Friday, July 31, 2009

Summer of Sound: My Generation and Apparition Of The Eternal Church at the VIFC

Barbara Kopple and Thomas Haneke's My Generation: still muddy after all these years

Vancity Theatre programmer Tom Charity and I got to talk briefly about the ongoing VIFC Summer Of Sound festival for The Georgia Straight this week. It was a fun Music Note to write, because Charity made the "Summer Of Love Redux" angle quite palatable - somewhat to my surprise, given my previous gripes about how Boomer-centric the program seemed. Seeing the festival as a chance to reappraise what Woodstock - celebrating its 40th anniversary - meant and/or still means in light of subsequent developments in popular music - including the corporatisation of rock and commodification of youth culture - is a considered and interesting angle, and I'm particularly eager to see My Generation, to see what leftist documentarian Barbara Kopple (who co-shot the film with Thomas Haneke) makes of the two 1990's revivals of Woodstock. Acts filmed include Green Day, Metallica, Nine Inch Nails, the Rollins Band, The Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Sheryl Crow, Blues Traveler, and Primus, tho' I'm not sure how much footage there is of performances in the film. Less, I'm told, than the performance-heavy Woodstock, also screening. More on My Generation can be read here - or see Barbara Kopple's website. It sounds like a rather cynical appraisal of the corporatisation of rock, which may be partially why the film remains unavailable on DVD...

The film Charity is most excited about, meanwhile, is the Canadian premiere of Apparition of the Eternal Church. "I think it’s a really unusual film," he tells me, "because it’s a film that takes head on the challenge of how we respond to music, and makes that not just its subject, but that’s reflected in its form, which is innovative. This is a documentary about Messiaen ten-minute organ piece of the same name, and for the first half of the film - the first three quarters of the film, even - we don’t hear the music," Charity explains. "We just watch people listening to the music wearing headphones as they describe what the music means to them. And some of them are music experts and musicians, but many of them have never heard this piece, and don’t know anything about it - so it’s a very pure response. And Paul Festa, the director, cuts between their thoughts as they listen. It’s remarkable how this abstract art conjures such strong, passionate feelings - by no means all positive - and in many cases very similar pictures come up in people’s minds," with analogies funereal, sexual, Christian, and apocalyptic being drawn on by the 31 "subjects" of the film, who are often surprisingly funny, as well as perceptive and articulate (John Cameron Mitchell and Harold Bloom are among them, as is some potsmoking guy in bizarre Gothy monster/fetish makeup who goes by the name Squeaky Blonde). I actually liked this first (and longest) segment of the film - simply showing people listening to the music and describing their reactions - quite a bit more than the last section, where Messiaen's piece plays with considerable textual accompaniment (from Nietzsche, Saramago, and Blake), so that the film suddenly stops feeling like an account of the subjective experience of listening and instead a sort of essay on the composition itself. I'd rather have continued hearing people's reactions and then spent ten minutes with a black screen, listening to the piece myself, without being further guided in my interpretations of it. That aside, I quite liked the film, and recommend that anyone interested in how people listen to music attend the screening; it's an unusually compelling experience, watching and hearing people's reactions to this piece of music; it works far better as cinema than I'd anticipated.

Apparition Of The Eternal Church will screen with 32 Short Films About Glenn Gould, which Charity decribes as "one of my favourite music films, and which again, I think, finds innovative ways to describe the process of making music and hearing music and how that should be put on film. " This one I haven't seen; it interests me that Don McKellar co-wrote it, alongside director (and McKellar's Red Violin collaborator) François Girard, so I may seize the opportunity to check it out.
Interesting as all these films sound, my prediction is that the most popular double-bill of the Summer Of Sound series will be the August 9th afternoon pairing of Leonard Cohen: I'm Your Man with the Townes Van Zandt documentary, Be Here To Love Me. But I could be wrong...

Oh: an interesting detail that I couldn't get into the Straight piece: the Vancity Theatre has been granted a liquor license, with the bizarre Catch-22 caveat that patrons are not allowed to bring alcohol with them into the theatre. To reduce the conflict of interest between the desire to drink beer or wine, and the desire to not miss any of the film, the Vancity will be projecting the films off DVD in the lobby as well as in the theatre off film, so you can go out for a drink without missing a beat.

Or a chord.

(It's hot)

How strangely appropriate that I put an image of a man being burned up on my blog. (See below). It is very, very hot. I have nothing else to blog at the moment. There is much I mean to do, but it is hard to work very well in this horrible, horrible heat; many things get postponed. I am going to lie on my bed naked and sweat. Tomorrow I'm going to stock up on bottled water.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Kult DVD of Rituals: a review

Ardent followers of this blog know that I love the Canadian horror film Rituals (which I wrote about here, here, here and here; I even gave a trashing review to the butchered Synergy R1 release on Amazon). It's by far our best urban-rural horror entry and one of the most intelligent and considered "horror in the woods" films from any country, with a rich, fruitful simplicity that practically forces an archetypal reading on the perceptive viewer. "Five doctors on vacation, with divergent takes on medical ethics, are stalked in the woods of Ontario by an unseen force bent on murder" - that's a plot description that won't spoil anything for anyone. (Genre-savvy types will be able to figure out that the doctor with the most stringent ethics, played by Hal Holbrook, is the hero, but the sacrifices he must make - "ritual" sacrifices? - are what make his ordeal, and the film, meaningful. I will strive to say no more). It's not exactly a Deliverance knockoff, though it is often taken as such; as, I believe, John Sayles has (kindly) said about the similarities between The Return Of The Secaucus Seven and Lawrence Kasdan's later The Big Chill, it's not a ripoff, it's just a genre film in a very small genre. In fact, since (much as I admire both the novel and the film, and respect the movie's seminal role in establishing and legitimizing this genre) I find Deliverance's homophobic rite-of-passage rather politically distasteful; since I'm much more interested in the querying of conscience found in Rituals; and since I do have a streak of Canadian nationalistic pride, at least as far as cinema is concerned; and since I'm a root-for-the-underdog kinda guy, I would say Rituals is my preferred film of the two. (Also on my urban-rural horror admiration list are Wes Craven's The Hills Have Eyes and the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre; they might also score above Deliverance, too, come to think of it, tho' obviously none of these films are objectively as important as their forbear).

Anyhow, there's been a European DVD with burnt-in German subtitles, probably only playable on PAL-friendly R2-compatible players, popping up on eBay now and then, apparently put out by a company called Kult. I thought I would weigh in, for those curious: it is, indeed, the complete film, and may even have a few minutes that were missing from what I took to be a whole print that screened at the Vancity Theatre a few years ago. (There were a couple of moments I didn't recall, anyhow). By the way, gorehounds out there should calm down about the "uncut" version hysteria that attends this film: it's not gore that gets cut from the various chopped up versions (sometimes distributed as The Creeper); it's character and theme stuff, deemed unimportant by whatever hack fucked with it. There's not much gore in any version of the film, complete or no - a severed head, a hand blown to bits, some wounds... To my recollection, it's been there in all five versions I've seen. The shorter cuts are just deprived of less important things, like narrative rhythm, character development and thematic coherence.

In addition to preserving the rhythms and theme of the film - right down to the far more significant title (The Creeper - indeed!), what the Kult DVD has that no current North American DVD release has is all the dialogue. In fact, it has the added bonus of having pretty good audio. (This DVD review, from which I lifted the above screen capture, finds the audio problematic, but I suppose it depends on what you're comparing it to, eh?). Marty's speech about teaching a monkey to salute and his attendant (thematically relevant) babble about the ritual they are all caught up in is often impossible to hear in VHS or film versions that I've seen - since it happens in the presence of a noisy stretch of rapids; it is nicely cleaned up, so not only is there stuff I don't think I've seen before in the film, there is definitely stuff I have never heard before. It also looks like whoever prepared the film for DVD release took pains to "brighten" the very poorly-lit "cabin scene" at the end of the film; even though this creates its own problems - distortion in the image - it makes bits of action previously nearly impossible to see relatively clear.
Relatively, I say.

