Monday, March 31, 2008
3. It's got Satanic sacrifices in it, which is neither here nor there, but if it's good (I genuinely think like this) I can convince Adrian "Deep State" Mack to see it so we can bullshit about it afterwards.
4. And it's only $11.99.
1. Peter Fonda AND Loretta "Hotlips" Swit
2. I've never heard of the director
3. I don't remember Robin Wood OR Carol J. Clover mentioning it in their books, and it doesn't come up in The American Nightmare.
4. And fertile a decade as it was, some American 70's cinema is flat out drek.
Decisive, what-the-fuck factor? It's only $11.99.
Oh, my God.
I'm barely halfway through - I've paused mid-Satanic-ritual, so I cannot possibly spoil the ending for anyone, because I don't know where it goes - but I think this is THE anti-boomer (self?)-hate movie. What's amazing so far, tho', is that everything that interests me about the film, everything that is intellectually exciting about it, is playing out so subtextually, so quietly, so subtly that no one will actually believe me when I tell them what it's about, even after they see it. ("If one has character, one also has one’s typical experience which recurs again and again." - Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, epigram 70). It is quite possible that if I tried to talk to the filmmakers themselves about it, they wouldn't believe me. Fanboy Quentin Tarantino might go there, or Eli Roth, but who's gonna put me in touch with THEM? (And Carol J. Clover hasn't answered two emails I've sent, so I'm taking the hint).
Robin Wood? Hello? Do you read blogs? I was in CineAction! Notice me!
To understand why this is THE anti-boomer (self?)-hate movie, you have to look at it from two different angles: first, you have to consider the urban-rural horror film, roughly along the lines spelled out in Men, Women, and Chainsaws. Following this template, a group of people with whom we identify - typically middleclass citydwellers from our own country - go into another place, either in their own country or elsewhere, where people lack their luxuries. They behave badly. They (usually) incur, and MERIT, the resentment of the locals. We, the audience members, identifying with these (generally) "ugly Americans" see our own faults and recognize guiltily that affluence and comfort are not fairly distributed socially - the locals are our "victims" and have the right to hate us. But then - this is all paraphrasing Carol Clover, btw - the resentment of our victims explodes into violence, and the people with whom we are identifying with must overcome their guilt and
(Sorry, couldn't resist. I'm nearly delirious with illness and sleep-loss, you realize).
I mean, think of it: how many movies does this sorta thing happen in? There are different variations, different nuances, but, I mean: Deliverance, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Rituals, Turistas, Hostel, I Spit On Your Grave, Pumpkinhead, The Hills Have Eyes... All of them explicitly show the people "we" are among behaving distastefully. Think of Burt Reynolds and Jon Voight talking about how their fellow city folk are "raping" the land, or anything that Ned Beatty says or does, in Deliverance; or the spoiled, selfish behaviour of the fratboy kids in Hostel or Pumpkinhead or so forth. We seem to be the enemy, initially - or at least he's among our ranks - but all of them end with Our Representatives On-Screen being forced to kill the underprivileged so that they can return to their lives. It's like a working through of the very guilt that draws us into the narrative: "Yeah, okay, so I've got more than they do, and they've got it rough, and I don't feel good about that, but all the same, if it comes down to them or me, fuck'em!" (Clover goes so far as to suggest the poor must be killed in such movies BECAUSE they make us feel guilty!).
Race with the Devil invokes this formula (and like I said, don't worry, what follows is spoiler-free; you will learn little more about the plot of the film than is already revealed on the DVD case by reading what follows). Oates, Fonda, and their wives are wealthy, successful, newly-established yuppie entrepreneurs, sort of a 1975 version of Kevin Kline in The Big Chill, and they're on vacation in their expensive new motorhome, with their motorcycles along with them. They drive off the road, see a Satanic ritual (and are aware that they might be trespassing - the land might actually belong to the Satanists) and, after being initially titillated by the orgiastic nature of the event, see something they shouldn't. Then the two couples have to flee for their lives, fighting off the Satanists, in hot pursuit.
The thing that's fascinating about it all comes down to Peter Fonda, actually, and Easy Rider. Because you can't put Peter Fonda on a motorcycle in a film made within 10 years of that one without summoning up its memory. I would bet a box of donuts that the Oates role was initially offered to Dennis Hopper.
And yet here, Fonda is no counterculture icon; he's a successful, sold-out Yuppie, whose love of his motorcycle is no more an act of rebellion than his longish hair. At one point, Warren Oates even looks over at him and says, "You're the straightest guy I know," or words to that effect, and while later conversation reveals that Oates means the most honest and upstanding, there is definitely a double-meaning that subtly lingers when the line is spoken. Oates continues to reflect that it's amazing how much money the two men have made in the last five years (again, btw, something you find directly parallelled in a conversation in The Big Chill). You just KNOW that they were hippie poseurs before they cashed in. The Fonda character and his wife, especially, mighta even been at Woodstock - but now they're affluent as can be, revelling in their newly acquired comfort, proud of it (half the dialogue in the first half of the film is the two men bragging about their toys or showing off what they can do with them).
So, I mean, you gotta know that the Satanists are going to be HIPPIE types, right? Because just as poor folks make rich folks feel guilty, nothing could burn the ass of a newly-minted Yuppie than honest-to-God hippie leftovers. (Did anyone see Old Joy? It's STILL going on, for fucksake). The film shows, plain as day, a 1975 division between those who copped out and those who followed the other extreme: the radical drop-out stance of, say, the Manson family.
To make a prediction at midway, there are two possible endings to this film:
1. After a long conflict with the Satanists, the Yuppies will kill them all, via classic urban-rural logic, deep-sixing their guilt and ultimately reassuring the audience of likeminded Yuppie sellouts that they made the right choice. (Everyone should go buy a motorhome!).
2. Or, more pessimistically, boomer self-loathing will triumph, and Warren, Peter, their wives, and their little dog too, will ALL PERISH. Along with their toys, which will be much damaged byt the end of the film.
I'd bet money on #2, really I would.
I can't wait to see how this film plays out. In my imagination, it perfectly dovetails with something I want to convince Sir Mack of: it isn't Scientology or MK Ultra or some hidden wing of government planners that are destroying the spirit of revolution with gaslighting and mindfuckery, driving those who dig too deeply into suicide or madness. It's the sheer nature of our economy, of our affluence, of our venal, all-too-human, what-new-toys-have-you-got-for-me GREED. The revolution is dead because we all have our gadgets, our computers, our internet porn, our MP3 players, our cellphones, our money, our precious little packets of security and pleasure. No one had to brainwash us into wanting these things. We weren't duped - we came here of our own accord, because we WANTED these things. We invited the devil into our lives - we are the bad guys in this story. They may be bad guys too, and the Deep State may have cottoned onto how to play us - it isn't difficult to see what we like and what we want - but ultimately, like X sing in that song - "It's our blood on our hands." It's all our fault!
Where's Charles Manson when you need him?
Time to finish the movie.
