Tuesday, December 28, 2004
"But the idea of music as universal truth risks a sterile version of the divine. Which may be why so much music criticism is now mere analysis of form, strictly for initiates. But MacMillan is a composer who plays with popular culture. His farmyard sounds build on the Disney noises that echo in all our minds. But he does the alchemical thing, making the original reference his own. This Bestiary is Scotland's first great post-devolution piece: both funny and angry, and rooted in the reality that gives it cultural power."

James the first. My favorite review of classical music today for reasons I can't easily explain, but it reminds me of a music so precious and prescient!

Sunday, December 26, 2004
OK. The minor cast who supported me as I was starring in my own movie of my life. Not necessarily in order of appearance.

Christopher Isherwood. There's a new biography about him just published this month, and that's how I happened to think of him, though I'd read a few of his books when I was much younger. He was a writer in Europe and then a screenwriter in Hollywood before I met him. He had a casual walk-on role in my life, even for a visiting writer. We actually met once. He wore shocking pink socks. We didn't seem to hit it off, though he politely exchanged a bit about Japonisme and I a little something about samurai armor. When he was introduced at a gala assembly for students, they used my joke.

"Christopher Isherwood ... you might know him from the Broadway musical made about his life."

Industrial Music: The History of Electronic Music Pioneers (Pt. 1, 1750-1930)

The Year That Was Hardly Gets Started

"And the work took me away from the heart of the beat, in South Florida, to the heart of the matter, in New York.

"A National Arts Journalism Program institute on classical music took me to Columbia University. It was a heady, if exhausting, experience, which peaked, I think, at a performance of Mahler's Symphony No. 8.

"Back in South Florida, I started asking myself questions not about the year that was passing but about the days ahead. The big one: Is the very notion of ''classical music'' obsolete? Or, as one critic has asked, if it's serious music, what is it serious about?"

Saturday, December 25, 2004
The Ghost of Christmas Past Brings an Olde Present of Quite Some Worth

I forgot to mention! Along with Selvin's tribute to Ralph J. Gleason (12-23), that day the Chronicle simultaneously reprinted an old column of Gleason's, which you can read here:

Ralph J. Gleason's 'J'accuse'

Friday, December 24, 2004
Wherein Ben Ratliff shares some direct advice on interviewing techniques with potential journalists, and and spends time with a musician who genuinely has something to say.

Listening to CDs With Wayne Shorter
'Happening,' and Meandering, a Burst at a Time
[Unable to display image]
By BEN RATLIFF/The New York Times

Here's a classic story about Wayne Shorter in "Footprints," a new biography by Michelle Mercer. It's told by Hal Miller, a jazz historian who sometimes traveled on tour with Weather Report, the band Mr. Shorter played with from 1971 to 1985.

"I remember I asked Wayne for the time," Mr. Miller recounts. "He started talking to me about the cosmos and how time is relative." The band's keyboardist, Joe Zawinul, advised Mr. Miller not to bother asking the saxophonist and composer things like that. "It's 7:06 p.m.," he snapped.

Mr. Shorter, 71, may get oracular in his everyday conversations, but jazz musicians are often this way, to one degree or another. And while there is no better way to find out what's going on in their music than to ask, you have to find the right way in. Talking about music objectively, while not listening to it, is to superimpose one form over another: it pits the literary or critical endeavor against the musical. Asking a creative musician pointed questions about his discography can be dull, and asking him about the implications of an interval that he has written, or a solo he has improvised, can be nearly rude: he didn't make it to talk about it, he made it to play it.

After reading "Footprints," which may be the closest we will come to an autobiography of one of the greatest composers and improvisers in jazz, I contacted
Mr. Shorter. I proposed that we listen together to something that he admired, as long as it wasn't his own, as a way into having a conversation about music and, ultimately, about his own work. ("Footprints," a new two-disc retrospective of Mr. Shorter's music, was released by Sony to coincide with Ms. Mercer's biography, which is being published by Tarcher/Penguin.)

Last month, when Mr. Shorter finished a European tour with his quartet, we got together at his home in Aventura, Fla., a thicket of tall condominium towers near the ocean.

Since going back on the road with an acoustic jazz quartet in 2001, Mr. Shorter has built up a consensus of awe seldom encountered in the stylistically splintered world of jazz. He has been playing his own compositions - from his days with the mid-60's Miles Davis Quintet to his pieces from later solo records - and reminding everyone that there is a way of writing tunes for a hardcore jazz group that have a much broader imagination. Many of his melodies, dressed in odd phrase lengths and piquant harmonies, seem to come from a rarefied place outside jazz and seem too fragile to be bruised in a nightclub setting. But they have become part of the current jazz musician's basic vocabulary.

"I've got something good for you," he said, shortly after showing me the view from the living room and pointing out where Whitney Houston and Sophia Loren had apartments. He held up an EMI Classics boxed set of Ralph Vaughan Williams, conducted by Sir Adrian Boult.

I had been expecting classical music; some of his recent works have been rearrangements, for orchestra and jazz quartet, of Villa Lobos and Sibelius. I
thought he might pick Stravinsky, the bebopper's idol. But this choice made sense, too: the English composer Vaughan Williams, directly or indirectly, influenced many postwar film composers, and if there's one artistic stimulus that Mr. Shorter always seems open to, it is the movies.

Small and cheery, dressed in I'm-not-going-outside-today clothes and bedroom slippers, Mr. Shorter struggled to set up his Krell home-theater pre-amp to play a CD. I was forming a suspicion that he didn't often listen to music. "Hey, man, the Krell: you ever see the movie 'Forbidden Planet'?" he asked. "There was this planet full of people called the Krells. The explorers from Earth didn't see anybody when they arrived. But they all went to sleep one night in their spacecraft, and you hear the first sound of special effects that really came to the fore in movies - this Chrrmmm! Chroooom! And you see the ground that's been depressed by huge footprints. ..."

He first chose the opening of Vaughan Williams's Symphony No. 1: "A Song for All Seas, All Ships" (1910), with orchestra and choir singing lines taken from Walt Whitman. After the fanfare, 20 seconds into the piece, as the strings began to rise dramatically, Mr. Shorter smiled. "Life, that's what he's saying," he said. "It's a metaphor for life."

A Taste for the Heroic

It is superhero music, and Mr. Shorter is not cagey about his enthusiasms: he was wearing a blue Superman T-shirt that day. "Behold," the chorus sang out again: "the sea!" The cymbals crashed, illustrating a wave, and then the tempo fell off, the sound dispersing like spray. "I like that," he said. "It's almost saying, 'Look at your life.' If anybody wants to commit suicide, just take a look at your life. Look in the mirror. Because we are the ship." The brass lines overlapped and grew denser.
"I like that, the little line in the bass going down, the contrary motion," he said. The chorus came back again. "Power!" he said, grinning.

"I only heard this piece eight or nine months ago," he explained, motioning to the boxed set we were listening to, which he had just unwrapped. "But Ralph Vaughan Williams, I've been tracking him since I was about 16 or 17. I used to listen to a program called 'New Ideas in Music,' which came on every Saturday at noon on the radio."

Mr. Shorter grew up in Newark. His mother worked for a local furrier; his father was a welder at the Singer sewing machine factory in Elizabeth, N.J. As the biography "Footprints" tells it, Wayne Shorter and his older brother Alan had fairly radical artistic temperaments, encouraged by their parents. (Disclosure: Ms. Mercer met Wayne Shorter while reporting an article for this newspaper.) By Wayne and Alan's teenage years, they had formed their own clique of jazz surrealists, pushing their artistic temperaments to the edge of reason. In 1950, when bebop was well established but still largely a thing of mystery to high-schoolers outside of the big city, Wayne and Alan performed Dizzy Gillespie tunes at a high-school concert, dressed in wrinkled suits and galoshes, pretending to sight-read what were actually newspapers on their music stands.

Shades of 'Nefertiti'

In those days, Mr. Shorter painted "Mr. Weird" on his saxophone case, and it's still fairly true: he speaks in disjunctive bursts, frequently lapsing into silence halfway through a sentence. Sometimes you think you get his meaning and then, sadly, discover that you couldn't have been following a colder trail.

