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Fiona Apple’s dad plays a crazed, killer Santa Claus in a John Waters favorite, ‘Christmas Evil’
12.14.2018
09:46 am
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Christmas Evil poster 1
 
Christmas Evil is a psychological horror movie about a unstable man obsessed with Christmas. He becomes increasingly unhinged over the course of the film, eventually donning a Santa Claus costume to deliver toys—and kill. First screened in 1980, Christmas Evil is a high quality B-movie, and has developed a much deserved cult following over the years. Its most famous supporter is John Waters, who’s been a vocal fan of the film for decades. Lewis Jackson, the writer/director of Christmas Evil, credits Waters with both the picture’s revival and his own re-embracing of a project he had put so much into decades prior, before it all slipped from his grasp.

Filming of Christmas Evil largely took place during the November-December 1979 holiday season, a moment Jackson had been preparing for for some time. He first came up with the idea for the film after he smoked a joint and saw an image of Santa Claus holding a knife.
 
Santa 1
 
Jackson worked for years on the script, and envisioned a mainstream, big budget movie. While Hollywood liked his finished script, they felt the concept was just too strange. Jackson did secure a modest $450,000 to shoot the picture—a budget he would ultimately exceed by $400,000.

For the crucial lead role of Harry Stadling, Jackson had met with a number of famous actors, including Peter Boyle, but they all passed on the project. Jackson was then introduced to a little-known actor who was primarily a Broadway performer. This was Brandon Maggart.

I met him, and I saw something. It was a gamble, because basically his looks were not like a movie star. But he brought something to it. When I look back now, there were some moments with him in the screen test where you see the performance completely whole. He brought that musical comedy quality to it. It comes from another place. It’s off kilter. It appealed to me. I cast him and we started shooting a couple of days later. (from Regional Horror Films, 1958-1990: A State-by-State Guide with Interviews)

Maggart’s the father of singer/songwriter Fiona Apple, who was three years old when Christmas Evil was released.
 
Harry
 
In the opening minutes of Christmas Evil, we see Harry, as a child, witnessing a sexually-charged exchange between his mother and father—who’s dressed as Santa Claus—which greatly disturbs the boy. The film then fast-forwards to the present, in which an adult Harry is preoccupied with Christmas, and either thinks he is, or wants to be, Santa. He spies on neighborhood children, noting whether they are “good” or “bad.” At the same time, he maintains a job at a toy factory, seeming to live a normal life to those around him, but privately becoming more and more crazed. It’s all very creepy and unnerving.
 
Beard
 
On November 6th, 1980, an advance screening of what Jackson was then calling You Better Watch Out took place at a theater in Pittsburgh. “It’s about the myth of Santa Claus as he was known in the 19th century,” Jackson told The Pittsburgh Press, describing his film. “He was regarded then as a moral arbiter, a figure to denote good and band. The idea was: Be good or Santa will bring you something bad.” He also equated it to a fairy tale, in which “violent and lovely things,” as well as “horrible and fantastic” events occur.
 
Dead bodies
 
Though he had to work with a smaller budget, Jackson found that because there wasn’t as much at stake, financially, he was able to stick to his vision—for the most part. He did lose some control over the final edit, and the title was changed. Jackson didn’t realize it would be called Christmas Evil until he was a handed a poster with that title.

Christmas Evil was the first film to depict Santa Claus as a killer, and there were expectations that the movie would be a slasher, in the spirit of Halloween. But the movie is really a character study, with the pacing of an art film, and the first murder doesn’t take place for a while. Horror ‘zine writers, who were expecting gore—and lots of it—were disappointed. After a bunch of negative reviews and just a few screenings, Christmas Evil faded away.
 
Poster 2
 
One viewer who totally understood the film was John Waters, who first saw Christmas Evil in a Baltimore theater. When it came out on VHS, Waters would screen the picture during his Christmas parties. In the “Why I Love Christmas” chapter in his 1987 book, Crackpot: The Obsessions of John Waters, the Pope of Trash unironically praises Christmas Evil, writing that it’s the “best seasonal film all time,” and a “true cinematic masterpiece,” adding, “I wish I had kids. I’d make them watch it every year and if they don’t like it they’d be punished.”

Much more after the jump…

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Posted by Bart Bealmear
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12.14.2018
09:46 am
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Thomas Jefferson on buggery, sodomy and bestiality
12.13.2018
08:43 am
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‘Thomas Jefferson’ by N. C. Wyeth

“Ideas of justice are as timeless as fashions in hats,” the philosopher John Gray writes. Consider a bill submitted to the Virginia Assembly in 1779, proposing some liberal reforms to colonial laws: Bill 64, “A Bill for Proportioning Crimes and Punishments in Cases Heretofore Capital,” penned in Thomas Jefferson’s own hand. Seeking to make murder and treason the only capital crimes, it was progressive legislation for its day. Bill 64, a product of two years’ deliberation by the Committee of Revisors, grouped rape, polygamy and sodomy together, and prescribed the same punishment for each:

Whosoever shall be guilty of Rape, Polygamy, or Sodomy with man or woman shall be punished, if a man, by castration, if a woman, by cutting thro’ the cartilage of her nose a hole of one half inch diameter at the least.

The bill’s extensive footnotes review legal authorities from antiquity through the 18th century on criminal law’s greatest hits, such as arson, robbery, counterfeiting, manslaughter, murder and treason, along with some old standards known to very few of today’s felons, like asportation of vessels and horse stealing. When it comes to the rationale for drilling holes in women’s noses, the footnotes are silent, but there is a lengthy disquisition on buggery. Properly considered, Jefferson writes, buggery subsumes two distinct crimes: buggery of people and buggery of animals, the first of which is a serious crime, the second a hilarious indiscretion.