Okay, so it gets a bit more complicated in its nuances, and it's a tad ridiculous at times, but there's LOTS to chew on in this film. (And Robin Wood does mention it, but just as a near-typical examplar of the class-guilt urban/rural film, with a western twist). There's also a certain level of incompetence that has to be risen above: for example, there's a line in the script about how the sacrifice occurs on the other side of a river, and this is retained in the film and mentioned more than once, even though the sacrifice takes place on the SAME side of the river, which is plainly visible. (There's even talk of having to cross the river to get to the site, when the police come to investigate the next day - after which everyone just walks across dry ground). Still: this is one cool movie, if you dig at it a bit (and Tarantino cribs from it in Kill Bill Part Two, for what it's worth). See it with the thesis, articulated in The American Nightmare (the film, not Robin Wood's essay, tho' that's good, too) that the horror films of the late 60s and early 70s do much to reveal the underlying tensions in American society at the time, and there'll be no end to the bullshitting this can inspire...
(...or the Shitstorm Noise Festival...)
1965 Main StreetVancouver B.C.
Sunday, March 30, 2008
Saturday, March 29, 2008
That’s all I have to say about the band at the moment; I’m told they should be touring this way in late spring or summer. Reprinted, below - because I don’t think it ever got published in full - is my interview with Efrim Menuck, guitarist and lead singer, from 2006, recorded around the same week that I talked to Carla.
Funny: for some dumb reason, I was convinced Gerry Hannah would dig these guys, and when I got my tax refund last year, I sent him some Silver Mt. Zion stuff (mostly because it amused me to do so). I don’t think it stuck with him, though. I mean, he listens to Stereolab...
I’m surprised to hear you guys singing now - when I saw Godspeed in Tokyo, you seemed to be a very self-conscious person; it’s good to be hearing your voice.
I mean, self-conscious would be, I mean, yeah… It feels good singing because there’s words involved, and it feels good to be able to use words to try to express stuff after playing in a band for so many years that didn’t use any words. In some ways it’s a great feeling, y’know?
Do you use images during your live performances with Silver Mt. Zion, as you did with Godspeed You! Black Emperor...?
No, we don’t. It’s just us on the stage with Silver Mt Zion, there’s no sort of film projections or anything like that.
The ticket prices seem low given that there are two full bands on the lineup. Is that an attempt to make show accessible for people with less income?
Well, I mean, for sure, we sort of charge the smallest amount of money that we’re able to charge and not lose money on tour. There are a lot of people involved, except the onus is on us for that. We’re the ones that decided to be in a band that has this many members in it, so I mean, we keep the ticket prices as low as we can. Most of us in the band got raised with very little money and we’re not comfortable fleecing people, at the end of the day, I guess. It doesn’t seem like such a profound statement. We mostly just try to I guess act responsibly in that way, we try to keep things as cheap as we can.
Yeah, but frankly, I’d be willing to pay more, to feel like I was supporting the band – I feel like I’m fleecing you.
I mean, that’s genuinely kind of you and that’s genuinely a rare attitude in this world and I don’t expect that to be a prevalent attitude and I… there’s no reason why people should be feeling that way. We earn an honest living, I cannot complain. I thank, you know, my miserable luck every day that I earn a living playing music, you know? In Mt. Zion, at least, we feel very fortunate for the fact that we’re able to earn a living. We’re lucky that way. It is hard to earn a living as a musician. We’re fortunate enough that we do, that it allows us to be able to make decisions like, ‘let’s keep the ticket prices as low as possible, so that we don’t lose money touring,’ y'know?
Do you all have straight jobs, side jobs?
For the most part we all make a living off Mt. Zion and other bands that we’ve been in or are currently in. Me and Thierry, who’s the bass player in Mt. Zion, also operate a recording studio here in Montreal?
Yeah, exactly – which is not a money-making venture but does earn us, like, a small income when we engineer people’s records. Becky who plays cello is in school… I mean, we all do sorta different things, but yeah, we all earn our living playing in Mt. Zion. I guess the only person who doesn’t is Scott, whose the newest member of the band and has only played on the last record with us.
Was there a point when you were all doing straight jobs?
Yeah, absolutely, the first many many years with Godspeed You! Black Emperor being a band with records out and touring, we were all working a variety of jobs and, and doing what we could to make ends meet. I remember between maybe the second and third Godspeed tour I got cut off welfare because I was out of country, yeah? And so I came back and made an appointment with my welfare worker, and assured her even though I was in this band and hopefully, y’know, someday we would earn some sort of living, right now the band wasn’t earning enough money for me to pay my rent, and she actually made me sign this declaration and get it signed by a justice of the peace, saying that my name was Efrim Menuck and I play in a musical group called Godspeed You! Black Emperor and that as far as I can tell I will never ever ever earn a living playing music.
So, y’know, I mean, it took awhile. We’re lucky. I dunno, I have sort of a skewed perspective on the whole thing. I will say for sure that most musicians – the bulk of musicians out there pleading poverty or talking about the difficult life of the artist – the bulk of musicians, especially in this thing that popularly gets called Indy Rock or whatever, are mostly either whining or lying or just have a real, sort of, luxurious understanding of what it is to earn a living in this world. Ever since CDs came out, the economics of record sales are completely, completely abhorrent. A CD costs almost nothing to manufacture but sells for what, you know? It’s all a big racket. Yeah.
I’ve been under the impression that you’re not comfortable with selling CDs through corporate chain stores.
Yeah. I should rephrase that. We do everything we can to encourage people to support smaller record stores, and that’s not a big political thing. We just really like small local record stores and see them drying up all over the place.
And of course, at HMV, Horses in the Sky costs $20, and at Scratch it costs $13.
Yeah, of course.
When I talked to Carla, she talked about how she got really good publicity from a photo of her with a butcher knife that ran in Spin. She said that for a lot of people - especially before the internet - there just weren’t that many ways to find out about bands.
Absolutely, I mean, there’s all sorts of different ways to engage in this world and anyone who makes any sort of imperial argument is being disingenuous about a million things in this world. I know, for us… I don’t like talking about myself so much but for me personally, given what happened with Godspeed and with what’s been the history of Mt Zion, I have reason to be distrustful of the entire industry that exists around the promotion of music, typically in North America, also in Europe... It breaks my heart a little how degraded the idea of y’know, rock journalism is in the year 2006. It broke my heart in the year 1998, it broke my heart in the year 1987, it breaks my heart even more today.
It’s all advertising…
And it always has been, and… whoo. It’s like 33 degrees here and my brain is like maple syrup right now, so I’m not feeling super articulate, but absolutely... There’s validity (in what Carla said). Our record label doesn’t send records to Spin because Spin Magazine generally doesn’t review our records. A more complicated issue is that our record label doesn’t send records to Pitchfork media for an entirely different set of reasons which have to do with, uh… I don’t know. Let’s keep talking about this, but you ask me questions…
Well, in a way, this article too is advertising. I’m advertising you… There are things I like about the marketplace. I mean, I love buying CDs and music, finding cool stuff.