But in many ways his youth was quite normal for America in the 1940's: filled with the radio, comic books and the movies. His study, where he composes at a small desk with score paper, pen, white-out and a half-size keyboard, is filled not with CD's but with videocassettes and laser discs - everything from the Dean Martin celebrity roasts to "For the Love of Ivy," "The Bad Seed," "Quilombo" and "The Ugly American."

What he wanted me to hear next was "The Lark Ascending," which he performed both in the concert band at New York University, when he was a music-education major, and then later in the Army band during his service, from 1956 to 1958. (He was stationed in Fort Dix, N.J.)

But as I found out later, when I bought my own copy of the boxed set, there is a manufacturer's mistake in the track numbering for that particular disc. We couldn't find the "Lark," so settled instead for "Norfolk Rhapsody No. 1" (1905-6), which Mr. Shorter also likes.

A clarinet bubbles up with a little tendril of a line, following a violin line; they are complementary versions of the same melodic idea. The strings simmer quietly underneath. As the clarinet and violin gestures keep repeating, a tense feeling of stasis begins to take over. "Happening," he muttered.

Especially later in the piece, when further iterations of the line move higher, through different keys, it reminded me a little bit of his own "Nefertiti," from 1967, with the Miles Davis Quintet, which tensely repeats the same line through different keys, without a solo ever actually coming to pass. ("Nefertiti" is included on "Footprints," the new two-disc retrospective of Mr. Shorter's work.)

'You Know, the Unknown!'

"We're going to get into some Symphony No. 4 next," he said. He put on the opening of the first movement, a dramatically brooding thing. "I guess some of the early writers of movie music got this," he said, as a noirish romantic theme emerged from a thunder of kettledrums and bass trombones. "Like the John Williams music in the film of Hemingway's 'The Killers.' " Asked if he particularly liked music that suggested something about human temperament, he responded: "Yeah! And also going" - he made a pushing-out-into-the-universe gesture - "you know, the unknown! I'll put on the scherzo."

The gremlin music of the scherzo heated up, turning into a passage of gnarled, menacing little three-note jabs-and-parries in the strings and brass. "You know that Coltrane got some of that stuff," he said, mimicking hands-on-the-saxophone and growling little phrases. " 'Duhdeluh... duhdeluh... duhdeluh.' "

Mr. Shorter and Coltrane were close; Mr. Shorter was Coltrane's first significant long-term replacement in the Davis band and he was an early and fervent Coltrane admirer, one of the first saxophonists in the early 1960's to emulate where Coltrane was going rather than where he had just been.

"It's like something from a movie! 'Titanius! Agamemnon!' " he cried, assuming an actorly baritone. "It's like Errol Flynn fighting with Basil Rathbone: chik-chik-chik!" He mimicked the clinking of swords. "This is happening, though," he said.

The music changed again, becoming less agitated and more hopeful. "And here's the seafaring stuff, the sailor thing. Or it could be astronauts. 'We need a large vehicle to get beyond this gravity and away from our decadent thinking,'" Mr. Shorter intoned.

Trane and Bird

When he moved to Los Angeles 31 years ago, Mr. Shorter became a Nichiren Buddhist, the sect that chants, "Nam-myoho-renge-kyo." (His commitment to the practice shortly followed that of Herbie Hancock, his partner in the great Miles Davis group of the 1960's.) The philosophy of Nichiren Buddhism - particularly the idea of the "eternal self" and taking responsibility for one's life - is the axis of most of his deep thoughts, and Mr. Shorter was speaking nearly exclusively in deep thoughts, with short pauses for the ridiculous.

"I don't really listen to music," he said, later in the day, not to my great surprise. "I listen to music when I'm making a record, I listen to what we're doing. But I don't listen to music, because there are not that many close sequences of chance-taking over any period of time. You have to wait until someone has the courage to come and jump into deep water. You have to wait a long time for a Marlon Brando."

What has he heard in passing lately that he liked? "Occasionally I will hear 20 seconds of something in a film score," he allowed. "I liked John Williams's
opening music to 'Catch Me if You Can.' I like the depth and breadth of sound
that he can get to reflect the vastness of something - of space. I like James
Newton-Howard, too, his way of not always seeming like he has another film to
score. James Horner - I liked his score for "Glory," with the Harlem Boys Choir. I like Bernard Herrmann's score to 'One Million B.C.,' the movie with Victor Mature and Carole Landis."

So, back to his comment earlier about Coltrane. Did Coltrane listen to Vaughan Williams, too? "I don't know," he said. "But like Charlie Parker, he probably listened to everything."

Did Mr. Shorter ever meet Parker? "No, but I saw him about five times. I sneaked into a theater one time, when I was about 15. The fire escape, back of the theater, mezzanine, and there was Bird with strings, playing 'Laura.' I liked Bird with strings. The word was like, 'It's a novelty, it won't last.' But Bird really wanted to work with the orchestra."

Exploring the World

Coltrane wanted that, too, Mr. Shorter said, and recalled a conversation he had had with Coltrane's son Ravi: "Ravi told me that he wanted me to write something for him, for orchestra. Trane was still alive when I was with Miles, and we performed something at Monterey, a piece for 28 pieces called 'Legend.' It would have been natural for Trane to hear about that - he was always following what Miles was doing." Lately, Mr. Shorter has been looking at semi-retirement, which means less time spent on the road and more time thinking about composing music that will include only a little of his playing - "not all over the place, just where it counts."

He has thought about revisiting "Legend" - Davis's nephew has found a tape of the concert - as well as a number of other orchestral projects. One is "Aurora Leigh," a composition he started when he was 18 and at N.Y.U. It is named after an Elizabeth Barrett Browning poem. He said he might take it to David Robertson, principal conductor of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, who wants to work with him. More recently he has begun writing original music for the soprano Renée Fleming.

"When I listen to music, I'm not thinking about the workshop aspect of it," he said. " 'Oh, that sound goes good against that one.' Boring. But, you know Elgar, who wrote something about people that he knew, characters he knew? And each theme was antiphonal? You say, 'Describe this person in music,' and he'd do it, whether the person was rotund or skinny." (Mr. Shorter was describing the "Enigma Variations.")

"I need to find out more about other people's cultures, with the time I have left," Mr. Shorter said, jumping over a conversational hedgerow. "Because when I'm writing something that sounds like my music - well, not my music, I don't possess music - but when they say, 'Wayne Shorter's playing those snake lines,' I should take that willingness to do that, that desire I have to do that, and extend it to the desire to find out more about what is not easy to follow, what is difficult to follow in someone else's life."

Thinking Another Way

Would he like to hear one more piece of music?

"Do you think that would enhance what you're writing, so people could hear through your words?" he asked, without really waiting for an answer.

"I used to think, what the hell is music for?" Mr. Shorter mused. "Like, what is law for? Is it for immediate checks and balances and controls? But then what is it really for? And music - is it an aphrodisiac, a convincer, a manacle? You know, 'I gotta have my rhythm and blues, man. ...' " Well, is there some piece of music, or some kind of music, that has altered his life in a positive way?

"Actually, music hasn't changed my life, it's the other way around," he replied. "Somebody asked me that once, a young guy in Spain. He said, 'What has
life taught you?' I said, wait a minute, think of it this way: What can you teach

Mr. Shorter talked further about what he called "the human revolutionary process" and then said, "For me to be aware of something that has great value, I change my life."

I tried rephrasing the question: Is there music that embodies a value that you would change your life for?

"See, to me, the sound of music is neutral," he shot back. "What I do is arrange the dialogue, the musical dialogue, in a way that has not been spoken to me before."

Does he often hear a piece of music and think that he hears himself represented in it?

"Oh, yeah. I used to play all kinds of records, and I'd get my clarinet and get right in it. One thing I liked about Charlie Parker: he'd play that song 'South of the Border, Down Mexico Way.' That's a nice song. One of Gene Autry's hit songs. Nothing complicated, but I like it."

Copyright 2004 The New York Times

(A Present for the Season courtesy of Bob Sarles Music Wire.)
Why World Music Isn't

An older piece, but still valid. Wherein the writer takes a glance back at jazz (let's say Afrojazz or AfroCuban) and comes to realize some current global collaborations just miss the real trip because they see things differently.

