Bob Dylan raps on a Kurtis Blow album, 1986
09:34 am



It’s a cliché by now that Bob Dylan’s singular 1965 track “Subterranean Homesick Blues” qualifies as one of the building blocks of hip-hop. What is possibly not quite as well known is that Dylan himself made a brief appearance on a track by one of the founding fathers of rap, Kurtis Blow.

Between the magisterial high points of, say, Blood on the Tracks and Time Out of Mind lie the yawning 1980s and most of the 1990s, a period marked by Dylan’s Christian period, the Traveling Wilburys, and “We Are the World.” As Dylan himself conceded later, it was a time when he was feeling out step with the world, with Reagan in the White House, MTV on cable television, and his Boomer cohort veering into suspect activities like junk bonds and jazzercise.

In 1986 Kurtis Blow released his 8th album Kingdom Blow—the album’s opening track, “Street Rock,” is a nearly nine-minute composition that features a single quatrain in Dylan’s voice that is used multiple times on the track, first as the intro and later as a full verse on its own on the track’s 7th minute. The album also featured vocals by George Clinton on a track called “Magilla Gorilla.”

Dylan in 1986
According to The Rough Guide to Bob Dylan 2, “In late March [1986], Dylan was back in America [after some gigs in Australia], oddly rapping a verse on Kurtis Blow’s release Street Rock. ‘He raps, he really raps,’ an excited Blow was quoted as saying.”

Blow was right, the tentative verse on “Street Rock” certainly does qualify as rap of some variety. Dylan has always had a distinctive singing style—understatement of the year—but in “Subterranean Homesick Blues” he indulged in a form of Sprechgesang. Here Dylan raps—one must use the verb—that he’s “indulged in high knowledge,” including an “encyclopedia” as well as “reports in news media,” and is in despair because there are “kids starving in Ethiopia and we are getting greedier, the rich are getting richer.” It’s not terrible by any stretch but it is surely slight; the tracks true virtues all flow from Blow.

In Chronicles, Volume 1, Dylan refers to the mid-1980s as a time when he had lost “power and dominion over the spirits,” stating that he “had done it once, and once was enough.” In the very next paragraph Dylan signals that it is the masters of the new form of rap music who have taken on that dominion:

Danny [Lanois] asked me who I’d been listening to recently, and I told him Ice-T. He was surprised, but he shouldn’t have been. A few years earlier, Kurtis Blow, a rapper from Brooklyn who had a hit out called “The Breaks,” had asked me to be on one of his records and he familiarized me with that stuff, Ice-T, Public Enemy, N.W.A., Run-D.M.C. These guys definitely weren’t standing around bullshitting. They were beating drums, tearing it up, hurling horses over cliffs. They were all poets and they knew what was going on.

Hear Bob Dylan rap, after the jump…

Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
Al Jourgensen and Gibby Haynes were Timothy Leary’s psychedelic guinea pigs
08:57 am


Al Jourgensen
Revolting Cocks

via Timothy Leary Archives
I knew Al Jourgensen and Dr. Timothy Leary were friends. Leary’s voice opened the Revolting Cocks’ Linger Ficken’ Good (see below), and when I saw Ministry at the Hollywood Palladium a couple weeks before Leary’s death in ‘96, Jourgensen announced from the stage that Tim was in the building. Jourgensen writes in his memoir that at the Palladium, he and Leary “hung out with Joe Strummer and Captain Sensible, and the four of us did more cocaine than you can fit onto a picnic table.”

But I was unprepared for the revelation, dropped as casually as a handkerchief two-thirds of the way through the same book, that Jourgensen lived with Leary for two years in the mid-90s, during which time both he and Gibby Haynes were test subjects for Leary’s experiments with psychedelics.

In the context of the book, this comes as a piece of good news, because at least Al is getting something like a doctor’s care. Fix, the depressing documentary filmed on Ministry’s Filth Pig tour (or “Sphinctour”), leaves no doubt as to the severity of Al’s multiple drug problems during this time, and the corresponding chapters of the book open dark new vistas of degradation. (One of Jourgensen’s war stories from this period includes the sentence: “She’s wearing a colostomy bag, and I was naturally curious.”)