Yeah, I hear you, I mean, uh… (sighs) I mean, there are couple of things to say. The first thing I have to say is that Mt Zion in what we do and in the way we do it, the words we choose to sing, the way we peddle songs, the way present the music, the ethic of the record label we’re on, all those things can’t be simplified as, we absolutely disdain the marketplace. I… We are not comfortable issuing huge pronouncements like that. I mean, I’ve bought records at HMV, y’know? None of us are presenting ourselves as ascetic monks who somehow spend every second of our day fighting the man and not engaging, at all in the marketplace or anything like that. The fact is the world is a bleak place, we find it – (sighs) -- the one thing we all have in common is that the world seems to be in a steaming pile of shit and that the forces that overlap that create this thing that we’re sort of lazily right now calling the marketplace and all the rest of it are part of the problem, so as responsible, grown up, thoughtful human beings we do what we can to limit our engagement with market forces, for lack of a better term (it sounds like Dr. Death or something!) -- with market forces that we feel are contributing to a global state of affairs that we find to be horrendous. And that’s basically, like, humanism, it’s not anything deeper than that, and through Godspeed and with Mt. Zion, it’s been frustrating because we don’t fancy ourselves and we’ve never sort of described ourselves or presented ourselves as some sort of radical force or something. Mostly we’ve presented ourselves as clumsy, drunken Canadians, most of whom have like, university degrees, grew up fuckin’ lovin’ punk rock, who, when we reached a point when we decided we were gonna start playing music together, had a sort of ideal. We started to do that and we continue to do it now, just some ideals that we stagger towards kind of blindly, and we feel common cause with other people who shares those ideals. I mean, we’re just a fuckin’ band, you know, we’re not a… but we take the fact of being in a band quite seriously, and I’m endlessly discouraged at how generally what people take seriously is their own careers. There’s no consideration of anything other than that, and further than that, I mean, if you want to site a really easy example, you know, I wake up in the morning and turn on CBC radio, yeah? And I have to hear Gian fucking Gomeshi, right, gushing about what he’s terming as the newest independent genius thing, right, and then he plays some band that’s just released a record on either a major label or a so called independent label that’s owned by a major label. Now, I don’t think it’s like, splitting hairs to sort of wonder what the hell the word independent mean in thats context. I don’t think it’s an unreasonable request that other sort of intelligent or semi-intelligent grown up human beings think twice before they describe something lazily, y’know. Does that sound ridiculous?
No, not at all. Let me ask briefly about other aspects of your beliefs. I was reading a Wikipedia article that said you practice Judaism...
Yeah, yeah, yeah, I’ve read that Wikipedia entry. If you tell me what the Jewish faith is, I’ll tell you whether I practice it. I don’t go to synagogue, I don’t believe that there’s a God in heaven, I don’t believe in any of that stuff, you know, I mean, so, no.
Would you say that there’s a spiritual aspect of A Silver Mt. Zion’s music, though - especially through a connection with roots music or early gospel, say, from the 20’s and 30s, pre-record industry days?
I mean, not gospel as it relates to God, but for sure, we listen to stuff like that, and we listen to tons of stuff in that spirit and we have conversations amongst ourselves about, you know, those sorts of ideas. I mean, even tho’ it’s mostly an impossibility, especially in the type of venues you’re relegated to playing, it comes down to the idea of performance as like a purely social and transcendent event, yeah? Which sounds huge and pompous and ridiculous, I know, but it’s this fancy word for a really simple idea, which is just a bunch of people in a room sort of working together, the band on the stage and the people in the audience, and now I feel like I’m talking like Bryan Adams and doing it for the kids and all the rest, but it’s not that… it’s like, it’s something I feel like we’ve all felt being at shows before. It’s rare that shows feel that way but when you do you know you’re in one, y’know, and you remember it… It’s ideas like that that interest us.
What was the evolution of the choral thing?
Um. When we did… we did a tour, I can’t remember how many years now, but after the first Mt Zion record came out we did a European tour where we tried to present that record live, so we ended up playing quietly, with a digital piano, and it was one of the most miserable experiences I’ve ever had in my life. I didn’t understand it at all. By the third show I realized that every time I go to shows like this, I hate shows like this, and, y’ know, why the fuck are we doing this? So then two years later while we thinking of touring again, the only thing we could agree on was that the music should be louder and that we should aspire to be able to win any audience in any bar anywhere; that we would come together and come up with a set that would win over, like, drunks and cynics and sceptics alike. So when we were gearing up and sort of reworking all the arrangements of all the songs to sort of fit that idea, we booked a week of practice shows in Ontario: let’s go see how all this plays out, yeah? When we were gearing up for those shows we wrote one song in particular, and, just trying it out in the jam space, we tried the idea of all of us singing together, and sort of like amongst ourselves we were like, well, holy fuck, that’s great! If that doesn’t melt your heart even a little, then fuck you, you know? So it all sort of came out of that feeling at first, because we scared shitless of this venture we were engaging in, that maybe if we just put our hearts right on our sleeves and just embrace our ridiculous awkward lack of slickness, then there’s value in that. It also just feels real good singing with a bunch of your friends! It’s just a good fucking feeling, it fulfills basic human needs. We enjoy singing together. I guess it all just comes down to that.
It sounds great. So how would you chart the change, from Godspeed to A Silver Mt. Zion? Is A Silver Mt. Zion still a side-project, with the intent of returning to Godspeed You! Black Emperor at some point, or...?
I mean, I enjoy Silver Mt. Zion, and I love what we do together and it’s not a small thing for me that… I mean, the last, the second last Godspeed tour was in America in the lead up to Operation Shock and Awe, yeah? The war started when we rolled into Minneapolis, and in the lead up to that war, and just talking to people... I mean, Godspeed mostly hardly ever spoke from the stage… We were sort of…
Withdrawn. A bit shy, separated.
Yeah, for sure, I mean, that was our approach, and so, I mean, on that last American tour, it was sort of like, “Okay, how the fuck are we keeping our mouths shut now? How are we not saying anything, how are we not engaging with the audiences, what the hell does it mean if we’re just presenting this huge sort of massive instrumental sort of onslaught?” And so we started talking from the stage, and for me it didn’t feel like enough, it sort of felt like for the most part people in the audience felt like this was some sort of unwanted intrusion, that what they just wanted that big sort of massive wall of sound to hit them and go home content. Which is fair and valid, but I mean… uggh, I feel like I could be speaking more articulately about this… I mean, when Godspeed started playing together, you gotta keep in mind that Clinton was president and fuckin’ Chrétien was prime minister, you know what I mean? The economy, the fuckin’dotcom revolution was gonna save us all, the Berlin Wall had come down, and the lives we were living were not optimistic and hopeful and the lives our friends were not optimistic and hopeful and it didn’t seem like the edge of a brave new century or anything like that. So a lot of what Godspeed was engaged in at the start was like, really, projections of what everyone knew what was going on anyways but wasn’t being talked about. But those things are talked about now. I don’t see what need there is to sort of project, I hate the word apocalyptic, you know, but to project, you know, the… It’s not necessary. You need pretty thick blinders on right now to not be able to...
Not see how screwed up everything is.
That’s simplifying it, y’know? The violence of our society that was like, really pretty buried isn’t buried anymore. It’s on the surface always now. So, I dunno, it just comes down to feeling that now’s the time where you need words, you need ideas, you need talking, you need at least something like that to communicate anything.
Is there more a concern with trying to engage people emotionally and personally, rather than through political argument?
Yeah, maybe. I mean, I know the other big shift that’s happened since Mt. Zion started, even, is the fact that like what was once was a pretty large activist community, specifically around sort of issues of globalism and free trade and all that stuff, since the sky fell in on Sept. 11, has sort of gone into a period of retreat. The most we ever sloganeered had to do with those causes, and we didn’t sloganeer so loud. So, yeah, I dunno – the word political is a loaded one. I don’t feel like we’re shying away from any sort of politics, I think we’re just, uh, I don’t know - if we had to make a banner and hoist it over our head, and put a slogan on it, I don’t know what that slogan would be.