Buggery is twofold. 1. with mankind, 2. with beasts. Buggery is the Genus, of which Sodomy and Bestiality are the species. 12.Co.37. says ‘note that Sodomy is with mankind.’ But Finch’s L.B.3.c.24. ‘Sodomitry is a carnal copulation against nature, to wit, of man or woman in the same sex, or of either of them with beasts.’ 12.Co.36. says ‘it appears by the antient authorities of the law that this was felony.’ Yet the 25.H.8. declares it felony, as if supposed not to be so. Britton c.9. says that Sodomites are to be burnt. […] The Mirror makes it treason. Bestiality can never make any progress; it cannot therefore be injurious to society in any great degree, which is the true measure of criminality in foro civili, and will ever be properly and severely punished by universal derision. It may therefore be omitted. It was antiently punished with death as it has been latterly. Ll.Aelfrid.31. and 25H.8.c.6. See Beccaria §.31. Montesq.

Jefferson wrote Madison that the bill’s punishment for rape was a hard sell in the Virginia Assembly, where his colleagues found it “indecent and unjustifiable.” He also would support changing the punishment for rape, but only because, as written, “women would be under [the temptation] to make it the instrument of vengeance against an inconstant lover, and of disappointment to a rival.” I think both reasons amount to anxiety about what women might do with the power to hand out gonadectomies like jaywalking tickets, a development that certainly would have made high school U.S. history textbooks more interesting.

None of these considerations seems to have affected the fate of Bill 64. When it was defeated in 1787, Madison attributed its failure not to the brutal penalties for sex crimes, but to the current “rage against Horse stealers,” who would have faced hard labor rather than the gallows under its permissive code.

Laws come and go; below, Charles Manson dispenses timeless wisdom in his song “Don’t Do Anything Illegal.”
 

Posted by Oliver Hall
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12.13.2018
08:43 am
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My Interview with Amethyst Realm: The Woman Engaged to a Ghost
12.13.2018
06:29 am
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October 30th may have been what they call a ‘slow news day.’ Gangster Whitey Bulger was murdered in prison. Pharrell sent a cease-and-desist letter to Trump. Kanye now wants to distance himself from politics. Woman who has had sex with twenty ghosts is now engaged to one. Wait wait, hold on - what happened?
 
To me, this was the day that I read one of the most incredible stories of my lifetime. It was a headline that should have run in the National Enquirer or the Daily Mirror. In fact, it probably did.
 
The suspicious timing near Halloween made this international news. I even got a push notification about it. The woman’s name is Amethyst Realm and she is from Bristol, UK. And, as the headlines have stated, she is marrying a spirit. I know what you are probably thinking - this is rubbish. I would think so too, if I didn’t believe her.
 
I needed to learn more about this paranormal love affair, so I reached out to the source herself. We spoke on my radio show about her prior relationships, proposal, and plans for the wedding. If any of the below speaks to you in ways like it impacted me, remember, she’s working on a book.
 
Bennett Kogan: Okay, just to make sure I understand this correctly. Your fiancé is – a spirit?

Amethyst Realm: Yes, that’s correct.
 
And this isn’t your first spirit lover… let’s hear a little bit about your past experiences with the occult.

I’ve always been very open spiritually and aware of other presences. When I was around eighteen, I moved into a new house and met my first spirit romantically. And since then, I’ve had a few lovers. It’s been… yeah.
 
But that was your first time with a ghost?

Romantically, yes. I’ve always been aware of them. It’s something that’s been sort of normal to me. I can pick up on different presences - like if I were to walk into a room. I’ve always had that kind of sense.
 
How does an intimate relationship with a ghost compare to one with a human?

In a lot of ways, it’s pretty similar. For me it’s totally normal, so I find it quite difficult to explain. We’ll still go out on dates and things like that, but we don’t really need to communicate in the same way than with a partner of this realm. It’s much deeper and a lot more emotion based. And intimate.
 
What was the realization that these encounters would become something that was meant to last for an eternity?

It was just something that felt so much more real and serious. Kind of in the same way if you met someone in the living world that you fell in love with instantly. It was love in first sight, in a way. “Love at first sense,” maybe. When you meet someone, you look into their eyes and feel something. You feel that energy. For us, it’s just that energy.
 
The spirit that you are now engaged to, how did that introduction occur?

I was in the outback of Australia, not looking for anything. Just walking and enjoying the amazing scenery out there. When suddenly I just felt their presence. And it just felt right from the start. I just knew it was a real, serious thing. It wasn’t gonna be a fling.
 
Were you able to address him by a human name?

We never really bothered with names. It wasn’t important. I have now given him a name because it makes it much easier. He showed himself in photo that a friend took of me. He appeared as a ray of light shooting across the photo. So now, I call him “Ray.”
 
Can you visualize his face?

No, because I can’t see him. He definitely has a presence. His energy and emotions form like an emotional shape almost.
 
Are there certain characteristics that you’ve been able to sense since first meeting him?

I guess he feels strong. And very solid and there. Recently I got a reading with some psychics who told me a little bit about what they felt his history was in his past life. And now, I can say that he is male. Before that, it was so unimportant to me what he looked like that I didn’t know what his gender was - and it didn’t matter to me.
 
Is Ray there with you right now?

Yeah, he came back on the plane with me to the UK.
 
And that’s where the proposal occurred?