Timothy Leary backstage at a Ministry show
At this point in the narrative, White Zombie bassist Sean Yseult has kicked Jourgensen out of their shared apartment on Melrose, and he has moved in with Leary. And here comes Gibby Haynes:

In addition to taking me in, Tim let Gibby Haynes stay at his house for a while. Tim encouraged us to take whatever drugs we wanted—he was the guru of LSD, after all. But as an academic and a researcher, he wanted to see what effects different hallucinogens had when they were coupled with different substances—coke, heroin, Nyquil, Hungry Man dinners. He would get all this hallucinogenic shit mailed to him from all these companies and universities and then test it on us every couple weeks. Actually, it was mostly on me. He kicked Gibby out of the house after he peed in the drawer of an antique desk in Tim’s office when he was off his head. So Gibby went and I stayed. Tim would get me to shoot up all these laboratory drugs that were based out of MDA—ecstasy and Ayahuasca, an Amazonian concoction made from shrubs, leaves, and Virola, a South American drug that you grind into a powder and cook down. Tim had me shooting up all this shit. He would be all excited and say, “Hey, I got a new package.” And I would groan, “Okay, fuck. Let’s do it.” I would shoot it up, and he would scribble down notes on how the drugs affected me. I don’t know what he was writing because to me the hallucinations were always the same.

I’d have these horrific visions of Hell and the apocalypse: naked people with blood spouting from every orifice; skies that turned black, then silver, then white again; winged beasts with razor-sharp talons; and, most of all, spiders of all shapes and sizes. They’d fall from the sky. They’d come up from the ground. They’d creep around corners and crawl all over me. I’d be screaming and trying to brush off the bugs. And I’d always end up staggering over to Tim’s blind dog, Mr. Bodles, that Lemmy, my dog, is probably related to. I’d grab his collar, and he would take me outside so I could breathe without spiders scurrying in my mouth and down my throat. Talk about the blind leading the blind. After an hour or so Tim would come out and stare at me. Then he’d take more notes and ask me some questions about how I was feeling and what I was seeing. He’d measure the diameter of my pupils and see if I could track his fingers with my eyes. I don’t know if I passed or failed; I just know I saw spiders. The stuff he gave me was so strong that it took effect in less than twenty minutes. The visions were instantaneous, and they were never enjoyable. But I’d subject myself to it because it helped him out somehow, and I knew if I did my job, my rent was paid and I had a place to stay.


Jourgensen and Leary horsing around
Elsewhere in the book, Gibby Haynes shares his own memories of the Leary years in an interview with the book’s co-author, Jon Wiederhorn:

When [Al] hooked me up with Tim Leary a lot of weird situations happened. We got kicked out of a Johnny Cash concert at the Viper Room because Tim was heckling Johnny Cash. The killer one was waking up in Tim’s study and seeing him feverishly typing three feet away from me. I was so hungover that I had pissed in his kitchen. He was nervously typing, like I shouldn’t have been in the room, and I discovered my dick was hanging out of my pants and was warm and moist.

Errr, what caused that?
Who knows? I guess when you sleep in Tim Leary’s study your dick comes out of your pants and gets warm and moist.

Maybe you pissed yourself?
I definitely pissed in his kitchen. Oh, and I let his blind dog shit in his living room. In the middle of the summer the sliding-glass doors to his house were open. I shut them in the middle of the night. I didn’t know you were supposed to leave them open because of his blind dog: It was the only way he could go outside to poop in the middle of the night. Not only did I urinate in his kitchen but I let a dog shit in his living room. I was not the consummate houseguest.

Is that why Tim kicked you out of his house?
The urine thing wasn’t really my fault. I was like, “Dude, your entire kitchen is white. That screams toilet to me.” There were probably three times I got so drunk in the middle of the night I got up and randomly urinated. It usually involved the color white. I peed on a couple one time, in their bed in the middle of the night. Their room was white.

Continues after the jump…

Posted by Oliver Hall | Leave a comment
The rise and fall of Tower Records and how the music industry screwed the pooch in the late ‘90s
08:33 am



I just finished watching Colin Hanks’ impressive documentary on the rise and fall of Tower Records, titled All Things Must Pass.

While I’d recommend the film to anyone who was ever a frequent Tower shopper, I’d say it’s a must-see for anyone who has ever worked music retail, particularly those who worked during the late ‘90s to early ‘2000s, which saw the decline of physical media sales.

The film centers on Russ Solomon who founded Tower Records in Sacramento, California in 1960, and traces the path he took in building the Tower brand from a single “supermarket of music” to a worldwide mega-chain. The documentary does a fair job at assessing the “perfect storm” that caused the ultimate collapse of the chain, culminating with the closing of their last company-owned store in 2006.