So is there any intent to get Godspeed going again in the future, or is A Silver Mt. Zion the main focus now?
No, there’s no plan. I’m sure that Godspeed will play again. And it’s not just Mt. Zion; everyone in Godspeed is engaged in other things right now.
I liked the production on the Carla Bozulich album. That seems like a really fruitful collaboration.
Yeah, I mean, it was great, I felt – it was a complicated and difficult but really good process and I feel touched and honoured to have been a part of it.
If I can ask, I’m kind of curious about your film intake. I’m a bit of a movie buff.
It’s hard for me, because I went to film school and since then I haven’t been so engaged in that sort of stuff. I mean, I don’t own a DVD player or anything like that. Documentaries, years ago, were the things that excited me the most
Any particular filmmakers?
I mean, that was a lot of years ago. DeAntonio, yeah?
I don’t know DeAntonio (Allan’s note: I do now!).
The last movie I saw that I keep trying to get everyone to watch, and it’s a total b-movie but I really believe it’s awesome, is Silent Running. I love that movie to death and I don’t care what anybody says.
(Chuckles). Yeah, the, uh, cute little robots put me off a bit.
I love the cute little robots. That’s exactly why I love that movie. Those are the saddest cute little robots in the world.
Have you seen Peter Watkins’ Punishment Park yet?
No, never had the opportunity to see that movie. I’m super curious, I mean, my friend Gem (sp?) is one person who’s crazy about that movie. I haven’t had a chance to see it yet.
Okay. One last thing - there are references in your lyrics and album art to Phil Ochs, to Nina Simone – people destroyed or damaged by the music industry.
Absolutely. It comes again to the idea that we’re musicians by trade, yeah? I can’t think of any happy endings in music. In the personal lives of people who are engaged in this thing of making music, there are no happy endings. There are plenty of like cautionary tales, tragically short lives, it’s just…It’s a train wreck. The history of like, modern popular music is a train wreck. It’s got all these sort of like utopian ideas bubbling everywhere, like a song can make you feel like you’re not alone in the world, that there’s purpose to your life, music has that power... but at the same time, if you did deep and you look at the story behind it, it’ll just break your heart in 20 million places. It’s like a sucker’s game. It’s like the last thing in the world that anyone should believe in or engage in, y’know? So, out of love of music and out of making music, you end up making your own sort of hall of saints and you write your own little, what’s the word, catechisms, the Catholic thing there... those little books that teach you how to pray proper? You write your own little catechisms, if you’re a certain type of personality.
Anyone else on your list? Albert Ayler is one of mine.
Absolutely, I mean, Mingus too, what the hell, there’s so many. I mean, just because it’s on my mind because of this thing I read today about the peculiar last chapter, or what seems to be the last chapter, of Bob Dylan’s life. It’s interesting on that level, for sure. I have no idea what the fuck goes through that man’s brain, but, like, he’s like…ah, I don’t know if I have the words for it. I mean, there’s a lot of them, but I would have to think for a bit…
He seems a bit lost, but at the same time, he’s celebrated and praised. Like success itself has damaged him - almost an Elvis story.
He seems different to me from Elvis on that front; I mean, it seems to me he’s acutely self-aware of how far he’s fallen…
You think he’s self aware?
Even in Masked and Anonymous, I mean, uh, I do think he’s self aware. I don’t know what he’s self-aware about. I think he has an awareness that he’s not what he once was. Absolutely. I dunno, he’s like a ghost to me. I member, when he came back again into the public eye, I was at a friend’s house and we were watching the Academy fuckin’ Awards, and he won best song for some movie that I don’t know what that movie was, and he sort of appeared on satellite with this under-rehearsed band, and it was really like seeing this ghost with some sort of weird conscience, you know? It was like the oddest thing I’ve seen on television that and since then that’s what he’s transmitting all over the place, and it’s very odd… And I’m not saying anything interesting about it.
No, it’s good. Anyhow, I'm looking forward to the show. I’ll forward you this article before it sees print.
That’ll be great. I hope we do good. Talk to you later.
And that's about all I'm going to write, because the right side of my head is starting to hurt again.
Oh: funny Engrish.
Thursday, March 27, 2008
The emergency room at St. Paul's is not my idea of a fun place to hang out. There's usually always a few of our addicts begging to be given pain meds, and a high concentration of homeless, mentally ill, and generally miserable and damaged people, packed into the waiting room alongside "normal" folks who are bleeding or wounded or seriously ill, either visibly or not. And with the exception of hospital staff zipping about or the odd talkative and mobile drunk who wants to tell you about his problems, there's not much to do but sit around together, contemplating with some distaste and reluctance your common humanity, as the institution does things in its own very institutional way, at a very institutional pace. If you can walk, you're left to follow this line or that painted on the floor to get from one area to the next, never quite sure if you've arrived at the right place. There's not even a window at the Fast Track section where you can talk to people; you're expected to just slip your forms through a slot and sit down and shut up like everyone else, until someone is ready to see you. Which is what I did, half-asleep, mind altered by illness, and the pain in my throat gradually subsiding of its own accord.
At least the TV in the waiting room was set to the CBC. After getting past the delirious hideousness of watching a couple of TV commercials, the falsity and malignity of which, as someone without cable, I am generally spared from, I perked up to hear about the case of Omar Khadr, a child soldier with a Canadian Al Qaida father, who was caught in Afghanistan during the war there at age 15, and shipped to Guantanamo Bay, where he awaits... whatever one waits for at Guantanamo. A trial? A session of waterboarding? A quiet repatriation? His 21st birthday, then his 22nd, then 23rd...? It's a pretty interesting case. He likely never had any choice at all,
given his family's commitment to their cause and the sort of indoctrination he was subject to, about whether he would participate in terrorism; there is no evidence, or so I've read, showing that he has actually killed US soldiers; he was - no one says this part - defending himself and his country's government, however hideous, against a foreign attack, which seems, even though that particular invasion was sanctioned by the world courts, to make it somewhat questionable that he is guilty of "war crimes," as charged; and of course, at Gitmo, he has been subject to torture (though one gathers he has also been given Mickey Mouse comic books. Only in America, you say?). And he's been held for five years illegally, which is a far bigger crime than anything he has actually done, regardless of what he knows or who his family is. CSIS and Canadian investigators have questioned him, and his defense team are currently petitioning to get ahold of those documents, which the Canadian government is unwilling to part with. It becomes very complicated, because our elected leaders have to decide whether to co-operate with clear human rights violations, which they probably realize will be bad for them in the long run, or to take arms against a sea of troubles, and by opposing, possibly end them (and win the wrath of the Yankees). Khadr is the only westerner still held at Gitmo, we are repeatedly reminded; assumedly, once he's repatriated, the other darkies can be left to rot there.
Well, who knows what Omar's morning was like yesterday, but I got out of St. Pauls at 10 AM, having been Xrayed and prodded and told - despite the bloody gob of phlegm - that there was nothing wrong with me. Not even a scrip for antibiotics was forthcoming. Relieved to no longer feel myself in the same boat with the various people sleeping in bundles on the street - because to St. Paul, we're all equal - I walked first to school, to make sure my substitute had what she needed, and then home, to take a long nap. Waking, I allowed myself a restful evening, went to bed early, not feeling that bad - and woke up at 2:30 AM, pretty much the same as I did yesterday morning. My nasal passages are completely plugged - my CPAP machine is useless, if no air can get through; and my throat, again, is sore as heck and phlegmy. There is still blood in my spit as I cough in the sink - alternating the thin pink liquid with dark green/gray gobs - but it isn't as concentrated or colourful as yesterday's little explosion, and not as worrying ("just a burst capillary," as the doctor who examined me said.) I've stayed awake long enough to gargle with hot salt water, pop some Advil, and spit up what I could. Now it's back to bed, to face work come 9 AM, I guess...