We went up to Somerset one weekend. And while we were there he really wanted to go to the Wookey Hole Caves, which are quite a ways away. I was a little bit confused by it. Because I’ve always trusted him, but thought maybe he’s got an ex-phantom lover there, or something? It’s a quite heavily haunted spot. So, we went on a tour around the caves. While we were there, he asked me to hang back from the rest of the crowd. And then he proposed.
 
So now you’re engaged and looking forward to the big wedding. What type of ceremonies do you have prepared?

We’re planning a spring wedding, I think. I want kind of something based around a hand-binding ceremony, rather than a traditional wedding. Because obviously, spirits don’t have hands. I’ve been referring to it as a “soul-binding” ceremony. We’ve got a really special venue lined up as well, which is very exciting.
 
Your family and friends, what were their initial reactions to this kind of news?

They were really happy for me. My family and friends are quite alternative, so they’re just happy that I’m happy. They understand that there is more to this world than what you see.
 
It was interesting how the media portrayed your story. I’m looking at a headline right now that just states, “Woman who had sex with 20 ghosts is now engaged to a spirit.”

It seems that the world at the moment is really interested in the concept of alternative relationships versus the traditional ones that everyone has. Of course, I expect some people to disbelieve me. I hope I’ve made those that are having the same experiences as me feel a little more comfortable with it. Or those that aren’t satisfied with a normal, mainstream relationship can feel like there is an alternative.
 
I’m sure people have been reaching out to you since your news went viral.

So many people are asking me if Ray can set them up with one of his spirit friends.
 
I’m definitely open to the opportunity.

I’m in talks with publishers about writing a guide about how to seduce a ghost. It seems like so many people want to do it. I’m hoping that I can educate some people and maybe help them along their path.
 
I’m sure that our everyday paranormal encounters could have escalated into the same experiences that you’ve had. For those who are reading this now and aren’t convinced by your story, what advice do you have to offer them?

I know what’s going on and I know what’s real for me. Keep an open mind and heart. And just be aware of the signs, really.
 

Previously on Dangerous Minds:
‘GhostWatch’: Before ‘Paranormal Activity’ Banned BBC Drama

Posted by Bennett Kogon
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12.13.2018
06:29 am
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The annual Dangerous Minds foolproof last minute shopping list for hard-to-buy-for rock snobs!!
12.12.2018
07:14 pm
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Each year around this time, I compile a list of what I consider to be the best Christmas gifts for that difficult-to-buy-for rock snob in your life. You know the one. And if you happen to be the rock snob reading this, this is the good stuff. Buy it for yourself.

You will perhaps sense a bit of a 50th anniversary theme going on here, nonetheless, first let me recommend the super deluxe reissue of The Beatles’ White Album. On last year’s Sgt. Pepper’s box set, Giles Martin bestowed upon the world the album that the Beatles would have made had there been 5.1 surround sound in 1967. It stayed true to the original, but nicely expanded it for 21st century audio system capabilities and consumer expectations. In short, it was mind-blowing. This season his gift is this nicely enhanced White Album. Unlike Pepper’s more uniformly hi-fi sound, the White Album is a hodgepodge of various musical and recording/production styles that’s all over the map, which of course is the reason why the collection is so revered five decades later. A different, dirtier, animal, if you will, from its cinemascope predecessor, Martin’s newfangled White Album in 5.1 reveals much and lets each instrument and voice have its own PLACE in the mix. It’s a cleaner White Album to be sure. Obviously there’s more bottom end—McCartney’s bass lines have been nicely accentuated in all Beatles releases issued since 2009—and there are certain elements that stand out in ways they didn’t before, many of them drum fills courtesy of Ringo Starr and the nicely accentuated backing vocals. It also comes with the so-called “Escher Demos” recorded at George Harrison’s house, a sort of “White Album Unplugged,” the original 1968 mono mix in 24bit and outtakes galore. The highlight for me was hearing “Revolution #9” in 5.1 surround. Apocalyptic!
 

 
Isn’t it about time that the Kinks got a pricey box set to call their own? Seems like it’s no coincidence that the 50th birthday of The Kinks are The Village Green Preservation Society is being celebrated with this bursting-at-the-seams box which contains no fewer than FOUR—I mean FIVE—versions of the exact same album. Vinyl in mono, stereo and the Swedish issue (with different cover and two additional songs). CDs with mono and stereo mixes, alt versions, session tracks, audio tracks from BBC TV appearances, live numbers, interviews, etc. You could say that it’s a bit repetitive, overkill even—and you would not be wrong about that—but we’re talking about a Christmas gift here. To be honest, just the Swedish album on vinyl would probably have been enough for me if I was paying the tab, but if I got this as a gift, yeah, I’d be pretty pleased.
 

 
And what do you know there’s a 50th anniversary box set of Jimi Hendrix’s Electric Ladyland? Who’d have thought someone at the record label would want to turn that event into product? Well…I gotta say, this one is a ripper. In terms of the new 2018 5.1 surround mix, this has to be at, or very near, the top of the list of the best examples of a classic rock album getting a multichannel remake that I’ve ever heard. When Electric Ladyland was originally released it was considered one of the finest illustrations of the capability of two-channel audio (stereo) as had ever been created up to that point and THIS SURROUND MIX DOES NOT DISAPPOINT. As I wrote in a longer post about the 5.1 mix, the “velocity” of Jimi’s playing is taken to another level here entirely; a song like “Crosstown Traffic” makes it from point A to point B without its tires ever touching the ground. This one is safe bet for almost any rock snob, even ones who are only lukewarm Hendrix fans. After this gift, they’ll become the most rabid Jimi fans, trust me. Also unlike the two north-of-$100 items listed above, you can pick this one up for less than fifty bucks. With lots of outtakes, a documentary, book and a new stereo mix, but the star attraction here is the inspired surround mix.

