Sunday, November 18, 2018

Cassavetes' Gloria revisited: Gloria, I never knew ye

Back during my days of obsession with John Cassavetes' canon, I never was that impressed with  Gloria - a film he initially apparently wrote as a kid's movie, then ended up directing himself, at the request of his wife Gena Rowlands, when she ended up getting the lead role. She plays, in case you've missed it, a tough New Yorker with associations with the mob who ends up protecting a six year old Puerto Rican kid from her former friends. Back when I first saw the movie, I found the kid annoying, Rowlands unconvincing, the screenplay corny, and the premise trivial; you can find elements of Cassavetes' concerns - the individual versus the mob, for example, better developed in The Killing of a Chinese Bookie - if you are sensitive to them, but it basically just played (I thought) like a genre film, and not a very compelling one. Even if I had liked it, I don't go to Cassavetes for my genre movies, generally. I think I saw it twice: the first time filled with expectation and no awareness that I wasn't about to see something on the level of Faces or A Woman Under the Influence, and once, having read Ray Carney explaining and defending the film in one of his early books on Cassavetes, trying to come to terms with what it really was, to forgive it for not having been what I was looking for. I failed to achieve that end: it was still mostly just annoying. 

That last viewing was maybe thirty years ago, and - thanks to it being not so easy to find on DVD, and my genuinely not having liked it much even on second viewing - I was more than happy to leave it back there, as not being a real Cassavetes film, a lesser work, a digression in his canon - maybe better than Big Trouble, which I also haven't seen since my initial attempts, but still a failure. I mean, it almost always happens that the films I rejected or found problematic in my early 20's, should I feel compelled to revisit them, don't improve with time and maturity; I almost always end up feeling the same way, I did, and at best, end up rubber-stamping my own past evaluations:  "Oh, yes, I remember why I didn't like this the first time! I must have been a pretty perceptive young man." While in some cases it does happen that films I loved in my youth don't impress me much now, it seldom goes the other way. There really aren't many films that end up meriting a complete reappraisal, that turn on their axis, benefit from my years of living and having exposed myself to a wider range of cinema and end up seeming like great movies. So there aren't many cases where I end up second guessing myself and going back. 

Well, I sure am glad I did that with Gloria. A few scattered observations before I duck out the door for breakfast:

1. The Twilight Time Blu-Ray looks gorgeous,  and being able to appreciate the filmic qualities of Gloria more - the colours, the framing, the loving depiction of New York locations, even the colours of Gena's costumes and the jazzy/ painterly title sequence - really, really add to the experience of the film, which I'd previously only ever seen on VHS tapes. (Note: the images I'm illustrating this with are not screengrabs from the Blu, just things I found floating around online, so they're not a fair index of how good this BD looks). 

2. The story and performances actually work. The ending maybe is still a little hokey, but in fact, Gena and the kid do a pretty great job. You start to realize that, while not a "good actor," the kid - 
John Adames - is actually doing interesting and real "kidlike" things, like trying to talk tough or presume a level of maturity he doesn't have; the performance, as scuplted by Cassavetes, is almost a commentary on things that children DON'T usually do in movies. And at least one close-up of an angry Gloria stands up there as one of Rowlands' better moments on screen, where she really, really, really gets to show how tough she can be. 

3.  The film has a great time capsule quality of New York in the late 1970's, and there are faces at every turn that will give you pleasure - some quite random, like the black guy in the Subway in the "I'm a Pepper" t-shirt, and some because the actors will be people you recognize (Buck Henry, brief appearances from Tom Noonan and Lawrence Tierney, and a small but memorable role from Cassavetes' regular Val Avery). It plays as a sort of fond portrait of New York and New Yorkers. And aspects of that definitely do relate to Cassavetes' other films, even if they're on a lesser level of magnitude; you might note from movies like Love Streams that he has a particular fondness for taxi cabs, and surely this is his most cab-intensive film, with some of the taxi drivers - who I presume are almost always played by real taxi drivers - getting close ups all their own.  

4. The soundtrack is great! Bill Conti is the composer. I've probably enjoyed many of his other scores, but this one really stood out. It's good. 

5. It also turns out to be a pretty good place to engage your non-Cassavetes-obsessed friends, family, and spouses with his work, a pretty gentle stepping off point - or at least that's how it worked here. Erika enjoyed the story as much as I did, to my delight. Truth is, I have been kind of scared to expose her to Cassavetes' "real" films, in part to protect her from their more demanding/ harrowing qualities (she doesn't do "emotionally harrowing" all that well, as witnessed by the traumas of having shown her, without sufficient preparation, Lars von Trier's Dancer in the Dark); in part to protect myself from being hurt if, say, she doesn't get/ like them; and in part because I haven't been consuming much Cassavetes myself lately and am not sure how *I* will feel on revisiting his more demanding movies. Anyhow, I feel like we're now one step closer to being able to sit down to A Woman Under the Influence. Or maybe Love Streams. Or...

6. If Gloria is, in fact, not particularly great as a "Cassavetes film," if you can just park the baggage that comes with that name, it works just fine as a genre film. It's a good little gangster movie, a compelling story. There's a reason there's been one official remake (of the same name, with Sharon Stone in the lead - which, note, I have not seen) and a few obvious homages (Julia, with Tilda Swinton, which I have seen, and loved, is maybe the best of them; I don't care for The Professional - Leon, whatever - and I haven't seen Ultraviolet). If you shake loose the expectations and hopes that you might have, you might find yourself, as I did, pleasantly engaged with its story, caring about its characters, and - at the end, if you watch it without trying to force themes onto it from Cassavetes' other films - you might discover that there are actually a few of those present after all; you just aren't going to be pummeled by them, which is what I fear is how I'm going to feel the next time I try A Woman Under the Influence. In its own way, Gloria is a Cassavetes' film, after all - but a somewhat gentler, subtler one (which may seem an odd thing to say for a movie that has a car flip over in it, maybe, but there it is). And it'd be a great film to watch in proximity to those other very Cassavetean non-Cassavetes films, Mikey and Nickey (coming soon on Blu Ray from Criterion!) and Machine Gun McCain. 

Machine Gun McCain is still my favourite of the three, mind you, but Gloria has happily found a home next to it on my shelf and in my estimation.  

Sunday, October 28, 2018

The Strangest Game of Scrabble in My Life

One of the few games I play on my phone is Scrabble. It's been a favourite of mine since childhood. I'm pretty good - my scores, especially on the phone, tend to be routinely over 400 points, and I have been over 600 points - both on the phone and in physical games - on more than one occasion. I don't usually play with other people, since I'm not that big on connecting with strangers online these days, and don't want to annoy my friends by beating them too badly. Sometimes I do play against Erika, when and if she doesn't mind my winning - usually if we're stuck waiting for a ferry or something, but occasionally while we're in bed, passing a phone back and forth.

Last night we played the strangest game of Scrabble in my life. My app, which is old, has been malfunctioning for awhile: when you pass the phone and start your turn, you can see the letters of the previous player still on your board. You have to press some button on the game like "pass," for example, then cancel the pass option, in order for your own letters to revert to you; a normal game can then be played. But my already faulty app got transferred to a new phone yesterday, and we ended up with new problems manifesting themselves: now the other person's letters, for example, sometimes wouldn't go away if you tried the trick mentioned above. Sometimes you'd be in the process of playing them and suddenly your letters would revert unexpectedly, of their own accord, but sometimes you'd end up playing the letters of the other person (and getting points for the word); at such times, when Erika was playing with my letters for her turn, her letters would sometimes appear for me, so we were essentially swapping identities. Finally, and best of all, as an added, "bonus" malfunction, the Q appeared twice - was played once, then re-appeared on someone's board, then disappeared again; and the Z, of which there is also only one tile, appeared twice, and WAS ALLOWED TO BE PLAYED TWICE. This is an actual photo Erika took of my phone screen: note the Za/ Zags and the Words/Waltz, each using a different virtual Z:

I must say, this malfunctioning Scrabble - arbitrarily changing your letters mid-play, switching our identities, and suddenly providing extra copies of high-value letters - was pretty entertaining to play. We had no input into how or when the game would change its rules, so we had to continually adapt to new and chaotic circumstances - just like in life!  There may be a fun idea here for game developers: for people who routinely play straightforward, rule-governed board games on their phones, create a new app called "Break My App," that completely gnarls the rules the game operates by, introduces random rule-changes and malfunctions that the game player must then figure out and adjust to: "What happened there? How do we play the game now?"