Thursday, December 23, 2004
Heralding the spread of bad ideas

Headfull of sermons, mouth full of spiders comes forward with an interesting thought about the disappearing sense of place or region in popular music. (And a few things that result when such sensibilities become thinned.)

Chain, Chain, Chain ...

Music broadcasts from radio yesteryear power a new sort of CD company which mini-boxes find exciting, and it's not really muzak, because that's ambiant. Bing Reloaded.

Joel Selvin remembers the great jazz critic, Ralph Gleason:

"Don't let the tweed jackets, the trenchcoat, and the pipe fool you --
-- Ralph J. Gleason was an apostle of jazz and rock with few peers"

Wednesday, December 22, 2004
Newspaper music journalist refers readers to web sites

"We've been thinking a lot about Frank Zappa lately.

"Why? Because this month marks 11 years since his death, and 64 years since his birth. And, more importantly, because we imagine the iconoclastic guitarist, composer and social critic would have a lot of pungent, deadly accurate things to say about the way things are in America today.

"Zappa, alas, is gone. But some 719,000 Web sites keep his name alive in some fashion, according to Google. We've chosen a few of our favorites this week."

Anthony Sampson, editor of the famed Drum Magazine, has died.

Drum Magazine

Brief Break for Art

"In Search of Insomnious Sheep"

("as if air and water were dreaming of one another, and we somehow got stuck in between.")
Coming Seminar Alert

Noted author Guralnick joins Vandy staff

"Peter Guralnick, one of America's finest music biographers and journalists, will be a visiting professor at Vanderbilt University during the 2005 spring semester to teach a course in creative non-fiction.

"I'm extremely excited about this course and happy that Vanderbilt has recognized the importance of telling stories about great American cultural figures," Guralnick said. "It is also a chance to emphasize to students the necessity for going beyond categories, because the people that I have admired the most have been the ones who didn't let genres or forms limit their creativity." ...

"Another major objective involves helping students improve on telling their stories," Guralnick said. "The key for me isn't so much the question of whether someone has talent or writing aptitude, so much as they understand that everyone has a story to tell, no matter who they are and where they came from. Understanding that, then working on the best way to present that story, is for me far more important than anything else in this class."

Tuesday, December 21, 2004
Take Tea and See

I was quite touched by this concern for the future of the people who will make classical music as expressed by Dale Keiger.

That's because I've known people who have gone on to make careers in music. Some became famous, and others quite famous. Some worked in the entertainment industry. Some sold a lot of records. And some actually seemed to be doing something.

Although I've encountered plenty of singers and instrumentalists, lots of people who would perform classical music, I barely knew anyone who had a career in that field. Of that pitiful few, none met with fame or fortune nor, really, can I imagine that they ever even in their most secret of hearts expected to, but what do I know?

After a lifetime of lessons and countless hours devoted to practice for performance, one moved on into a lifelong career of teaching and conducting at a small college in the desert. Aside from him, and another who avoided the scene but whose mother was a recital organist her whole life and guild leader of some repute, there are but a scant one or two others.

Classical music sometimes seems to be an environment of rare and endangered species. And a topic that is rarely, if ever, mentioned. In fact, the last time classical music was brought up in conversation, I was shocked. A person I know expressed something close to bitter envy. A classmate of his from a prestigious Eastern school switched majors in his last year and now has a career in music, he being recruited and hired to conduct the symphony in an outpost town.

Does everyone have a secret self that wants to be an artist or musician? Or to just be a bohemian, in a loft or garret somewhere, living out a bohemian life?

Someday I will make a list of names. I'll list all the people I have met or known who made art (well, if not Art per se, then music and literature and theater and poetry and movies) … all the famous ones whose names you might recognize.

I'm promising myself today I'll eventually get around to doing that. Because a long long time ago, a friend asked me along when she stopped by to take tea with a lady friend. Her friend, a much older woman, had been part and parcel of the Romany Marie's circle.

Romany Marie's

She had many insights and casual anecdotes about the strange mix that made up the literary and artistic circuit in New York of that earlier now near-mythological era. A place where there was always a giant pot of soup boiling, and occasionally gypsy tea-leaf reading, where poets, writers, artists, thinkers, and even paleontologists literally just returned from the far reaches of outer Mongolia would casually bump into each other. She was there.

Listening to but some of her stories for just an afternoon or two long ago, back in the mid-sixties, "there" sounded to be a heck of a lot better place.

She’d got to hang out with the likes of Marcel Duchamp, Ford Maddox Ford, and Huddie Ledbetter. Also Henry and June (that's exactly how she mentioned them the first time to my friend some time before, as if she were on a first name basis with them), but, yes, she knew them, too. And not only well enough to call them by their first names, but she'd maintained correspondence with them over the years, and she still had some letters from each of them.

What could I conceivably say at that point that wouldn't seem irrelevant or made small by comparison -- "Henry Miller … he picked up a friend of mine hitch hiking in Big Sur … " -- That would have been a ridiculous thing for anyone to say, but say it I did because it was something that had happened.

Henry Miller, the famous writer and watercolorist, at last report to me was a real living and breathing, braking and pulling over to pick up a hippie hitchhiker sort of person.

At that time, I'd only read one of Miller's books, "The Air Conditioned Nightmare". I found it in a paperback edition. It probably cost fifty, sixty cents brand new off the rack. It wasn't even published by Grove or New Directions and you could tell by the art on the cover. That was saying Henry Miller was hitting the mainstream. And a lot of people read that book. I mean my copy, because it made the rounds.

You could tell straight away it wasn't published by Grove or New Directions. First off, the cover wasn't their typical black and white.

That edition was coated with a particularly garish yellow and purple cover. I remember it vividly. The background was kind of orangey and the lettering was … No … that's not right. The print on the cover was a bright and sunny canary yellow bleeding into a desert sunset yellow tinted with a hint of about to move into orange and the background could have been a grand canyon spectacular sunset purple. But it wasn't. That shade of purple was selected to clash and look shockingly tasteless and the cover was designed to be outlandish. Yeah, that was the one. I mean, it was the sixties, or beginning to be the sixties when that book came … Miller had written his own version of "On the Road" years before that more famous one, and I much preferred Miller's.

Does everyone have a secret self that longs to hit the road, Jack? Maybe. (Best keep in mind before you turn the key in your ignition, his road trip was taken far back in time, before the monogelatinous mush had homogenized its spread and oozed its unimaginative steadily increasing and unrelenting way, sliding into, settling into, and taking up far too much in the way of permanent space everywhere before encroaching outwards even more throughout the entire environment, as it currently is today.)

So, back then, talking with her about the people she'd known, the people she chose to share with me. Most importantly, I felt a living breathing connection to art as it was simmering and bubbling up from the past, maybe even great art, that something made by larger than life characters, or persons of great reputation if not brought into being by monumental people of mythic proportion. And I was only there in her kitchen for a little bit, and others more fortunate to be in the area got to prolong the experience and just steep in this stuff if they chose.

Henry and June are more famous now, especially since their sex lives have been made into a major motion picture (adapted from a book by the same name). When that movie came out, I wondered what she, the lady who poured from the teapot, would have said about any of it if she were still alive.

Or this week, I to her?

"Hey, that Marcel's really famous again!"

For at the moment, he is currently regarded as the creator of the most important art there ever was (actually he was just awarded the Turner Prize for the most influential modern art work of all time). But back then when she knew him, he'd also been a French painter and the founding member of the Dada movement in New York slightly after World War I; he was the inventor of "ready-made" art, and fashioned many non-functional machines. Ford Maddox Ford was an English writer (I didn't know much about him then and still don't, but he apparently had a lot of influence on two writers I once liked a lot, Joseph Conrad and Ezra Pound.) And who wouldn’t recognize the name Huddie Ledbetter.

Me! I actually met someone who'd not just seen their works in galleries, or read their books, or heard their music on scratchy records, or just sat in the same room with them, but who had known them all if even a bit ... talked with them ...

Who, if she were at all impulsive or were merely lacking good manners, actually could have reached over the table and touched them all. She was lucky, to be in that place and at that time, wasn't she? At Romany Marie's?