Tower Records head-honcho, Russ Solomon
Interviews with David Geffen, Elton John, Bruce Springsteen, and the obligatory Dave Grohl documentary appearance (is there some rule that says Grohl has to appear in EVERY music-related documentary?) give some insight to Tower’s cultural significance, rounding out the insider interviews with Tower’s top brass who detail the company’s rise and fall.

While the film offers a poignant homage to the Tower concept, brand and its larger-than-life captain, Russ Solomon, where it really shines is in its deconstruction of how the music industry as a whole dropped the ball in the late ‘90s. It was interesting to see Geffen offer his theories on how the industry screwed the pooch, leading, along with over-expansion, to Tower’s eventual demise. 

In the ‘90s I worked at a regional chain record store that modeled itself after Tower and I watched a lot of this stuff go down first-hand. Though the industry likes to point to the advent of Napster as the magic bullet that killed retail music, it was, in many ways, their own greed and shortsightedness that worked in conjunction with “illegal” downloads to kill retail. All Things Must Pass highlights the fact that the industry intentionally killed the single in order to force consumers into paying fifteen dollars for a full-length CD. I worked during the “golden age” of the CD single and “cassingle,” and those were beloved by a die-hard customer base. When the singles disappeared, we lost many customers to GAS STATIONS because the gas stations sold pirated “mixtapes” that contained all the songs our customers wanted without having to buy a hundred bucks worth of other songs that they didn’t want. Soon thereafter, these very same customers would be downloading those very same songs.

I can remember working at the shop in 1993 when Garth Brooks became the voice of major labels looking to crush the used CD market. Brooks had pledged to withhold his latest release from any record store that sold used merchandise. He eventually backed down and WEA, UNI and Sony Music Distribution were investigated by the Federal Trade Commission and were the target of several antitrust lawsuits related to their policies against stores that sold used CDs. The labels had attempted to withhold co-op advertising dollars from shops that sold used CDs, asserting that those sales were unfairly cutting into their profits.

I remember when one major electronics chain started its nation-wide expansion and its strategy was to open shops near existing record stores, and to sell all of their CDs for ten dollars each—and to stock damn-near everything. In many cases, they were selling CDs below actual cost as a loss-leader to get people in the doors to buy washing machines and refrigerators. But what they were also doing was destroying their competition by offering CDs at a price that could not be matched. When they effectively ran the other record stores out of business, they stopped stocking all of the deep-catalog titles and only reordered “the hits.” And then the prices magically went up—a shrewd business practice that destroyed several mid-sized music retail chains and made it impossible for music fans in many markets to buy anything, outside of the mainstream, locally… pushing them to search for music—ahem—online.

Keep reading after the jump…

Posted by Christopher Bickel | Leave a comment
ONO covers the Velvet Underground on an art museum loading dock
11:55 am



This blog has covered the legendary Chicago underground psych/performance group ONO before but a recap is in order anyway: musician P. Micheal Grego and mononymous singer/shaman Travis formed their theatrical anti-rock band in 1980, toiling in arty obscurity until throwing in the towel in 1986. Two decades later, they re-formed the band after interest in their two LPs Machines that Kill People and Ennui unexpectedly boomed. Since 2012, they’re released three new albums, and they finally toured outside Chicago in 2014.

They continue to tour today, with a greatly expanded membership that includes connections to other quality Chicago concerns like Tiger Hatchery and even Ministry. Travis has swapped his trademark dreadlocks for a clean-shaven dome and a brilliant white beard, and sports luminous white clothing to match—often wedding dresses. He’s a captivating sight; there a pitifully few frontmen as engaging and just plain watchable as Travis.

Last week, the band appeared in a concert on the loading docks of Cleveland, OH’s Museum of Contemporary Art, part of a far-too-short concert series that ends tomorrow night with a performance by concrète masters Form A Log. They shared the bill with a marvelous interactive dance performance by Space Beach and some jaw-dropping microtonal math rock from Baltimore’s Horse Lords, but ONO can’t really help but completely steal any show they appear on. Please enjoy my phone-cam footage of a delightful surprise they unleashed, a wonderfully droney nine-minute cover of the Velvet Underground’s “All Tomorrow’s Parties,” an apt choice for a band whose singer favors hand-me-down gowns.


Posted by Ron Kretsch | Leave a comment