There are even bonus features: a few alternate title sequences (all of which begin with the water plane coming in to land, as did the Vancity print; the Kult version begins with shots of the wilderness that I don't think I've seen before), and a well-crafted trailer for the film, exploiting that "Teddy Bears Picnic" song, not used - thank God - in the film itself (the Hagood Hardy score is bad enough).

Now for the downside: the source print is NOT very clean, is faded and slightly pinked (but not as pink as the Vancity print was!), and it has dirt, scratches, and even jumps around a bit. It's not full-frame - there are narrow black bands at the top and bottom - but it isn't the original aspect ratio, either; it is slightly cropped (compare to the Videomatica DVD - the same one I wrote about on Amazon - which has a widescreen title sequence, if nothing else to say for it). And there's damage at the junctures between reels, too, so that a couple of lines of dialogue actually disappear (nothing too damaging, but the jumps are disconcerting - you can tell you missed a word or two, and wonder what they are). Perhaps the worst bit of the Kult presentation, due to the fading and imperfect aspect ratio, is when the men are following DJ's line across the river; there are cuts to the beartraps awaiting them under the water, but the image is so dark, faded, and some material on either end is missing, such that you can't really see what's going on. (None of this will be a problem if you've seen the film before, but you're meant to be sitting in suspense, realizing the traps are there, wondering what will happen; instead - until the traps start snapping shut - you're wondering what the hell you're supposed to be seeing).

Oh, and then there's the non-removable German subtitles (unless you watch the German dubbed version also on the disc, that is - there are no subtitles there!). They really weren't that intrusive, and I kinda had fun trying to figure out how accurate they were (my guess is: not very).

At the final reckoning, I'm glad I own the DVD. People who have never seen a complete version of the film and wondered how much better it is will be happy with it; people who have been waiting anxiously for a decent R1 DVD release will be glad to own it. I watched it happily and intently today, and will watch it again someday; there are friends I will show it to. Assuming your players can handle the format of the disc, it's definitely worthwhile - mostly because, for those who admire the urban-rural horror film, it's one of the best films in the genre.
On the other hand, it's not such a good version of the film that I won't feel the need to replace it. This is a good tide-you-over disc for film obsessives, but no reason to stop anxiously hoping someone does something to restore and present this film properly!

By the way, the seller I bought this off on eBay goes by tsimonelli. It arrived promptly and was well-packed; I recommend his services.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Revanche is quite good

The new Austrian film noir playing this week at the Cinematheque, Revanche, is quite good. It's the sort of film that I suspect one would profit immensely from seeing with no preconceptions or ideas where it is going - call it a crime film, a psychological drama, and in part a meditation on revenge - which, since it's the title of the film, I suppose isn't giving away too much - but let's leave it at that, shall we? It has some of the formal chilliness and - what's a euphemism for "slow?" - pacing of the recent German noir Jerichow, which I wrote about here, but opens into something deeper, more profound, and in an odd, subtle way, vaguely Pagan. (Or is it vaguely Christian? ...but then, Christianity is vaguely Pagan, isn't it - the wounded God rising from the dead and ascending in spring and all that...). Put it this way: if you're a cinephile, go see it. If you're not sure what cinephile means, don't.

Nice to have films to be excited about on the horizon - Lars Von Trier's Antichrist, Gregg Araki's CrEEEps (or CrEEEEps or however many E's it's spelled with). So looking forward to seeing what's in the film festival this year...

Bev Davies, Brian Goble... and another Subhumans show

Brian Goble acoustic, by Allan MacInnis

The opening party is over, but Bev Davies' new show of photography continues at Chapel Arts - a converted funeral home - until August 16th; gallery hours are Wed - Sat 12-6pm and Sun 1-4pm, or by appointment. The opening was fun indeed - with various figures from the history of Vancouver punk in attendance, including Danny Nowak of The Spores and Hard Core Logo fame (who can shed no light on what the hell he's doing in Bev's photo - he looks like he's about to spew beer all over the audience), Heather Haley (of The Zellots and the .45's), Jim Cummins (I, Braineater), Ron Reyes (Chavo) of Black Flag (the Wikipedia page says he's now a Born Again Christian... what?). There were a few Vancouver transplants, too, like Jon Card, and various media people in attendance - Dave and Tanya of The Skinny, Janelle and Bob of Mongrel Zine (who will soon be publishing that Nardwuar interview that flickered and disappeared here), and Scott Beadle, who is his own media affiliation these days, but used to be the man behind Skitzoid. (Scott and I chatted at some length about how we're both REALLY keen to interview former Subhumans drummer, Koichi "Jim" Imagawa - if he happens to see this, he should get in touch! I might even be able to get a Japanese magazine interested...). Oh, and Bev and Carola were on hand, too, and Subhumans singer Brian Goble...
...who performed a rather odd-duck set, truth be known. I enjoy seeing Brian play acoustically because it's the only way that he currently can present some of my favourites of his songs - like "One Thing To Fear" off the under-appreciated Garnet Sweatshirt album, Curse Of The Canadian Rock Star (with Card, Randy Bachman, Chris Houston, Herald Nix and others); it wouldn't work for the Subhumans, but it's perfect for the acoustic-folk-protest song format that Goble plies when alone onstage. A song in his solo set that would work, and indeed has worked for past versions of the Subhumans is his acidly funny "For The Common Good." Recorded on the lost-to-history No Wishes, No Prayers LP, it hasn't yet been performed by the current lineup of the band (tho' I would love it if they practiced it up... it's a great song!). Goble's voice works very well in the folk-protest format, which allows you to hear more nuance and character than can normally be discerned at a punk show, and his bass playing with DOA was top-notch, but his acoustic guitar playing is, he admits, imperfect - he occasionally will fudge a chord or go off the beat, which his fans will happily overlook... though loud teasing whoops erupted at one point when his guitar came unplugged midsong. I'm not sure if that's why he cut his set short; people were enjoying it - certainly I was, and other people were dancing and clapping along. It was a pretty serious set that he was playing, tho' - songs about poverty, ecological damage, media illusion, including many I have not heard before, whose titles I can only guess at ("The Phantom Zone?" "Runaway World?" "Time of Illusion?") - making one suspect that Goble may have been in too serious a mood for the lighter spirit that prevailed in the crowd. I tried to sway him to bring out a bit of his humour (I shouted a request for "Green Acres," because it seemed more within the realm of possibility that he would play that, rather than "Tits On The Beach," which, actually, I'd like to hear more); but Brian was done for the night, inviting anyone who wanted to to pick up his guitar and continue...

