The 1979 collection ‘Ah Pook Is Here and Other Texts’
William S. Burroughs envisaged Ah Pook Is Here, an extension of the comix serial The Unspeakable Mr. Hart, as “a picture book modelled on the surviving Mayan codices.” However, after nearly a decade collaborating with artist Malcolm McNeill on an illustrated version of the tale, Burroughs was unable to find a publisher for his graphic novel avant la lettre. Instead, it appeared without images in Ah Pook Is Here and Other Texts, a 1979 collection of Burroughs’ researches into Mayan, Egyptian, and space age magical techniques. (McNeill has since published his artwork for Ah Pook Is Here in a separate volume.)
Burroughs’ novella concerns an American plutocrat named John Stanley Hart, whose fear of his own mortality leads him to disturb the gods of the Mayan pantheon. Hart is a junkie with a jones for the suffering of others, especially poor people and ethnic minorities. Narcotized by the “blue note” of their pain, congenitally selfish and incurious, he can’t imagine that calling down awful deities from another dimension might have unwanted consequences: “Mr. Hart has a burning down habit and he will burn down the planet.” Before you know it, blood is spurting from delegates’ every orifice at the “American First” rally, and the Acid Leprosy has eaten a hole in time.
Philip Hunt made this stop-motion film of Ah Pook Is Here as a student at the Filmakademie Baden-Württemberg in 1994, taking the sound from Burroughs’ collaborations with John Cale on the Dead City Radio album. At six minutes, it is a distillation of the story, but a good one: death gods disturbed by a grotesque people-thing.
Given the vintage of Ah Pook Is Here, I can only interpret the suicide-by-shotgun at the end as a reference to the death of Burroughs’ former collaborator, Kurt Cobain—an unlikely candidate for Mr. Hart.
The band R.E.M. were a highly successful and respected indie act that went on to became one of the biggest bands of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. But they started out as just another local group in the Athens, Georgia music scene—though they immediately stood out. An upcoming book examines their formative period, and Dangerous Minds has an exclusive excerpt. We also have some vintage live R.E.M. audio and video to share with you.
Begin the Begin: R.E.M.‘s Early Years will be published soon by Verse Chorus Press, and author Robert Dean Lurie has provided us with a preview. The passage focuses on R.E.M.‘s early shows, which thrilled audiences in and around Athens.
R.E.M. began their live career with an advantage few bands are granted: their first performance at their friend Kathleen O’Brien’s massive birthday party in April 1980 had gone over so well that practically overnight they became one of the most popular bands in Athens, Georgia. So R.E.M. never belonged to the art scene, even if their immediate circle of friends hailed from that group. They didn’t go through an incubation period of playing the kind of intimate Athens house parties where men walked around in dresses and women wore outrageous wigs. Quite the contrary: they were, in the words of Party Out of Bounds author Rodger Lyle Brown, “dude rock.” And though Michael Stipe would later come to be known for his oblique lyrics and distinctive voice, his most notable contribution to R.E.M.’s early success was visual.
How to describe the 1980-1982 Stipe stage persona? Let’s try it from several angles. Imagine a malfunctioning robot trained as a whirling dervish. Or Elvis attempting to do his swivel-hipped dance while being assaulted by a gang of poltergeists. Or James Brown having an epileptic fit. Stipe would careen around the stage wildly, with apparently no self-awareness, narrowly avoiding collisions with his bandmates. He was in a constant state of frenetic motion, and, no matter how strange his movements, he remained locked into the beat. This might be hard to fathom for people who are only familiar with the “Losing My Religion” video, but the guy was a hell of a dancer. And when you saw him onstage going crazy to that music, you couldn’t help but start moving yourself. Dancing was absolutely intrinsic to the vibe and the success of early R.E.M. The mystique and the thoughtfulness would come later. R.E.M. were, first and foremost, the premier party band in town.
The band’s local shows alternated between Tyrone’s O.C. and a new club called the 40 Watt. The former served as R.E.M.’s home base for about the first two years of their existence. The latter, which had been founded by Curtis Crowe of Pylon and his friend Paul Scales, went through a number of locations and eventually became Athens’s signature club. The Side Effects, who had made their debut alongside R.E.M. at the party, played the Watt’s inaugural show, Pylon was a mainstay, and R.E.M. became regulars as well. They would do spur-of-the-moment surprise gigs there to test-run new material long after they hit the big time—a practice that continued into the early 1990s.
R.E.M. at Tyrone’s O.C., 1981.
As for Tyrone’s O.C. (which stood for “Old Chameleon”—a nod to the club’s former name), it had begun hosting a New Wave Night right around the time of Kathleen’s party. R.E.M. came to quickly dominate this slot and were the club’s most popular weekend draw. Tyrone’s could only legally hold six hundred people, but it was not unusual for R.E.M., once they hit their stride, to draw a thousand. In an attempt to accommodate everyone, the club’s owners would remove any piece of furniture that was not nailed to the floor. “The way we figured out that R.E.M. was the biggest band in town,” says Billy Holmes, a local musician who went on to play in Vigilantes of Love and a mid-2000s iteration of Love Tractor, “was that the rest of us were charging $1.00 and $1.50 cover at Tyrone’s. They were charging $2 and the place would be packed. It was like, ‘Wow…R.E.M. charges fifty cents more a head than we do. They must be very big.’
