Sunday, May 25, 2008

Civilizing Influences

I was in Paris a week ago. It seems ridiculous now, as it did before we went. The older of my two older brothers and I went to spend four days with our other brother, the oldest, and his family, who have been living there for the past year (academics, years off, Canadians). The goal was to eat, drink and walk, basically. We weren’t even set on going to the Louvre. We started off pretty strong, heading to the neighborhood market, buying a big hunk of pork for roasting, some figs, five or six different kinds of really unbelievably stinky cheese [the French-speaking brother told the cheese dude (who, by the way, was wearing a beret) that he wanted some “flavorful” cheeses, which evidently is Gallic code for gross], we had some pear cider from Brittany, and there were pates of rabbit and duck, plus some ultra-thin cured meats, and a sausage called andouillette that really was cloacal. Bottles and bottles of wine. Righteous coffee. Croissants and fruit tarts in the mornings. Later there was foie gras, blood sausage, escargot, more rabbit, steak tartar. It was ugly. It was good that we were only there for four days, because with the U.S. dollar sucking so noisily, the fiscal pain would have risen to levels comparable to the self-inflicted spiritual and intestinal pain.

Here’s what I learned: the French are serious about politeness. They’re so polite that they’ll be really rude to tell you how impolite you are. It’s intense. Don’t fuck around with bonjour and pardon without the proper title affixed to it.

The whole thing about French people making out in parks is true. They do.
Same with baguettes. Everybody’s got one.
They like to smoke, more proud about it than we are.
They know how to dress.
The food, as is the case in Spain and Italy, is just about 45 times better than what we have here, just on average, across the board.

The reason everyone loves Paris so much is that it’s basically taken the idea of civilization and
perfected it. The public transit system works, and even bozos from another country can use it with ease. There’s culture everywhere. History and art in your face all the time. We heard a street musician nailing the Bach solo cello suites at this courtyard, with those tunnels of leafy canopies and long shady walkways lining a sunny square. Saw a guy singing in a sort of counter tenor style; he was posed with this 18th century-looking velvet hat, with his hands behind his back, turned rigidly to one side, singing some castrato-sounding aria with accompaniment on a boom box. Made me want to go eat some more blood sausage.

And there’s no time here, but seeing the dizzying profusion of religious imagery at the Louvre made me wonder all over again if maybe the majority of human energy from the last 2000 years in the West has been devoted to fetishizing sado-masochism, dressed up admirably as spirituality. With tourists relentlessly snapping pictures of themselves in front of old masters, you have to think about the insatiable hunger for frozen glimpses.

The French have it better. And the return to the manic tumor-inducing bustle of the banana bin that is the work week was traumatic. I thought all my hair might just fall out in clumps. Or else patches of it would turn bright white like in a Crash Test Dummies song. Or maybe I’d just start choking on bile.

As is always the case, I had to try and recover from my gout-packing vacation by taking the opposite approach for a bit. Going all ascetic, monk-like, miserably deprived. I made lentils and roasted vegetables. It was short-lived.

The other day, as my heart-rate climbed and climbed as I got closer to the work place, this song came on the iPod. It’s one of many great Ray Davies songs glorifying the idea of chucking it all and saying “thanks, but no thanks” to civilization. This is from Lola/Powerman, which Wes Anderson mined wisely for the soundtrack to the Darjeeling Express (a movie that in some ways resembled my three-bros trip to France). If someone hasn’t already written a post-colonial senior thesis on “Apeman” -- with its Caribbean borrowings, its now-offensive equation of voodoo with primate living – well, it’s time to get on it.

“Apeman” - the Kinks

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Not a Puritan

     I love the fact that this guy shares his name with the celebrated theologian.  Do they have anything in common?  Let's see.  Jonathan Edwards the preacher/theologian was born in Connecticut;  Jonathan Edwards the singer/songwriter was born in Minnesota.  Jonathan Edwards the preacher/theologian formulated a metaphysical system that was designed to challenge Aristotelianism; Jonathan Edwards the singer/songwriter formulated a country/folk/rock sound that was popular in the early '70s.  Hmm, I guess not.
      This is yet another disc culled from the motherlode (so to speak) I wrote about in a previous post (here it is, if'n you hain't read it yet).   I seem to remember hearing this song a long time ago, when I was a kid, but I never knew who sang it until I found this record.  It has a nice 'n cozy sort of homespun feel to it, and yes, there are times when you just kinda feel like you'd like to do what he's singing about.  It doesn't seek to challenge Aristotelianism or anything, but it's still a worthwhile pursuit, in my book.  (I like how he says "put" instead of "get" a good buzz on.  We could quibble over the semantics for hours).  The harmonica part may be annoying to some, but all in all it's an enjoyable little ditty.
     Jonathan Edwards the preacher/theologian died from complications following a smallpox inoculation.  Jonathan Edwards the singer/songwriter is still alive & performing, as far as I know.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Contact, Pt. 3: Lady Marmalade In Space