Bev and I had talked about Brian a little bit before the show. "I call him Wimpy," she told me. "I'm allowed to - he gave me permission to call him Wimpy for as long as I needed to - that was the expression he used," Bev laughed. "A friend of mine emailed me and said, 'Brian Goble's playing acoustic - how Wimpy!'" Speaking of Goble's past monikers, Bev was able to fill in a blank for me about the reasons why Brian briefly was known as "Sunny Boy Roy," when playing with DOA. It happened during a UK tour (though not the UK DOA tour that Bev was on, she explains; Randy Rampage was still in the band at that point, with Chuck and Dave Gregg). "But the next trip they went over, Wimpy was in the band, and they came back and they were calling him Sunny Boy - because he looked like the Sunny Boy drawing on the breakfast cereal over there! It must have spoke about his sunny disposition - because there's some people they wouldn't call 'Sunny Boy.'"
Fans can next see Sunny Boy perform with the Subhumans at The Cobalt at the October 2nd booklaunch for Punch The Boss, Chris Walter's upcoming Factotum-like memoir of jobs he has endured. The current issue of The Skinny also has a great shot of a young Brian/Wimpy/Sunny Boy Roy on the cover (and news about the contest for the upcoming New Model Army show in Vancouver, more on which later). Meantime, go check out Bev's show. There's some great moments captured! The Art Bergmann shot and the .45's shot are particularly cool; the shot of Rampage jumping that graces the Triumph Of The Ignoroids EP is there, and there are inclusions of bands both recently resuscitated (like Tunnel Canary) and artists now departed (Joe Strummer, Michael Jackson). Oh: and Bev's banner, of Anton of Brian Jonestown Massacre "saluting" the crowd at a Vancouver gig while swearing off playing in Canada - has some fun stories behind it... if you happen to see Bev at the show, ask her to tell you about it...

Carola and Bev, photo by Allan MacInnis

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Vintage Male Nudes: A Rather Naughty Show and Sale

There's a great story around the new exhibition of Vintage Male Nudes that Femke van Delft is co-curating at two locations downtown. (The Templeton restaurant at 1087 Granville has some; the main show is at 1064 Granville, across the street in the lobby of the Vogue Hotel. The official opening for the show is at the Vogue, tomorrow, from 7-11PM.) It's the story of Bob Mizer and the Athletic Model Guild, previously recounted - I gather with various holes - in the book and film Beefcake, and in the book Bob's World: The Life and Boys of AMG's Bob Mizer. It's a story about how sexual desires considered taboo and transgressive in 1940's and 50's America were able to find a way to flourish, with certain restrictions, underground, and a story about the role of porn in the promotion of gay rights. Mizer's pictures - sometimes kitschy, often rather prescriptively classical images of muscular men posing in various states of semi-nudity - wouldn't normally catch my eye (pornwise, I'm more into chubby women - matter o' taste), but the historical background is interesting indeed, and Femke has done her homework; she makes a fascinating guide to the work, and will be on hand at the Vogue tomorrow and throughout the show to answer questions and facilitate purchases (the pieces on display are very reasonably priced, ranging, for the most part, from $89 to $229). What follows is based on my conversation with Femke as she toured me about the Vogue show at a media preview on Thursday....

Bob Mizer was an LA-based photographer who specialized in selling homoerotic pictures of men at a time when doing so was quite dangerous and could net you jail time. I gather he moved towards less interesting hardcore work in the 1970's, a period not documented in this show; the conditions of censorship and taboo that obtained during his early career forced an inventiveness and subtlety not as evident in his later work, with his mother helping to design sets, costumes and posing straps. Initially his images appeared in catalogues designed to get work for the unemployed actors and models who posed for him, hence his founding of the Athletic Model Guild, but soon Mizer realized there was more reliable coin to be made simply using his catalogues to promote his photographs, which, he discovered, people were interested in discreetly buying.

Above-ground publications with images of stripped-down (though not fully naked) men existed at that time, but generally they were muscle mags, showcasing concerns with health. "He shot in this classic physique way" associated with these publications, Femke explains, "but his catalogues had none of the articles on strength and health and no advertising for supplements, so his work became about the male gaze." Clandestine arrangements were made to sell his photographs by mail and by delivery; in 1947, Femke tells me, he was arrested for the distribution of obscene material through the mail and served a six month term. The experience appeared to have politicized him more than discouraged him, since in 1951, he would found a magazine, Physique Pictorial, to showcase his work.
"I wondered how he was able to step it up a notch after having gone to jail," Femke says, "because a magazine - it's really in-your-face." In researching Mizer's past, Femke found a quote about Mizer's friend, sexologist Alfred Kinsey, that may shed some light on his newfound courage. "Mizer said about Kinsey that he was a messiah that had lifted the chains off his shoulders. He was a lifelong friend of Kinsey, and Kinsey interviewed him and all his models. I believe - though it's just a theory - that Kinsey gave Mizer the courage and the moral authority, through the social sciences, to take on a whole system." This would include a Supreme Court case in 1960, in which Mizer pioneered the "art alibi" in the defense of his publication and work.
Mizer's assertion of gay identity was still guarded in his magazine - editorials were political, but focusing on more general questions of civil liberties and equal rights. "He wrote editorials on capital punishment and the civil rights movement," Femke tells me, but any open defense of queer culture was "more couched." "Mizer was very aware of how homophobic America was. He was sensitive to his audience's fears. I mean - people were jailed. And if they weren't jailed, they were told they were mentally ill." Femke nonetheless sees Physique Pictorial - original copies of which will also be on hand at the Vogue - as "opening the door for gay rights," by its photographic contents and its existence. "When he discussed sex in Physique Pictorial, he talked about it in very broad terms, but nonetheless - it opened the door. And at its peak circulation, there were 100,000 people who were reading it," she says. "That's 100,000 men who no longer feel isolated."
Pictures in the collection range from Spartan wrestling themes - because it was okay to have men touching each other if they were fighting - to shower images, to cowboy themes, to mini-narratives that take place over more than one picture; the most amusing mini-narrative for me has a sailor discovering a nude man reading a magazine, and staring at him perhaps in disapproval - this from a period in the 1960's when Mizer was employing full frontal nudity - and then, in the next picture, being assisted out of his sailor's suit by said nude guy (nude guy wins!). There are even - somewhat startlingly - a couple of African-American men in photographs (the only AMG models who used their real names, Femke notes, though she is not sure what to make of this); one picture on display actually has a black man and a white man together. Images are all black and white and attractively framed, with cobalt blue walls behind them. It's an interesting show, but for collectors, its also a chance to own a historical artefact - a piece of the history of gay rights and freedom of expression.
Vintage Male Nudes shows until August 10th.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Bev Davies: a new show, a new interview!

The Bludgeoned Pigs at the Smilin' Buddha, by Bev Davies. Not to be reused without permission

Bev Davies (official site here) is a Vancouver institution, like smoking pot, coveting recognition, and complaining about the weather. Her photographs - on album covers, in fanzines, and nowadays on the internet - have represented rock music in Vancouver, and especially punk rock music in Vancouver - for thirty-odd years, though her concert photography dates back even further and is not limited to any one genre. I recently scooped a 1979 Triumph Of The Ignoroids DOA ep from Audiopile - sure enough, two of the pictures on the back are by Bev. Look at Nardwuar's homage to the Subhumans' famous Incorrect Thoughts cover - and you'll see Bev, in the background (as "the little old lady from Pasadena," she jokes), immediately behind Nardwuar's right elbow. Bev has been The Eye of Punk for a long time, and is still active; it's been my great privilege to have photos by her illustrate articles of mine, though she's so generous and unassuming that I never quite get to indulge in fanboy geekdom with her. But I do get to interview her now and then... I first spoke to Bev at length here about her 2008 Punk Rock Calendar, and occasionally have solicited her opinions (about the recent Art Bergmann/ "Poisoned reunion" concert at Richards on Richards, which she provided an amazing pic for) and sometimes just her pictures, like this reflective, somewhat sad shot of Jonathan Richman, also at the newly defunct venue. I'm delighted that - with the help of Carola from the relocated/reconfigured JEM Gallery - there will be a new show of Bev's work, opening this Friday, June 24th, at Chapel Arts (Dunlevy at Cordova) with Brian "Wimpy/Sunny Boy Roy" Goble" on hand to give an acoustic performance.

Allan: I wish I had known you had something coming up - I'd've done something for The Skinny!

Bev: It's got the cover. I haven't seen it yet, but Tanya gave me the cover. So it's a large photograph of The Subhumans from a long time ago.