“I did see the very first R.E.M. show at the 40 Watt, and there were three things that stuck in my mind. One was: Boy, these guys are really bad! Number two, the chemistry between them was just amazing. It was a powerful thing—you could feel it. And three, the place was packed wall-to-wall. I went up to Pete Buck afterward and I said, ‘Hey, you guys don’t need to add a keyboard player, do you?’ And Peter said, ‘Are you kidding? We can’t get it together with bass, drums, and guitar. How are we going to get it together with a keyboard player?’”
Peter Buck at Legion Field, University of Georgia, 1985 (photo by Joanna Schwartz).
Paul Butchart of the Side Effects was also at that 40 Watt performance. “This is hard to describe,” he says, “but I remember the crowd was dancing so much that the floor was moving up and down and the windows were pumping in and out like an accordion. It was just too crowded up there for me. The windows were sweating and all that stuff. If one of those windows had popped or somebody had opened the door downstairs, the floor would have collapsed—because it was like a big air chamber.”
Things were definitely moving for R.E.M., and these hometown gigs functioned as a means of fortifying morale as the group began to strike out across the Southeast and beyond, into places where they were most certainly not the biggest band in town. There are many good-quality live recordings from all phases of the band’s history in circulation, but an argument can be made that none touch the mad energy of the shows they played at Tyrone’s between July and September 1981, which were captured for posterity on Pat “The Wiz” Biddle’s soundboard tapes. This was not R.E.M.’s best period as songwriters or musicians, but to this writer’s ears they never sounded better as a live unit, and I’m guessing that few of the attendees of these shows would disagree. Pat says that the September 22 and 23 shows were “two of the most exciting nights I ever worked in my career. The crowds were electric and so was the band. Their performance left an indelible mark on my memory.”
Mike Mills and Peter Buck, early 1980s (photo by Joanna Schwartz).
And what made the crowds so electric? R.E.M. were not riding the wave of an album release (though the “Radio Free Europe” single had just come out). Nor were they the beneficiaries of any coordinated PR campaign. The energy of the audience on these two nights derived from a confluence of two factors: the strong word of mouth that had developed around R.E.M.’s live shows and the sudden surge in Athens’ population of 18-to-22-year-olds due to the start of a new academic year at the University of Georgia. “It’s fall quarter!” Stipe declared at the September 22 gig. “A show of hands for first-quarter freshmen!”
Freshmen—apparently a not-insignificant portion of the audience—brought with them the twin exhilarations of being away from home for the first time and finding themselves surrounded by hundreds of similarly unsupervised peers. They may have also felt some of the trepidation that usually accompanies newfound freedom. The returning students were likely feeling a mix of excitement at seeing their friends again after the summer break and just a bit of sadness at the passing of summer itself. New classes meant new routines, new ideas, a new start, but also long hours spent hunched over books. All of these factors contributed to an irresistible urge on the part of many to get blotto and dance the night away. And with cheap beer serving as the fuel, R.E.M. were the vehicle that would get them to that destination.
To hear these recordings is to catch a sonic glimpse of that energy. It’s not a patch on being there, but Biddle’s carefully preserved tapes have ensured that the listener can hear R.E.M. at least as clearly as the audience did that night, if not more so. The band’s playing is not perfect—Peter Buck, in particular, fumbles his way through certain passages—but the synergy of the four musicians working toward a shared goal makes this perhaps their finest hour (onstage, at least). And all this before they ever signed a record deal. Rarely have I heard Stipe so locked-in vocally, and never before or since have I heard Bill Berry play so enthusiastically. This snapshot of a small-town band playing to a “perfect circle of acquaintances and friends” captures R.E.M. at the tail end of their apprenticeship phase. As a live unit they had fully arrived; as a songwriting entity, they were just getting started.
Pre-order Begin the Begin: R.E.M.‘s Early Years via Amazon.
The legendary R.E.M. performances recorded at Tyrone’s O.C. on September 22 and 23, 1981, are on YouTube. The September 22 show was uploaded just this week.
The below live footage was captured at the 688 Club in Atlanta on February 20, 1981. The video begins with the band in the midst of “Rave on,” which was made famous by Buddy Holly. The first sign of Stipe cutting a rug occurs at the :48 mark.
The train services in Scotland are dreadful. Probably the worst in Europe, possibly the worst in the world. Trains are never on time, often delayed, regularly canceled, while empty carriages flash by stations without ever stopping. Tonight was no different. All trains going to where I was going were delayed then canceled and finally replaced by a bus.
But there are always good things to be found even in the most frustrating of times. The replacement bus was crammed with passengers—tired, weary, cold, just wanting to get home. I managed to find a seat beside a young woman who was returning from a conference on Bioinspired Nanomaterials. She explained how one day it will be possible to make organs (livers, kidneys, hearts) in laboratory conditions from these nanomaterials. One day. Maybe five years from now. But at present it’s a question of getting the cell replication correct. A cheery young man on the seat in front turned around and said what a fascinating conversation—which was certainly not because of my input—and started asking about the practicalities of these future technologies. It turned out this fellow was equally smart—a quantum mathematician. He explained how this will one day help computers to become faster. Computers, he explained, work on binary code 1 and 0. Quantum math is working towards using a particle that is at once both 1 and 0.
These kids were super smart and I felt like Grampa Simpson, which will explain if I get anything I heard wrong. Too soon, it was my stop. But it was the kind meeting, two ships in the night-kinda thing, that makes life good, richer, much more fun and far more interesting.
I got off the bus wondering if the late genius mathematician Simon Norton had ever gotten around to completing his formula and theories on getting buses to run on time would it have ever helped the trains in Scotland? These thought of mathematics, binary, and cell replication made me think of M. C. Escher with his seemingly impossible yet beautiful artworks like Relativity, Waterfall and Metamorphosis III.