This was important to me because, in the mid-sixties, when I spoke with her, I felt like I was getting the cheap imitations of art with Andy Warhol and some of the New York "writers", "poets", and "musicians" I’d just encountered, and they seemed to me to be living a pale imitation of both life and "Art". That New York bunch, they were just becoming ... there was no word for what they were becoming, but I would say "well, they're in Life magazine this week" because they were, but it seemed something more monstrous than that, not monstrous like "Philistines" but ... And I did not look on this response of mine as being at all snobbish.

She was lucky to spin around the Romany Marie's circle. Look who I got. I'd encountered Frank Zappa by then and he was about to become much more well known, which means hated and maligned, and lauded and respected.

And, OK, I admit it. I met Andy Warhol a time or two, but that was after he'd become famous in New York. Not the same. And I wish I had some interesting or colorful anecdotes about him. The last time I saw Andy Warhol was (need I say many years back?) at the San Francisco airport when he was catching a flight out of town. He was in a waiting section seated in a molded gray plastic chair, designed somewhat like a student chair with extended writing tray, but on that tray was bolted a small gray plastic box with a television screen. He was watching the television.

Like now, back then I was still looking for the bright side of the spectrum. Even as fueled as some were with boundless youthful optimism ... it didn't feel even then, when taken together as a mass, that all of my friends and acquaintances contributions combined would ever, could ever add up to fill a teaspoon resting on the saucer at Romany Marie's. I mean, we didn't even have a Romany Marie's, or even a pretense of one.

So I recognized that no one that I knew then or might ever know or work with or even meet at any time in the future might in any way ever rise to fame or fortune or become in any way respected for doing what made the real living heart in any one of them drive and pound. But I sure as hell wished they would!

So, how do I tie all this into the future of classical music? When my only real connection with classical music has been through recordings, concerts, and sometimes radio. A world and a culture I know almost nothing about. But the music on occasion has been a life preserver for me, particularly during those times when there's nothing good on the radio (or on new records, to be read in new books or even in any one of countless thousands of magazines, or to be seen anywhere in the new movies) and those severe periods of cultural drought can go on sometimes for over a decade stretching easily into even two or three without anyone realizing too much they've managed to go without life-sustaining fluid for so long they're all about to die of thirst.

Classical music, I don't know too much about it at all, much less being able to guess who might make it in the future or how it might be received and written about. But I admit I felt uneasy when Yo-yo Ma took the stage at Constitution Hall for a performance with Dr. Condoleezza Rice.

And I fully understood the measured response of a friend who remarked only that it's both fascinating and interesting to find that persons more famous for political careers have talents, interests, and artistic skills not often afforded public expression.

As for me, next time maybe I'll tell how I got a classical musician a paying gig on Frank Zappa's first record. Today, that seems to be the singlemost biggest thing I ever accomplished in the world o' entertainment.

Or maybe I won't. That's kind of a long story because it involves people you've never heard of, travel, a few attitudes in operation, and artistic intent.

The Hundred-and-nineteenth Calypso

"Where's my good old gang done gone?"
I heard a man say.
I whispered in that sad man's ear,
"Your gang's done gone away."
-- Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.
More Zappin at Zappa.

Frank Zappa bio reviewed in the paper of record in Ontario, California, wherein the reviewer ponders whether Cucamonga is just too far out. (Or sometimes it pays to go a bit beyond the obvious).

Daily Bulletin.com
Article Published: Thursday, December 02, 2004 - 6:39:29 PM PST

Cucamonga too far out? Just check Zappa bio
By David Allen

"ZAPPA," BARRY Miles' new biography of musician Frank Zappa, doesn't waste time: There's a howler of a mistake in the very first sentence.

An otherwise-evocative description of Cucamonga describes the town as being "about 75 miles west of Los Angeles."

Helloooo, Catalina!

From then on, though, it's fine stuff with lots of local references. In fact, this may be the first biography in history whose index includes citations for Claremont, Pomona, Upland-Ontario, Montclair, Fontana and Cucamonga, as Rancho Cucamonga was known in the 1960s when Zappa was here.

All are towns the iconoclastic musician lived in, performed in or otherwise satirized.

The onetime Chaffey College student, who died in 1993, got his start in the Inland Valley. He owned a small recording studio on Archibald Avenue, then joined a band in Pomona that became the Mothers of Invention.

Among the tidbits in Miles' book:

* Zappa once said of Claremont, where he briefly lived as a teenager: "Claremont's nice. It's green. It's got little old ladies running around in electric carts."

* At Pomona College, he hosted "The Uncle Frankie Show" on KSPC-FM, the college radio station, for a week - until it was discovered he wasn't a student.

* While renting a house at 314 E. G St. in Ontario, Zappa printed business cards touting himself as a "master blues guitarist." He had just begun guitar lessons.

* To survive lean times, Zappa and a friend roomed together in Studio Z, his recording studio. The friend kept them fed by stealing bread, peanut butter and coffee from a Claremont Colleges faculty lounge and got free instant mashed potatoes from a blood donor center.

One other anecdote: The teen-aged Zappa partnered with a Claremont neighbor to make (of all things) puppets, which they entered in the L.A. County Fair, until the pair had a falling out and young Frank went solo.

This saga of early creative differences first surfaced in my column. Miles not only retells it, he gives me credit on Page 393 - my first book citation.

Breaking the story of Zappa's puppets isn't exactly like Seymour Hersh exposing Abu Ghraib. But we all have our niche, right?

Meanwhile, local Zappa fans Derek Miley and Adam Fiorenza are still plugging away on their documentary about the "Freak Out!" musician's early days.

Since their interviews with two Zappa siblings and his mother last year, the pair have talked to five former Mothers of Invention bandmates: Jim "Motorhead" Sherwood, Don Preston, Bunk Gardner, Roy Estrada and Jimmy Carl Black.

Miley and Fiorenza also interviewed "Weird" Al Yankovic, a Zappa admirer. Yankovic said he met Zappa on a radio show and they swapped autographs.

And in a coup, they tracked down Lorraine Belcher, the Ontario woman arrested with Zappa in the notorious Sheriff's Department sting at Studio Z over a racy audiotape.

In its news coverage, the Ontario Daily Report described Belcher as "a buxom red-haired girl of perfect physical dimensions." (That description may be racier than the audiotape.)

Miley said Zappa fans have tried for years to find Belcher -- and no wonder -- but he benefited from a tip from one of the ex-Mothers.

Among the stories Belcher told was how Zappa came to title a 1967 album "Lumpy Gravy."

"When they were an item," Miley related, "she woke up after a nightmare where they were on a cooking show. His name was Lumpy Gravy and hers was Bloaty Bluefish, or something like that."

And here I would have thought "Lumpy Gravy" was a comment on a bad Thanksgiving dinner.

(Note to myself. I just might find a copy of the Zappa book and read it, if only because it's like revisiting my own memory banks and recalling my own youth. The puppets!

The Claremont Colleges dining commons! The student dining hall, which in those environs was more like a granite mansion, had a tradition of leaving out the pots of coffee at the end of the day's meal, out of graciousness as much to better help fuel the students on to academic success, all because the town closed up at five o'clock in the afternoon. They rolled up the streets. A few in-the-know starving artists would stop by the usually deserted commons for a cup of joe and pretend it was our coffee house. Nobody seemed to mind, and the cups then were real ceramic, civilized cups in a very civilized place. And as to why Frank may have eventually decided on that geography as a location for a sci-fi film, aside from the fact he was there thinking about it, I might have an inkling as to why ... everyone else who was brought up around there about that time likely does, too. The clue is at the beginning of a very famous movie, one with great sound effects, and it's so obvious it would ... Don't worry, you'd know it, but I don't want to spoil the surprise of you putting the pieces together and figuring it out on your own.)

Monday, December 20, 2004
Book Review(s) Alert

Barry Miles's biography Zappa

Frank Zappa: Iconoclast
(with links to an interview with the biographer, an excerpt, and another review titled "A Jerk of Genius")

Innovator, visionary, misfit
New biography of Zappa reveals a discordant soul
By Jim Fusilli

Book Alert

Weather Bird

Jazz at the Dawn

of Its Second Century

By Gary Giddins


"Weather Bird clears the decks, and it's not always pretty. The subtitle tells the story. Reading between the lines of where Giddins locates jazz in its second century, it becomes clear why he no longer wants to cover the music, regularly, in real time. It's because here, in 2004, there's not much there there. Jazz has become a music of the past, and as opposed to fighting that trend, as he bravely attempted to do for 20 years or so, Giddins is now joining it. Only he's doing it his way, which is to write about history. With no gods looming to take jazz into the future, what else is there for a writer of Giddins' insight and ambition to do?"