The only trick is, it can make figuring out who won challenging. (For the record, it seemed like the lack of predictable rules put Erika at an advantage last night; she won, though it may be because occasionally the game assigned her my points!). 

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Unleash the Archers: A Brittney Slayes interview and a couple of outtakes

I did a big email interview with Brittney Slayes, apropos of tonight's show at the Rickshaw and Unleash the Archers' new album. 

I left out a couple of questions from that piece, however - they seemed digressive, and/or my questions seemed, after she answered them, to have been unnecessary, the wrong ones to have asked, or they just didn't easily fit into the flow of the piece. 

I also gotta apologize to guitarists Andrew Kingsley and Grant Truesdell and drummer Scott Buchanan - I was aware that I had not used their names in the piece, and had hoped at the very least that I could stick them in the caption, but that isn't always in my control! Fantastic musicianship on the album, which I don't do justice to in the interview - though anyone wanting a taste of the playing might want to start here

All that said, here are a couple of outtakes:

A: Just wondering – were you a Dio fan? (He’s sort of the king of myth-based metal lyrics by me). Ever see him live? Ever interact with him?

B: Yes I am definitely a big fan of Dio, his lyrical style is super inspirational for me. Every song tells a story! Unfortunately I never got to see him live nor meet him though, one of my bigger regrets in life for sure!

A: Curious if you have an opinion on this, but why do people who get into myth seem often to swing to the right, politically? Is there something about fascism and myth that go together hand in hand? Do fascists just love to exploit myth to their own ends, or is there something in the deep waters of myth, with stories of heroes and battles, that is inherently fascist?

B: Perhaps the fact that myth lends itself to open interpretation allows right-leaning persons to mold them into devices for furthering their political agendas, using them as points of reference for what to and what not to do in accordance with their views and opinions. All things can be twisted and interpreted to reflect a particular ideology, in my opinion, which is one of the reasons I found studying history to be so interesting. In one of my songs I wrote “History can only be written by the victors” because that is what we were taught to be the truth. Every text book, every memoir, every pamphlet is twisted by bias and opinion, nothing is really fact, especially concerning myth and history. Everything we have and know of the past was written by someone that had a particular reason for recording it, some bias, so you can take anything you read and use it to push your agenda, but it doesn’t mean I’m going to listen or consider it to be ‘truth’ just because it’s been passed down through the ages.

A: Also curious if you ever read Nietzsche or reference him in your lyrics...?

B: No reference to Nietzsche, although his ideologies are fun to debate I try to avoid any and all suggestion of political, ideological or sociological leanings in my music.
A: Trivial question, but do you (or the band) have favourite movies? Favourite books?

B: Favourite movies: Willow, Fifth Element, Interstellar (in that order)

Favourite books: The Black Company series by Glen Cook, the Revelation Space series by Alastair Reynolds, The Passage series by Justin Cronin.

Thanks, Brittney - see you tonight! 

Sunday, October 07, 2018

No Dead Boys for me! (But you should go!)

Just a little announcement: I will not be at the Dead Boys, November 10th at Pat's Pub. I have Other Plans That I Will Not Change on that weekend, I have just recalled. I take consolation in knowing that two smaller punks can probably fit in Pat's in the space I would have taken up; plus those of you who would rather not run into me at gigs can take heart and buy tickets accordingly. I congratulate the event organizer (whose initials are also DB!) for pulling this off - getting a last minute gig booked for the band when he saw they were coming as close as Bellingham. I applaud, too, his choice of opening acts: I don't know the Gung-Hos (though holy shit, I kinda want to; they seem pretty musically appropriate for this show) but having the Alien Boys on a bill with the Dead Boys is an inspired gesture. By the by, I only just figured out that the Alien Boys are PROBABLY NAMED FOR A SONG BY THE WIPERS! - speaking of American punk prototype bands out there. I dunno if I will be able to do more press for this but we'll see. Now go buy your tickets while you still can.

Saturday, October 06, 2018

Gerry Hannah writes again

It's nice to see a passionate (yet reasonable/ rational) new piece of writing from Gerry Hannah. He blogs pretty infrequently - his previous post was from before Justin Trudeau was elected - and he hasn't been coming round with the New Questioning Coyote Brigade lately (his roots-oriented rock band, which offered twangier arrangements of Subhumans classics, songs from his neglected but excellent solo album Coming Home - which I interviewed him about here as well as the occasional surprise cover; last I saw them, the Byrds' "Wasn't Born to Follow" was in his set, and he was talking about a reworking of Steppenwolf's "The Ostrich," which was a song I actually didn't know. I've since bought a few of those more political Steppenwolf albums and appreciate the tip).

I have about fifteen minutes before I have to get in the shower to get ready for work, so I don't have much time to contribute to the discussion, but the thing that hit home the most for me in the article was the section dealing with racism, in which Gerry talks about trying to have a reasonable argument with someone on Facebook in response to an article entitled "Don't Kid Yourself, All White People Are Racists." Gerry writes:
I found the second half of the headline disturbing and I said so. My comment went like this: All people are racist. In other words; all people have racist tendencies. The difference is that some folks acknowledge it, accept that it’s undesirable and work to change it, while others don’t—regardless of their race. I went on to say, that I don’t believe in what I called “racial essentialism”. By racial essentialism, I meant the attributing of a wholly subjective, negative quality, to a particular race. And I pointed out that this reminded me of early separatist feminism, when men in the Left were unequivocally told that “all men are rapists”. I said it’s time to move beyond such unhelpful rhetoric.

Amen - though a friend of mine points out that Gerry may be trying to "reason with a fever," here, which will probably be the best turn of phrase I've heard all day. But his writing brought to mind a very striking, if brief, discussion that I had with some people on Facebook myself (it actually involved someone Gerry may or may not be familiar with, if he paid attention to the later incarnations of Tunnel Canary; the new vocalist for the band Mya Mayhem, was one of the responders, though she posts under a different name on Facebook. She was part of a large article I did during the time of these reunions, so I'd interacted with her before, though had had no cause to disagree with her).

In any case, someone had posted an article - I think dealing with Black Lives Matter; hell, it might have been the same article Gerry  mentions - that argued, "essentially" - I will try to do justice to it, though I may fail - that because white people existed at the top of a historical hierarchy, using racism to put and keep people of colour down, and benefitting from this injustice, only they could be racist. It was impossible for people of colour to be racist against white people, the way the concept was being defined, because people of colour - whatever they might say about white people, were punching up, so to speak - they were addressing the long history of systemic injustice, so whatever they might say about white people, it wasn't actually "about" race; it was about the systemic, historical injustice, which they had been on the receiving end of. So they could say whatever they liked.

I did a deep double-take. It seemed like an interesting move, but a deeply dodgy one, and it brought to mind all sorts of prejudices that I've encountered over the years, having lived in Japan, and worked with ESL students over the years, that I had chalked up as non-white racism, ranging from a Japanese confiding in me that they thought black people were scary to a Brazilian student (who I guess technically was white but his accent and darker complexion would have marked him as a racial other in North America) trying to engage me in discussion about The Protocols of the Elders of Zion (which he'd read in translation). Or what about Jews saying nasty things about Arabs? Or what about Arabs saying nasty things about Jews? Would groups who weren't white saying prejudicial things about groups that were also not white not count as racism? I had always understood racism as a behaviour that people from any group could partake in, by overgeneralizing negatively about another group, white or not.