Escher (1898-1972) was never an academic. He was by his own admission bored by school. His only passion was art, but even at this he considered himself just average, graduating with a seven in his studies. As his parents encouraged him to find a profession, Escher briefly studied architecture at the Haarlem School of Architecture and Decorative Arts. Here, he learnt how to make woodcuts. It was his woodcuts that first attracted the interest of graphic artist Samuel Jessurun de Mesquita, who encouraged Escher to abandon his architectural studies and concentrate on art. It was one of those Pauline moments, where Escher’s life path was utterly altered.
He developed his artistic skills during the thirteen years he spent living and traveling in Italy and Spain from 1922-35. He was inspired by the geometric designs and shape of the Italian landscape and its buildings rather than the more obvious beauty of the country’s Renaissance and Baroque architecture. In Spain, he was particularly influenced by the Moorish designs at the Alhambra, which first started his intricate and complex tessellations. He became almost obsessed with these designs, spending days working on one image, admitting that he had become “addicted” to producing such drawings to the point of “mania.”
Escher’s work can be divided into two categories—the early work inspired by nature, and the latter, gradually growing more abstract, inspired by mathematics and geometry like Gravitation, Möbius Strip II and Circle Limit.
Not long before he died in 1972, Escher was filmed for a Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ film Adventures in Perception, by fellow artist and filmmaker Han van Gelder. The film captured Escher at work and offered a portrait of an artist whose work intuitively visualised the essence of many mathematical theories and ideas.
Escher once said he never thought of himself as an “artist”:
This name, artist—I’ve always been very suspicious about it. I don’t actually know what it means. I don’t even know what art is. I do know what science is, but I’m no scientist.
An enchanting movie poster for the Czechoslovakia film ‘The Fabulous Baron Munchausen’ (aka ‘The Outrageous Baron Munchausen’/‘Baron Prášil’) directed by Karel Zeman (1962).
I suspect the vast majority of Dangerous Minds readers have seen Terry Gilliam’s’ multi-multi-million dollar film, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988)—though I also believe that many of our devoted followers are probably also acquainted with the rich, cinematic history (at least eight shorts and more than a handful of films exist) based on the tall-tale-telling Baron who was actually a real person. It should also be noted that any George Harrison superfan likely knows a bit more about the Baron’s 200-year-old history as Harrison was an avid collector of the work of Gustave Doré, the great illustrator and engraver who conceived the quintessential image of the Baron.
As he notes in the extras of the Second Run Blu-ray of The Fabulous Baron Munchausen Terry Gilliam gives much credit for his vision of the story to director and special effects artist Karel Zeman saying Zeman’s influence on his own work is “continual,” and he’s “pretty sure” he has stolen many of Zeman’s artistic methods for his own films. Other fans of Zeman’s work include Tim Burton and special effects legend Ray Harryhausen who has said he “deeply appreciated” Zeman’s talent. As it relates directly to this post, one of the films the former Monty Python member perhaps pilfered from was The Fabulous Baron Munchausen (aka The Outrageous Baron Munchausen/Baron Prášil).
The Fabulous Baron Munchausen was directed by Zeman who also created the multi-layered, dreamlike special effects in the film. Here is Zeman (as seen in an interview with the director in the Second Run release), on his vision for the movie:
“I wanted to capture the surreal world of Baron Munchausen. I wanted this romantic fantasy to be unleashed from the mundane reality. So I used imagery resembling prints from the period. At the same time, I decided to treat color like a painter on a canvas. I put in only when it was necessary.”
Zeman on the set of ‘The Fabulous Baron Munchausen’ giving direction to actors Milos Kopecký (Baron Munchausen) and Rudolf Jelínek (Tonik). This image is part of a large collection of Zeman’s work displayed at the Karel Zeman Museum in Prague.
Every shot in The Fabulous Baron Munchausen contains some variety of extravagant special effects, and Zeman’s vivid imagery—much of which is based on Doré‘s original illustrations, fill every inch of every frame. According to Zeman’s daughter Ludmila, her father was an avid reader and collector of comic books and would often incorporate jokes or gags he found amusing into actions performed by his actors. Zeman even recruited Ludmila for The Fabulous Baron Munchausen and the then fifteen-year-old got to ride a horse as the stunt double for Jana Brejchova, the stunning Czech actress (and former wife of director Miloš Forman) who played Princess Bianca in the film. The Fabulous Baron Munchausen is widely considered a masterpiece thanks to Zeman’s determination to make a very different film than German director Josef von Báky’s beloved Nazi-funded version of Munchausen’s story, 1943’s Münchhausen or The Adventures of Baron Munchausen.
The budget for Báky’s movie was estimated at $6.5 million dollars (or approximately $95 million dollars if it had been made in 2019) and was commissioned by Nazi propaganda pusher Joseph Goebbels. Interesting, the screenplay for Báky’s adaptation was written by Emil Erich Kästner whose novels were regulars at Nazi book burnings. Kästner was in fact banned from publishing his literature in Germany between the years 1933 and 1945. The wildly opulent film was intended to rival The Wizard of Oz, but with an adult-oriented twist including a scene full of topless harem girls and other fantasy-based, “grown-up” scenarios. Despite the fact the film intended to serve as a mechanism for war propaganda, it ended up a luxurious, over-the-top take on the amorous, adventurous, cannonball-riding Baron.
George Harrison and Eric Idle on the set of Terry Gilliam’s ‘The Adventures of Baron Munchausen.’