("Is Jazz Dead? A Critic Takes Comfort in History", by David Rubien)

Saturday, December 18, 2004
The History of Western Music? Well, It's A Long Story

Richard Taruskin in interview about his upcoming "Oxford History of Western Music"

"Music history begins when it does because that's when notation was invented, and that would be in North Central Europe in the eighth or ninth century. We don't really know what century, because nobody thought it was so important that all of a sudden there's a way of writing down music, so nobody told us exactly when it happened. We just found the artifacts.

And now we're in a situation where the literate tradition of music seems to be ending, because of new technological means and because of the convergence between art and pop. There's a lot more real-time and improvisatory music-making going on within the classical domain. I write about the end of the tradition I'm describing, an end that I won't live to see, and neither will anybody who reads this. But it's in the cards."

Richard Taruskin Publishes Massive History of Music

"[The work] is an opinionated narrative of music from the 8th century (when music began to be written down) to the present, describing the development of the art form as the result of cultural, economic, social, even nationalistic factors. Taruskin believes that such context dictated compositional choices—in many cases to a far greater extent than previously thought. The history also contains detailed analysis of musical works in illustration of the author’s points.

"According to a review in the Toronto Globe and Mail, Taruskin’s work is "a feast of contrarian ideas. . . [that] aims for nothing less than a revaluation of practically everything you thought you knew about 'classical' music."

"For example, the review says, Taruskin claims that at some points in history, people “looked to music to resolve a community’s insecurities, as reflected in the German cultural nationalism that gave rise to the cults of Bach and Beethoven."

Saturday reading room

Acoustic Ecology

"acoustic ecology -- the relationship between human beings and their sonic environments"

A report from far away

"BET Jazz, MTV India, Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz and U.S. Department of State to Partner for First Annual India Jazz & Heritage Tour.

"The Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz (http://www.monkinstitute.org) is a
non-profit education organization established in memory of Thelonious Monk,
the legendary jazz pianist and composer. Monk believed the best way to learn
jazz was from a master of the music. The Institute follows that same
philosophy by bringing together the greatest living jazz musicians to teach
and inspire young people. The Institute offers the most promising young
musicians college level training by America's jazz masters and presents public
school-based jazz education programs for people around the world. Helping to
fill the tremendous void in arts education left by severe budget cuts in
public school funding, the Institute's programs are provided free to the
public and use jazz as the medium to encourage imaginative thinking,
creativity, a positive self-image, and respect for one's own and others'
cultural heritage."

Part of a post lifted from Karaoke Welcome to Norway

"The only good music journalism being written here is done by people who get paid diddly squat for their efforts (webzines, fanzines, Mute Magazine, etc.), whereas the writer "personalities" in the newspapers get their names visciously rewritten. For example, VG's Kurt Bakkemoen becomes Cock Moustacheman, well deserved.

Oh, and the best national radiochannel (NRK P3) is going to the dogs too, after one of the music journalist "personalities" (Haakon Moslet) became the boss of their playlist. It used to be, they'd play great music and educate the populace. We went from farmboys to indie rocking clubbers because of that channel, but now they're spewing out Rachel Stevens and O-zone unashamedly. Sure, they're playing Annie too, but fuck does that bubblegum grow tired when your ears chew it every second hour. So what's the deal?

Is it just Norway that is taking a turn for the worse, or is the whole world in on this decay, these last days of mourning for the steady dumbing down of mainstream culture? Sure, student radio and the lesbian feminist riot grrrl gang still kick some nice tunes and opinions around (they share the same frequency in Oslo), but most of the country is becoming a mainstream outback territory where music is only music if you've heard it before and politics only interest you if it gets you cheaper gasoline and alcohol.

Alright, we're still the best country in the world to be living in, materially speaking, but the right wing assholes are tearing even that to bits so that their blue collar kids can go to expensive private schools and pay their way through the hospitals waiting lists. "Weeee don't need no steenkin' weeeelfare, weeee got a fat stock portfolio." And they'll all listen to Euroboys, at least until the next trend.

But that's here. What's it like out there, I wonder?"

Book Review

'Living With Jazz': It Does Mean a Thing

"Dan Morgenstern has been writing about jazz for more than four decades but has long hesitated to collect his best pieces. At last, 'Living With Jazz' gathers 136 of his liner notes, critical essays and other writings, and the book is a cause for celebration since it deserves to be on the short shelf of essential books on the music."

Thursday, December 16, 2004
Writing About Music

(From When Words Fail, Listen to the Music)

The idea that feelings and thoughts can't go together is a pretty witless one. Every feeling is of or about something, even if we can't say what it is. In any case, music is full of ideas, often deep ones, and it finds ways to make them vividly real.

There's a moment in Monteverdi's Vespers where the words refer to the Trinity. What an unfathomable mystery, that something can be both three and one; but the music brings the mystery before our very ears, making the three vocal parts converge on a single note.

It's not just in sacred music we find this. There's a song by the 14th-century composer Machaut in which the words muse on the circular nature of life. The music finds the perfect way to express the idea of "in my end is my beginning", by having the same vocal line sung both forwards and backwards.

What these have in common is symbolism, something music does very well. What music can't do is the mundane work of language; it can't say "maybe" or "if", it can't do negatives.

There's a comic illustration of this in a Monteverdi madrigal that has the line "not yet has risen the new dawn". He mimics the rising dawn in notes, but he can't do the "not yet", which makes a complete mismatch between words and music.

So music has its weaknesses when it comes to representing ideas. But what if music itself were a kind of philosophy, a way of revealing truths inaccessible to words? Could such an outlandish idea be true?

Viet Nam's traditional music, once in danger being lost for all times if not forever, has found a tireless advocate.

"Prof. Tran Van Khe, a well-known master of Vietnamese traditional music, has brought home a large number of musical instruments and materials that he collected during 55 years of living abroad.

"These instruments and documents reflect the "heart" of a person who devoted his whole life and energy to the traditional music of Viet Nam.

"Khe brought home more than 100 encyclopaedias published by the UK, the US, Italy and France, almost 200 diaries from more than 200 music conferences that he attended in over 68 countries, and more than 2,000 books and magazines about Viet Nam's music and traditional operas. In addition, he has quality pictures and 800 cassettes, recording his meetings with artists in Viet Nam and other countries worldwide.

"The property did not have much commercial value but was extremely useful for future generations in conducting research on traditional music of Viet Nam, Khe noted."

Wednesday, December 15, 2004
The Importance of Sentence Diagrams

Journalist Dale Keiger dissects a sentence and shows where happy endings in fiction can come from. A real rock and roll fantasy:

"Dogsbreath gave a million bucks to the nurse who saved his life."

(Substitute Dogsbreath for Dimebag, the name of the metal guitarist recently in the news. Via scribble scribble scribble. A background story about a nurse.)

Tuesday, December 14, 2004
Hot Tip about the Disco Inferno

Nice indeed of pocat to get in touch about the new book Everybody Dance: Chic and the Politics of Disco, by Daryl Easlea (mentioned Dec 11 below)

"There's another interview with Daryl Easlea and another excerpt from his book on CHIC on my site. The interview was done by ChicTribute.com's contributor Glen Russell."

Monday, December 13, 2004
A writer in Kenya reveals the power that is reggae in Africa:
Roots of a Music Revolution

and Reggae Ambassador

"Reggae was banned from airplay on the then sole radio channel, the Voice of Kenya, for over a decade from May 1988. The music’s syncopated one-drop drumbeats and heavy bass, together with its natural inclination to hardcore 1970s lyrics dwelt heavily on socially militant themes that discomfited rulers."

When mind sets and cultures meet

Making Music the Lovely Stupid Way

"Starting a successful joint-venture project in Viet Nam raises a great many questions. Who has the local know-how to be a reliable Vietnamese partner? How does one bridge the cultural and linguistic gap to create a seamless, professional relationship? And finally, whose palm must be greased, glass refilled and hand shaken to get this project off the ground?"