Understand: I actually agreed with some of what the original poster was saying - it IS a different thing for someone from an oppressed minority, from someone who has been on the receiving end of systemic injustice, to make an overgeneralization. For example, when a pissed-off Japanese accused me of "having won the war" at a bar, referring to America's victory in World War II, which he held me, as a white person, responsible for, I didn't get all hostile and indignant (I believe I retorted, "won the war? I was born in 1968!" - but I didn't hold it against the guy, actually; it happens he was a prick, in other ways, but that particular bit of  prickishess was kind of understandable and interesting to encounter). For another example, when Robert Fisk was nearly beaten to death by rock-wielding Afghan villagers, as a representative of the enemy race, he was quite able to forgive them; he understood where they were coming from. Racial hatred IS a different thing when it's coming from victims towards perceived victimizers. I had no problem with that. But it's still racism, and it seemed really, really dubious to try to define "racism" as something that only white people could do to non-whites.

Or for instance - and this was the story I actually posted on the Facebook page - what about me? I explained in a brief post that when I was in Japan, I briefly explored the dating scene; I was somewhat shy and tentative at the time - I was kinda awkward with women from the same culture, and even less certain of myself in a totally different one - but at one point, I put an ad in an English-language magazine, saying I wanted to date Japanese women. I got two responses very quickly: both from Japanese men, writing nasty notes telling me that they didn't want foreigners dating their women and that I should take my evil white ways home. Yankee Go Home, essentially.  I can't quote exactly - it was 20 years ago, almost - but surely such notes (I wrote on Facebook) counted as racism.

Mya answered - quite reasonably, though my mind reeled at her response - that because what I encountered was not SYSTEMIC, but isolated incidents - it was bigotry, not racism. Racism could only exist in the context of systemic injustice.

I out Mya here because hell, maybe she could explain this further (I have no issue with her). I continued the discussion by saying that seemed like an odd act of hair-splitting to me, and that I was quite comfortable thinking of racism that someone from any group could do to someone from any other group, by overgeneralizing in a negative way; it didn't seem necessary to me to re-define the concept. It might be more forgiveable and understandable if someone was punching up, but it didn't make it less racist.

That's when one of her friends weighed in - someone whose name I had forgotten, save that it was on the hippy-dippy side, like "Cheerful Unicorn" or "Whispering Rainbow" or something like that - to wave their finger and say that one does not "explore" relationships with people of colour, and that if that was my attitude, I deserved what I got.

At which point I exited the argument. It was, in fact, an interesting argument, and it would have been nice to pursue it, but it seemed like in fact, the point was not to have an intelligent discussion about anything, but to build in-groups by waging war against out-groups, such as the one I was clearly a member of. Well, whatever: fuck these people, I thought.

Anyhow, that's what Gerry's piece made me think about, but there's a lot more to it than that, so go read his original post, linked above. Nice to see you writing again, Gerry! (Any new music coming out?). 

Saturday, September 29, 2018

In Conversation with Hardy Fox: "A Lip Involved in Both; or, It's Not Just Toast" (from 2011)

There has been some ambiguity this past week about whether Hardy Fox - the now-acknowledged principal composer of the Residents - is still alive, but it appears that he is. A week or so ago, the Residents sent out what seemed to be a final communique from Hardy, which suggested he is either now departed or was so soon to be that it made no real difference. Fans of the band were leaving messages on Facebook and telling Hardy how the Residents have changed their lives. Hardy's website also, as of a few days ago, had a banner that gave his year of birth and death (1945-2018) - though that has since disappeared, and possibly was something that Fox had posted himself (maybe he took it down, himself, too). 

The slight ambiguity here (whether deliberate or not) has prevented people from posting obituaries - the Wire seemed to go ahead and then apparently retracted the piece, since it's no longer on their site. There is a communique from the Residents online that clarifies matters, saying that  "Mr. Fox is still alive," and adding that "we prefer to celebrate his life rather than dwell on his impending exit" - though it is, as always, unclear what they will tell us, should Fox actually pass (it would not be entirely out-of-keeping with the bands ethos to leave things ambiguous).

But in the name of celebrating his life, then, it seemed like a good time to re-post my old interview with Hardy, since it can hardly hurt for people's thoughts to be with him, now. (It might not help much either, but I guess that's down to what you believe). Fox was the Resident I spoke to in 2011 for the Georgia Straight in regard the Residents' Rickshaw show, on the Talking Light tour. Fox did a pretty amazing thing that night that convinced me he was not, in fact, an active member of the band, all evidence to the contrary: after they finished, and I was coming out of the doors to the theatre into the Rickshaw's lobby, I ran into Fox entering the Rickshaw from outside. (I recognized him, hailed him, and spoke to him, so there's no question it was Hardy). While other members of the band, on a subsequent tour, confirmed that yes, indeed, Hardy Fox had been onstage that night - his final appearance in Vancouver, it would transpire - his sudden appearance at the front of the venue, that evening, when he had, to all appearances, only just gotten offstage and should still have been in the back completely convinced me he was not actually an active Resident, after all. (Did he go out the back door and jog through the alley, up Main Street, and around the corner to be able to fake people out? Dunno, but he sure fooled me). No idea what actually happened, but I drew conclusions from it, which, it turns out, were incorrect.

In any event, I enjoyed talking with and meeting Hardy Fox (and Homer Flynn, too, whom I spoke to the next time the band was in town). They both seemed very down to earth, generous, and plain spoken people, whose outward demeanor in person gave no clue as to the deep weirdness that they put in their art. That comes somewhat as a relief, actually. It wouldn't feel entirely safe or comfortable talking to someone who was actually an acknowledged member of a band so strange; the veil of anonymity around the Cryptic Corporation made it a little easier to proceed (though also harder to have a deep conversation about their music, since you can't/ couldn't be sure they were in fact the people responsible for making it).

I might have published bits of it before, but in any event, here's most of the conversation with Hardy that made up that Straight article.

How should I be describing your role, exactly?

Well – I have a unique situation, in that I go back, basically, to childhood with these people, and coming out to San Francisco in the 1970’s, I just found myself falling in with them, as interesting people, and helping them out in doing things, until eventually, I turned it into a career. As far as what my role is, it’s referred to usually as “manager,” because that’s something that people have a definition for. But in reality, it’s like someone who is eager and willing to do a lot of the footwork to help make things happen.

You’re not at all musically involved with the band?

I’ve played. I’ve played on albums. I’m not really musical, but I don’t know if they are, either!

Are you on the current tour?

I will be going, yeah. I don’t always do all the shows, but I do most of them when I can.

Is that true of other people involved with the Residents – that they come and go?

They have different staff in the United States than they do in Europe. Some people just do the US, and then there’ll be different people in Europe. We’re not talking onstage, we’re talking offstage.

Onstage there’s a core membership that is relatively unchanging since the 1970’s.

Oh yeah, definitely.

Okay. I’m convinced – I’m probably wrong, but I’m convinced that I can hear Captain Beefheart singing on Not Available – that one of the voices is his. Is there any truth to the rumour that he was (likely mythological Bavarian avant-gardist and guru to the band) N. Senada?

Well, that’s pretty easy – neither are true!

And you would tell me.

I would tell you, because if you do a little research on Captain Beefheart, you’ll find him trashing the Residents in print on several occasions.

Oh, really!

He was not a fan.

Oh, I didn’t know that. That’s a shame.

The Residents were a fan of his, he wasn’t a fan of the Residents.

He seemed like such a crusty man.

Well, the Residents have worked with Eric Drew Feldman, quite a lot, actually, and he was like, one of Beefheart’s people. So we have lots of information – but we won’t go into that, you’re not calling to talk about Beefheart!