As previously mentioned, Python super-fan George Harrison would be the main conduit for the last of the final big-three Baron Munchausen films, Gilliam’s The Adventures of Baron Munchausen. In 1979 he showed off his large assortment of Munchausen stories and shared his love of artist Gustave Doré with Gilliam. Then, Gilliam’s pal musician Ray Cooper gifted Gilliam with a copy of a book full of the stories of Baron Munchausen written (though published anonymously) by Hieronymus Karl Friedrich Freiherr von Münchhausen (1720-1797), encouraging the director (if not daring him) to make a film out of them. Allegedly $46 million (though Gilliam says it was “nowhere near $40 million), flowed into the lengthy, arduous production that was already over budget by two million dollars before filming began. Though it was a financial box-office bomb, it received high praise and would collect three British Academy of Film & Television Awards, and was nominated for four Oscars. The stories from the set have become legendary, such as Oliver Reed being perpetually drunk and hitting on a seventeen-year-old Uma Thurman, who plays Venus/Rose in the film. Gilliam’s finished product will forever be considered a triumph in the realm of fantasy filmmaking and “fantastical exaggeration” which the real Münchhausen perfected and unwittingly passed along over hundreds of years through other storytellers fond of hyperbole.
If you’d like to learn even more about the history of Baron Munchausen in cinema, film historian Michael Brooke provides a fascinating, in-depth exploration of the Baron’s many appearances on the big screen on the Second Run Blu-ray for The Fabulous Baron Munchausen (Baron Prášil). Far-out images and trailers from all three films follow.
A still of actor Hans Albert as Baron Münchhausen riding a cannonball in 1943’s ‘Münchhausen’ or ‘The Adventures of Baron Munchausen.’
A curious scene from ‘The Adventures of Baron Munchausen.’
We’ve all seen our share of punk rock docs. Decline, Another State of Mind, DOA, Urgh! I thought I’d watched just about everything at this point. But, as the saying goes - “Ask a punk.”
Having grown up in West Los Angeles myself, I can’t help but watch The Slog Movie and feel just a little bitter. I wanted that to be my youth. None of this Bird scooter, Snapchat, Tinder, bullshit. No one even hangs out at Oki-Dog anymore (nor should they). But at least someone was around to capture this moment-in-time sliver of punk rock magic. And that someone was future filmmaker Dave Markey, of We Got Power! fanzine fame.
Filmed entirely on Super 8, the 1982 film chronicles the lifestyles of the young LA punks who frequented the slam pits of the burgeoning SoCal hardcore scene. Low budget and entirely raw, humorous, and sometimes anarchic, the video fanzine-style doc serves up a blend of segments, candid interviews and genre-defining performances by those nonchalant forefathers of the period, like Black Flag (their first show with Rollins), Circle Jerks, Fear, Wasted Youth, Red Kross, and TSOL. There is also a cameo by Pat Smear hanging at Oki-Dog, scenes from “The Punk Shack” and the fabled Cuckoo’s Nest, punks at the Santa Monica Pier, an advertisement for Black Flag skate decks, “A Day in the life of a punk,” and a little trip up North with Markey’s teenage band, Sin 34.
The Slog Movie at once captures the substrata of L.A. 1st generation hardcore by hanging out with it in the backyards and empty matinee gigs it crashes around in. As there is only so much fun in tracking the brattitude of a band like Symbol Six, Dave creates vignettes of satirical attack on the inanity of lame rock culture like Ted Nugent. And booking the confounding and completely rocking Red Cross at an outdoor show on the Santa Monica Pier is a moment where real creative punk and poser punk is separated.
Watch ‘The Slog Movie’ in its punk entirety below:
“Bring her back / Drag her by her hair / Bring her back / The devil don’t care.”
I pat myself on the back because I jumped aboard the Adia Victoria train pretty early on—I’d read about her in a local free paper about a month before her debut album was released, dialed her up on Soundcloud and then I saw her play in a small club a few weeks after it came out—but by then Rolling Stone had already seen her coming. After releasing just one song she was selected for their “10 New Artists You Need to Know” roundup. She appeared on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert almost immediately.
I guess you could say that Adia Victoria is pretty hard to miss.
A single spin of the 21st century blues of her Beyond the Bloodhounds and, man, I was hooked on that album. What an original voice! What an amazingly tight band. Her lyrics stand on their own as poetry. Surely I’m not the only one who has noticed how gorgeous she is. And she can play rhythm guitar like Keith-fucking-Richards. Adia Victoria is the complete package. It’s difficult to appraise her talents and not conclude that she is an icon in the making, or even an icon fully-formed and just waiting for the public to catch up to her. She is going to be huge and she’s going to be around for a very long time. I can’t think of a stronger talent to emerge since… since I do not know who. Several people come to mind, but all from past decades.
Silences is the name of her second album. The first thing I want to say, right up front here, is that it is goddamned amazing. The second thing I want to get across is how different it is from its shithot predecessor. Beyond the Bloodhounds roared along like Charley Patton sitting in with the Gun Club fronted by Billie Holiday with a hellhound on her trail. Silences isn’t that. It’s a different animal entirely. Oh trust me, it could have been a sophomore effort showing but a bare minimum of artistic growth and I’d still be right here right now raving about it, but it’s not as much of a guitar-based blues this time. This time it’s even more sophisticated and certainly the arrangements are more complex, but to be clear I’m not trying to convey that it is actually a better album than her debut.
It’s the equal of it and you need to hear both.