Saturday, December 11, 2004
Saturday Night's All Right for Fighting
(And Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Weds ... )

The recent murder of a guitarist onstage (and a fan, a bodyguard, and a club employee) brought to my mind too vivid memories of violence I've witnessed, experienced, and fortunately just missed in a handful of music venues.

From bar room fights to bar room flights, there have been too many of them. Too many, even though the law of averages tells me, "wait a minute, these few are out of hundreds if not thousands of nights of performances." All I can say is it sure has escalated from phoned-in bomb threats (which shut down a Mike Seeger show during the Civil Rights Era), even for me.

In the height of the summer of love in flower power land itself, I was there pre-show as the manager of a peace love and happiness psychedelic band came running into the venue, the arm of his shirt soaked with blood. He ran straight through the foyer into the box office and slammed the door behind him. Turns out, a guy tried to rob him, asked him for his wallet. He bears a nasty jagged scar to this very day. Well, that was a bummer, all things considered ... in the time of peace, love, happiness ... However do we deal with the paradoxes of life and shit like that? Times passes and life goes on. A few years later, as that manager acquired a reputation for being increasingly parsimonious if not downright stingy and borderline venal, that story was mentioned once in my hearing, and a musician remarked: "Did he owe the guy money?"

Yet, it's all about safety as well as trust. This happened to me the following year at my job at a blues club. Like anything in the Berkeley at that time, it was a complicated sort of thing. The band was performing in front of a leopard skin curtain they'd brought for the occasion when a man and woman came in, sat down at the bar, ordered and were served a drink. The phone rang shortly thereafter. A weeknight and we were breaking in a new bartender on what we assumed would be a much easier night than a busy weekend shift. Our new bartender, first night on the job, answered the phone and chatted for awhile.

He hung up the phone, came over and told me the police had just called
and were looking for some suspects who had just robbed a hotel and pistolwhipped the nightclerk just down the street, and the cops described the couple who were now sitting at the bar. As he’d just served them a drink, the bartender recognized them
from the description and told the cops the people were there. The police
advised him the couple were armed and dangerous, and to clear the club without
the suspects noticing it.

After the bartender apprised me of these facts, he slipped over the bar and
went out the front door. So I told the manager about this phone call, and
he soon slipped away through that same door with the bouncer. We weren't used to trouble in that place. Onstage, the band began the first set of the evening and I was the last employee left in the building. I went around casually pretending to wipe off tables. Maybe overacting the part while trying to look casual. And I asked people one at a time and very cautiously to vacate the premises, to leave and be really cool about it.

The band continued to play. A group of white boys who covered R&B tunes pretty well, they were probably beginning to wonder about the quality of their performance with everyone starting to leave and all.

I went back behind the bar and the couple noisily demanded another drink. I gave them each a drink, and I accidentally spilled some of one as I set it down. I apologized, lifted the glass, and wiped the spill from the bar top with a cloth.

This incident made the woman very angry, and she seemed to spiral out of control and didn’t seem to like me, and let her companion know with the words, "kill that bitch." She started screeching, "Kill that bitch! Give me that gun, i’ll kill her." "Gimme the gun" she was shouting loudly. She moved towards him on the bar stool and tried to pull something from the pocket of his jacket, but he kept pulling his jacket away from her and told her to take it easy.

While they were so engaged, I walked away and got the last few people near the bandstand out. I walked over to the stage and told the lead singer every one’s getting off stage, there was going to be trouble. They tumbled off right away, and left en masse by the back door which slammed shut behind them. And I was right behind them, too, happy to leave the couple with the club all to themselves.

The cops leveled their fire power at me as I came out the back door and I
was so startled to be staring straight down gun barrels that I nearly hit the dirt. Unbelievably, up the block, a tv crew had been close and scanning the police radio. They'd set up and were interviewing the bartender. Why bother talking to him about anything, I thought, he was barely there. His first night as a bartender in a blues club.

Well, the cops went in and took them. But I was left wondering why I had to be the one taking the risks. Suddenly I felt like I had taken enough risks, and I was genuinely disappointed no one else was willing to take part. I guess there was an issue about rescue, too, whirling around for me. Most times, there’s no such thing, you know. After a cup of coffee with the band at a nearby restaurant, we all made our way back to the club and finished off the night. Anyone who wanted to come back in to hear the music came back. I got my wages for the night and the tips were scarcer than usual, but the owner made a special point of expressing appreciation when I showed up for the Friday shift. No shots were fired, no blood was spilled, but this incident made a profound and lasting impression on me.

Through the ages: from the anonymous phoned-in bomb scares, to knife attacks, to gun waving, to a series of drugged out brawls and drunken push and shoves. When in a new outlaw location described as a Preservation Park for the Sixties, I witnessed a coked-up sound man flip out and physically attack a patron for no reason.

Incomprehensible! The lard gutted soundman hiked up his fat belly with his forearm like the Bluto cartoon that had inspired him and threw a punch with no provocation whatsoever. A sudden vicious upperjab from a beefy soundguy, a blow-brained imbecile who we shitwits had to that point regularly hired, an uppercut that lifted a diabetic longhair patron two feet straight in the air off his feet.

A month later, on a night out in that small town, I watched in disbelieving horror as a laughable excuse for security collapsed and a maniac shouting "I'm Mose! I'm Mose!" pushed his way in to a club where in fact Mose Allison was playing. A jazz concert!

Who'd expect trouble at jazz event featuring a solo pianist?

The brawling loony smashed my husband in the face as he stepped in the way of the assault to protect a much smaller person from the wild swings of the crazed brute pushing his way in (an action on my husband's part for which he received not a thing -- certainly the promoter who overpacked the house didn't pay so much as a penny to replace a now ruined piece of expensive dental work, certainly no thanks or acknowledgement because an expression of that sentiment might have cracked the lips of the clown running the evening's show, but that's getting to be fairly typical of some of these life ruiners disguised as concert promoters. And such attitudes seem to run like blood in that promoter's family, (seriously, witness only Woodstock 99) and whatever pretensions for music and community they claim to profess, they simply end up the kind of people that help you learn the real meaning of the world "schadenfrude".

All those stacked up little bits of crud I've witnessed in music venues adds up only to a great big steaming ball of shit sometimes, from the first experience to what hopefully is the last one.

The last one, I was waiting in line thinking about going into a nightclub when I watched a man and a woman have a brief odd interaction in front of me. He was a big burly fellow carrying a small inflated plastic dinosaur. She was blond and in a black sheath dress and spike heels. She suddenly reached out and hit the dinosaur on the head. Kind of a tap. The man stared at her. After a moment, she reached out and gave the dinosaur another (playful? nasty?) tap and walked in to the club.

Those two gave me the willies and I decided to just go home instead. The local news was full of it the next day. A guy walked over to a woman he did not know in a nightclub, and without a word, pulled her out of her chair, knocked her to the floor, and jumped on her head. He walked away. Then he turned back and as she laid on the floor, he jumped on her head again, and she was dead. Yes, this was the plastic dinosaur couple. And just reading about it was trauma enough.

A Simple Twist of Fate

Lucky young man Danny Goldberg is offered two jobs in New York City and must decide between them. His gig at an industry magazine leads over time to PR for Stan Getz and Led Zep, and, eventually, Artemis Records.