I am a huge, massive, very very big Bobbie Gentry fan. What a great talent she is, occupying a self-created niche somewhere between Joni Mitchell and Las Vegas showbiz. Everything you could possibly want—and more—is present and accounted for on The Girl From Chickasaw County: The Complete Capitol Masters, an 8 CD set in a slick package. The book-length essay about Gentry’s pioneering career—not only was she one of the first major female artists to write and produce her own albums, she was an extremely shrewd businesswoman, and one of the first to collect a really huge paycheck from doing a Vegas residency—is first rate, giving proper context for Gentry’s work for those too young to remember her. I’ve heard that this box set completely sold out of the first run and it rightly deserved to.  A very high quality product. Any major artist would be lucky to get this treatment, even ones that didn’t totally disappear off the face of the Earth nearly 40 years ago.
 

 
Keychains and Snowstorms: The Soft Cell Story box set boasts ten discs (nine CDs and one four-hour long DVD) which is quite a feat for a band that only ever put out three albums proper during its short existence. Much of the material here comes from their 12” releases and EPs, of which there were many. Soft Cell always put a lot of effort into their remixes and b-sides and the quality here is uniformly very high. The mastering is muscular and charges the atmosphere of your listening room like a nightclub’s booming sound system (I could easily see my woofers moving). This is one of those extremely completist sets (like the Gentry box above) where it’s easy to lost in something new. Not that Soft Cell is exactly new, of course, they broke up for the first time in 1984, but it’ll be new to anyone who doesn’t know them beyond “Tainted Love.” With an extremely good book length essay on the career of these unlikely deviant chart toppers.
 

 
I’ve been getting into a lot of 60/70s English folk music during past year—aided ably by Rob Young’s book Electric Eden: Unearthing Britain’s Visionary Music, an exhaustive 650 page volume that would make a great Xmas gift itself for your rock snob—and I consider the Dust in the Nettles 3 CD anthology (Grape Fruit/Cherry Red) to be an indispensable collection for someone who is always looking for “something new to listen to” as dozens of leads are to be found there. Subtitled “a journey through the British underground folk scene,” it starts off strong with Pentangle’s “Let No Man Steal Your Thyme,” which is immediately followed by the seductive “Willow’s Song” from The Wicker Man soundtrack. (Listen to those two songs in a row and see if you don’t agree.) Also included are stunning numbers by Joan Armatrading, Bill Fay, the Incredible String Band and Vashti Bunyan, but the song here that I became obsessed with is “Amanda” by Steve Peregrin Took’s Shagrat, the tale of a smiling cropier, gambling on love and much amphetamine. I simply cannot recommend Dust in the Nettles highly enough, it’s amazing from start to finish and it’s a gift that will keep on giving with the discovery of new artists on it. (If you don’t have anyone to buy this for, just buy it for yourself.)
 

 
In late 2017 several early Brian Eno classics came out pressed across two twelve inch 180 gram vinyl platters that play at 45rpm. Using the half speed mastering process at Abbey Road, albums like Taking Tiger Mountain (by Strategy) and Here Come the Warm Jets had a new coat of audiophile gloss put on them that I found mighty attractive and now they’re releasing four of his ambient albums, Discrete Music, Ambient 1: Music for Airports, the enigmatic Music for Films and the mighty On Land, which is my favorite. The sound of these is, predictably, the best you’re ever gonna hear, much more tactile than any CD could ever be, but I couldn’t help but to notice that the meditative “put it on in the background” functionality of Eno’s ambient works is disrupted, if not made entirely moot, by the fact that you have to get up and flip the platter every ten minutes! (The first piece on Discrete Music is cut in half.) Still they’re pretty cool and I will admit to listening to On Land loud enough to threaten a tectonic shift underneath my house. Background music? Only if you want it to be. These also comes in standard single LP 33rpm versions which are apparently made from the exact same master.

Dylan Jones’ superb oral history David Bowie: A Life came out last year, but I was a bit Bowie’d out at the time and although I bought it, I never actually picked it up and read it until recently. Having read practically every major book about David Bowie (starting with The David Bowie Story by George Tremlett, which I had memorized when I was a lad) this is without question my favorite of them all. I enjoyed it immensely and wish it had been ten times as long as its 500+ pages. It’s a terrifically entertaining book full of candid and charming anecdotes about the man. The matter of his work ethic (even when he was out of his mind on heaps of cocaine) comes up often, as does his graciousness and true kindness. David Bowie as a human, in other words, not a rock god. The wonderfully hilarious Roger Moore story is my absolute favorite, but there are several more.

The “rock” memoir is, I will admit it, one of my favorite literary genres, and Playing the Bass with Three Hands by Will Carruthers—who’s been in Spacemen 3, Spiritualized, the Brian Jonestown Massacre, Spectrum, and others—is one of my favorites in recent memory. Extremely well-written, this look back at a life lived to the chemical extreme, often in hand-to-mouth poverty and working (literally) shitty jobs to avoid penury whilst a member of several world famous rock bands, has got to be the most brutally honest rock memoir since… The End by James Young? Carruthers has a gift for charmingly observed first person narration that makes this book such a pleasure despite all the drugs, destitution and offal. In the future this book will be read as history to understand what it was like to live in the 80s and 90s.
 