On Silences, the lady is most assuredly still singing the blues, but she is doing it very, very differently from the way she did it on her 2016 debut. That album was swampy and it rocked out. Silences, as the title might indicate to you, isn’t that. The same amazing voice, the same extremely high quality of wordsmithery, the same sense of heightened drama, the touches of evil, the tension she is so good at evoking are there in the same measure—all very good things—but the sonic palette expands here dramatically to incorporate piano, strings, synthesizers, a horn section and other “serious artist” (and larger budget) embellishments. Victoria co-produced the album with Aaron Dessner of The National at his studio in upstate New York.
When an artist can plug so very directly into the source of the blues as Adia Victoria can, this is not a well of inspiration that’s likely to ever go dry. She’s got a quite a bit of the same artistic essence I find in Nick Cave’s work. That is a mighty goddamned statement to make about someone with but two albums under her belt, but I feel compelled to make it. She earns it. This is an artist who I would follow anywhere. When Adia Victoria writes a novel, I’m gonna read it. When she’s acting in a film, I’m going to watch it. She’s just that good.
Adia Victoria is about to finish up a short support tour for Silences, but I expect she’ll be back on the road soon enough, and on the festival circuit. Miss this truly great young artist at the beginning of her career and one day you will regret it.
In 1958, tenor saxophonist John Coltrane made quite the impression with his soloing on the song, “Russian Lullaby.” His work on this track was so impressive that it inspired jazz critic, Ira Gitler, to coin a phrase to describe Trane’s groundbreaking, frantic style: “sheets of sound”.
“Russian Lullaby” is an Irving Berlin composition from 1927, and was initially performed by singer Douglas Stanbury. Written to be played at a relaxed tempo, a swinging, 1939 instrumental rendition by big band leader Bunny Berigan upped the pace considerably.
John Coltrane’s version is the closing number on his 1958 album, Soultrane. The LP was recorded was recorded by Rudy Van Gelder at his home studio, which was located in the living room of his parents’ house in Hackensack, New Jersey.
Photo credit: Rudy Van Gelder/the Rudy Van Gelder Estate.
Surprise factors into the presentation in a big way: a conventional, consciously elegant introduction by pianist Red Garland (Coltrane’s fellow sideman in Miles Davis group at the time) hits an exaggerated downbeat and suddenly the tempo shifts as drummer Art Taylor resets the pace with a furious hi-hat pattern. Coltrane leaps into the tune, blistering his way through the melody and into his ensuing improvisation as stunning in its ceaseless urgency as it is in the fluid, extended patterns of sixteenth notes that wash over and into the ears in a manner most unlike the “melodic propulsion” most members of the jazznoscenti favored. It demanded a letting go of expectations, and an aural generosity.
After Coltrane was done, gone was the lull in the lullaby, the original mood and message of Berlin’s song. But he had one more thing to say—all in a brief, explosive unaccompanied cadenza near the end of the tune.
In a mere thirty seconds starting at 4:57, Coltrane outshone the fury of his prior solo, and gave this new improvisation its own character, developing ideas in its breathless flow. His lines shoot skyward and he brings them back gently: rhythmically in control, emotionally on point. It wasn’t merely the speed of the statement; the first ten-second stretch contains almost 90 notes. It was the bravado and the knowledge: the amount of harmonic information being conveyed and the soulful precision of articulation.
Here’s the newly remastered “Russian Lullaby, ” from Coltrane ’58:
The 5-CD/8-LP box will be released on March 29th by the Craft Recordings label. Pre-order Coltrane ’58: The Prestige Recordings via Amazon; bundle packages are available on Craft’s website. The set contains every track Trane recorded for Prestige as band leader or co-leader in 1958.
In 1961, John Coltrane scored a hit with his interpretation of the Rodgers and Hammerstein show tune, “My Favorite Things.” Trane’s cover of The Sound of Music number became a signature song for him, and is a classic. Here’s Coltrane and his group performing “My Favorite Things” on the Belgium TV program, Jazz Pour Tous, in 1965:
On May 1 what is probably the ultimate piece of Soft Cell memorabilia will be published by Chris Smith’s Renegade Music in a strictly limited edition of 1300. To Show You I’ve Been There… is a 176-page oversized coffee table book featuring images of Marc Almond and Dave Ball taken throughout their forty year history, from the nightclubs of the north of England in the late 70s all the way to their sold out farewell performance at the 02 Arena last year. Photographer Peter Ashworth, who shot several album covers and publicity shots for the band has opened up his archives for the project, which include his contact sheets and fantastic early live performance shots. Additional photographs from Peter Anderson, Tony Mottram, Justin Thomas and many others round out the exhaustively compiled book. Each photograph is accompanied by comments and context from Marc and/or Dave.
Exclusive to the book is also a 7” clear vinyl EP (or digital download) of three recently re-recorded early Soft Cell numbers (and a cover of Fad Gadget’s “Back to Nature”) titled Magick Moments which has a cover drawing by Dave Ball. The book will never be reprinted and the record will never be repressed independent of the book. You can preorder To Show You I’ve Been There…HERE.
In anticipation of the book’s publication, I asked Soft Cell’s Dave Ball some questions over email.
The Mini-Korg 800 DV, Dave’s first synth.
First I wanted to ask you about recording in New York. It’s nearly impossible to truly convey just how jaw-droppingly insane NYC was in early 1980s to someone who who didn’t experience it. What was your first reaction upon arriving in the city?
NYC was a crazy place back in the early 80s. I’d previously visited in 1978. The city was almost bankrupt and there was a heroin epidemic. They had one of the highest murder rates after Detroit.
How old were you then?
I was 18 years old when I first visited with my mum and sister.