But no, no, no – Beefheart would never have been on a Residents record. Never, absolutely ever.

And the Theory of Obscurity (that “an artist can only produce pure art when the expectations and influences of the outside world are not taken into consideration”) in no way derived from anything Beefheart said.

Oh, goodness no.

Well, that’s one rumour shot to shit! Good! Sorry to ask about identity questions, but I was also wondering about something that came up in discussions among members of the fan club, I gather – a theory that the Residents were carpenters who came to California in the 1970’s to assemble instruments for Harry Partch. It’s a wonderful story, though it’s probably not true.

No, it’s not, but I like it well enough that we could say it’s true!

(laughs)… Really?

Nah, I guess that’s not fair. No, I’ve never even heard that one. Where did you hear that?

I found it on the internet. So… I actually – I don’t even know if Hardy Fox is your real name.

It’s my real name. It was my father’s name.

Oh really? Okay. But let me explain - I was also struck – the name Homer Flynn seems like it might be a pseudonym, and Hardy Fox seems like it might be a pseudonym; and both names have a two syllable first name, beginning with H, and a one syllable last name. Just like Harry Partch. I mean, there’s the F/P difference, but they’re similar sounds – a labiodental fricative versus a bilabial stop, but there’s lip involved in both. Hardy Fox, Homer Flynn, Harry Partch. But…

(laughs). I think you’re stretching it. I think you could probably invent some connection with anything. No, I love Harry Partch’s work, I love his tonalities and his tunings, and he was in Sausalito. But I don’t know exactly when – I don’t know about him personally that well; I don’t even know when he died.

1974, so there is the chance for some brief overlap between him and the Residents, or that he could have been aware of them. I don’t know.

I don’t know either. Yeah, I have no idea. But I did not have any connection with him or any of the people he worked with. I did see a concert one time that was done on his instruments. That was after he was dead, though – they had organized his instruments and his musicians to play some of his compositions, and it was quite remarkable. That was here in San Francisco – something like that may never happen again, I don’t know. I do wonder what happened to his instruments, though.

There’s a Hal Willner project,
Weird Nightmare, that’s recorded on his instruments.

Oh really?

Some of them, anyhow.

Yeah, I’m not familiar with it.

It’s his tribute to Charles Mingus, so it has a bunch of his music, interpreted by a really diverse crowd of artists – Diamanda Galas is on it, Leonard Cohen, Chuck D., Henry Rollins, with Harry Partch’s instruments being used.

Wow. Y’see, I would think that someone would license those or something for a sampled set, for samplers, for people to use!

Yeah! So the Residents have never had contact with Partch, nor Partch’s instruments, then?

No, none whatsoever.

But they’ve designed their own instruments, at times.

They have. But they’re very project-oriented. They don’t think long term, like, building instruments for the rest of your life. You might build something because you need a specific sound for this project that you’re doing now, for the next few months, or something. So it’s never anything elaborate or very pretty.

Okay. In terms of projects where they built their own instruments –
Eskimo is one, right?

Yeah, but Eskimo has got an awful lot of lying in it. They claim that they play with frozen fish, and they didn’t do that.

But they do have some invented instruments on that? Can you give me an example?

They have some specially tuned, sort of marimba-type instruments that they built for the tuning that they were using for that album, only because they needed those notes. They’re actually wooden, a wooden instrument, but they claimed that they’re played on bones. They’re not played on bones. You know how it is with mythology – you gotta say what sounds pretty interesting, where the reality is pretty boring.

Were there ever any Inuit reactions to

There was – we got very positive reactions, even totally acknowledging that the term “Eskimo” is somewhat insulting… The people that we heard from – I mean, there may have been people who were insulted, but the Inuit people that we heard from loved it, because they really understood that it was totally fictional. It’s an invention of the fantasy concept and the romance of being an Eskimo, not of being an Inuit, because Inuit life isn’t like that at all. Inuit life is much more boring than that, as far as we were able to tell, when research was being done about Inuit – it’s not the most exciting world to live in.

Was there ever any attempt to mount a show of
Eskimo up there?
No. There’s never been a show of Eskimo. There was work on one – a show was designed, but it was designed for an opera stage. It was a big production – it was an opera, basically. It was for a festival in Germany decades ago, and basically it didn’t get funding, so it never happened.

Okay. Are there any other projects where they’ve come up with their own instruments?

Well, what happened was, pretty early - I guess it was around 1984, or something like that – they really went digital. They started really working with samplers. And at that time, instead of building anything, they would collect samples of things and create instruments digitally, because it was so much faster. So anything they did would have been in the 1970’s, and there really wasn’t that much call for it. They did some things with electronics pretty early on, but I don’t know if any of that actually got released, now that I think about it. We’ll simplify it and say no.

What’s the genesis of the current project?

The genesis of this project really came – it depends on where I want to start; with many projects, you can keep going back to an earlier point if you want to. But the more immediate is, the Residents really felt like growing older and dying was an interesting thing, it’s a universal experience. Everyone dies, and everyone who lives long enough also experiences old age. And these were interesting concepts to think about for our culture, because our culture is so youth-obsessed and so youth-promoting. And in particular, from sort of a music-show point of view, it’s designed for youth, it’s run by youth, it’s all about youth. So they thought, well, this will be an interesting opportunity to fly in the face of that and perhaps do something a little confrontational about aging and losing your mind. And eventually losing everything by dying. And so they thought it was a good idea for a show!

Does this interest in mortality have anything to do with the age of everyone involved in the Residents – everyone is in their 60’s now?

Well, you would think they would have to be, but they don’t go around telling their age. They don’t go around telling their genders, either.

Okay. Anyhow - all of this was conceived as a show before Randy’s Ghost Stories.

Well, it really started as a show, yeah. It started as some recordings, some stories and some music. Around May of 2009 was the release of the first Talking Light piece. And then over the summer the show was developed with the idea that it would be a Halloween show. And it wasn’t ready for Halloween, and it got pushed into January of 2010 when it finally hit the stage. And Randy’s Ghost Stories came out, I think, about a year later from when that Halloween show was supposed to happen. I guess it first came out in Europe in October of 2010.

And the pieces on
Randy’s Ghost Stories have all been developed for the live show? These were written for the show and now films have been made around them?

Yeah, these were all stories that had been in the show. The show is not the same every night.

“The Unseen Sister” [a song in which a chainsmoking woman tells the story of her malignant, invisible twin, and her complicity in her mother’s gruesome and surreal death] is in every show, though?

“The Unseen Sister” is sort of a prime piece. It always gets performed, and I’m sure that’s going to be true for the upcoming tour as well.

And then – “Talking Light” has been in every show?

Yeah, it’s been in every show. They’re sort of bookends, like, the opening and ending.

And it’s sort of variable what happens elsewise?

It’s variable what happens in between.                    

Things like “Lizard Lady” have been reworked for the Lonely Teenager CD. Will that be performed live?

You know, I don’t know. I don’t know – because there have been no rehearsals for this tour yet. They start Monday. And I would think it might show up at some point – I don’t know if it would be played at every show. Y’know, they obviously have been working on it, so it’s going to be familiar – it was recently done. I wouldn’t be surprised – I don’t know if it’ll be in Vancouver or not.

There could be things that people will recognize.

There will be things, oh yeah. Their motto is, “Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue.”

Excellent. Let me ask you about “The Unseen Sister,” then. That’s a very disturbing story – where did that come from?

You know, I’m not in any real position to be able to tell you that. I’ve never asked!

