the excellent little documentary Tribeca (no embedding unfortunately), which is about ACR’s time in New York City around 1980 or so (If you look carefully you can see famed producer Martin Hannett working the switches at ACR’s club gig).
Interestingly enough, I saw ACR play Danceteria circa 1981 and their Sunday night set was fantastic. For a warm-up act, however, there was this ragamuffin girl I’d seen around town, dancing and singing alongside two dancers. Even though the music was taped, her small entourage of maybe 50 people seemed absolutely nuts about her, as she made little train motions with her hands and sang her songs. Rock snob that I was, I thought it was jive, and yelled as much while her gang was applauding. No one gave a shit. I was sure I’d never see or hear from her again. That same girl was singing her latest hit, “Like a Virgin” on some awards show not long afterwards.
But enough about Madonna. Here’s “Lucinda” from one of my all-time favorite records, Sextet, an album that was, and still is, way the hell ahead of its time. It’s a mean motherfucker by any standards:
A live video of their club hit, “Shack Up” (a cover of an obscure break beat number later sampled by Public Enemy in Yo! Bum Rush the Show):
“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?)
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?”
Wait… Dusty Springfield appeared on The Dating Game? Apparently so!
Wonder why she seems so disinterested? Such a distinguished set of cheeky chappies to choose from. I do hope Dusty wasn’t really obliged to go on a skiing vacation with “Bachelor # 2. I kinda doubt it. That might have gotten awkward (During the credits a voice over says “Celebrity dates are subject to availability.”)
Of historical note, “Bachelor #1” was Milt Kamen, a stand-up comic who was Sid Caesar’s TV stand-in and who allegedly invented many of the bits Caesar is famous for.
This 2013 BBC documentary about living legend Nile Rodgers could not be more appropriately named, seeing as he has just given Daft Punk the biggest hit of their careers. Thankfully, this program includes none of the recent “Get Lucky” hyperbole (I mean, I like that song and all, but enough is enough already!) Judging by the concert footage it was filmed last summer.
You may know most of Rodger’s incredible story already (and if you haven’t read his autobiography Le Freak, you are really missing out on one of the best music biogrpahies of recent years) but there’s enough anecdata to make it a very worthwhile watch.
My own personal fave story is the one concerning Rodgers’ initial work on “Let’s Dance” with David Bowie. Worried that he may have been taking Bowie in too much of a “dance” direction, Nile asks him if perhaps the track is too funky, to which Bowie responds: “Is there such a thing, Nile?”
Try getting that quote, in Bowie-voice, out of your head the next time you see either of these two legends.
Have you ever heard of Googoosh? Don’t worry, you’re not alone. Until yesterday, I had never heard of Googoosh either, but today my life is all the better for it.
So what IS a Googoosh, you’re wondering? Or rather WHO is Googoosh? This was the question I asked myself when I was poking around the Finders Keepers website and was struck by the above, well, very striking, album cover.
The East’s best kept secret? Despite being a national treasure to generations of free-thinking Iranians and one of the most well-known and loved songbirds from the East, Faegheh Atashin (most famously known as Googoosh or Gougoush) is ironically also the performer of some of the rarest unheard pop music in the world.
Originally pressed on the diminishing vinyl format in the mid-1970s her songs and performances were banned after the Iranian revolution of 1979 resulting in her records, and millions of others, being forbidden, hidden and destroyed. Preserved in some part via the rise of global compact cassette culture in the 1980s some of Googoosh’s most famous songs have become anthemic amongst international Iranian communities whilst in darker contrast dozens of 45 b-sides and commercially stunted album tracks remain as distant and nonexistent memories in the mind of the most devout fans and fastidious vinyl librarians.
Finders Keepers’ first Googoosh release focuses on a handful of these lesser-spotted tracks - the ones that didn’t get away. Herein many will find the singer at her beguiling best with an urgency and yearning in her voice that is arguably unrivalled by so many contenders under the often disposable femme-pop umbrella. Mid-tempo pop peons with pulsating rhythm sections awash with expertly orchestrated strings (akin to that of some of the most intense Italian or French film composers) provide the backdrop for unrequited love songs revealing poetic premonitions of impeding cultural heartbreak. Other carefully selected tracks take cues from Googoosh’s most unlikely influences, such as jazz, bossa and early disco, unconsciously inducing political paranoia from the era’s imminent anti-pop restrictive regime. Combining inspiration from a deep-rooted history of Persian poetic verse and indelible Arabic songcraft these lost tracks, from the artist known amongst Farsi speaking fans throughout the world as ‘Iran’s Daughter,’ have most certainly, finally earned a place in the hearts of “outernational” music lovers like yourself.
If you’re anything like me, the above description has you salivating to hear more. Luckily, living as we do, in the Age of Consumer Enlightenment, I had but to type ‘Googoosh’ into Google to have dozens upon dozens of vintage Googoosh performances piped directly into my own home.
Rare no more, I suppose. Google ‘Googoosh’ for yourself. Her music lives up to the advanced hype! She’s got her own uniquely Googooshian thing going on for sure, but for sake of pop culture shorthand, imagine a combination of Cher (her campy, over the top conviction makes her a soul sister of our pop icon), Histoire de Melody Nelson-style orchestral pop and a hefty dollop of disco/funk with a decidedly Eastern flavor. Count me in!
Here’s the first thing I randomly found, “Talaagh,” and it’s a great place to start (certainly worked for me!):
Faegheh Atashin was born in 1950 in Tehran. Primarily known as a singer in Iran, she also starred in movies, including the top grossing Iranian film of all time, Dar Emtedade Shab, in 1977. According to most accounts in English, Googoosh seems to be the undisputed icon of female singers from that part of the world and began performing onstage at the tender age of just three. In the mid-1970s, before the fall of the Shah, she was at the height of her fame.
Googoosh stayed in Iran for over two decades after the Islamist revolution banned female singers, but after 2000 moved to the West (she’s rumored to live in Beverly Hills) and began to perform again to sold-out audiences around the world. 99% of the people reading this, myself included until yesterday, will never have heard of her, but Googoosh is selling out prestigious venues like Wembley Arena, the Nokia Theater in Los Angeles, and the Royal Albert Hall where she performed last month.