Had you seen Taxi Driver before you got there?
It was about the same time Taxi Driver came out and walking in the evening was very reminiscent of the film – steam coming out of the potholes and Checker cabs everywhere.
Did New York live up to your expectations?
I thought it was like a very intense version of Soho in London. One morning I was walking down 42nd Street towards Times Square and a guy offered me a pistol for sale.
On the set of the ‘Enterian Me’ video shoot.
Marc’s predilection for sleazy situations is, of course, the stuff of legend—literal legends, quite an achievement that!—but what about you? What are some of the more notable things you saw or did in Times Square?
When I returned to the city three years later with Marc Almond and Stevo it was a totally different experience. We fully immersed ourselves in NY club culture. Apart from our usual hangout, Danceteria, other clubs we visited and sometimes frequented were Paradise Garage, the Roxy, the Ritz, the Peppermint Lounge, Berlin, the Red Parrot, Negril, the Mudd Club and Studio 54, of course. They were mainly dance clubs but we also discovered there were some very different clubs where they didn’t just play music but also got involved in lots of live sex action. One night we ended up in Manhattan’s meatpacking district and discovered a sex club called the Hellfire Club where there were people having various kinds of sex everywhere. I guarantee we never actively took part, we were just there as voyeurs. There were also predominantly gay clubs like the Mineshaft and the Anvil.
At the Factory with Andy Warhol in 1982
Tell me about meeting Andy Warhol.
When we met Andy Warhol at The Factory he was just as I expected – very quiet, creepy, old looking with a very limp handshake.
Where did you guys meet Divine?
We met Divine in a club called Danceteria. He was really pissed off and said he hated NY and wanted to go home to Baltimore.
The Roland CR 78, the “Tainted Love” beat machine.
I know that the debut album was recorded very quickly. What were the sessions like? How solidified was your sound before you went into studio for first album?
We worked at Mediasound Studios on West 57th St. from 11am ‘til 6pm everyday except weekends. We worked very fast as we knew all the material inside out. We’d been playing it live for the previous two years every week in clubs around the UK.
How conscious was the notion that you were making music for people who were on drugs to listen to? I feel like that’s an important part of what made the Soft Cell sound so powerful. Psychedelic isn’t the right word, but “druggy” is a step in the right direction, certainly.
We were experimenting with a lot of different drugs on the NY club scene – cocaine, quaaludes, ecstasy, opium, acid, heroin, crystal meth & Special K (ketamine). Anyone wanting to read more should check out my forthcoming autobiography Electronic Boy coming out this summer from Omnibus Press.
Anita Sarko and Cindy Ecstasy at Danceteria
On his blog (Soft Cell producer) Mike Thorne says that he feels bad that Cindy Ecstasy is often described, unfairly he feels, as your drug dealer. That it was a more casual passing of drugs from one friend to another, but a friend of mine remembers her being at Danceteria and other clubs of that era and he says “No, she was definitely a drug dealer.” How did she enter your orbit?
Cindy Ecstasy’s contribution was great as it gave a little taste of the life we were living in NY. There have been all sorts of questions and answers about what became of her. The one that sounds the most plausible to me is she became a screenwriter in Hollywood, under a different name of course.
Cindy Ecstasy during downtime on the ‘Torch’ video shoot
The shots from the Non Stop album launch party at Danceteria look… rather interesting. What happened that night and who came to the party?
The NY launch party for Non Stop Erotic Cabaret was great. All the Manhattan clubbers were out in force. Some of the Warhol crowd, some John Waters people, notably Cookie Mueller who was a friend of my girlfriend, the late Anita Sarko. Mick Jones from The Clash was there and was very complimentary about us and a pre-famous Madonna was there doing her little dance routine as normal.
The Sound of Music ends with the von Trapp family’s escape from the Nazis through the Alps, crossing from annexed Austria into neutral Switzerland. Or that’s how the stage version ends; the closing shot of the 1965 film is ambiguous. In it, the von Trapps appear to be going in the wrong direction, fleeing into the Bavarian, rather than the Swiss, Alps.
In fact, the mountain at which Robert Wise chose to film the last shot of The Sound of Music was the Obersalzberg, the site of Hitler’s mountain retreat at Berchtesgaden. Once you recognize the location, the end of the movie takes on a horrible significance: as they hike up the Obersalzberg, singing “Climb Ev’ry Mountain (Reprise),” Georg and Maria von Trapp are leading their brood on a death march to the Nazis’ second headquarters. We can easily imagine these Hollywood von Trapps wandering too close to the Berghof after the last notes of the song have died in the chill air, and the camera, like the guilty eyes of Buñuel’s Christ in L’Age d’Or, has averted its gaze from earthly things.
Laibach’s new film “So Long, Farewell” begins with this cinematic wrong turn into horror. The group has been interpreting The Sound of Music since 2015, when, as the first Western (?) band ever to perform in North Korea, Laibach included a number of songs from the musical in their set. In this, the latest video from Laibach’s Sound of Music album, the singing family has not escaped the Nazis—note the swastika-shaped Christmas tree from John Heartfield’s “O Tannenbaum in deutschen Raum, wie krumm sind deine Äste!“ ripped from its parodic context, as a fir is cut from the earth—but, because it is a special time of year, the children are permitted to leave the basement for a few minutes to sing for the adults.
Speaking with a single voice, Laibach answered my questions about “So Long, Farewell” by email. The film follows our conversation below.
Please remind us why Laibach chose The Sound of Music for the performances in North Korea.