Some of the surrealists had talked about being interested in things that couldn’t be easily explained, images – I’m thinking in particular of the smoking toaster in the video. It really has an impact, but it’s not all that easy to unpack what it means. So I’m wondering if the Residents in writing songs follow a surrealist strategy of coming up with things that aren’t easily explained, if they want their images to be irreducible, uncategorizable, or if they want them to be decoded…

Well, they do make giant jumps sometimes from one thing to another. I’m not sure, but it seems like I heard something that the toaster originally sprang out of this piece of toast that Madonna’s image appeared on. It can be that obscure of a connection, though. I think it sold on eBay for a lot of money.

I wondered whose face was on the toast. It doesn’t really look like Madonna. On the video, that is. Not on the toast. I haven’t seen the toast.

I don’t think it is, in the video, no. There’s sort of references to Renaissance qualities – religious paintings and things…

And sort of subverting those with the toaster and the burning toast.

Yeah. It’s not just toast. It’s burning toast.

Yeah. Okay. You know – do the Residents encourage people to try to analyze things? Because I’ve worked up quite an analysis of things that I see in “The Unseen Sister,” but I wonder if in some ways if that’s foolish to do. If the point isn’t to unpack meaning and arrive at a statement – “this song is about that” – but rather to just process it for the emotional and aesthetic effect.

I know for sure that their point of view would be that there’s no answer to that. That people should take from things what they get from it; that there is no correct meaning, and that often the artists themselves can’t see the depths of the work, because they’re too close to it.

Tell me about the actual dynamics of the tour – how many people, how much gear travels with this show?

Surprisingly little. It’s a three person show. It’s Randy, Chuck, and Bob. Because Carlos is gone. So it’s down to the three of them – they’ll tell you about that. They’ll tell you about that onstage.

A couple of other quick questions –
Lonely Teenager, the CD. Were the Residents lonely teenagers?

Ahhh… I dunno, isn’t it required to feel lonely when you’re a teenager?

Do they feel less lonely now?

Well they might feel less teenager, if nothing else. No, I don’t think they’re lonely now, probably because they just stay so busy. They’re filled with ideas to realize and I think they know at this point that they won’t live long enough to accomplish all the things that they’ve started that haven’t ever been finished.

Are there plans to – plans afoot to put out the next volume of the Mole Trilogy or the Baby Sex album or the Warner Brothers album – are there plans to go back?

Well, like, Baby Sex and Warner Brothers weren’t Residents albums, so they won’t go back to those. They won’t go back any further than Residents.

Okay, and the American Composers Series – there were plans at one point to release a lot more?

Yeah, well, they don’t really want to do that anymore, and I don’t want them to do it either, because it got into royalty problems and accounting problems that I just do not want to entertain anymore. It was too complicated on the business end.

Okay. What do you consider the greatest accomplishment of the Residents?

I would say that the greatest accomplishment of the Residents is to exist without existing.

I like that.

I mean, very few people have done that or even wanted to do that.

Jandek, is someone that occurs to me. I often wonder if he’s inspired by the Residents model.

Who is that?

Jandek. He’s a guy in Houston, Texas who has released forty or so albums and remained more or less anonymous. Most people know his real name, but he won’t grant interviews, won’t talk about himself.

Yeah… he’s anonymous to me!

There’s a film about him, anyhow, called
Jandek on Corwood. Speaking of which – there’s people trying to make an independent documentary on the Residents. Is that something that the Residents would want to encourage or discourage?

I haven’t heard about it.

Do you think the Residents would encourage it?

No, they would not encourage it.

Why not?

Because their whole world is contrived as a piece of mythology and documentaries are not included in that. Except a fake documentary. [Theory of Obscurity: A Film about the Residents, was released in 2015]  

Is there anything else I should be mentioning? Plans for the 40th anniversary?
There’s not really any plans right now for the 40th that can be talked about, probably because this last tour needs to be completed. And that’s taking precedence for energy. The thing is, they just came off tour at the end of November, and went immediately into production for finishing up this Lonely Teenager and getting this stuff all done, as well as taking a little time off. So now they’re going back into rehearsal to get back up to go back out again. They’re sort of getting tired of touring, actually. But they’ll make it to Vancouver!

(The above conversation took place in 2011. Thank you, Mr. Fox, for all the mind-altering music over the years, and for having been so easy to interview). 

Sickness and Plumbing versus the Salt Spring Underground

This week has been a colossal shitshow of bad luck and trouble. 

There's been work stress all around: I had planned to give up one of my LINC classes so I could have evenings free and not spend all my time planning, marking, and worrying about students. This was to be the end of it, and none too soon, since between my two classes and tutoring with a Learning Centre, life has been very stressful, a ceaselessly spinning., exhausting hamsterwheel of work. 

Then Erika - having her own work stresses, but they don't feel like they're mine to write about - discovers she needs a root canal and crown. When I give up my hours, I lose my benefits, which will cover a goodly portion of the costs not covered by her insurance. I'm not totally clear what the percentages are but it could be as much as $1000. 

So suddenly I'm keeping my class for another month. 

That should work out okay, really - I'm happy for the pay and the benefits - but with all the stress and ceaseless activity, I haven't been able to shake this seasonal cold that I've got. Symptoms keep morphing but I'm in the "coughing up green" phase now (if I'm lucky; often I'm just coughing, with nothing coming up at all). Problem: I spent all of Thursday night coughing, loudly, productively, and uncontrollably. I had literally no sleep. None. And neither did Erika, even after I (voluntarily) bundled myself out onto the couch so she could have a shot at it (she could still hear me coughing every five minutes).

The cough feels like it is just getting deeper in me (and less productive) so it freaks  me out a bit... history of bronchitis, etc...

Anyhow: we weren't going to let any of that interfere with our plans of going to Salt Spring Island last night to see Salt Spring Underground, a new band featuring among its members the mighty Chris Arnett (of the Furies and the Shades) and Adrian Mack (of the Straight, but also one of Rich Hope's Evil Doers). I was sooooo keen on that that a sleepless night and a cold weren't going to stop me. We had ferry reservations and Erika's car was packed and ready to go. I prepared detailed lesson plans for my Saturday sub, and went to my Friday morning class as per usual, only to discover, via a text message, that shortly after I left, Erika noticed filthy water pumping up into our bathroom sink from another suite. Apparently the pipes haven't been cleaned here in ages. 

So in between hosting visits from Douglas College and VCC to explain about educational opportunities to my LINC 8 students, I'm on the phone with her, getting updates. Erika is bailing out bucketfuls of water, noting that someone's minty toothpaste foam just erupted into our sink. We both can visualize leaving the apartment and - with no one here to bail it out - the water spilling over and flooding the apartment. Should we cancel the ferry reservation? Hmm. At 1pm, the building manager is coming over to snake the drain. Erika is researching cancellation fees. We'll recalibrate our plans based on how all that turns out - I'm pacing in the hallway outside the class, talking with her on the phone, and sending my first apologetic email to Chris and Adrian...

But whatever, the show must go on. I get through my class, set finish off prepping for my sub for tomorrow - because I'm committed to that, now, having made all the arrangements and talked said sub into it, and I can use the day off to rest regardless of whether I'm on Salt Spring or just collapsed in bed in Burnaby. By one, the building manager is indeed in our bathroom, snaking up giant mats of red hair (neither Erika nor I have much of that, so it's a relief that this is not our fault, I guess) from our sink. Water still keeps coming up; it's getting better, but a plumber is still going to have to be called in. By 2:45, when I'm done with the class, I check in one more time, and the sink is good enough - there's still standing water in it, but not much, and its rate of regurgitation has slowed sufficiently that Erika figures we're good to go to Salt Spring after all. We set out a plan for me to meet her at Patterson Station. We both have slept not at all, but we're determined.

Then she gets a call: the plumber is coming at 6 or 7 and we need to be there to let him in. 

Sorry, Salt Spring Underground. I was glad to just sleep, actually. There were a couple silver linings to the shitshow at end of it all - like the nice guy at the ferry terminal waiving our cancellation fees, and me getting a refund on a pension I had via Douglas College, which was waiting for me in the mail. 