 
And lastly there is the beautifully published Stories for Ways and Means published by Waxploitation’s Jeff Antebi and featuring “grown up” children’s story collaborations from the likes of Nick Cave, Tom Waits, Joe Coleman, Laura Marling, Alison Mosshart, Gary Numan, Gibby Haynes, Kathleen Hanna, Anthony Lister, Frank Black, Devendra Banhart, Will Oldham and many others. The world of contemporary art meets some of the most compelling storytellers in music and the results are between the cover of this gorgeous, slick book with a mission of supporting nonprofit children’s organizations and NGOs around the world. Buy it here.
 

Watch ‘Circus,’ an animated short of Joe Coleman’s art set to a short story by Tom Waits and Kathleen Brennan and narrated by Ken Nordine, as seen in the book ‘Stories for Ways and Means.’
 

Previously on Dangerous Minds:
Jimi Hendrix REALLY HATED his album covers
Electric Xmasland: Jimi Hendrix dressed as Santa Claus, 1967
Life is Unfair: Black Box Recorder want you to kill yourself or get over it
Animated children’s stories by Nick Cave, Gary Numan, Will Oldham, Tom Waits, Laura Marling & more!
Keychains and Snowstorms: The Soft Cell Story

Posted by Richard Metzger
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12.12.2018
07:14 pm
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Not for the faint-hearted: Gruesome medical illustrations from the 19th-century (NSFW)

01surgeryillus.jpg
Surgery to correct strabismus, a misalignment of the eyes.
 
The artist Francis Bacon spent many hours poring over illustrated medical books looking at surgical procedures on mouth and tongue cancer, hare-lip correction, and tracheotomies. He declared these image beautiful, in particular the way in which the artist had used color to represent a tongue or a mouth. It was something he tried to recreate in his own paintings. Bacon was a voracious reader. After his death, more than 1,000 of his books were donated to Dublin’s Trinity College History of Art Department and the City Gallery, the Hugh Lane. Among this collection are works by Beckett, Nietzsche, T. S. Eliot, De Beauvoir, Elizabeth David cookery books, and a well-used set of medical textbooks, some illustrated by Frank Netter, others containing work by Joseph Pancoast (1805-82).

Pancoast was an American surgeon who pioneered many techniques in surgery and in particular plastic surgery. He also wrote the highly influential book A Treatise on Operative Surgery, first published in 1844, which compiled various surgical procedures or “processes” that exhibited the “state of surgical science in is present advanced condition.” The book contained some 80 color-plates and 486 illustrations, and was further enlarged in 1846.

Illustrations from another medical book that caught Bacon’s interest was Précis iconographique de médecine opératoire et d’anatomie chirurgicale by Claude Bernard (1813-1878), a French physiologist, who has been described as “one of the greatest of all men of science.” Bernard was the first to use “blind experiments” by which information is kept from the participants to eliminate any possible bias. He also believed scientists must endeavor to disprove their own theories as scientists can “solidly settle” their ideas “only by trying to destroy [their] own conclusions by counter-experiments.”

Like Bacon, I’ve had a long fascination with old medical textbooks and their illustrations as I find the artists’ depictions of surgery and disease beautifully capture the essential frailty of the human condition. However, some readers may find a few of the following illustrations potentially disturbing. You have been warned.

 
03surgeryillus.jpg
The removal of cataracts.
 
08surgeryillus.jpg
Surgery for correcting a harelip.
 
010surgeryillus.jpg
Ear surgery.
 
Far more disturbing surgical procedures, after the jump….
 

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Posted by Paul Gallagher
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12.12.2018
09:22 am
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Revisiting Pete Shelley’s groundbreaking multimedia album project ‘XL1’
12.11.2018
10:11 am
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Pete Shelley died late last week, a very sad day for all of us at Dangerous Minds. He will be missed.

Everyone reading this knows that Shelley played an important role in the UK punk scene as the lead vocalist and songwriter for Buzzcocks and was an important new wave innovator as a solo artist. Over the weekend John Coulthart called attention to an aspect of Shelley’s career I hadn’t known about, his innovative use of computer technology to create alternative means of enjoying music in the televisual age.

On the cover of Shelley’s first proper solo album, 1981’s Homosapien, a dandified version of the artist perches awkwardly in an extremely 1980s sort of “office” that featured (among other objects) a pyramid, a phrenologist’s skull, and, significantly, a Commodore Pet, which was one of the first personal computers sold directly to consumers, in the late 1970s. Wittingly or no, that Pet would signal a bold direction Shelley would take on his 1983 follow-up, XL•1, which featured a suite of “videos” to accompany each of the album’s songs that consisted entirely of computer graphics. The program was programmed by Joey Headen for the ZX Spectrum, a home computer of that moment that served as the approximate British equivalent to the Commodore 64 in the United States. (Remember: If you’re not pronouncing it “Zeddex Spectrum,” you’re not saying it right.)

According to Headen, Shelley, an early adopter of the ZX Spectrum, wrote a simple program in BASIC that would display the words to one of his songs in response to a series of key presses. Eventually, with the help of some computer-savvy friends, Shelley put together a test of a program that would run without requiring human intervention—using Wire’s “A Question of Degree” as the guinea pig. Shelley liked the results so much that for a time he would enthusiastically show the program off to houseguests.
 

 
Shelley’s producer Martin Rushent was (like Shelley) quite technophilic and thus instrumental in making the ZX Spectrum version of XL•1 come into being. Rushent’s home studio was technologically forward-looking enough that in 1983 the magazine MicroComputer Printout would quip that his mixing desk “looks like something out of Star Wars.” Rushent invited Headen and another programmer named Francis Cookson up to his home studio to work on the program while Shelley cut the tracks for the album. Headen later reminisced:
 

We decided the program was going to be divided into 10 different sections, one for each song. Each song was going to have a different graphical look.