Saturday Reading Room Now Open

Generous extract from Everybody Dance: Chic and the Politics of Disco, by Daryl Easlea, published by Helter Skelter Publishing, priced £14

(Blurb) "Chic supplied the uplifting soundtrack to the dark days of the Seventies. But, as Daryl Easlea reveals in his new book, behind the good times lay a fiery tale of black power, radical politics and a battle against the forces of Middle America"

That fiery tale described in microcosm in a paragraph devoted to how things can go funky in a heartbeat: a few hours from a single evening when the military, a bad acid trip, a rape, and a bleeding Andy Warhol combine as a real life experience you can only wish was an hallucination:

By the late 1960s, unknown to one another, both men were living nearby in New York's Greenwich Village. The precocious Rodgers was not slow in embracing all the experiences the Village had to offer. The night of 3 June 1968 was one such evening, though it was to go frighteningly wrong: "I went out one day with this girl, April, and met these military guys, who were on leave or had come back from Vietnam. We had all seen [the hippie musical] Hair. They slipped hallucinogenic drugs in our drinks and I ran out of the house we were in, suffering from some kind of panic attack. They subsequently raped April, which I found out about later. I called the police and they took me to a hospital. I'm there in the waiting room and I now believe I'm a lizard." To add to this confusion, the ward doors were flung open and a new patient was wheeled past at high speed. "All of a sudden, everything changed and they wheel in Andy Warhol, who had just been shot by Valerie Solanas." As all medical attention was shifted to the Pop Art guru's pressing needs, Rodgers felt somewhat hard done by: "All I could think was power to the people, because I had been there first - I know he was famous, but first come, first served!"

Disco Inferno

Friday, December 10, 2004
Mark Morford really gets steaming:
Aerosmith Sells You A Buick
In which the rock icons waste their finest song, and rock n' roll finally gasps its last

"Because make no mistake, there is no longer any even the remotest argument that says cool rebellious artistic integrity still exists as any sort of separate and distinct category from crass commercial whoredom.

"Not that it ever really did, I know, but it was a wonderful delusion, wasn't it?"
Boston Chapter of Jazz Journalists Association: Word Fest & Jazz Get-Together

"I remember when a club was a home, a comfortable place to hear great artists, artists would build a home together, everybody came to the music," said Donal Fox, one of the foremost jazz artists in the region.

Looking at the Present, the Future, and All That Jazz
Just a reminder

"We don't often hear about the poverty of musicians. There is a pop culture myth, particularly prevalent among the young, that music makes you rich, fame equals fortune, and that anyone who dwells in the magic realm of television, or has their visage in the pages of a magazine, must be reaping abundant financial reward.

"Music videos are crammed with images of conspicuous excess. Stars are photographed next to swimming pools, draped in gold jewellery. We are shown footage on the news of Robbie Williams gleefully reacting to questions about his alleged £80 million deal with EMI, screaming: 'I'm rich beyond my wildest dreams.' And, of course, he is. But he is among a tiny minority in his profession.

"Only one in 10 records makes a profit, and even fewer of those make enough money to support the livelihoods of those involved."

(From "£10,000 a year –- who'd be a musician?")

Bob Dylan on Guthrie

"I went through it (Guthrie's autobiography Bound for Glory) from cover to cover like a hurricane, totally focused on every word, and the book sang out to me like the radio. Guthrie writes like the whirlwind and you get tripped out on the sound of the words alone.

"Pick up the book anywhere, turn to any page and he hits the ground running . . . Guthrie's got a fierce poetic soul - the poet of hard crust sod and gumbo mud. Guthrie divides the world between those who work and those who don't and is interested in the liberation of the human race and wants to create a world worth living in. Bound for Glory is a hell of a book. It's huge. Almost too big."

(from "Like a Rolling Tome". Don't be put off reading this by the hokey title.)

Wednesday, December 08, 2004
This just found, which enchanted me, this writing about a personal connection with music:

Years About Music: 1974 (C for Charybdis)
Jim Capaldi
It's All Up To You

The Man Who Brought David Gest To Town

A glance back to the days of a rock critic convention, when "the worst review we got was, 'Rock Writers Convene and Find Each Other Absurd.'"
While some go for eye-to-eye confrontation, others who write about music use their influence in slightly different arenas.

How did I manage to miss this until now?

Tom Ewing, music critic and pop music buff over at NYLPM, proves he knows better than most how to get someone's goat.

The Secret History of Band Aid

"Everybody remembers Band Aid. And -- despite everything -- most people remember Band Aid 2. And now we have Band Aid 20. Which rather begs the question -- why does nobody ever talk about Band Aids 3 to 19? Take a trip down memory lane as NYLPM reminds you of the charity singles we all forgot."

(That last paragraph of Tom's, and that he'll donate a pound to a charity for a link -- My fine man, do you even know it isn't Christmas? Surely there is still time to squeeze but another drop of human kindness? 38? Please?)

Tuesday, December 07, 2004
"You May Have Bad Taste in Music": Head-on music criticism of a sort.

"Rather than writing a pretentious editorial and hiding behind a typewriter, he is not afraid to get right into the faces of those he's critiquing and tell them to their faces. Some may think of Eman Laerton as a voice for the little guy and some may just find him irritating, especially those who he deems as having bad taste in music.

"Laerton's project is called 'you have bad taste in music'.

(We're advised the films of the concert confrontations take about eight minutes to download.)
Monday, December 06, 2004
It's a rainy Monday and you might have some time on your hands. What's better than being surprised by a big thick issue of a free paper devoted entirely to music?

The SF Bay Guardian (Dec 1-7, 2004) gives the full around treatment to
"The San Francisco Sound"

Everybody say 'Yeah'
What is the San Francisco sound?
By Kimberly Chun

Strength in differences
But keep your "Kumbaya"s to yourself.
By J.H. Tompkins

Jacob's ladder
Dive into the divine maelstroms of illusive sonic truth.
By Marke B.

Welcome to the Yay
Diversity is the key to Bay Area hip-hop.
By Oliver Wang

Kick ass
You're stuck in "Hotel California," but from where you're sitting,
you can safely say S.F. still rocks.
By Mike McGuirk

New maps
The S.F.–versus–N.Y. story.
By George Chen

Porn again
Deep and sexy versus dank and sleazy.
By Peter Nicholson

Knockout blows
A view of San Francisco music from afar.
By Nate Denver

Easy to resist?
Struggling to be heard above the city's noise.
By Ken Taylor

The ambiguous pleasures of San Francisco's ’80s and ’90s concept rock.
By Will York

That San Francisco sound
Days between stations, and the free-form sounds of a city.
By Josh Wilson

Unclean living
The San Francisco sound means dirty house round these parts.
By Tomas A. Palermo

Book Alert

Irish Folk, Trad & Blues: A Secret History,
by Colin Harper and Trevor Hodgett
The Collins Press
420 pp

(from traditional pipers to why Van Morrison scooped up pennies from the stage, a view of Irish music we don't often get)
Two pieces of news that can brighten a morning and spread some cheer:

1) Today's recommended reads by Jim DeRogatis (Rare Bob Marley photos, Genya Ravan's memoirs, and a book about bands that don't really exist as bands except in someone's imagination)

2) The Ghost of Christmas Past: the old KSAN rides again with a new show by music writer Joel Selvin

(*107.7 THE BONE)
November 30, 2004)

Beginning this Sunday evening, December 5, the spirit of the legendary rock 'n roll underground radio station KSAN returns to the airwaves. For three hours each Sunday night, 107.7 The Bone (KSAN) will not only revive the call letters KSAN, but the wacky unpredictability of the country's original underground station too. Rock 'N Roll Hall of Fame deejay Tom Donohue opened KSAN as one of the first free form FM rock radio stations in the country in June 1967, the summer of love. Frank Zappa called KSAN "the hippest of all radio stations."

"At 9 p.m. on Sundays, it will be as if we¹ve flipped a switch from 107.7 The Bone's 'Classic Rock that Rocks' to the underground radio style reminiscent of KSAN," said program director Larry Sharp. "It's going to surprise a lot of people." Two shows will hit the airways: "Selvin on the City" with Joel Selvin from 9 p.m. until 10 p.m. and "Little Steven¹s Underground Garage" from 10 p.m. until Midnight.

"Selvin on the City" will be produced from show host Joel Selvin's Potrero Hill basement record library, which contains more than 25,000 albums and 15,000 singles, along with thousands of CDs, videos, tapes and memorabilia. The Selvin Collection is known around the world as a library of pop music. Look for special guests and a steady diet of musical treasures in future "Selvin On the City" sessions, such as his collection of tracks recorded at the Fillmore, lost interviews, as well as recordings that never appeared on albums and much more.

(December schedule follows.) Selvin, who has covered pop music for the S.F. Chronicle since 1970, has also written eight books on the subject, including an award-winning biography of Ricky Nelson and his best-selling account of the 60s S.F. rock scene, "Summer of Love." His top-rated radio show, "Selvin On the City," was first broadcast on KKCY-FM ("The City"), but has been missing from theairwaves for the past 18 years.