...at least I don't have US soldiers threatening to rape me...
Wednesday, March 26, 2008
Monday, March 24, 2008
I interviewed Carla prior to her last show in Vancouver. I probably would have been totally fucking intimidated to be speaking to her, except that back then, I didn’t really know her music all that well. I knew that the Geraldine Fibbers had featured Nels Cline for awhile and that there was a lot of critical acclaim behind Bozulich’s work; and I knew that Evangelista had been produced by Efrim Menuck of A Silver Mount Zion, and featured members of the band - with whom, in the summer of 2006, Bozulich was touring. That was about it. Since then, I've picked up the entire Fibbers back catalogue and a few of Carla's solo projects. Evangelista, her new band, takes their name from her last album, and continues in much the same vein. Hello, Voyager - again featuring various Mount Zion people, Shazad Ismaily, Jessica Moss, and Nels on one track - is a little heavier, I think, and more varied than the last, but it's "Radio Ethiopia"-powerful at times, and is PROBABLY not going to get the recognition it deserves. So even though she won't be playing here this time through, here's my 2006 interview with Carla, including material that never saw print before. Buy the album. Drive to Seattle. Check this shit out.
Allan: Are you playing with the same band as is on the recording?
Carla: I have a full band, you know, it’s likely I guess that we’ll probably play together since they’re on the album but we haven’t really even talked about it, it’s just up in the air right now. I’m touring with this really incredible band including the members of the Dead Science, which is a Seattle band that you might know about. And they’re really great, and also this woman Annie Rosse, is touring with the band, she’s a violist. Have you heard the Dead Science? They’re so fucking good… It’s just a trio, they play this really intense and really beautiful rock music that’s very unusual and very pretty, it’s kind of almost like Antony from Antony and the Johnstons meets like, something a lot more intense, I don’t know how exactly to explain. Anne Rosse and a woman named Tara Barnes – she’s from a band called Business Lady and a band called Dutchesses – she’s a phenomenal bassist and singer and, um, she’s my right hand man, actually, she’s with me all the time, all the tours that are coming up, which is quite a lot, we’re going to be touring through the year and into next year.
Allan: There’s a surprising diversity of music that you’ve done - from an album of Willie Nelson covers to Evanglista, that’s a big step.
Carla: Red Headed Stranger is like the most accessible album I ever made, easily, so it’s not a super-good jumping off point, but this album (Evangelista) is my most raw, heart- on-your-sleeve sort of thing – and I have done a lot of that, but also musically I feel like it’s really tuned-in, in a way that, at other times I haven’t been quite as focused. But this is a kind of a thematic piece which has to do with sound and love and mainly those two things – a celebration of those things. And it’s funny, because I’ve read a few reviews of the record where they listen to the record, they listen to the title track, the first track, "Evangelista," and they say it’s, you know, torment and an attack on the senses, and all this, and it’s kinda funny… I mean, I don’t deny that that’s the way it comes off if that’s the way it comes off, but what I MEANT by it was more of like a thing to appeal to people’s sense of desperation and maybe loneliness and offer this alternative, which is this exaltation achieved through sound and love. But I guess it comes off as witchy…
Allan: The Constellation site describes it as "an exorcism."
Carla: I never said it was an exorcism. I never meant it as an exorcism. Someone else said it, then… Y’know, people tend to do their own interpretations of things.
Allan: We media folk are bad people. We put words in other people’s mouths. I will try not to do that.
Carla: We! (laughs). It’s hard especially if you’re quoting something from my own record company! I don’t blame you.
Allan: There’s something of old-time, raw gospel music to Evangelista - something that suggests religious experience.
Carla: The gospel thing is totally a part of it. We’re playing in a church tonight in Philadelphia (July 13th, 2006). It’s a tiny little church, it’s all wood, there’s pews, there’s an altar - and that to me is the ideal place to perform Evangelista, but in terms of religion, like I said, there is a religion I suppose, but it’s all about sound and love. (laughs) That’s it. It’s not about God, it’s about a different kind of God, it’s about the kind of God for people who really really respond to music and sound and noise, who fill themselves up that way and lift themselves up that way - for people that can respond to sound and love the way other people respond to God, and people can take it and use it to lift themselves up and rise up above things that might normally kick their ass. Just the way people do with religion, where they reach out and they say I can’t make it on my own, I need this to help me. For me, and my life, that’s what I’ve always found, that’s what always has saved my ass, it’s sound, it’s music music music, every time. Every time, at the lowest points of my life, it’s sound and love. You find even the little tiniest spark of it, it will lift you up, and that’s what this is about. It’s not an album for people that are just cruising along and have never had any major grief or loss or anger or anything like that, it’s much more of an album for people who can relate to kind of having a little bit of a warrior side to themselves, rising above that stuff, hopefully without hurting a fuck of a lot of people in the process. So you know, that’s it. It’s not about God, because, you know, God, for me… the word doesn’t mean anything.
Allan: Do you see it more as connecting with personal pain, or is there a political dimension to it, trying to engage with the state of the world?
Carla: Well, certainly it was meant to reach out in a way… I mean, the voice of the person that is singing the first cut, or preaching, or whatever you want to call it: it’s almost a sermon, it was certainly meant to reach out to people the way you do in church, the way the preacher does. There’s no limit to who you’re reaching out to; I mean, only a finite number of people are going to hear it, but there really isn’t any limit to who you’re calling out to, you know… I mean, the album to me is something that is very personal to me, but I don’t think I’m unique in my feelings – do you understand what I mean? …Anybody who’s had these feelings, and I try to kind of find common ground, I do find common ground all the time. And I like to nurture that in my writing in general, because my writing’s very very very personal. I respond directly to what’s happening in my life, but I also am keenly aware of the fact that I’m not the only person that has these feelings, these are the feelings of human beings and, um, I feel a little bit lucky that maybe I can put some of them into words, maybe in ways that some people haven’t been able to formulate before for themselves, and so I think it’s nice for them to have that, you know, as a present. I to try to give my music away, as a present.
Allan: Does the marketplace interfere at all with that?
Carla: What marketplace? (Laughs)
Allan: Well - how do you feel about your stuff being sold in corporate chain stores, for instance?
Carla: Stuff like that doesn’t bug me at all. I’m not at all like that at all, no no no…
Allan: Constellation are a bit like that, no?
Allan: What was the connection between A Silver Mt Zion and Constellation and you?