The lower third of the screen, 8 lines of text, would contain the lyrics. I had devised different methods for the text appearing: instantly, slowly, from the side and from the top. These could be used depending on the song. The top part of the screen would be used for graphics. The graphics were kept simple—pixels, lines, circles, color blocks, scrolling horizontally and vertically.

With three weeks until the album was to be finished, I moved down to the hotel to work on the program full time. This was crunch time, and Francis and I spent most of the time working in the hotel room. In fact it took us three days before we realized that there was only one bed in the room and we had to change rooms.

 
Here’s one of the pages Headen saved from that month of work—a lyrics sheet in Shelley’s handwriting for XL•1‘s first track “Telephone Operator.” I’m not sure but the numbers on the right might have been some kind of notation for Headen to keep track of the program’s cues.
 

 
The program was crude but anyone who remembers 1983 at all will testify that such oddities didn’t seem crude whatsoever at the time.
 
After the jump, experience the full multimedia experience of XL•1….......
 

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Posted by Martin Schneider
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12.11.2018
10:11 am
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Mutant children of the hydrogen age: Gorgeous, glammy album outtakes of the New York Dolls from 1973
12.10.2018
10:36 am
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“The mutant children of the hydrogen age.”

Rolling Stone magazine on the impression the New York Dolls made during a string of shows at the Mercer Arts Center in lower Manhattan.

Before the release of their first record, the New York Dolls had already been through a lot of shit together. Record companies were terrified of them for various reasons including their sexual ambiguity, raunchy lyrics, and outrageous stage shows. In November of 1971, the band found themselves living in the notorious Endicott Hotel—one of New York’s many notorious “welfare hotels.” Violent crime was rampant in the Endicott and in early 1972 four female residents of the hotel were found murdered on the premises. The band would play any gig they could get including two held in NY gay bathhouse Man’s Country surrounded by men clad only in towels. Sylvain Sylvain remembers the band got $400 bucks and were able to pay their rent for their new digs—a loft above a noodle shop in Chinatown. After gigging around Europe in 1972, drummer Billy Murcia (a childhood friend of Sylvain Sylvain and Johnny Thunders) OD’d in a bathtub at a party, and the Dolls then headed back to New York to audition new drummers including Marc Bell (Marky Ramone), Peter Criss of KISS, and a friend of theirs, Jerry Nolan, who got the gig.

Todd Rundgren would step up to produce the band’s first album, and while Rolling Stone loved it, other reviews likened the sound of the Dolls’ guitars to “lawnmowers.” Love them or hate them, CREEM called them both the “best” and “worst” new group of 1973. The album cover (shot by Toshi Matsuo) of the Dolls sitting together on a couch in Matsuo’s loft looking hotter than hell in platforms and makeup fit for a serious-as-fuck queen got everyone’s attention. Toshi took many more photos of the band as individuals on the white satin couch, as well as in front of the famous Gem Spa corner store (home of the egg cream!), pictured on the back of the album.

There is one aspect of Matsuo’s outtakes for which I have no explanation—the appearance of a small child holding a Rayline Jet Disc Tracer Scope rifle (a toy) in every shot taken of the Dolls except for the one of Syl in front of Gem Spa. Who is this little badass, honorary New York Doll? I’d really like to think he turned out as cool as he looked in the photos you are about to see, as I’ve had little luck in tracking him down myself. Matsuo’s outtakes of the Dolls from 1973 follow.
 

David Johansen photographed by Toshi Matsuo.
 

Johnny Thunders.
 

Arthur “KIller” Kane.
 
More after the jump…

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Posted by Cherrybomb
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12.10.2018
10:36 am
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‘Glen Campbell Sings for The King’: Listen to the vocal guide demo tracks made for Elvis to imitate
12.10.2018
10:00 am
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It’s well-known that several prominent musicians and songwriters—Glen Campbell, PJ Proby, Mort Shuman and Delaney Bramlett among them—recorded “vocal guides” so that a post-army Elvis could make better use of expensive recording studio time for his Hollywood movie soundtracks. The singers would do the songs in Elvis’s style, he’d listen to them, and then he in turn would let it rip, in a sense, imitating them imitating him. It was nothing, if not efficient. The studio musicians who performed on the demos were often members of Phil Spector’s LA-based “Wrecking Crew” and apparently it was a bit of an assembly line process going on with up to six of them getting recorded per day. One prolific songwriter, Ben Weisman, who wrote or co wrote 57 numbers for the King (including one of his greatest “shits,” the income tax-related song, “He’s Your Uncle, Not Your Dad”) explained how it worked:

“I approached writing for Elvis differently than I did for any other artist. The songs had to have a combination of blues, country, rock and pop [what came to be called ‘rockabilly’]. It was like walking in his musical shoes. With each new Elvis movie, more of my songs were being recorded. It became more and more exciting, for I was becoming the only songwriter to have so many songs recorded by him.

After completing each song, I would make a demonstration (demo) record, using a singer that could copy Elvis’ sound. I used the same type of rhythm section that he used, with the same type of vocal backgrounds. The end result was a tailor-made production, just for him.

One of the first demo singers I hired was Otis Blackwell, who wrote such great Elvis songs as “Don’t Be Cruel,” “All Shook Up,” and many more. Some of the other talented singers I found were Glen Campbell, Delaney Bramlett, P.J.Proby, Ray Peterson and Dorsey Burnette.

Among the musicians who played on my demos were Phil Spector, Hal Blaine, Leon Russell, Larry Knechtel, plus Ronnie Tutt, Glen D. Hardin and James Burton, who ended up in Elvis’ band.”