Allan: Is it one I've seen before?

Bev: Maybe not. (Note: actually, Bev - yep! Not sure where, but I've seen this image before).

Allan: Ooh. But - okay, to put something on my blog, then - what's the show?

Bev: It's called Play It Loud, and all of the photographs are live stage shots - live band shots onstage - and they vary from black and white ones from 1979 through to last weekend at the Folk Festival, with Arrested Development... that would be the newest one.

Allan: And is there some colour, as well?

Bev: There's some colour as well. The larger format ones are on metal - they're vinyl on metal with bolts in the corners of them. And there's a huge banner with a picture of Anton on it (Bev is a big Brian Jonestown Massacre fan, didja know?) - and then there's some colour ones and larger black and white ones.

Allan: And things are for sale?

Bev: Yes they are.

Allan: What's the price range?

Bev: I don't know!

Allan: Is the intention to keep them affordable, so people can buy'em?

Bev: I don't really have an intention - I mean, given a choice, I would keep them all, because of the difficulty in actually printing and doing that kind of stuff. Financially, of course, I'd like to sell them, but I'm not thinking of - "everyone gets to take one home when they leave" (laughs).

Allan: Right.

Bev: But I think it's important to show the work and getting people listening to the music again and talking about it, and now that there's the internet, maybe researching some of the bands. The Pointed Sticks are coming up with a new album in November, and people here - Carola and her friend - have heard parts of it, and it's supposed to be just incredible, just amazing. They've been in the studio doing that... I think it's important that people come and they look at it, you know? And they enjoy themselves here and ask questions and talk about the people in the pictures. And some of the people will be here, and of course some of them won't be here, because they're not around anymore...

Allan: For example...?

Bev: Oh, there's a picture of Johnny Thunders in the show, and there's a picture of Joe Strummer of the show. They won't be here - tho' it's at a funeral home, so you just never know who might show up here!

Allan: Alive or dead. The Joe Strummer photo, what show is that from?

Bev: It's similar to the one that you've seen before, except he's making a fist with his left hand. It's from the Us Festival at San Bernardino, and he's onstage. I just never printed this one before. I tried to look for the one-offs, the ones that I might not have printed before, and that was Carola's suggestion. "Let's not put the same old crap up," I think was her expression (chuckles).

Allan: I see!

Bev: When I did the 144 pictures at her gallery, I found that with maybe 60 of them, or maybe 50 of them, I could have sat down and done a drawing, they were so familiar to me, and they couldn't be left out of a show like that. But the rest of them were ones I had never printed before. There was one of Dead Kennedys - a posed shot - that I had absolutely no memory of ever having taken, until I started looking at them. "Oh yeah, I remember that now..." So I think it's important to go through such a large body of work that I have and look for some of the other pictures that are in focus that may not have been exposed before. And some that have been...

Allan: Of the ones that haven't been seen before, what are the ones that excite you?

Bev: Okay, let me go through the list. There's an early band that Randy Rampage was in called the 45's (or is it the .45's? Big difference - singles or guns?). I don't believe they did any recording at all. And they had Karla Maddog from The Controllers from Los Angeles, and Heather Haley singing, and Brad and Randy in the band. And I don't think I've ever printed that photograph - Randy'll know if I have...

Allan: Was that before or after The Sick Ones?

Bev: It was right around the same time. That'd be a really good question for Scott... I could also figure it out. But I would think it might even overlap - I know where was living when I took .45's pictures, because I took some pictures of them on stairs and stuff, so that would have been early - 1980, pre-'81.

Allan: What else is there?

Bev: There's one of Art Bergmann. I found it when I was scanning some stuff, just recently. I've never printed it - I've never even seen it before. Though someone could call me a liar on that - they could bring me a copy of The Georgia Straight with that picture in there, but a weekly paper for the kind of lifestyle I was living is like a daily paper for everybody else, y'know? You got the deadline, you get it in, you start working on stuff for next week. So there's stuff that could be published in the Straight that I just totally forgot about.

Allan: Tell me about the Art shot...

Bev: A lot of pictures of Art - he seemed to wear a white coloured shirt onstage, or a light-coloured jacket. And there was a real sort of bleakness to the photographs of him. And this one is so dynamic and loud and it has shadows. I think my flash probably didn't go off for this picture, and that's probably why it's got this shadowy appearance to it. But I quite like it. There's Circle Jerks at the Rats Hall in San Francisco...

Allan: I noticed, by the way - I had a really sweet moment looking through the inner sleeve of The Evaporator's Gassy Jack And Other Tales, because there's a photo of Slow when they opened for The Cramps at UBC, where they were all wearing bloody nurse's costumes. Some your photos can really evoke memories, because occasionally I'll encounter pics like this from shows I was at, back in the 1980's. I didn't GO to too many shows back then, so it's really nice to have the memories reclaimed... I was delighted to see that again.

Bev: Right.

Allan: Your photographs don't only document the Vancouver scene, but they capture the lived experience of the people who were at the gigs, and remember them. They can have real sentimental value, real emotional force for people... You're not just salvaging the history, but people's own lived experience and memory. What's the shot that has the most sentimental value - not that you're proudest of technically or aesthetically, but for emotive power...

Bev: I'm not sure! I think each one of them does in its own way. And I think letting people see them over the last three or four years - because there was a long time when people didn't really see my work; they might see it in a publication or a fanzine somewhere, but as far as seeing any bunch of them together - and... just what you were saying, or, this is what I'm saying about it: people stayed simple and black and white in my pictures, and their lives went on and became complicated. And whatever happened to them? And that was really interesting, to come to that realization of how simple my photographs had stayed and how complicated and intricate people's lives had become. That was an eye-opening thing - meeting some of those people, hearing about that.

Allan: But there is something very simple about the experience of going to a venue and listening to music and enjoying yourself. It's a very basic pleasure, and your photos capture that...

Bev: Yeah, I agree...

Allan: Are there other plans that I should mention?

Bev: There's another calendar in the works with Carola and I. We're in talks about doing a psychedelic band calendar, with psychedelic colours and stuff.

Allan: Ooh!

Bev: One of the colour prints is the drummer from Boris, in the show... so the colour ones are for the most part newer, but Carola's going to have me bring over my 1965 photograph of The Rolling Stones in their hotel room. So it will ground it back to the original photographs. That's kind of the concept of the show. The progress of me as a photographer, and what I've taken pictures of - it's pretty much been "rock bands, rock bands, rock bands." And whether it was the Stones in 1965 or Arrested Development at the Folk Festival, it's the same kind of thing. And by being mounted on metal... I had a real drive to mount these on metal of some sort. These metal plates came to me by way of a friend that had them on their balcony and had to get rid of them. But I had been mumbling and telling Carola how I needed to do them on metal, I needed pieces of metal... And that goes back to, I think, my photo etching at the art school. Because I graduated in etching printmaking. And if I still had those skills as an etching printer, which I don't, I probably would have gotten involved in using a little sulfuric acid on the plates. But at this point, they're photographs on metal.

Allan: Sorry - which art school did you go to?

Bev: I went to Vancouver School of Arts, which is now Emily Carr.

Allan: The photo in 1965, that wasn't in Vancouver, though.

Bev: No, that was in Toronto.

Allan: Are there other shots from when you were in Ontario?

Bev: Not a lot. I mean... what went to my parents' house survived - anything I took with me, didn't survive. If I took it back to Toronto, I lost it, someone stole it, it was gone - you know, whatever. So no, I don't have a lot of photographs from the 1960's.

Allan: It sounds like there'll be quite a variety of work on hand...