     First of all, is it not just so awesome that people dressed up like this, in the name of...something..., back in the Seventies?  Yes, yes it is, thank you.  
     This tasty bit o' space funk is from the same LaBelle album (Nightbirds) that gave us "Lady Marmalade", and you can hear it.  But in this tune they're not warbling about some hooker on the streets of New Orleans.  Oh no.  They're singing about children.  Space children.  (This was one of the records from the lesbian treasure trove of which I wrote previously).  
     Boom.  Genius.
(P.S. Read, or re-read, Contact Parts 1 & 2 if you must).

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Midden Mind: the White Dub Workflow

If there were a Mt. Rushmore of Driftwood-ism, if would be adorned with the faces of Percy Sledge, Bread, the Bee Gees, Buffy St. Marie, and the youngest member of the pantheon would be our man Karl Blau – multi-instrumentalist, wielder of sewing machines, chameleon-like sideman, white dub pioneer, hijiki hipster and he-who-communes-with-the-corral. Blau is the Augustus Pablo of the Pacific Northwest. I just stumbled on these three downloads from Blau’s new record, AM (the songs were inspired by the poems of A.A. Milne). “Stream” could be filed next to your Beefheart, Polvo, Jim O’Rourke and any other melt-guitar visionary. “Spring Morning” is so completely excavated, like a sonic archeological site. You find tantalizing shards, inscrutable bone and burnt something-or-others from the midden mind. All of these songs have the new animism, the spirit worship. This music has a different, porridge-like, sub-aquatic viscosity.

“Spring Morning” - Karl Blau
“Lake King’s Daughter” - Karl Blau
“Stream” - Karl Blau

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Carolina Dreamin'

     My in-laws live in a smallish town in South Carolina, and  every few months or so the missus and I go down there for a visit.  There isn't really very much to do, which is kind of nice, but when we feel like venturing forth we'll sometimes go downtown to check out the thrift stores and see if there's anything worth spending a few bucks on.  There's one store in particular that's run by a crazy cat lady, and although it can be a somewhat disgusting experience to go in there--you risk being exposed to foul cat smells, dust balls, decaying book matter, etc.--there are usually a few good records to be found, which makes it worthwhile.  (The last time we were in there, the lady tried to foist some stale holiday cookies on us, but we were somehow able to escape unharmed).  So this post is really about a bunch of music that doesn't have much in common except for where it was found.
     One record I scored there is this Ornette Coleman disc from 1976 called Body Meta.  (I was reminded of it whilst reading a post of Mr. Poncho's that mentioned the recent New Yorker article about him).  I don't think this one is considered to be on par with some of his 
other LPs, but I've been enjoying the out-thereness of it lately.  I like listening to the guitar--there's some nice distorted playing, and there's actually what you'd call a riff happening in this tune.  The record has a gatefold sleeve with some psychedelic-looking artwork and minimal text (the cover is by one Chief Z. K. Oloruntoba).   (I think there was supposed to be a booklet, but it's missing).  The players include Bern Nix and Charlie Ellerbee on guitar, Jamaaladeen Tacuma on bass, and drummer Roland Shannon Jackson.
     I don't know about you, but it's hard for me to resist buying a record with the title How About Uke?  So that's what I did.  The playing is fine, not much more than just pretty, but it's a neat little curiosity, especially for those of us who are fans of the ukulele.  From "free jazz" to "square jazz" in one easy step.
     Isn't this just one of the greatest songs?  Ever?  (From the 1975 Capricorn LP Struttin' My Stuff, which includes the tunes "Slick Titty Boom" and "I Love The Life I Lead").
     Finally, to the Mamas and the Papas.  The record is called If You Can Believe Your Eyes And Ears, and it includes "Monday, Monday", "California Dreamin'" and "Go Where You Wanna Go".  Good songs, but we've heard all of them enough times, haven't we?  Here's something else from it, written by John Phillips.  If you know what I mean.