Laibach: Throughout our career we’ve been looking for an opportunity to sink our teeth into The Sound of Music. When we received an invitation to perform in Pyongyang, we knew the moment had finally arrived. The Sound of Music is probably the only piece of American pop culture that is not only allowed, but also actively promoted by North Korean authorities. For years now the musical has been part of their school curricula. It seemed only natural that we address the people of North Korea with something as universal as The Sound of Music, therefore we decided to create the concert program around our interpretations of the songs from this musical. The Sound of Music story really fits well into the North Korean situation and can be understood affirmatively, but also subversively – very much depending on the point of view.
It looks to me as if, in Laibach’s telling of The Sound of Music, the von Trapp family does not escape capture by the Nazis, and a sinister patriarch played by Ivan Novak takes the place of Baron von Trapp. The appearance of Milan Fras as the Reverend Mother further complicates the picture: does the abbess sanction this ghastly ménage by her presence? What is the scenario of the “So Long” video?
“So Long” is in fact more a short film than the music video. The original film is, of course, the first of all the apotheosis of Hollywood entertaining industry standards and clichés, but there are many – not even very well hidden – perverse twists in it, full of sexual and psychoanalytical connotations. Slavoj Žižek has a very thorough (and very Laibachian) observation, claiming that officially the film is in principle showing Austrian resistance to Hitler and the Nazis, but if you look at it closely, you see that the “Nazis are presented as an abstract cosmopolitan occupying power, and the Austrians are the good small fascists, so the implicit message is almost the opposite of the explicit message.” No wonder that Austrians officially don’t like this film much, or maybe they are only denying it on the surface and watching it secretly in their cellars. This “hidden reverse” may also be the reason why the movie was so extremely popular, Žižek argues, because it “addresses our secret fascist dreams.” (Which is an interesting assertion, considering most of the people who created the original musical were Jewish.) Catholicism, of course, plays a key role in The Sound of Music film, therefore it represents an important stance in the “So Long, Farewell” miniature as well. On the surface, Catholicism portrays itself as being all about harsh moral discipline and strict rules. But, under the surface, it provides opportunities for great license, including sexual license. You can have your cake (feeling righteous morally, identifying with this “morally strict” organization) and eat it too (providing opportunities to have fun and play around). According to Žižek the power of the film resides in its obscenely-direct staging of embarrassing intimate fantasies. The film’s narrative turns around resolving the problem stated by the nuns’ chorus in the introductory scene: “How do you solve a problem like Maria?” The proposed solution is the one mentioned by Freud in an anecdote: Penis normalis, zwei mal taeglich… Recall what is arguably the most powerful scene of The Sound of Music: after Maria escapes from the von Trapp family back to the monastery, unable to deal with her sexual attraction towards Baron von Trapp, she cannot find peace there, since she is still longing for the Baron; in a memorable scene, the Mother Superior summons her and advises her to return to the von Trapp family and try to sort out her relationship with the Baron. She delivers this message in a weird song “Climb Ev’ry Mountain!” whose surprising motif is: Do it! Take the risk and try everything your heart wants! Do not allow petty considerations to stand in your way! The uncanny power of this scene resides in its unexpected display of the spectacle of desire, an eros energumens which renders the scene literally embarrassing: the very person whom one would expect to preach abstinence and renunciation turns out to be the agent of the fidelity to one’s desire. In other words, Mother Superior effectively is a superego figure, but in Lacan’s sense, for whom the true superego injunction is “Enjoy!” But the real Maria and the real Baron didn’t marry because they loved each other; according to her autobiography they married only for the love of children.
Red is everywhere in this video: the mistletoe berries, the Reverend Mother’s rosary, the children’s Trumpian neckties, and the hot red light throughout. Instead of climbing to freedom in the snowy Alps at the end, it looks like the family descends into the fires of Hell. Does Laibach’s Sound of Music end in captivity and death?
Yes, in “So Long, Farewell,” the von Trapp family never escaped from the Hollywood Austria, annexed by Nazis. They were “trapped” and they just went a bit “underground.” Same in North Korea, people are trapped within the Pleasure Dome of North Korean controlled society (not that Western society is not controlled…). The Sound of Music certainly ends in captivity and death, like we all do.
When you first saw The Sound of Music, was the film censored or altered in any way? If Laibach were to censor the movie, what would you change?
We could in fact change the ending, that would give a different perspective to the whole film, but the scenario did loosely follow the real story of the von Trump family. We don’t recall that the film was censored anyhow when we saw it first time, but Žižek claims that the three minutes of the “Climb Ev’ry Mountain” song, with Mother Superior singing was in fact censored back then in Yugoslavia, as this is the most obscene moment in the movie.
“The von Trump family” is a wonderful parapraxis. When making this film, did Laibach draw inspiration from Mrs. Trump’s Christmas decorations at the White House?
Quite possible, especially if decorations in White House would be created as a classic Trumpian slip.
As far as I know, the few swastikas that appear in Laibach’s work come from the photomontages of the anti-fascist artist John Heartfield. In this case, it’s the swastika-shaped tree from Heartfield’s parodic poster announcing the Third Reich’s new “standard fir” for the holidays, a festive addition to the hearth of the von Trapp/Trump home. I wonder if, in the film, the proclamation of Heartfield’s poster has become a historical reality. In other words, is it mandatory for the family to display the “crooked” tree?
Using a straightforward reference to the classic Heartfield Christmas tree today would merely present the aesthetization of the subject, while the direct swastika-shaped tree becomes a mandatory festive background of historical reality, the aesthetization of a society that does not find it (very) problematic anymore.