Bev: The installation pieces are the ones with the bolts and the metal and stuff like that, and there'll be the same prints at different sizes. I thought I would get around frames by doing the metal plates. What it is, is like, glorified mack tack that it's printed on, and then it's peel and stick on the metal frames, and I did this on Monday at this wonderful print shop called Van Print. And they gave me a table to do everything - and it's just a little small place, right? And there's 24 of those huge prints, and I finished them at quarter to six, and I was carrying them out the car. And the guy said, "Wow! I didn't think you'd be finished until Wednesday." And I said, "I'm really glad you didn't tell me that, because I'm mad that I didn't finish by noon hour - I had to spend the whole afternoon at it! And 24 is, like, - you've heard that crows can only count to four? They did tests with crows. They had, like, a field with a woods, and a hunter went into the woods, and all the crows came out. And when the hunter came out of the woods, the crows went back in. And they did that with two people, and three people, and four people... and five people and six people, and as soon as four people came out, the crows went in. Regardless of how many went in. You could send a hundred people into the woods, and as soon as four people came out, the crows went back in. So they figured they can only count to four.

Allan: I see!

Bev: That's kind of it with art, you know. 24 is too many! It's too many to keep track of. I've gotta go out and buy more bolts, because I somehow or another shortchanged myself two of the spiky things and eleven or nine of the other ones. I must have counted them a hundred times, and I still got it wrong. So if there were only four pictures...

Allan: Speaking of animals, I've always wondered, is Grinder (Bev's cat, viewable on her Myspace) named for the Judas Priest song?

Bev: No, he's named because Keith and I were going to the Canucks games when they went to the Stanley Cup round in 1964. And all we heard about is the Canuck "grinders," and Keith named him Grinder, after the Canuck grinders, the ones who just ground everybody along the boards.

Allan: Is it okay if I print that?

Bev: Sure. Grinder only reads Spanish....


Bev's list of the larger, mounted photos that will be on display:

1) The 45's, Smilin' Buddha, April 2, 1980
2) Art Bergmann, Commodore Ballroom, August 11, 1980
3) Billy Idol, Memorial Arena, Kamloops BC, March 22, 1984
4) Bludgeoned Pigs, Smilin' Buddha, March 1981
5) Bolero Lava, Commodore Ballroom, May 18, 1984
6) I Braineater, Helen Pitt Gallery, March 1981
7) Circle Jerks, Rats Palace, San Francisco CA, April 11, 1981
8) Death Sentence, York Theatre, Nov 1984
9) D.O.A. at The Commodore Ballroom, July 10, 1981
10) Randy Rampage and D.O.A.- High Over O'Hara's - May 17, 1979
11) Iron Maiden, Pacific Coliseum, June 27, 1983
12) Joe Strummer and The Clash, US Festival, Glen Helen Regional Park, San Bernardino, CA, USA, May 28, 1983
13) Johnny Thunders centre, bass player Tony Coiro left and second guitar Luigi Scorcia right, Gary Taylor's Rock Room, May 6, 1981
14) Michael Jackson, The Victory Tour, BC Place Stadium, Nov 18, 1984
15) The Modernettes, Gary Taylor's Rock Room, Oct 2, 1980
16) No Exit, Smilin' Buddha, March 1981
17) Rabid, Smilin' Buddha, Feb 8, 1980
18) The Spores, Bumpers Surrey BC, Feb 24, 1985
19) The Subhumans, 179 Legion on Commercial Drive, April 1980
20) Tunnel Canary , Smilin' Buddha, Mar 28, 1980
21) X at Dingwalls London England, July 1980
22) Zero Boys, Smilin' Buddha, June 28, 1982
23) Black Flag, Smilin' Buddha, April 17, 1980
24) The Crowd, Helen Pitt Gallery, Mar 1981

See you at Chapel Arts!

Fuck Translink

What an awful fucking company - but what a wonderful example of how privatization hurts everyone. Closed meetings, to lessen public scrutiny... $2.50 busfare, which I bet gets raised again before 2010 ends... Buses to some neighbourhoods that run so infrequently they're almost always SRO... Signs in subway stations telling everyone it's an "offense" to give away used transfers (by which law, exactly? Or does it just "offend their sensibilities?" What a fucking arrogant statement. Yeah, homeless people constantly cadging transfers so they can resell them are a bit of a pain in the ass, but jeezus, they're just trying to eat and/or get high, the same as all the rest of us. I mean, I guess we could just take them out and shoot them, but it might attract some negative publicity. Perhaps the city could flat out criminalize poverty, so that we can just jail all the bums? Has someone suggested this to VANOC? They seem to run the city now...). I've had an angry Translink rant brewing for awhile, but tonight was the last straw: I discovered they're doing track maintenance on the Skytrain at 11:00 at night, and have been, I'm told, doing this for awhile. They COULD wait a couple of fucking hours until the trains have stopped running altogether, but instead, tonight, they were forcing trains in both directions to stop at Stadium and making passengers get out and cross to the other side of the tracks, so they could keep one section of track closed. I didn't believe them at first when they told me "track maintenance" - I figured it was a euphemism for "some schlub depressed about what a horrible city this is becoming jumped in front of the tracks and now we have to clean it up." But when I invited one of the Translink staff on hand to level with me - "Doing track maintenance at this time of night is no sort of answer - do you want people to think you're stupid? What really happened, some accident?" - she bristled in such a way as to suggest that, yep, they're doing exactly what I was told. Replacing track, greatly inconveniencing dozens of commuters rather than running a night shift...

Oh, holy fuck, wait a minute - is my blog a free speech zone? I better shut up before someone Tasers me.


Sunday, July 12, 2009

Final show at Richards on Richards

Can you find yourself in the crowd? The Pointed Sticks Vancouver reunion at Richards on Richards, 2005 I think (evening show). Photo by Cindy Metherel.

Sunday, July 19th, marks the closing of Richards on Richards. The venue has been open in one form or another since the late 1970's, when it was known as The Laundromat - an important space for Vancouver punk. Since I relocated to Vancouver in 2002, I've seen many great gigs there (Art Bergmann, Nomeansno, Daniel Johnson, Rocket From The Tombs, Black Mountain, The Furies/DOA double-bill, and two Pointed Sticks reunion shows stand out as highlights). I watched Blixa Bargeld ironically snipe at what he took to be the country-bar atmosphere, and I apologized personally to Carla Bozulich for how noisy the audience was when she opened for Thee Silver Mount Zion a few years back. The layout of the venue has always made it difficult for me to enjoy quieter or subtler music there, because of the proximity of one of the bars to the stage and the tendency of people in the balcony to relax and chat, which sound often carries down to the audience below, but its not like a lot of quiet, subtle music gets booked there; and sometimes - as when Nels Cline played there with Wilco bandmate Glenn Kotche - people actually do shut up and listen. It really would be fitting if the place were allowed to close with a punk act, given its history, but the long-rumoured decision to close and bulldoze the place came suddenly, requiring, we gather, several acts to reschedule at other venues. It's no surprise, I guess, given the amount of construction going on in the city and the general state of cultural turmoil here that the axe would finally fall...

Joe Keithley grabs a quick drink at Richards on Richards, photo by Cindy Metherel. Not to be used without permission.

DOA frontman Joey Shithead Keithley had mentioned Richards on Richards when I interviewed him for Razorcake a couple of years ago. I'd asked him about the authorities' attitude towards punks back in the day; he said that in the late 70's and early '80s, firebombings and other forms of civil unrest in the city had been going on, and then, "mysteriously, you couldn’t play anywhere. All the clubs we used to play at like the Windmill and the Buddha and a few other ones around town, all of a sudden said, no no no, can’t book you, can’t book you. So then we started doing shows at little halls out the ‘burbs. It was never completely confirmed, but the police suspected this as being the anarchist gathering place, right, and it got to the point where – I guess this is early 1980, late ‘80, or something like that, when what’s now (Vancouver club) Richard’s on Richards was called the Laundromat; for about eight, nine months or somethin’ like that, I know a bunch of people who claim for sure that the police rented a place across the street, like, the CLEU guys, and videotaped everybody goin’ in or out, so they could get a profile of everyone who would go to this kind of anarchistic punk rock gathering." (The police really should be a sport and release some of that footage for old Vancouver punks to pore over: there I am! There I am!).