Carla: Jessica Moss, who plays violin in A Silver Mount Zion, was in the Geraldine Fibbers for a short time and that’s how I met all of them. We just hit it off. The last time I played in Montreal I played just a little bit of the material that ended up being on the new album, and Efrim said he would like to record it at the Hotel2Tango; then the people who played on it said they would like to play on it, and it really just blew my mind, and I just followed kind of the direction that it took to make it happen. It’s really the easiest thing I ever did, and it’s a good thing that it was, because I was sort of not that organized in my mind at that time, but really, Efrim and Shazad Ismaily and Jessica and everybody that played on it, they just kind of made it happen. All I really had to do was just show up and bring the songs and sing and share some of my ideas, and everybody produced the album – it was really kind of phenomenal experience. Efrim, I dunno, he was just so tuned into it – he was just sort of on fire with the project. It could never be the album it is without what he did. He was tireless, he was working on other things at the same time and he just, he spent every minute that he had to spare on it and just made it into this incredible thing and mixed all these cuts without anybody else even being there, which has like, never happened to me, I’ve never not been there for that, but they ended up being perfect, and I dunno, and Shazad, too, didn’t ask any money, came all the way up from NY, cancelled a bunch of shit... Everybody worked really hard at it. I think they just liked the music.
Allan: I don’t really know Shazad Ismaily’s music, I confess.
Carla: He’s a beautiful wonderful guy who plays in the Secret Chiefs 3 and 2 Foot Yard. He plays with Marc Ribot. Literally, if you google him you’ll see he plays with so many great players and he’s an amazing multi-instrumentalist…
Allan: If I can ask, are you currently making a living on your music?
Carla: No. I’ve been lucky in the respect, for the past few years I’ve been living off of a decision I made financially several years ago that paid my way for a little while, but it’s coming to the point now where things have changed, and the next year is gonna be kinda more difficult scenario.
Allan: The low ticket price for the show with A Silver Mount Zion is a surprise. How is anyone gonna get paid, at $13 a ticket, with two big bands?
Carla: Well, it’s just the way it is.
Allan: Do you think you’ll be able to make a living from music in the future?
Allan: I dunno if it made him any money, but yeah…
Carla: Well, exactly, because it never works, people are like, “What the hell is he doing? You can really pinpoint those albums, if you really sit there and look at people’s like, body of work, like “this is the one where they were trying to make more money!” There’s really no point in me going there right now.
Allan: Was Red Headed Stranger at all an attempt to connect with a wider listening base?
Carla: No, it was totally driven by my heart’s desire, everything I’ve done has been. I’ve never given a thought to that and actually I’ve turned down opportunities where I would have been set up for life but I just am not that kind of a person. I’m kind of a street doggie. It’s really just not that hard on me to WORK. Hard.
Allan: I was talking about this with the members of Fe-mail, from Norway - about how there’s a lot of state support for the arts, as opposed to the United States.
Carla: Yeah, we don’t have any… (laughs) We have basically the opposite where it’s like, if you’re an artist you’re frisked and stripped searched everywhere (laughs).
Allan: Okay never mind… I know you’ve been vocal in your support of the queer community in your music. Any things to say to the queer community in Vancouver?
Carla: Uh. Let’s see here. Oh gosh, you’re really for putting me on the spot, aren’t you…? What can I say? I love you I love you I love you, and I do, but the truth is - I wanna say something funny, but it’s really, it’s… (she takes a step back): This is a lot of what kind of drives me musically, and has for a long time. I mean, I’m not a teenager, I lived through the 80s and 90s, and, I mean, you know, what the fuck can I say to the queer community? I’m really glad that there are better medications for AIDS now and I’m just really glad there aren’t as many people dying and that’s a terrible way to end an interview, it’s like the worst possible way, but like, a lot of my music and the things that I’ve written, a lot of the motivations behind it including Evangelista, you’ll hear a lot of grief in there, and it’s grief, you know, from people that have died of AIDS, and just the fact that it’s still going on and it’s still going on in the world and the people that I’ve known personally - it’s ripped my life apart. I don’t mean that in a selfish way, because I know it’s not me really; I’m not the one that lost my life, and I wish I could say something happy and jolly and all, like “To the Queer Community, like, rock on,” or whatever, but really… I’m just glad that people are staying alive longer.
Allan: Actually, that reminds me - some critics have compared Evangelista to the recordings of Diamanda Galas (who wrote a Plague Mass for AIDS victims, and so forth). Do you feel any affinities there?
Carla: Yeah, I do, I feel a power inside of myself that’s immense in that I have gift for throwing out of my body into the atmosphere and into the audience and I recognize that in her, too, and I feel really lucky that I can manifest that.
Thursday, March 20, 2008
I've actually visited a wildlife preserve in New Zealand (where most of the more unique local species, like the tuatara and the kiwi, have been decimated by rodents and such introduced by colonists; you're more likely to see such animals in a protected enclosure than in the wild). I must admit that the tuatara were a tad anticlimactic; seeing them fulfilled a childhood dream, since, when I was a dinosaur-obsessed young man, they really captured my imagination, as a bit of an evolutionary throwback, distinct from lizards in many ways. But they were also amazingly dull animals: they just sat there, doing nothing, in utter stolid lethargy, barely even seeming to breathe. Given this, I imagine it would have been very, very exciting for the tuatara's keepers to stumble upon them copulating. A story for the grandkids...
Wednesday, March 19, 2008
Tuesday, March 18, 2008
So a bunch of us have sashayed over to The Skinny, which I assume hits the streets next month, and has no link for a website as yet. I actually don't know a WHOLE lot about the paper at the moment, mostly because I haven't been paying attention, but Vancouver's biggest Budgie fan, Ferdy Belland, and my longtime gigmate, photographer Femke van Delft, are involved (more'n me - I contributed a mere single gig review to the first issue)... as are Bev Davies and a buncha other local noteworthies: some of whom will doubtlessly be at the Thursday launch party for the paper. I have as many questions as you about what the end result will be like: will the Skinny rock? Will the Skinny suck? Will the Skinny float? Will the Skinny sink? Will the Skinny alienate me by introducing bizarre grammatical errors into my prose? I know not, but whatever is in th' cards, THE SKINNY WILL RISE IN APRIL, to greet the season of regeneration and animal fucking, and those of us who haven't been on a guestlist since last November will BE THERE ON THURSDAY TO CELEBRATE.
Join us, but, like, pay the cover.
You just KNOW someone is going to buy a cute stuffed dog for a mascot (and maybe die it black and give it Big Hair). Bwah ha ha. It's so obvious, it might've already been done.
Gone Beyond Beyond (Hail the Goer!)
Founded in 1995, the Acid Mothers Temple have replaced the Boredoms as the number one ambassadors of J-weird to foreign shores, but their fame abroad is not replicated at home. In my three years (1999-2001) of seeking out the unusual in Japan, I never once heard of them. I never saw a poster for their records at the to-drool-for Japanese chain store, Disk Union, never overheard their music at a headshop - nada. You might assume this indicates nothing more than a flaw in my hunting, but dig: the Acid Mothers Temple and Melting Paraiso UFO are a bunch of Japanese freaks (in the Mothers of Invention sense) who appear on their album covers dressed like medieval troubadours from space re-enacting a Trout Mask Replica photo shoot, occasionally holding staffs with skulls or posing like longhaired monks in prayer. They have album titles like Absolutely Freak Out (Zap Your Mind!!) and Hypnotic Liquid Machine from the Golden Utopia, with acid-drenched, 60's-retro cover art, sometimes featuring naked Japanese hippie girls posed as icons of unencumbered freedom. Their stated goal is to make "trip music" designed to attune the listener to the "cosmic vibration," and they abundantly look the part. For a guy with an eye to the weird, if the Acid Mothers Temple were at ALL on the radar in Japan, stuff like this would STAND OUT.