Writing for Die Welt on the eve of Laibach’s first trip to North Korea, Slavoj Žižek discerned the image of the Josef Fritzl household in The Sound of Music. He argues that warmth, good cheer and sentimentality are not only compatible with brutal crimes, but hospitable to them; when Fritzl imprisoned his children in the basement and raped them, Žižek suggests, he did so with a merry song in his heart. Is there a place for bad conscience in kitsch?
Only if it is a bad kitsch. A good reference to this problem is also possible to detect in the Sharp Objects TV series, especially in its final episode.
Žižek also imagines the children attending an “upstairs reception in the Fritzl villa” where they sing “So Long, Farewell” before departing for bed, one by one. Is that where the idea for the film originated?
There are several different inspirations for the “So Long, Farewell” film miniature; there’s definitely The Sound of Music itself – a film full of latent sexuality within the patriarchal (and matriarchal) musical family with structural elements of fascism, then there’s an ultimate model of utopian, communist/religious (very musical) state, nominally led by the supreme Kim Dynasty, and finally there is a reference to the extreme case of Josef and Rosemarie Fritzl’s family from Austria – a raw model to the similar families around the world, potentially including some famous ones within political and entertainment/musical spheres as well.
Laibach’s The Sound of Music is out on Mute Records, and Morten Traavik’s documentary Liberation Day follows the band’s travels in North Korea. (Also of note, Laibach fans: MIT Press’ excellent book NSK from Kapital to Capital includes a contribution from Alexei Yurchak, the scholar who coined the term “hypernormalisation.”)
Things could have been so different for Sweet. On the verge of escaping their bubble gum pop/Glam Rock image to showcase their real talents as a hard rock band by supporting the Who at Charlton Athletic’s football ground in 1974, lead singer Brian Connolly was kicked in the throat by three thugs outside a bar in Staines, Sussex. Connolly had stopped to buy a pack of cigarettes. He thought the trio of ne’er-do-wells were about to trash his automobile when they set on him. Some thought it an act of wanton violence. Others, including the band’s bass player Steve Priest believe it was something “much more sinister.”
“It was a set-up job,” Priest says. “He’d annoyed someone. There were three guys attacking him and one of them kicked him in the throat. Brian heard him say, ‘That should do the job.’ The only one who knows the truth is an ex-roadie of ours, and he won’t tell.”
Connolly’s vocal cords were permanently damaged by the attack. He lost his confidence and started drinking heavily and taking drugs. The band pulled out of their gig with the Who. It was the beginning of the end of the Sweet. Connolly’s drinking led him to quit the band in 1979.
Sweet was always a hard rock band, despite the evidence of their poppier hit songs. Listen to some of the B-sides like “New York Connection” or “Rock and Roll Disgrace” on their classic hit singles and you’ll get a good idea where the group’s heart truly lay. Sweet was a long-haired denim and leather band. They should have been seen like Deep Purple, Judas Priest, early Queen (who on more than one occasion sound distinctly like Sweet) or even KISS. But Sweet tied themselves into an almost Faustian deal for pop fame with songwriters Mike Chapman and Nicky Chinn. This meant they were packaged as bubblegum/glam rockers with songs like “Funny Funny,” “Coco,” “Wig Wam Bam,” and “Little Willy.” Not that there’s much wrong with these tracks but they’re more suited to the Archies than say Ritchie Blackmore. Chinn and Chapman got nearer Sweet’s mark with “Ballroom Blitz” and “Blockbuster,” but they’re still not the full-on rock power of the group’s own songs like “Someone Else Will”—the uncensored version with the lyrics: “If we don’t fuck you, then someone else will”—or “Done Me Wrong All Right.”
Many of their fans recognized Sweet’s true potential as a hard rocking band, as did Pete Townshend who invited them to support the Who. But a kick to Connolly’s throat put paid to that. What’s also overlooked is the quality of Sweet’s musicianship: Andy Scott’s god-like guitar playing; Steve Priest’s heavy, heavy bass; and the sheer brilliance of Mick Tucker—whose innovation and style owes more to Gene Krupa than John Bonham—on drums.
At the frenzied height of their fame, Christmas 1973, Sweet played the Rainbow Theater, London. It ranks as one of the best concerts ever put down on tape—even if Tucker’s snare drums were missing from the multi-track recording and later dubbed in. It showcases the band’s ability to play bubble gum pop for the teenybop fans and high-octane rock for the more discerning listener. The choice tracks are the band’s self-penned numbers like “Burning”/“Someone Else Will,” “Rock ‘n’ Roll Disgrace,” “Need a Lot of Loving,” “Done Me Wrong Alright,” and “You’re Not Wrong For Loving Me.”
Part of this concert was released on Sweet’s double album Strung Up in 1975, before getting a full release on Live at the Rainbow 1973 in 1999. Take a listen and hear how great the kings of glam rock were as a balls-to-the-walls live band.
Set List: Intro—“The Stripper,” “Hellraiser,” “Burning”/“Someone Else Will,” “Rock ‘n’ Roll Disgrace,” “Wig Wam Bam,” “Need a Lot of Loving,” “Done Me Wrong Alright,” “You’re Not Wrong For Loving Me,” “The Man with the Golden Arm,” “Little Willy,” “Teenage Rampage,” Rock ‘n’ Roll Medley—“Keep a-Knockin’”/“Shakin’ All Over”/“Lucille”/“Great Balls of Fire”/“Reelin’ and Rockin”/“Peppermint Twist”/“Shout,” “Ballroom Blitz,” and “F.B.I.”/“Blockbuster.”