"Little Steven's Underground Garage," which debuted on April 7, 2002, launched with 20 affiliates and has grown to 112 affiliates in 138 markets across the United States and Canada. Host Steven Van Zandt is a well-known musician, songwriter and record producer, performing as a founding member of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band as well as with his own band, Little Steven and the Disciples of Soul. He also appeared on the hit series "The Sopranos."

"Selvin on the City" shows in December:
December 5: "Endless Jams" -- Lengthy informal jam sessions from rare albums and CD boxed sets including Van Morrison and John Lee Hooker, Derek and the Dominoes, Santana, the Sun Records "Million Dollar Quartet," and, of course,the Grateful Dead.
December 12: "Journey Super Jam" --A 1978 live radio special that never aired -- plus studio outtakes never before heard -- recorded in San Francisco with Journey and special guests Tom Johnston of the Doobie Brothers, the Tower of Power horns and Jo Baker and Annie Sampson of Stoneground.
December 19: "Christmas Records" -- The Selvin Collection has huge drawers full of Christmas records, many little known and obscure gems.
December 26: "Year-End" -- A year of record reviewing yielded a lot of great tracks that didn¹t make it to the top of the charts or radio station playlists.

(Source: 2004 Punmaster's MusicWire http://www.punmaster.com
Please pass on free subscriptions to the MusicWire to friends, associates,and colleagues by sending an email including a first & last name tomusicwire@punmaster.com with the word "subscribe" in the subject. Stay informed and stay in tune!)

Sunday, December 05, 2004
Here's some more on the new poster art book: It's a banner time

Two views coming from different angles, drawing the same conclusion: concerts reviews

Local Music Reviewing (David Loftus)

Music Reviewing Is Dead (Hashim)

Sunday reading room

An oldie on "Safety Pin as Signifier"

(via Subject to Change Without Notice)
The Politics of Music
November 29, 2004,
Newsweek, U.S. Edition
By Sarah Childress and Dirk Johnson

Saturday, December 04, 2004
Is anybody listening to the music?

A new kind of music-theatre scholar
By Robert Everett-Green

"In Mozart's The Magic Flute, a gang of bad guys are so enthralled by the sound of magic bells that they forget all about the mischief they had planned. That never happens to the new, cross-disciplinary kind of music-theatre scholar, who tends to avoid the music altogether. ...

"They do it because musicologists have let them. The sad fact is that the people in the best position to write about meaning in music theatre have mostly spent the past few decades avoiding the social or political meaning of anything. Their reward is to find their turf overrun by non-music scholars armed with the notion that everything is a 'text' for cultural analysis."

"[Jim Rosin's new book] 'Rock, Rhythm & Blues' is a quick read and pretty much tells you everything you need to know about the birth of rock 'n' roll in Philadelphia and the national recording artists that came from the area."

What goes around comes around

The new poster movement outlined in a book review/interview/gallery announcement entitled "Splashy graphic artwork put a new face on rock 'n' roll"

The Art of Modern Rock
by Paul Grushkin and Dennis King
Hefty 9 pounds, 492 pages

"We were just making flyers for our friends' bands," he says. "There was never a thought that it would make money or get exposure."
Friday, December 03, 2004
The Hit We Almost Missed
Bob Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone" was almost never released.

Not for Nothing

Deirdre Day-MacLeod explains why she's willing to write for free.

"I write for free but not for nothing."

(via mediabistro)
Alex Ross simply announced on 12/2/04:

"I received an ASCAP-Deems Taylor Award yesterday for my article 'Ghost Sonata' ..."

(A riveting though often frightfilled account of the interplay between
Adorno and German music. You won't be able to take your eyes off the screen.)

Thursday, December 02, 2004
Book Alert

I'm remiss in not having already mentioned:

Let Fury Have the Hour: The Punk Rock Politics of Joe Strummer

But Steve Rubio more than makes up for my world wearied oversight in his unabashed reactions to a mere book about the Clash with:

I'm History

and Does Charlie Surf

Book Alert

A savvy look at Jazz and Civil Rights Playing on a World Stage, a book review by Jonathan Yardley)

Jazz Ambassadors Play the Cold War
By Penny M. Von Eschen
Harvard Univ.
329 pp.

In the mid-1950s, one of the world's most influential Americans was a man most Americans had never heard of: Willis Conover, whose "Music USA" broadcasts over the Voice of America reached, according to Penny Von Eschen, "an estimated 30 million people in 80 countries -- a number that would more than triple, to 100 million, over the next decade." Taped in Washington, Conover's nightly program brought jazz to listeners everywhere. At a time when Cold War tensions were at their peak and American popular culture was still revered rather than resented, "Music USA" was a powerful goodwill ambassador:

"While Conover shunned overt propaganda, he believed deeply in the political importance and potential of jazz. He described jazz as 'structurally parallel to the American political system' and saw its structure as embodying American freedom; 'Jazz musicians agree in advance on what the harmonic progression is going to be, in what key, how fast and how long, and within that agreement they are free to play anything they want.' For people behind the Iron Curtain, 'jazz represents something that is entirely different from their traditions.' Conover believed that people who were denied freedom in their political culture could detect a sense of freedom in jazz."

The State Department bureaucracy, no citadel of imaginative thought, somehow figured out that Conover had a good thing going and decided to follow his example. Beginning in the spring of 1956, it sponsored a series of foreign tours by "jazz ambassadors" that spanned two decades and had a real if incalculable effect on the world's perception of the United States. Not merely did it send jazz musicians, it sent black jazz musicians, at precisely the moment when events in the South had focused attention on the grievous state of race relations in America.

(jump from the link and read the whole thing!)

The funniest line written this year by a music critic:

"Just now I found myself typing the sentence, 'La Mer, of course, depicts the sea.' "

(Alex Ross on "Book Fatigue")


In "Boners and Male Privilege Rights -- It's the Tiny Lucky Mailbag", Jessica Hopper presents the best mail she's received all month. One missive, sent as a response to her article in this year's Da Capo (Best Music Writing), seemed to help prove her thesis.

"Here’s one of the deep, dark secrets of my industry: It’s not that music critics are frustrated musicians who long to step into the spotlight themselves. Most of us just crave more of a dialogue with the musicians whom we review -- not to pester them about their private lives, but to make some headway in the eternal debate about what separates good music from the bad."

(This lead-in grabbed my attention, and I was beguiled, believing this was the beginning of a thoughtful look at some of the tensions associated with (published) writing interacting with (well known or recognized) music. But the article soon descended into describing an email exchange with a singer who reacted to a flip remark. )

Elsewhere on today's internet, a pained look at a "blacklisted writer" who once rubbed elbows with some who have achieved legendary status. He writes about those experiences now, and explains why in the "Go Between".

Wednesday, December 01, 2004
"Every documentarian and nonfiction writer faces this conundrum. The film, the book, the article is not reality. It is a crafted object with stipulations of structure, pace, and order that can conflict with reality. Reality is always messy and often inchoate. The trick for the filmmaker or writer is to order this mess in a way that remains faithful to fact, that doesn’t sacrifice truth to the storyteller’s imperative. "

(Dale Keiger was knocked out by Dig!, the film tracing the trajectories of the Brian Jonestown Massacre & Dandy Warhols)
Taj Mahal recalls a slew of famous rock stars who shimmied on the dance floor while he was playing up on stage in L.A. back starting out in the sixties. Also, a new release featuring rare footage of Taj in performance in those early years.
Ron Jacobs on Big Bill Broonzy.

If you haven't read this fascinating piece, get going, you really should. A recollection of how a person was introduced to the music of a blues legend, and what he came to learn about it all.

"Dan Graham has written rock criticism, made movies and fashioned books, all steps in a four-decade exploration of the connection and conflict between the worlds of art and music." His latest project: A multimedia collaboration for a rock n roll puppet show, "Don't Trust Anyone Over Thirty".

Elsewhere in today's music news, listen to music critics in conversation on Bob Dylan's new book, Chronicles: "Zimmerman Unbound"

Compiling the best online articles about music so there will be more of both in the future. In periods of drought, the reader will be innundated by my own blogs on the matters.

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