I spoke to AMT founder and leader Makoto Kawabata via email, with invaluable help from Alan Cummings of the UK, who translated (thanks!). AMT neophytes are directed to www.acidmothers.com, the official site, and in particular the FAQ section, “Kawabata's Words,” if you want to learn more about, say, the UFO summoning ceremony the band held, the philosophy of their "soul collective," or where the self-taught guitarist gets his ideas for song titles; since Kawabata doesn’t like to answer questions already in the FAQ, I’ve endeavoured to cover new territory below.
Me: First off, a friend of mine really wants to know about the band and the Moomintrolls. What was the genesis of "The Hattifatteners Song?"
Kawabata Makoto: In Japan the Moomins were shown on television between 1969 and 1972, and it was very popular. I grew up watching it and later I bought all the books and devoured them too. The Hattifatteners are my favourite characters, though the song title itself has no particular meaning. Iguess that sense of movement just popped into my head. It's funny that you should ask me about cartoon characters because when I was a child I had a conception of Christian, Buddhist and Hindu (etc) art as being like cartoons and I used to copy them. Even today I still collect popular religious artefacts.
Me: Do you have kids?
Kawabata Makoto: I have no children and I don't think I'll ever get married. Perpetuating my DNA would probably have a bad effect on future society! People as useless as me should be prevented fromreproducing. Not having kids will be my contribution to society.
Me: I absolutely love the quote on the FAQ, "I think that it was maybe because I had music that I never became a terrorist." Were you an angry young man?
Kawabata Makoto: When I was around six or seven and I first started reading manga, my mother bought me a set of books about the lives of famous people in history. I read them from cover to cover, and I felt a lot of sympathy for the lives of Napoleon and Nobunaga Oda. After that I started to read historical novels and books about war. I got obsessed with revolutionaries on the Imperial side in the lead up to the 19th century Meiji Restoration in Japan, and with the lifestyles of dictators like Hitler. When I was about ten, I had this vague idea that I'd like to become someone who changes the world, and this eventually escalated into dreams of causing a worldwide revolution (not in the Marxist sense) and controlling the world. I don't think I was especially angry at the world - I just had this longing for the idea of revolution. I remember saying that if I had power I would start a guerrilla movement to depose myself and seize power. I must have been interested in the process by which revolutions fail or succeed, and particularly in the plots and mindgames that go along with this process - I saw the whole thing as a kind of game in which it would be worth gambling your life.
In school, I was the kind of kid who always loved to annoy the teacher by asking difficult questions. I loved getting the rest of the kids to back me up in debates with the teacher about politics. I loved the psychological aspects of politics, and I used to enjoy manipulating groups within the extra-curricular clubs to fight against each other. This was probably because I have a real loathing of group activities, so I would manipulate things to create situations more amenable to me personally. However once I discovered music, my early dreams of becoming a politician or a philosopher disappeared entirely.
Me: Do you have any desire to influence young people through your music? Is there a "political meaning" to your songs?
Kawabata Makoto: To begin with, my music has no message. Music is simply music, no more and no less. If you wanted to find some message in it, perhaps it would be that I want people to find some sense of the secret of music through it. That's all. I have no idea and no interest in whether my music exerts any influence on the young. It is as much as I can do to create my music to the fullness of my abilities, and I have no time to consider its effect on others. Neither have I ever wanted to influence anyone else. Of course, I do have personal political beliefs, but I have never tried to express those beliefs through music and I do not think that music should be used for such a purpose. Of course I am aware that such music exists, and putting the message aside, there is some of that type of music that I enjoy. But if I do enjoy it, it is purely on musical terms, not because I agree with the message it is trying to express. If I ever wanted to express a political message, I would find some means other than music.
Me: Are you often hassled by the police in Japan?
Kawabata Makoto: When I was young I was often suspected of being involved with drugs, but I've always tried to avoid contact with the police as much as I can. They're always going to have power and the law on their side, no matter how irrational, and I'm always going to come off worse. So I try to avoid contact with them, try to avoid being suspected of anything criminal. I had various run ins when I was younger, but now I need to apply for work visas to go the US so keeping my nose cleanhas become a matter of life and death.
Me: Have you ever sampled the weed here?
Kawabata Makoto: Vancouver marijuana? I've never tried it, and to be honest now I have zero interest in drugs. Drugs provided a hint for me at one time, but I don't think they can ever provide an answer. I'm not anti-drugs and I would never object to anything to that anyone else wanted to do, but for me drugs are no longer necessary. When I was younger I tried everything I could get my hands on, but it was out of curiosity to find out what they could show me. Now I'm able to enter into thosekinds of states through strength of will alone so I no longer need the help of drugs. In fact, I have a feeling that if you want to keep on searching for answers then drugs will eventually become more of a hindrance than a help.
Me: What do you admire about Japanese society? What irritates you the most?
Kawabata Makoto: In answer to the first question, the need to try and do everything as efficiently as possible. Sometimes this can take capitalism to an extreme, but I don't necessarily think this is a bad thing. The value placed on the effort and the process of trying to find the most efficient solution is something that I think the Japanese can be proud of. The stance of seeing yourself as not worthy, or “the culture of shame,” are also two of the virtues of Japanese culture. Of course, there is much that has been lost due to the Westernization of our lifestyles and efforts to increase the standard of living. Probably the thing that annoys me the most is the ceaseless yearning after Western culture. It is so sad to see ancient and wonderful traditions being wilfully discarded, but of course I am also conscious that I am a part of the problem. I am disappointed by young Japanese who have become stupid through growing up in an era that provides for all their needs.
Me: Do you feel alienated from the mainstream of Japanese society?
Kawabata Makoto: Once I started travelling abroad, I rediscovered many things about Japan. I read once (in a book written by a non-Japanese, I hasten to add!) that there are two kinds of people, Japanese and everyone else. I lot of what I have seen leads to feel that this is perhaps true. I believe that the Japanese are innately communist. There's a Japanese proverb that says that the nail that sticks out should be hammered down - and Japanese love uniforms, and there is a current of thought in Japan that admires you the less individuality you show. Accordingly, what 'individuality' that is allowed to exist in Japan must always align itself to some kind of group identity. Truly unique and visible individuality is not recognized and is treated as 'alien'. But on the other hand, it is this kind of thinking that has created Japan as it is now. It is this system of values that sees the individual as one part of the whole that creates in Japan words like 'corporate warrior'. And it is these people and their devotion of their lives to their work that has created the idea of 'family service' (the time that they give to their families at the weekend). However, I do not hate the values of these kinds of Japanese – they are the ones who sustain Japanese society and for that I thank and even admire them. I, on the other hand, have no qualifications to become one part of their society. But it's because of their hard work that I am able to drop out of that society and live in comfort while devoting my life to music.
In the past I once worked as a designer in a large company. But when I realised that if I were to struggle for the next 30 years and rise above all my colleagues and rivals, the seat that I would finally get to sit in would be the same one occupied by my boss today, I handed in my resignation. I realised that I could never live in a world where I could so clearly imagine what kind of person I would be in 30 years time. But at the same time there is a part of me that cannot accept the European idea of individuality. I'm a hedonist, a revolutionary and I live for the moment, but I'm also quite driven. I can't just sit and enjoy life or relax. Perhaps that says something about the Japanese blood that must run through the veins even of this dropout.
