Monday, March 17, 2008

In which Peter Stampfel turns me on to Jeffrey Lewis, and I enthuse about it

During my longish interview with Peter Stampfel of the Holy Modal Rounders, Mr. Stampfel spoke very highly of a young NY musician and cartoonist named Jeffrey Lewis, of whom I had not heard before (this was in the portion of the interview that did not make it into - nay, was not even transcribed for - my Nerve Magazine interview with Stampfel. It will appear in full form, along with a brief chat with Antonia, in Bixobal #3, if all goes according to schedule).

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.


Anonymous said...

I've been reading your blog for ages now and for whatever reason have never gotten around to commenting. I am in debt to you for having turned me onto Dusan Makjayev and Peter Watkins, and the confessional tone of your blog really sets you apart from the majority of the blogs I frequent- in short, I dig it. Anyways, reading that you've gotten into Jeffrey Lewis is what has finally compelled me to comment, first to say that I'm glad you've been turned onto sure to grab some of his comic books if you ever get a chance. I too got into Lewis because of the HMR connection, and then the Crass record hit and I pledged my undying allegiance to the guy- brilliance! To make a long, long, and oh-so-painful story short, I live in Orange County, California, and last week Jeff Lewis played a free show at a local university. I bought a comic, couldn't stop smiling throughout his performance ("Champion Jim"...check it on youtube if you haven't already). The last song of his set was "No LSD Tonight." In a bizarre turn of synchronicity, less than an hour later both my girlfriend and myself were arrested for felony drug possession- I for one tab of acid, her for acid, mdma, some prescription pills. We were interrogated for 12 hours (a part of the long version of the story I'll exclude for sake of brevity), spent 12 hours in jail before being released, and we have court in April. Life pretty much went to shit really quick. The only things that really brought me up was going with my girlfriend to pick up her car, reaching into my backpack and pulling out my fresh copy of his comic Fuff, which has a CD with that History of Punk on it. I think listening to Jeffrey Lewis and having seen The Boredoms last night are the only things keeping me sane with my looming felony conviction and the anger I feel at the abusive actions of the Orange County sheriffs. Anyways, keep up the good work man...I'll definitely comment more often. Later days.

Allan MacInnis said...

Jonathan -

Thanks for the interesting comment. Very sorry to hear about your legal problems - it's sad and silly that our legal institutions are so fossilized and hysterical (two adjectives that seem odd in combination with each other, but what the heck); the idea of having a felony conviction for a bit of acid or ecstacy seems pretty flippin' absurd and out of step with reality, given how common such substances are. Might as well just arrest people for being young, or creative, or curious. Best of luck, and yes, I will check out Jeffrey's comic books if I ever get the chance.

Oh - and the Boredoms, eh? Last I heard (when I was in Japan 1999-2002), they were making rave music, albeit of a fairly interesting/trippy sort. I felt very fortunate to have caught them before they got into that - when Eye was still screeching and gibbering and leaping about; gotta admit I liked that stuff better. Have they returned to past glories, perchance? Is Yamamoto back?


Allan MacInnis said...

Watching A SCANNER DARKLY, smokin' pot, and thinking about your post. Our current drug laws really ARE a bunch of bullshit - have you been following the Marc Emery stuff? He's a Canadian pot activist that's going to go to jail because of US drug laws. It's so fucked up it's unbelievable.


Anonymous said...

Marc Emery's situation is a damn shame indeed. Whenever I get into arguments with my conservative uncle, it usually ends with him drunkenly slurring "If you hate this country so much, why don't you leave?" To be quite honest, I would leave if I had the means...and now I can't because, you know, the mandatory drug counseling, probation, and all that other fun stuff I'll likely be having to wade through (hopefully...I have no desire to spend months in jail over acid that wasn't even all that great). The "War on Drugs"...arrghh...I won't even get started. You know what's up just as well as I do.

As for Boredoms...I wouldn't call it rave's a lot more tribal and hypnotic than that. I would have loved to see them back in the day with Yamamotor, but as they are now- I was impressed, to say the least. Not all of my friends were as seemed the ones that were on a substance loved it, the ones that weren't were hoping for something along the lines of their older stuff, and I was just giddy to be feet away from Yoshimi and Eye. I can't give a very objective review of the show; Boredoms are one of the few things I've consistently been nuts about for about the past ten years or so. Might not be your cup of tea...I'll just leave it at that. Me? A religious experience. Did I mention that Matt Groening was there and was pissed off the security was being overzealous about searching for weed and had to put his back in his car? Apparently, he knows whats up just as well as we do!

Allan MacInnis said...

I'm curious: just how different IS Vancouver from life in the States? I hear about people like Tommy Chong being busted for selling bongs in the mail to American citizens, and having to actually do jail time for it; meanwhile, there are ten headshops within half an hour's walk of me (like the "Cottonmouth Smoke Shop" on Davie, for instance) that openly sell pipes, bongs, hookahs, whatever, and a few others selling seeds and cultivation books and equipment. Everyone knows about it, and about the cafes where (allegedly as long as you bring your own) you can sit and smoke up using their vaporizers or other such gear; it ain't uncommon to see people smoking a joint on the street. I see a movie like OLD JOY and I think, "hm, it's exactly the same as here" - the casual, everyday way the characters in the movie treat smoking up - and then I hear about stories like yours and the US starts to seem a bit more foreign to me. I mean, are there headshops? Can you buy seeds openly? Are there "Compassion Clubs" openly flouting the law? How easy is it to get busted for Just a Bit of Grass down there?

Cool to hear that Matt Groening likes the Boredoms...


Anonymous said...

mean, are there headshops?

a few in every city where i live in orange county, one on every other corner in la county. only difference is they can't advertise anything as being related to weed...ask a guy for anything other than a "water pipe" or a "tobacco vaporizer" and he'll boot you from his store.

Can you buy seeds openly?

you can't buy seeds anywhere, unless you have a medical marijuana card (kinda unique to us left coast states), but even that can get you in trouble, for mj is still federally illegal, even in a medical context

Are there "Compassion Clubs" openly flouting the law?

If you mean medical marijuana clubs, yeah...and it's fairly easy to get a membership, but again, living somewhere as conservative as where I do, and where cops have nothing better to do, it's easy to get in a lot of trouble this way

How easy is it to get busted for Just a Bit of Grass down there?

Differs from area to area. My friends that live in Portland, Oregon or up near Berkely couldn't get busted if they offered a cop a bong rip (an exaggeration, but not too far off). Down here in Southern California (again, especially in OC), it's hard NOT to get busted...pigs are overzealous and have nothing better to do and there are just too many fucking people everywhere...try to smoke a joint outside and I can almost guarantee a fine.