The final show there, next Sunday, will not be punk but funk, however: 12-piece Afro-Funk ensemble Five Alarm Funk will do the honours of closing the venue, prior to the slated demolition on the 21st. An "official closing party" is also slated for tonight, with The Manvils and others, and then there's the Sin City Glitz & Glam 8 Year Anniversary Fetish Sextravaganza on Saturday, but for me, Five Alarm Funk are going to be the real party. The band includes both Tom and Neil Towers, whose last name bears a non-coincidental resemblance to another figure on the Vancouver music scene, the more mysterious Chris Towers, their older brother. "It's been a great venue - it's a privilige to be closing it down , tearin' it down with hot fire," Tom Towers, the conga player tells me. The band will be promoting Voodoo Hairdoo, their most recent CD, tracks of which can be heard here; everyone I've asked tells me these guys kick ass. Those too late to get tickets are encouraged to buy the CD and go listen to it in the wreckage of Richards as an alternate way of paying their respects.

Five Alarm Funk promo shot, courtesy of Tom Towers

I think I may just turn out to see the Towers open fire and to say goodbye to a venue that I've never wholly loved, but always kinda liked; certainly I'll be aware of its absence. We gather that Richard's liquor license will be translated to the A&B Sound hull on Seymour, but Richard's on Seymour just doesn't have the same punch to it...
The Furies at Richards on Richards by Femke Van Delft. Not to be used without permission.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

On The Filmwork of John Lurie: an interview

John Lurie is best known for his starring roles in, and soundtracks for, early Jim Jarmusch films, and his Grammy-nominated soundtrack for Get Shorty (playing at the Vancity Theatre as part of the Cinema Salon series on August 4th, and the pretext for publishing this interview). Slightly hipper people may be aware of his band The Lounge Lizards, who exuded urban hipsterdom and a creative engagement with jazz and world music; it is arguable that the term “Fake Jazz,” long a descriptor used in Vancouver for the Fake Jazz Wednesdays series, comes from an offhand comment Lurie made in the 1980s to describe what his band did. True Lurie devotees, meanwhile, know him as the host of the brilliant, funny IFC “fishing show” Fishing With John, and the man behind Marvin Pontiac’s Greatest Hits, a pseudonymously released collection of Lurie singing very funny, very strange, and very creative pop songs, supported by some of the downtown New York scene’s finest - including John Medeski, Billy Martin, Michael Blake and Calvin Weston.

There are probably, however, people who know all of the above, who have missed out on the fact that Lurie has been seriously ill since 2002, with a chronic condition that has eluded exact diagnosis, though the best guess is advanced Lyme disease. “Sometime in June of 2002, I had my first really full-on attack,” he told me over the phone from his New York apartment when I spoke to him for Subterrain. “I was still on Oz, and there was supposed to be a scene of me naked, so I’m working out like crazy. About a half an hour later, I just felt like I was on a boat in an ocean and I was on LSD. Everything was floating around, and lights were flashing, and I couldn’t keep my balance and I had these weird sensations going on from my heart down my left arm, and I went to the hospital and I said, ‘Look I don’t know, but I think I could be having a heart attack,’ and they gave me fluids, but it continued for, like, two days. And then I was working out about a week later, and it happened again. And then shit just started happening all the time - my legs would go numb, my hand wouldn’t work, my vision would go crazy... I hear electrical sizzling sounds in my ears. It feels like my brain is sort of twisted. I mean, I could go on for hours. I ache. Lights bother me. Sounds bother me. And then sometimes I’m fine. There’ll be two weeks of hideousness and then there’ll be a week where I can kind of function. When things are going badly, when my psychological state is bad, it makes things much worse.”

With such symptoms, Lurie was forced to give up playing music - a painful decision - and to stop taking film roles; he has, however, reinvented himself as a painter, and his paintings were the subject of much of the 2007 Subterrain article (“John Lurie Is Sick, Who Will Help?” - itself named after a painting of his, “Dog Is Blind, Who Will Help”). Lurie has always been a painter to some extent - The Lounge Lizards 1987 album, No Pain For Cakes - their first great record, by me - has a Lurie painting (“Uncle Wiggiley As The Devil”) on the cover, as does their final release, 1998’s magnificent Queen Of All Ears, the cover of which is his hilariously-titled “One Bird Wants To Fuck Two Snakes; Snakes Are Appalled”); but focusing on painting full-time brought him to some magnificent and painterly places (as well as many playful and ridiculous ones), and he’s been the subject of several well-received shows. The most recent to close, at the Mudam, Luxembourg, was entitled "The Skeleton In My Closet Has Moved Out To The Garden" (you can download the painting it takes its name from here). Lurie says “That was the best painting up to that time; now they are better, though.” Lurie has recently completed six oil paintings that, he tells me, are "the best paintings I have done.”

Two books have been published of Lurie's art, as well: Learn To Draw and A Fine Example Of Art. (That latter link, note, allows you to look inside at some of Lurie's paintings; there's also, of course, the John Lurie Art website, with Lounge Lizards music to accompany the images).

Much as I was delighted to be talking with Lurie - whose works I had admired and enjoyed for years - the Subterrain article was exhausting to write, since, in addition to his illness, Lurie was understandably struggling with depression, frustration, and a considerable amount of anger at various aspects of his life, from bad business deals to theft of his music to extreme frustrations with certain publishers and gallery owners. The article ended up fairly dark and at times painful to read.

My talks with Lurie had also included a great deal of sheer fanboy enthusiasm on my part, however, as I got John to talk about all the cool shit he's been involved in over the years. Much of that material - though it included some of the highlights, for me, of our conversations - never saw print; the upcoming Vancouver Get Shorty screening makes this an opportune time to put it online.

John Lurie has an upcoming show at the Watari Museum of Contemporary Art in Tokyo in January 2010, and a show coming up in New York at the Fredericks and Freiser Gallery in October.

Subterrain #49 cover: "Of Course, Animals Have Souls," by John Lurie

A: Let me ask about John Cassavetes.

J: Yeah, he’s a hero of mine.

A: Yeah, mine too. I remember hearing that before Cassavetes died, you were going to do a project with him.

J: Yeah, but I never even met him. This was his producer - Sam Shaw - sort of his creative producer, you know – who wanted me to be in this Django Reinhardt movie. I wouldn’t have been Django Reinhardt, I was going to have been the Nazi who hated Django Rheinhardt - who loved his music, but hated his freedom, kind of thing. But it never happened.

A: You never saw any correspondence from Cassavetes, any script, or -

J: No.

A: What’s your favourite of his films?

J: The biggest impact on me was Killing of a Chinese Bookie, because I was really young, and I was doing music, and I saw that, and it was like, ‘Oh, movies make sense!’ I always thought movies were this superficial thing before that. It really rocked me, that movie.

A: Did you see the shortened version or the longer version? The original cut of it has a long routine at Cosmo’s club at the beginning.

J: Oh really? I don’t know if I ever saw that.

A: It’s on the box set - both versions are. He recut it because no one liked it - he had huge hopes for Bookie, and then no one liked the first cut, so he actually took it back and re-did the entire film. In a way, his story and your story sort of mesh up.

J: Yeah, he’s a fellow traveller, I think....