Me: How do you feel about touring?
Kawabata Makoto: In recent years I've spent six months out of every twelve on the road. It's great to be able to meet all kinds of people, but touring really does wear you down both mentally and physically. When I'm on the road I get loads of new ideas that make me want to rush home and start recording. But when I'm recording every day, I get this desire to get back on the road. Wherever I go people ask me about which countries or cities I enjoy the most and I always give the same reply - "there's good things and bad things about everywhere, things I love and things I hate. Wherever you go there's people, cities and nature, and it's all pretty much the same. And besides we get to see very little of the places we visit apart from clubs, record shops and wherever we're crashing that night.
If there's one thing that really gets me down on the road, it's the food. I prefer to stick to a pure Japanese diet and trying to change that is really hard for me. I don't like bread, cheese, ham and other processed meats, pasta, pizza or fruit, so often it is hard for me to find anything that I can order. Recently I've been drinking nothing but shochu (a Japanese alcohol, stronger than sake), and I can't really drink much beer any more. But everywhere we go, we always get given beer. I try vodka instead, but what I really want is shochu! In February I went on a solo tour of Europe and this time I didn't bring any food with me from Japan and tried to get by on what I get locally. That's was tough and my healthsuffered. On the road it's important to look after your health, so the change in diet is the most difficult thing for me.
Me: At your last Vancouver show, there were almost no Japanese in the audience.
Kawabata Makoto: AMT have refused to be covered by the Japanese mass media for the past ten years. Apart from our first three albums, almost everything we have released has been on overseas labels which are of course poorly distributed within Japan. We only play once or twice a year in Japan, so until recently virtually no one had heard of us. Which might explain why there are hardly ever any Japanese fans at our concerts abroad. Sometimes we do get Japanese who come to our concerts abroad, but almost always they tell us that they first heard of us after they left Japan.
Me: I was struck by how more respectful and attentive Japanese audiences were, compared to audiences here. When I saw Keiji Haino play, the audience didn't make a sound for the whole forty minutes of his performance, only applauding when he was finished. How would you explain this difference?
Kawabata Makoto: If there is a difference, it's that Japanese audiences come to hear the music and that American or European audiences come to enjoy themselves. In addition, tickets are expensive in Japanese clubs so most people will only be able to afford to buy one drink. But in the US and Europe people will drink while listening to the music and they'll go to the bar even during the performance. Japanese audiences will also watch all the bands on the bill - firstly because they've paid a lot to get to in, but also because they're simply curious about the bands even if they've never heard of them before. I don't know which attitude is better. If you've paid your money to get in, then you should have the right to enjoy the music in whichever way you like. You can listen quietly or if you're bored you can chat with your friends, it's up to you. Maybe it's more important for the musicians to try and play in such a way that people won't feel like chatting?
Sometimes in Japan you'll see people sitting down criticizing those who get up to dance, and I'm not too sure about that. If it's rock then of course I think it's natural for people to want to move their bodies. Because Japanese audiences are so restrained in their reactions, sometimes Japanese bands that play overseas get overly surprised by the reaction they get there. But that's just stupid. Sometimes there'll be some really tedious band on the bill and they'll get just as big a round of applause as us. At times like that I wonder how much you can trust the audience. But the audience are there to enjoy themselves, so that's their prerogative – but musicians need to be wary of getting too carried away by audience reaction...
Me: When people from one culture adopt the forms of another, they are often selective about it, and sometimes get certain things wrong, or leave certain things out (I’m thinking of the way many westerners have adopted aspects of martial arts or Buddhism here). Did you ever feel like you were consciously adopting foreign forms, by emulating the rock of the 1960’s?
Kawabata Makoto: For me, and for those Japanese of my generation or older, rock was an imported culture. For this reason, many Japanese expended time and energy in creating exact copies of it or in 'deliberately' trying to create original forms of rock. My take on rock is that it is a form of popular music that began in the US and was brought to a peak of completion in the UK. But at the same time it is equally true that since rock is not just a surface style but a 'spirit' or attitude, it absorbed influence from many other sources and thus transformed itself in innumerable ways. This is its great difference to jazz. And it is this that meant that many countries or regions gave birth to their own forms of rock, Krautrock in Germany being a good example. At this point then rock ceased to be a US or British monopoly and changed into a kind of music of the world. When we first thought about covering the Occitanian trad folk song "La Novia" we worried that because we ourselves were not Occitanian, trying to cover their traditional music would be a sterile exercise or a kind of fakery. But fortunately what we play is rock not trad, and rock possesses a power like that of a black hole, capable of sucking in and absorbing every other form of music. We realised that this power could transform even Occitanian trad into rock, and that was why we went ahead with the cover. And now does anyone who hears the AMT version of “La Novia” think that it sounds fake?
For better or worse rock has the power to absorb and fuse together every form of music. Has there ever been another music as mutant and freakish in nature? I believe that rock has now completely severed its connections with its roots and its original socio-political contexts, and has become something unique of itself. Rock has become something that anyone can play, regardless of musical training or technique. Its style now exists only in its absence. For me, this is why rock has become something that I only judge on its coolness or uncoolness. No matter what form it takes, if it is cool, then that is enough.
Monday, March 17, 2008
Stampfel tells the following story: "I met Lewis at Ed Sanders’ birthday party, and there’s two kids onstage, and one of them says, 'We’re going to do a history of punk rock on the Lower East Side which is a history of punk rock, 1959 to 1975,' and I thought, 'Yeah, kid - yeah, right. This is gonna be good.' And he proceeded to do this twelve minute thing starting with Harry Smith, going to the Holy Modal Rounders, and then the Fugs, and basically namechecking every single punkish influence, and then in 1975 the Ramones get to England and people believe that punk rock is invented. And he would sing a little snippet of every single group he was going through, and he nailed it! I mean, he did a brilliant job of exposition - he remembers things that I’d forgotten, you know? And I went up to the guy - 'Man, that was fucking great - you nailed it!'
And subsequently he asked me to record on an album behind him called City and Eastern Songs, that Kramer recorded..."
So in addition to being grateful to Peter Stampfel for more or less, through his music, turning me onto the joys of oldtimey some 20 years ago, I now owe him a debt of gratitude for introducing me to the music and art of Jeffrey Lewis. I mean, dig, anyone who does an anti-folk album of slightly more "accessible" versions of Crass songs, that I can play my non-punk friends without them making me turn it off, is doing, if nothin' else, something extremely socially useful for, well, anyone like me... but Lewis is doing a LOT else, and has some of the flat-out funniest/smartest songs I've heard in years. Check this interview with him, or this one, or this neat little film for "The Last Time I Did Acid I Went Insane," for instance. Or "The Chelsea Hotel Oral Sex Song," or his dark, hilarious meditation on Will Oldham and indy rock - there's a whole delightful afternoon to be spent listening to Jeffrey Lewis stuff online. I wish I'd gotten around to transcribing the part of the Stampfel tape where he talks about Jeffrey just a little earlier, because the GUY WAS JUST IN VANCOUVER! (Feb. 22 - he played Richards on Richards). And will be playing Seattle March 31st, for those of you who are mobile.
Actually, he says he's lookin' for a pick-up gig on April 1st, but I'm guessing crossing the border will be too complex to swing at short notice... Will keep y'all posted on that.