Overall, though, whew, what a week. I think I'll go back to bed and try to sleep a bit more of it off.  Arrgh.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

The under-appreciated behind-the-scenes travails of Mike Usinger, plus Kitty & The Rooster TONIGHT!

(Taken after this post was written, at the Kitty and the Rooster album release, photo by me)

I have known people who live to bash Mike Usinger, Music Editor of the Georgia Straight, but as a Vancouver writer and longtime (if less frequent these days) contributor to the Straight, I gotta say, Mike is pretty great at what he does. People who complain about him should give it up (or think more deeply, because it seems they often are taking the bait he offers at face value, more on which below). He's kept an ever-dwindling section interesting, he's fought more than once to get me in print and paid, and he's even caught some errors in my writing (and, well, introduced one or two, too, over the years - let me just say in this regard: Emperor!). He's funny, he's hard-working, he looks a little like Lux Interior, and he's made some great calls over the years, to support some phenomenal Vancouver bands. No Mike, no Little Guitar Army cover story, for example. Y'all remember that?

Yes, he writes some tastelessly provocative stuff sometimes. I'm kinda pleased to see that he's shifted from his past "ScarJo nudes! Whee!" persona to the #MeToo-endorsing, Ghomeshi-bashin' Mike of present, but I have never actually minded his more, um, "provocative" writing. I kinda think of him like Tesco Vee - he enjoys provoking people, he doesn't mind being the "bad guy," and he has a somewhat perverse sense of humour. He's the kind of guy that will put a Kick Me sign on his own back and go out in public (especially if and when he thinks stirring things up is good for the paper). It takes some balls to do that, and I've come to appreciate his daring (while not holding him too much to count for the things he says when in provocateur mode). I even think of his occasional defenses of Nickelback in this light (tho' to be honest I have spent so little time listening to Nickelback that I have pretty much no feelings about the band. They may be fashionable to bash, but not having heard them beyond the odd song on the radio - which I almost never listen to, anyhow - I'm not gonna join the dogpile).

Anyhow, Mike had to do some scrambling this week, it seems. I unwittingly caused some trouble. You might notice if you read my Kitty & the Rooster piece that the first paragraph that presently is running no longer mentions a certain popular, free Vancouver summer music festival by name, nor does it mention the toy store chain that sponsored the kids' stage there. If you were very attentive, perhaps you saw the names in my original piece - they were there.

I am sure, like me, Noah Walker of Kitty & The Rooster never considered briefly that any Vancouver festival or kids store involved might be in any way upset by this story. I mean, it's just funny - an innocent mistake that harmed no one - that a band with a name inspired by cocks and pussies ended up playing a kids stage. It's not like they were passing out their piquantly-named lollipops to the kids. Hell, I even forgive the organizers in the story for their mistake - I mean, how many non-kids themed "funny animal mask" bands are there, anyhow? (Next year, maybe they can book GWAR?). Yes, Mike amped things up a bit, as he tends to do, by including a reference to pussy licking in the title of the piece (it wasn't in my original title). But god, folks - it's just sex. Without sex, no babies. Without babies, no kids stage. So big deal... And the joke of their name (and merch) aside, which no kids would see or get anyhow, there's nothing particularly raunchy about Kitty & The Rooster's material (tho' I gather they do cover Al Mader's song about bein' a lousy lay - under the title "Lousy Lover.")

Anyhow, no one anticipated, I don't think, that anyone involved in said festival or chain store would be taken aback by my piece, but someone apparently was.

Did I have to deal with it? Nope.

Did Mike? Yep.

Did he have to rewrite my first paragraph? Sure looks that way (it reads like his writing, anyhow). He didn't trouble me about it, in any case (maybe he figured I'd be upset - I CAN be a prima donna sometimes, though in this case, I consider the imposed editorial changes kind of value-added).

Anyhow, sorry to the complainer, whoever you are, for upsetting you with this article! It was all in fun. I like your festival. I like toys. I like Kitty & The Rooster (and if I had kids, I would bring them to see the band without thinking twice; they're just smart, funny and playful, which is what I intended the tone of the article to convey). No harm intended, eh?

Sadly, I have a cold and slept like hell, so I PROBABLY won't be at the Anza tonight for the Kitty & The Rooster album release show, but if you haven't checked them out, I think tonight would be a great night to be there.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Mudhoney! And Steve Turner's DOA shirt

Steve of Mudhoney, and his DOA shirt, by bev davies, not to be reused without permission

I had a big long talk with Steve of Mudhoney the other day (the guy pictured above, thanks to bev davies). May I just say, holy shit that's a cool DOA shirt? I sorta tried to hint to Joe when I interviewed him last that the whole "skeletons with guns" motif didn't really work for me, but it's still the design you're most likely to see on a DOA merch table. I should ask if he's got any of THESE in his garage! (The DOA interview where we had that conversation is not online, but you can read Joe and I talking about the image on the shirt Steve is wearing here). Definitely a conversation-piece T-shirt, though hopefully that's not a conversation with the RCMP we're talking about...

I actually ended up only staying for about half of Mudhoney's set last night, but it's no fault of the band's - they were cooking (and I shot a little video to prove it, though it cuts off part way through "Let It Slide." The audio is probably not so great - these guys played it LOUD.) But I was finding it crazy hot; Erika was fallin' asleep; and the Rickshaw was pleasantly quite packed, which I hadn't expected, and which I was very happy for, but which made it tough for me in my ventures around the room, to say hi to bev and Bob Hanham, to check out bands up close, or to look for Furies' bassist John Werner (from whom I was hoping to get a Furies CD, to pass on to Steve; he had brought one to the venue at my request, but I had no idea when I hatched that plan just how many people I'd be trying to pick him out from. Never did find him, despite circling the inside of the venue five or six times).

Fans of last-minute opening act Waingro should see my interview with Brian (note the hilarious self-portrait he sent, apropos of playing Burgerfest); I always enjoy Brian's solos and absolutely LOVE the album cover for Mt Hood, inspired as it is by the art for ant-consciousness science fiction film Phase IV, which is a film I also love... but their music is a bit on the "trog" side for me, to be honest, and definitely too hard for my wife... The Edmonton-based First Nations trio that followed, nêhiyawak, were a bit easier to sit and listen to, had a very interesting visual component (including abstracted video images of bison and elk and such, with characters from an alphabet I do not know... I am realizing that I have no idea how the transcription of First Nations languages generally works, if each language has its own unique alphabet or if there are language groups that have a consensus alphabet. It sure ain't the IPA, in any case). Musically they did a sort of gothy pop that at times seemed very British, and I was sitting there trying to put a finger on the influences - because I don't know my gothy pop at all, really - and thinking "a bit of the Cure, a bit of the Sisters of Mercy, maybe a bit of Joy Division..." and being irritated that I couldn't pin down a specific secret ingredient that seemed obvious and potent but wasn't the music of any band I paid a lot of attention to.... That's when Erika commented that they sounded like U2. (Beth and Bob were discussing their "U2iness" among themselves when I said hi). They probably have interesting places to go, even if they're music is not quite my thing...

...anyhow, we probably could have stayed longer, but I felt physically uncomfortable, didn't want to leave Erika alone in her seat all night (I did enough of that anyhow with my laps of the venue looking for John) and didn't feel like crowding my way into the packed front of the house. It was nice to finally hear Mudhoney do "Touch Me I'm Sick." I did get up a bit close for that video (I don't know the first song but that's a great bassline), and later on for "By Her Own Hand" - an amazing song. Fun running into Luke Meat, too, who had read and enjoyed my interview with Steve. I genuinely like his band storc, whom I shot video of here... He apparently agrees with me 100% that Mudhoney is way better than Nirvana (tho' who knew that was no longer a contrarian point of view to take?).