A: Who else do you really admire in the art world?

J: Him I really do admire. Coltrane I admire. Who do I admire? Oh, Harper Lee - God yes! You write one book and you disappear - it’s like, ‘You’re my fuckin’ hero!’ You are my hero beyond heroes. She warms my heart.

A: Have you ever met her?

J: No.

A: Have you met any of your heroes?

J: Yeah, but that’s usually a terrible mistake. I mean, Scorsese was my hero before I met him. And then he wasn’t my hero anymore. I mean, I was in that movie, The Last Temptation of Christ. Scorsese was one of my big heroes.

A: What happened as a result of working with him?

J (chuckles): He’s just a really uncomfortable man. At least he was with me.

A: I thought that was a really awkward film - that was your only film appearance that I had a really hard time with.

J: (laughing) So did everybody! I mean, it was ridiculous. He shouldn’t make any movies that don’t have a tenement in them. That movie was so ridiculous that if you really watch carefully, there’s a scene where I’m like purposely exposing a band-aid I have under my costume. And Willem cures this blind guy, and when you cut back to me, I’m laughing! I had fuckin’ had it with that movie - my God, I wanted out so bad.

A: Scorsese’s first film still matters to me...

J: Yeah, and Raging Bull, Taxi Driver, Mean Streets, even The Departed was pretty good, I thought, for him.

"Hittites Attacking The Schnabel" by John Lurie. The Hittites are saying, from left to right, "Stop him before he makes a movie of our civilization," "Oh Lord of Gods we must smite the terrible Schnabel," and "Yes, smite the Schnabel."

A: What about Julian Schnabel?

J: (Chuckles) What about him?

A: Well, I was amused by your painting, "Hittites Attacking the Schnabel"...

J: That was sort of a little payback for the Basquiat movie. Basquiat was actually a good friend of mine, and so - Julian sort of playing Stalin and rewriting history was a little bit disconcerting to me. Me and Vincent Gallo are both played by Benicio del Toro - me and Vincent Gallo, two actually interesting people in Jean Michel’s life, are composited into one person, and then this peripheral character named Julian is played by the best actor of the time, Gary Oldman. I never saw the movie.

A: Did you ever see any of Schnabel’s other films?

J: Nahh. I mean, Julian - there’s a lot of good about Julian, too, but... I don’t want to see his movies.

A: Do you see your paintings as being influenced by Basquiat?

J: No! Basquiat? – please! Basquiat was a kid who slept on my floor. I have a problem with that one.

A: Okay. I’ll adjust my controls.

J: You could understand, right? I’m 25, he’s 18, we’re both painting together, y’know, and then he becomes this thing and he dies, and so now he’s, like, embronzed. But I was doing this stuff before, so it’s hard for me.

A: In terms of your own work in film, do you have any proudest moments?

J: Ah... I don’t know. I mean, the fishing show is the thing I’m proudest of, which isn’t really film, it’s TV. But that’s the thing I’m proudest of.

A: Because it’s really yours?

J: I never felt that comfortable with acting, you know? There’s very few minutes where you conceive of how you want to do something, and it’s realized, as a creative thing. You know what I mean?

A: Not exactly.

J: There’s a scene. You’re supposed to be upset about this, you want to go over and pour a cup of coffee, and you want to do it a certain way. You want to start soft, and then yell, and then – you know, whatever. But the lighting guy only has lights in this part, and then... It never falls into place how you had imagined it; and that’s kind of what gives me the most fulfillment: something comes to you, there’s a moment of inspiration, and then you actualize it. But with acting, you can’t ever really actualize it.

A: Is that part of why you like Cassavetes?

J: Mm. It has more of a liquid, open-ended aspect... I never really was very good at acting, you know?

A: You’re wonderful in the two Jarmusch films.

J: I’ve got something going on, but I never worked at acting like I did at music or at painting.

A: How do you feel about Stranger Than Paradise and Down By Law now?

J: Eh. Just so-so.

A: You seem like you’re being required to satirize yourself, poking fun at your hipster image.

J: But neither of those guys are that hip. What bothers me about Stranger Than Down by Law (sic! And no doubt deliberate...) is that I definitely was a character, and then Jim made it sort of like I was playing myself. But I wasn’t playing myself, it was a character! And then I played the same character twice, in the two films, even though I tried really hard to change it, the second time. But I ended up playing the same character twice, and then Jim was like, “John’s playing himself.” Which did me no favours at all, because both of those guys were not very bright, y’know, they weren’t kind, they were myopic.

A: They’re still fun characters.

J: They’re fun characters, but if you can imagine... If someone comes up to you – no, they don’t even come up to you: you come up with an idea with your neighbour. And then you do this thing, and it’s like, ‘Okay, Allan’s gonna play a garbage man who farts all the time and rubs grease on his face.’ And so you do it, and the neighbour gets all the attention as being some kind of genius, and he says, ‘Yes, I discovered Allan. He was my crazy neighbour, and he really does fart and rub grease on himself...’ So it was kind of bothersome. ‘Aren’t I a genius, I used this crazy person in my movie.’

A: Do people assume these characters are you?

J: Well, they did at a certain time, which is why I was so anxious to get the fishing show out, because the fishing show really is me playing myself. I mean, that really is that – and it’s a completely different character from the person in Jim’s films.

A: Down by Law is still one of the most pleasurable of Jarmusch’s films to watch.

J: I thought, with Down by Law, that Robby Muller did an unbelievably good job, except that he was horrible to work for as an actor because it was like, you would have to hold your head at a forty-five degree angle just so the light hit your nose just in a certain way, you know what I mean? It took the Cassavetes element away from it, and Jim was terrified of him, so Robby ruled the set. It kind of lost its fluidity because of that.

A: Was that some of the first stuff Robby was doing in America?

J: I’d worked for him before on Paris, Texas, so no.

A: How did you get involved with Wenders?

J: Wenders was a fan and was coming to see the band all the time.

A: Oh really?

J: I was supposed to have a large part in Paris, Texas, but they’d run out of money. So I flew down there and I was just waiting, they don’t know how the film is going to end – I’m supposed to have this big fight scene with Harry Dean Stanton. And I end up having a one day shoot, and they want to not pay me, they don’t have the money to fly me back...

A: Yikes. Do you still know Wim?

J: No, I haven’t talked to him in a long time.

"Dog Is Blind, Who Will Help?" by John Lurie

A: Okay... let’s talk about Fishing with John a bit. What are your favourite moments?

J: The two best episodes are Willem and Tom Waits, but as a human being, my favourite moments are being on that squid boat with Dennis. That’s, like, the best moments of my life.

A: Any particular things you think back on?

J: I mean, I’ve told this story many times, but we wanted a shot from the shore of me and Dennis in the little boat at sunset, and so I’d gone with the fishermen in the morning and see how to drive the boat on my own. So we’re out in this boat and the crew’s all on the shore, including the fishermen, so it’s just me and Dennis in this boat, and I’m just immensely happy. It’s the first day of filming and we’re in Thailand and it’s beautiful. Dennis is way more fun and charming and brilliant than I expected; he’s not like this curmudgeon that I thought he might be, he’s just a wonderfully entertaining person. We’re out on this boat and the breeze is hitting your skin and the sun’s going down and it’s just... perfect. But I had gone out with the fishermen at six in the morning, and now it’s six o’clock at night, and everything has changed. The estuaries that I could recognize, with high tide, are now not findable. So we’re out on the ocean, and I don’t know where we are. I go closer to the land, but everything looks different, and we’re out of radio contact. The walkie talkies just sort of work – they’re sort of like (imitates sound of radio interference). Now I’m afraid that it’s going to get dark and we’re going to run out of gas and I don’t know what to do. The engine is incredibly loud, so think maybe I can hear them on the walkie talkie if I turn off the engine. And I turn off the engine, and I can’t hear a thing, and now – the way you start this boat is this weird cranking handle, and I try to start it – and the handle breaks.