Texas-born singer PJ Proby—Elvis once dated his older sister—did twenty such vocal guides for Presley (for just $10 a pop!) mimicking his singing style in a full-throated manner that was said to have mightily amused him. (This talent for imitating Elvis came in handy for when Proby portrayed the “later years” Elvis in a West End musical.) Songwriter Gerald Nelson wrote and performed nineteen songs for Elvis, Don Robertson did at least two dozen, but it was Glen Campbell, who Presley is said to have greatly respected, whose vocal guides—for Weisman and his songwriting partner Syd Wayne—got the most serious attention from Elvis. (When Presley resumed live performances in the late 60s, he’d even asked Campbell, who he’d known since 1956, to be the lead guitarist in his TCB touring band, but by this time Glen Campbell was already far too big a star in his own right with his popular Goodtime Hour TV series and massive hits like “Wichita Lineman,” and so James Burton, recently relieved from his duties in Ricky Nelson’s band, got the gig. During the 70s, Campbell would perform “Loving You” onstage, doing a nearly perfect Elvis imitation.)
 

 
Since Glen Campbell’s death last year, it’s no surprise that his longtime label Capitol Records would trawl the vaults for what they might turn into product, but apparently the cupboard was pretty bare. Then the original reels of Campbell’s Elvis guides were found by producer Stephen Auerbach, the nephew-in-law of Ben Weisman, in a storage locker. The results heard on Glen Campbell Sings for the King—like those found on a decade’s worth of the soundtracks to Presley’s own 1960s films—is pretty, er, spotty, but there is some (admittedly goofy) fun to be found here. I reckon it picks up a bit at the halfway point.

The collection will also be available on limited edition 180-gram clear vinyl only at GlenCampbell.com. There’s even more Glen Campbell on UMe’s terrific new Bobbie Gentry box set, The Girl From Chickasaw County - The Complete Capitol Masters.
 

 
More after the jump, with an exclusive clip of Wrecking Crew drummer Hal Blaine on Glen Campbell…

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Posted by Richard Metzger
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12.10.2018
10:00 am
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Lubomyr Melnyk: An interview with the mystic genius of piano
12.07.2018
08:19 am
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Lubomyr Melnyk portrait by Alex Kozobolis

A few years ago a friend of mine emailed me a YouTube link to the Ukrainian-Canadian pianist Lubomyr Melnyk playing for a rapt audience in Germany. His message said only:

“This guy is a fucking genius.”

He was right, and I was a fan within minutes of pressing play on that clip (see below) and experiencing the overwhelming numinosity of Melnyk’s music, which is both spiritual, and yet highly physical, and not unlike Sufi whirling dervish dancing in the concentration it would require. (It came as no surprise when he mentioned P.D. Ouspensky, the disciple of Gurdjieff, as one of his primary influences during the interview.) His playing can be a blur of passion, laser-like intention, and above all speed. His remarkable FLOOD of sound and cascading harmonics is unlike anything you are ever likely to have heard a piano sound like. Melnyk is considered the world’s fastest pianist, and has been timed playing nineteen and a half notes per second with each hand. The human ear cannot entirely take that much information in and make perfect sense of it, and so the music starts to twinkle and BREATHE and zen you out like a mantra. Although he admits to being influenced by Terry Riley and Steve Reich, he’s the exact opposite of a minimalist. The succinct opening paragraph in Melnyk’s Wikipedia entry reads:

Melnyk is noted for his continuous music, a piano technique based on extremely rapid notes and complex note-series, usually with the sustain pedal held down to generate harmonic overtones and sympathetic resonances. These overtones blend or clash according to harmonic changes. Most of his music is for piano, but he has also composed chamber and orchestral works. His piano music requires a special technique, closely related to the martial arts, and is too complex and difficult for any concert pianists to play. Because of his lifelong devotion to the piano, he has been called “the prophet of the piano.”

Melnyk told one interviewer:

What I do on a piano, nobody did before me. Because it is impossible to do it physically. It is something like a miracle. I don’t boast, God gave me this possibility. It is not me, it is not me who did it. I don’t wear a special royal dress and say that “I am the piano king because I do it.” No, it is all a gift from God. And I do it. People don’t understand that it all – from my spirit to fingers on keys and those sounds – is a whole life.

After this astonishing new musical discovery, I raced off to Discogs immediately to grab whatever I could find of Lubomyr Melnyk on vinyl. Solo piano sounds so amazing on wax, but the problem was one of scarcity. What existed on vinyl went for top dollar and some of it was only ever issued privately on cassette in the first place, so good luck finding those (most of his releases have zero for sale on Discogs). In recent years as interest in Melnyk’s fascinating music has risen around the world, his work has been issued by the Erased Tapes label and is becoming much easier to find. His latest release, Fallen Trees, was inspired by travelling Europe by train. Riding through a dark forest full of recently felled trees, this sad sight was his muse: “They were glorious,” he says. “Even though they’d been killed, they weren’t dead. There was something sorrowful there, but also hopeful.”

On January 24, celebrating his 70th birthday (which will be on December 20th), Lubomyr Melnyk will play a concert at London’s EartH venue in Hackney, with special guests Peter Broderick and Hatis Noit. (Get tickets here.)

I asked the maestro a few questions via email.

Richard Metzger: Where did you first “hear” your music? In the sense that you will often hear musicians say that a repetitive rhythm might come from having worked for a time in a factory. Captain Beefheart famously found a “floppy” drumbeat in his car’s windshield wiper. Your piano style is so distinctly your very own music, that once someone has heard you play, you could never be mistaken for anyone else. Where did you first “hear” it? What made it possible?