Yadda yadda. Not saying much here. Looking forward to the release of Digital Garbage. John Werner, if you're reading this, I'll be in touch - I still want to get that Furies CD off you! (Mudhoney needs to know about the Furies!). Too bad there was no Mudhoney merch last night!

Friday, August 31, 2018

From the Original Sins to Brother JT: a John Terlesky interview

(Above: the Original Sins, back in the day. Note: almost all links in the following interview lead you directly to clips of the Original Sins or Brother JT performing; as of this writing, many of the Original Sins' classic LPs are on Youtube in their entirety. DO check this stuff out, because it's pretty GREAT; but if you come to agree, BUY SOMETHING FROM THE GUY, here!). 

I sometimes wonder about choices I made in the early 1990’s – especially (though not exclusively) in regard to music. There were more than a few bands that I loved that I walked away from, albums by bands who I had counted as utter favourites, whose follow-up recordings I didn’t even bother with until ten or more years later. For instance, Tad’s momentous 8 Way Santa was and remains one of my favourite rock records ever. Yet two years later, in 1993, Inhaler came out – and I totally ignored it, having heard not a song. I had no reason to think there would be anything wrong with it, and – though I was teetering on the cusp of getting into free jazz and noise, which dominated my musical tastes for the latter half of the 1990’s – I still liked and owned God’s Balls and Salt Lick and 8 Way Santa, and still sometimes listened to them. So why did I ignore Inhaler? I honestly can’t quite put together what was going through my head.

Maybe it had something to do with overexposure to Seattle grunge, which had peaked the year previously – because there were also Mudhoney, Soundgarden, Screaming Trees, and Nirvana albums I ignored from the same period, having been turned off by the crashing hypewave that followed the massive success of Nevermind.

But the so-called “grunge backlash” doesn’t explain why I didn’t buy the Original Sins’ 1992 double LP, Move, until this year. The band, fronted by John Terlesky, who nowadays records as Brother JT – was from Philadelphia, far from Seattle, ostensibly untainted by what was going on there, and (the odd song, like “All In My Head,” aside) never all that grungy, to begin with.

I had followed the Original Sins more or less from the outset, musically. They put out an astonishing debut, Big Soul, which I nabbed via Midnight Mailorder back inn the late 1980’s, while it was still their first and only LP. I quickly and completely fell for it; it remains one of my best-ever blind buys, containing everything from 60’s-punk style rave-ups (Try “Possession” - also on Youtube in a non-LP version; or “My Mother’s Mirror,” “Can’t Feel a Thing”) to depressive dirges (the aforementioned “All in My Head”) to glowing, bouncy garage pop (“Help Yourself”) and relatively gentle, 60’s-ish folk rock (“Why Don’t You Smile, Joan?”). Their next album, The HardestWay, was maybe a bit less inspired, but is true to their '60s garage roots, and has some great songs on it (like “Don’t Fit In,” which is as tough as anything on their debut). Then they’d gone full-on Stooges/ MC5 for Self-Destruct, a meaty, acid-soaked, power-punch of an album that fed my own self-destructive tendencies, particularly with the playful, spiralling, organ-enhanced acid anthem “Alice D,” which accompanied my own late night forays into my neon-synapse’d psyche-scape on more than one occasion.  Everything suggested that the band was poised to become a hugely successful rock contender – except that in 1992, maybe the poisonous hypefog out of Seattle was so extreme that people with an investment in underground music just didn’t WANT any more rock success stories, no matter where they were come, since they were synonymous with bands we’d loved – Soul Asylum,, anyone? - suddenly starting to suck…?

Nothing sucks in the slightest about Move (all of which, like I say, is presently online in a high quality rip, so spend some time with it, eh?). It’s a ballsy, confident, 2-LP feast, co-produced by REM's Peter Buck, that combines all the best elements of the Sins’ three previous records, and has some awe-inspiring, balls-out rockers (“Like an Animal,” say) that show no sign of commercial compromise or down-watering. Wikipedia reports that “the album was intended to be a break into mainstream music for the band,” and you can see why maybe THAT didn’t happen – it’s simply too strong, too creative, too fearless for mainstream success. But the fact that the album sold poorly, that fans like me ignored it, and that even to this day it has no review on the AllMusic  site – which features accurate, respectable reviews of their previous recordings: none of this can I explain.

So can John Terlesky? With the interviewer having recently picked up an armload of his Brother JT solo albums – which are as good as, but vastly more varied than, his Original Sins’ recordings – that question is where we start this email interview (omitting the preamble I sent to him, which more or less replicates the above). People interested in exploring Brother JT’s back catalogue or buying his music should go to his webpage; with little fanfare and absolutely no mainstream success, he’s never stopped putting out fantastic records. Check out “Snakebit” on Tornado Juice, his current release, in particular; a black-humoured look at his own musical career, it’s the high point on the album, for me, and the focal point – along with his reference to “Zabriskie Point” in “Zabriskie” – of an upcoming feature in the next issue Big Takeover magazine, drawn also from the following conversation.

AM: So what happened to rock music in 1992, anyhow? Why didn’t Move sell?

JT: That was an odd period. I seem to recall Metallica's "Enter Sandman" and Nirvana's "Teen Spirit" hitting at around the same time and that they sounded similar to me, like Metal and Punk were sort of coming together. I had no problem with Grunge because it was a lot better than the hair bands that had dominated things and wasn't that removed from what we were doing. But then everyone kind of aped the style and there was no humor or contrast. There was Rock, but not much Roll.

AM: You have a song on the new album, Tornado Juice, called "Back to the 90's." It makes me wonder what you miss about being in the Original Sins? Are there any particularly crazy or chaotic moments, shows that really stand out? Do you have any memories or stories of playing in Vancouver, by the way?). 

JT: I think I mostly miss playing with those particular guys and feeling like no matter what the high energy approach of the set worked. With Brother JT a lot of the songs are much more about improv, so it's not such a sure thing like the Sins' songs. But I went more in the improv direction because I wanted to have deeper means of expression, so I like both. Brother JT sets usually feature several Sins songs these days.

There were many great nights with the Sins. Opened for the Ramones, Replacements, Screaming Trees, Living Colour, Butthole Surfers, etc.

I remember little about playing Vancouver except that the people seemed very friendly and the town seemed very clean. It was almost 30 years ago, so...

AM: I wish I’d gone. I had no idea until recently that the show even happened (the cartoonist and painter known as ARGH!, of DOA colouring Book/ NO FUN cassette cover fame tells me that the band played the Town Pump in the early 1990’s). Do I gather the band opened for the Kinks at one point?

JT: We did open for the Kinks at the Tower Theater in Phila., two nights, set up by our manager at the time who knew the booking person. It was good, but kind of weird because it was a big stage and the audience seemed so far away. I never like playing big places. I'd rather set up on the floor and be eye to eye with the audience.

AM: Where did the cover idea for Self-Destruct come from? One of the great 1990’s album covers, by me. Did you “grow out of” the self-destructive tendencies of youth?

JT: I had a fairly realistic looking 45-style bb gun and just had some pictures taken with it. Just kind of a knee-jerk reaction image that I thought might go with the music on that record.

AM: Is “Alice D” actually a real slang term for LSD, or is it your own coinage?

JT: I think it came from hearing Merle Haggard's "Okee From Muskogee" where he says "We don't take our trips on LSD" and it sounded like he said "Alice Dee" or something. Many years later (not being a Deadhead at the time) I discovered the Grateful Dead had an early outtake called "Alice D. Millionaire".

AM: More recently, “Head Bizness” is a great psychedelics anthem... it's kinda almost hip-hoppy. Do you listen to hip hop at all? (Ever do New Kingdom's "Mexico or Bust?" It's sorta kinda LIKE "Head Bizness," spiritually speaking). 

JT: Yes, I've listened to some hip hop. Liked the Madvillain and Spank Rock stuff from a few years back. Mainly interested in the grooves and how they could be applied to a rock context, not so much the lyrical content.