Lubomyr Melnyk: It is funny you mention these things because I have been told by close friends that I am in fact a true drummer!  The beats are just pouring out from my mind and my fingers. The origins of Continuous Music are indeed drumming with various rhythms appearing and various harmonics and upper frequencies. All my life I have heard the phenomenal sounds of melodic rhythms in machinery, what wonderful wonderful sounds they are! And this has been a secret source of my music. But only in a secret dimension kind of way. Without the power of drumming in my body and mind, this music would never have been born.

How do you define your “Continuous Music”?

You might as well ask me to define time and all five dimensions (there are more by the way, I just said five for now because it points us in the right direction…) In other words, it is transdimensional and metaphysical ability, similar to kung fu or Tai chi, for example; it’s not possible to separate the music from the technique, like you can not separate the “sound of the sword” from the body of the master. They are one and so is Continuous Music one with the being of the pianist. This might not explain it very well, but it is really quite impossible to describe. Continuous Music is a vast river flowing inside your soul and this river contains the four winds and it contains ice and it contains water and it turns to stone when you so wish.
 

Portrait of the artist as a young man

I’ve read that one formative aspect of your career was accompanying a dance troupe. How did playing for bodies in motion influence your style?

This is a super important element in the birth of Continuous Music. The master dancer Carolyn Carlsson was the inspiration for these dancers and the basic fundamental and pervading aspect of the classes was transcendent. They strove to transcend all time and all space and they inspired me to travel with them. You can not imagine how it was a special bubble of existence we experienced there, in 1972, in the attic of the Paris Opera high above the city, with huge windows and old old wooden floors with a grand piano. Me and these magnificent beings, the dancers.

This brings to mind John Cage, of course. You seem like someone who would take John Cage very seriously. Are you a student of his work and of his thought?

I loved John Cage and everything he did and created and wrote.  His books were of great importance to my musical thinking and in fact, it was John Cage who, at our tea-meeting at his home in New York, pointed me into the direction of a certain German transcendental composer of the 1930s whose musical language became the foundation of Continuous Music… the constant maintaining of harmonies and changing them very slowly so yes, he had an enormous effect on my pianistic development and of course, his interest in Zen thinking was another great influence.

What, or who else, has been an influence on your work?

Ah, what a list this would be! Let’s start with hippiedom and then of course, all the books the hippies read. My university studies of philosophy because, in fact, I wondered why intelligent professors ran to the hills when they had to confront Zeno’s paradoxes. And then musicians like Ravi Shankar, John McLaughlin, Jimi Hendrix who was on the guitar what Carolyn Carlson was to dance, and Ouspensky the philosopher. The list to goes on and in fact, it never ends. Continuous Music is a wonderful physical activity that never stops to grow and the beauty of the piano never ends. Never!

I enjoy watching your performances on YouTube where you can catch a glimpse of the audience—like your performance of “Illorium Nr. 03B” on German TV—and they seem to have been led into meditative states by your playing. It’s interesting to note that people react similarly to La Monte Young’s piano, and yet he and you are doing the exact opposite thing musically—obviously there is nary an arpeggio in his repertoire—and yet the end result on the listener is one that leaves one deep in thought, and unavoidably so. You are a sort of wizard. Your method of charging the atmosphere and the air around you is remarkable. What is your aim, in a magical sense, to impart to your audiences?

I want the river of sound to carry people along a world of beauty and deeper thought, a time where time stops, a place that has no space, a world that is more real than this world upon which we walk so that their souls will be strengthened and find a meaning in their life that is good and beautiful. Music exists to lift us up, up from the miserable mud of our hardships. It is a great gift and we should be grateful every minute of every day that we can hear music. It is really not so easy to hear it actually.
 
Much more Melnyk, after the jump…

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Posted by Richard Metzger
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12.07.2018
08:19 am
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David Lynch sings Bob Dylan
12.06.2018
01:30 pm
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David Lynch’s second solo album, The Big Dream, seems to have made less of a splash than its predecessor, Crazy Clown Time. I have no empirical evidence to support this claim, just the practiced eye of a former record store clerk and lifelong cheapskate.

The Big Dream should not be overlooked, because it includes David Lynch’s reading of “The Ballad of Hollis Brown” by Bob Dylan. You may prefer the Stooges’, the Neville Brothers’, Nina Simone’s, or perhaps even Entombed’s version of Dylan’s take on “Pretty Polly,” but I’m partial to the particular feeling of emptiness Lynch summons.

In the movie David Lynch: The Art Life, the director tells a story about walking out of a Bob Dylan show as an art school freshman in 1964, leading to a bust-up with his roommate Peter Wolf, future singer of the J. Geils Band. As Lynch tells it, back in their room after the concert, Wolf scolded him—“Nobody walks out on Dylan!”—and Lynch responded “I walk out on Dylan—get the fuck outta here!”
 

David Lynch and Scotland’s answer to Bob Dylan, Donovan (via Pinterest)
 
Bob doesn’t appear to have played “The Ballad of Hollis Brown” that night in Boston, but the song, released earlier that year on The Times They Are a-Changin’, is a murder ballad about a man who kills his five children and his wife before turning the shotgun on himself—Dylan’s “Frankie Teardrop.” I suspect Lynch was drawn to “Hollis Brown” as much by the violence in the song and the blankness of the singer’s persona as by the cosmic perspective that appears in the last verse. It’s worth considering that this move to a God’s-eye view of the Wheel of Birth and Death isn’t necessarily redemptive. I take it to mean that a murder–suicide is as natural as the weather.
 
Listen after the jump…

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Posted by Oliver Hall
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12.06.2018
01:30 pm
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