AM: Each of your solo albums seems to have a different personality or approach, but be cohesive unto itself... How would you describe the approach on Tornado Juice? I hear a sort of Dylan/ Blonde on Blonde quality (the verses on “Mississippi Somethin’,” for example). But other people on Youtube mention Bowie… What moods or events help you decide a direction for an album? Do you record one song and then decide where to go from there…? 

JT: The songs just kind of spilled out without a lot of conscious planning. If you had the album the dust jacket has a collage of my notebook from when I wrote the songs, and the lyrics are scrawled out furiously, like automatic writing. Sometimes the music came first, and sometimes both came out at once. And they're all filtered through influences of the artists you mentioned as well as many others. Also thinking about how the songs will work in a live context plays a role. I usually try to imagine playing the album in sequence live as a test for balance and diversity.

"Metallized Saran Icicles Made It So," by Brother JT; more of his art here

AM: I’m just listening to a download and I’m not seeing credits on the Bandcamp page, so I have no idea if there’s a band on Tornado Juice, or if you're doing most of everything yourself – who is playing what? Do you play live regularly with a particular group of musicians? (Are you in touch with any former Original Sins?). 

JT: It is largely the band I've been playing with for the last 5 years or so: Jamie Knerr on drums, Ron Kuhn on bass, and Mike Logan on guitar. They also recorded the previous CD, On High, with me. "Back To The 90's" and "Oh Me Oh My" is just me. I am occasionally in touch with the guys from the Sins (Dave Ferrara played drums on the first 2 Drag City albums) and there has been talk of a reunion this fall, but I’m not sure if it's possible.

AM: Whoa! Very cool. Coming back to automatic writing, what are these three books you published under the influence? Are any of your albums more purely the result of an acid experience than others? Are any mostly written or recorded while on acid? (Don’t you find it gets hard on the body as you get older?).  

JT: The books are the result of journaling while on LSD. They're kind of like channeling. I found that under these circumstances I could sort of offer up my pen to...personalities? my consciousness at the time. While the results are at times hard to read, I thought they were worth preserving. I sensed that these personalities appreciated the opportunity to express themselves. Many of the songs I've written in the last 10 years have come out of the same sessions, usually later after the initial flood of thoughts has passed. I feel like this way I am writing in another, more spontaneous voice.
I don't notice any physical stress from these experiences, kind of the opposite.

AM:  What is your life like when you are NOT Brother JT? (Do you have a family? A dayjob? A garden? Horrible non-sequitur hobbies like playing golf? I gather you have a cat…).

JT: I'm pretty solitary, never wanted a family, my main interests are various creative endeavors.  I'm 'avoidant', as they call it these days. I want to take the path of least resistance at all times. Sort of like a Taoist, except I'm not. I just like the 'non action' part of that ethos. Seems to come natural to me. My cat feels the same way.

AM: Going back to your origins – were you raised Catholic? (with a band name like the Original Sins and the occasional Biblical reference – “there’s something wrong with my right eye” – I wonder if you also went to Catechism classes, etc. (Did they ever get you to confess?). What was the milieu you grew up in? How was rock and roll received in your home? Did your parents ever see the Original Sins play?

JT: I was raised Catholic, did confession, communion a few times, but then just kind of stopped in my early teens. My parents wern't sticklers for that.

My folks were both 40 years older than me, so big band was more their preferred musical genre. I remember sitting with my father watching television when I was very young and there was an ad for the late movie double feature that night. One was a horror movie, and the other was for a Herman's Hermits movie, and he said, referring to the latter, "That's what scares me". Guys with long hair was a big thing back then. It's funny that I actually sat in with Peter Noone on guitar for two shows my old drummer Dave Ferrara is still playing with him). It didn't work out.

Anyhow, my involvement with rock music was not a subject of much discussion. I think my parents probably saw video of me playing, but not in person. I wouldn't have wanted them in that environment.

AM:  What was the live music scene in Bethlehem when you were young? Did you have to commute to get to see good bands? What city was closest? What was happening there when you were getting into rock? What made you decide you wanted to be a rock musician?

JT: Bethlehem was where bands were happening, also the home of a college radio station I DJ'd at for a while. Met a lot of music people through that. The Funhouse was the constant, the only place that has consistently let original bands play in an area where it's mostly cover acts. Just played there last month, still pretty much the same experience. Set up on the floor with people two feet away. Very basic engagement. 

My one brother was in a band in the early 70's, so I was exposed in that way. He showed me the basics on guitar, barre chording etc. I think when I first heard the Velvet Underground, I thought, "I could do that." I could grasp it because it was so primitive.

AM: Did you ever, early on, identify as a punk? (Were there punk bands you played in before the Original Sins?). How did you get into the 60’s garage thing? When did you get into, say, the Sonics, or the Dave Clark 5, or…?

JT: I never really got into the punk thing, though I did play bass in a band (Senseless Hate) that did some Angry Samoans covers very early. My cousin lent me his copy of Nuggets when I was 18 or so and that interested me in 60's garage. But as a really young child I grew up with the Beatles albums my brothers would play, so I was already a fan of that basic genre. Read about the Stooges and Velvet Underground in this Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock book and finally tracked down their records (they were hard to find in 1980) and I was off to the races. I was interested in anything that had a dark side but also a pop sensibility.

AM: Your videos are really entertaining. Do you direct most of them yourself? (I gather you did so with “Sweatpants” but I don’t see credits on many). Who is the fortune teller in the “Zabriskie” video? Have you done videos for anyone else?

JT: Yes, I am mostly doing the vids myself, though “Baked Alaska” was shot in a studio at Woodshop films where we did the internet talk show "Trippin' Balls". The person in "Zabriskie" is just a friend who helped me out with it. Have not done any videos for anyone else.

"I Like Things," by Brother JT; more of his art here

AM: If we could touch on a couple favourites from Big Soul, what was the backstory to the song “My Mother’s Mirror,” anyhow? Were any actual mirrors harmed, or was it always figurative? Where did the lyric “my mind’s got a mind” come from?

JT: Lyrics for "Mother's Mirror" about when a friend of mine related a story about him rocking out to Mott the Hoople's version of "Keep A' Knockin'" and inadvertantly knocking over a mirror that belonged to his mother--might account for the Little Richard via MC5 vibe of the music too.

"My mind's got a mind of its own" just kind of popped out. Song about possession, sort of made sense.

AM: What is the furthest afield you tour, nowadays? Do you ever contemplating DOING a major tour again? (Europe? Canada? Japan? Where would you go? Would you do it with a band?). I imagine you  have weird pockets of devoted fans all over North America, but I wonder if it would be economically feasible? (I caught Wreckless Eric last time he was in Vancouver and gathered from his between-song stories that he was simply driving from city to city by himself, a man and his guitar...). 

JT: I really don't tour anymore. I would be happy to, but it's difficult to get an agent and/or find players who'd be willing to take off from work/family etc for the dubious rewards of such a venture (at my level, anyway). Occasionally fly to San Francisco and Austin to play a show or two, sometimes with local friends backing me, but recently took the band. It really wouldn't be feasible unless we were opening for a better known act, and those kind of tours are hard to come by. I'd like to do what Wreckless Eric does, but he's been doing it a long time and has a solid fanbase.

AM: Do you have a source of income other than music? I always wonder how people subsidize their passions (or do you make enough to get by, just on bein’ Brother JT?).

JT: I usually have driving/delivery type jobs so I can make my own hours. Some Uber recently, some odd jobs. I make very little from music.

AM: Damn, I’m sorry to hear that. Thanks for keeping at it. Is there anything I've missed? Future ambitions? Favourite acid trip stories? A Brother JT video everyone should watch?

JT: If anyone wanted any of my music you could order it from my website or if it's something not available there, email me at and we could work something out.