A (laughing): Uh-huh.

J: And now it’s getting dark. And we’re drifting out. And I look at Dennis and I think, “Well, if there’s anybody on the planet you should fear, it would have to be Dennis Hopper.” If you kill him by exposure... So I went from, like, the happiest I was to... they eventually found us, but...

A: How did Dennis respond to all of that?

J: I looked at him and I said, “Are you going to kill me?” And I meant it quite literally. “I wish you’d stop asking me that,” he said. It was the first time I’d asked him.

A: He must get it a lot. Actually, you also worked with David Lynch, in Wild At Heart, which, unfortunately, I thought was one of his weakest films...

J: That was such a shame, you know. He’d done Blue Velvet, he was told he was a genius, and then he just lost it: every idea that popped into his head: “Okay, let’s have fire eaters! Let’s have naked fat ladies!” And it was just like – there was no editing process... Willem was going to be in that movie, and he showed me the script, and it was just beautiful, like that script was written by some ex-con – it was gorgeous. And the combination of Nick Cage and David Lynch just took it into surrealville, which it really shouldn’t have been. It should have been a really down-to-earth, realistic movie. It would have been beautiful. And they just took it over the top into dreamland, which I thought was a terrible mistake.

A: Yeah, it’s nothing like Barry Gifford’s novel. The film has all these Wizard of Oz references, but the book is both gritty and touching.

J: Yeah, I imagine – because the script just ripped your guts out.

A: They have a really weird backstory, Gifford and Lynch, because Gifford had hated Blue Velvet. He called it “phlegm noir.”

J: (chuckles)

A: He called it “academic pornography,” “one step above a snuff film” – and the next thing you know, they’re working together. They did Lost Highway together, too, which I think has some self-referential stuff in it, with Loggia and Blake figuring Gifford and Lynch... but... Anyhow, I agree, people’s egos get in the way.

J: But Lynch is a great guy. A lot of these directors, they’re just not cool. They don’t play fair. They create this little world where they’re in control of everything, and I just don’t like the dynamic. Like, when we did Last Temptation, we go into this Moroccan village and we change everything for the worse, for good. Lynch was none of that. Lynch was really real – his vibe was just warm, attentive, and present, y’know?

"Follow The Signs," by John Lurie

A: Any other people you’ve met through working in film that you’ve really liked?

J: Drew Kunin is the first person that comes to mind. He’s the sound guy on many many movies. I like a lot of people on the crew.

A: Let me ask some questions about your soundtrack work. I really like the punk rock song on the Manny & Lo soundtrack, “She’s Not a Nurse.’

J: Lisa Krueger was an old friend of mine, when I was doing that music for that. She made a couple of movies. She’s good, she’s smart. You know, when you compose music for a movie, you kinda zone in in a different way. And so there’s things in the plot that you don’t notice in a certain way, because you’re not watching it like that. And so I’m watching it with her the second time, I just assumed this woman in the movie was a nurse, but that’s a big part of the story, that she’s not a nurse, she’s kind of nuts and she just dresses like a nurse. And so I said, “Oh, she’s not a nurse, she just dresses like a nurse?” And Lisa thought it was the funniest thing she’d ever heard, and she was laughing. And so she needed a song for when the girls are dancing outside the car towards the end of the movie, and she thought she was going to buy a Nirvana song. I was saying, you’re never going to get the rights to that, you can’t afford it, so I did it, and I just made up those lyrics, kind of on the spot. “She’s not a nurse/ she only dresses like a nurse.”

A; What’s the rest of the lyric, because I can’t make it out...

J: “She’s such a liar/ pants on fire,” um... Then – I can’t remember, and then, the other thing she laughed at me about, was, there’s this scene where... God, Scarlett Johansson is a little girl in that movie. I forgot that.

A: Oh wild! I didn't know that. I need to see Manny & Lo.

J: ...And she’s talking to a lizard in the forest, and the lizard is holding perfectly still. And I just kept asking Lisa, “How do you get a lizard to hold still like that?” And so the next line – and she thought that was hysterical too. She never told me – she just laughed at me. So the next line is, “How do you keep a lizard still/Don’t know if it ever will/act like a human/ They’re so stupid.” I think that’s what it was, I forget. (laughing)

A: No wonder I couldn’t make it out.

"Women Shopping in Cleveland," by John Lurie

J: But what was really cool about that was, it was no budget, I was doing this as a favour, and the musicians were doing it as a favour to me and I was doing it as a favour to her, and it was just – record the whole thing of the day and rush in and out between different kinds of music, and I had to record this kind of rock song. And so it’s Ribot, who’s great at it, and Billy Martin on drums, and – who played bass? Chris Wood. And they all nailed this thing, and I’m basically producing it. I wasn’t even playing on much stuff on it, I had just written everything and am producing it, it’s going really fast. It’s like, it’s more about “where are we going to put the marimba while we record this thing?” So I run into the vocal booth and I just drrrd, and I go through the song, one take it’s done, and I wish I’d left it on (the CD), because it’s like, immediately on ending the song, I go from being this punk singer to – you hear me go, “okay now we gotta move the marimba back in here, and go find John Medeski!” It’s like, immediately within seconds, this lunatic who was singing this song is, like, a banker.

"Your Life Is Meaningless. Why Don't You Masturbate," by John Lurie

A: How did you get involved with Get Shorty?

J: That came about because someone - not sure who - contacted my office. I didn't think much about it as I was in the middle of editing Fishing With John. Sara Rychtarik, who ran my office, really pushed for it. She kept the ball rolling until they had a screening in New York. I met with Barry Sonnefeld after the movie, and of course because I wasn’t interested, they wanted me to score it.

A: What, other than the film, did you look at when working on the soundtrack?

J: I am a fan of Elmore Leonard and wanted to try to capture the color that his books have left me with, I also wanted to create an arc for the movie. But what was I thinking? This was a Hollywood movie, they weren't going to let me do that.

A: Did you get to interact with Leonard much?

J: We sort of became friends somewhere along the way - just phone friends.

A: How did you feel about the Grammy nomination?

J: The nomination, actually, was for the CD, which was mostly, about 80%, music that was rejected for the movie. So I worked really hard to get it on the CD or no one would ever hear it. I wonder if Sonnenfeld and Karyn Rachmann ever realized that the music they had rejected was nominated for a Grammy?

A: Do you have any favourite aspects of the film?

J: I thought Travolta was exceptional. Obviously, when you score a movie you have to watch it over and over - usually the performances become more and more suspicious. Travolta never once did that.

A: Another soundtrack question: Excess Baggage, I see, has a score by you - but I don’t think people know that that’s one of your works. I didn’t, anyhow.

J: If you can find the soundtrack album to that movie - that soundtrack is really good. Some of my best stuff is on there.

A: Who are you working with, Medeski and such?

J: He wasn’t on that. Who was on that... uhh, Calvin Weston, Steven Bernstein, Michael Blake, Evan my brother... David Tronzo was on that and he’s really good.

A: I will hunt that down. While we’re talking about music, though... do you have time to talk about Marvin Pontiac?

J: We got seven more minutes.

A: It’s probably my favourite work of yours, but it’s not even out under your name! (Laughs).

J: Yeah.

A: Do you have any regrets as to having done that under a pseudonym?

J: A million people tell me I made a mistake, but I don’t think so. I had to do it like that. What, was I gonna make it a John Lurie Sings album? It seems ridiculous.

A (laughs): It does have a wonderful prank-like quality... How well did that sell?

J: It did okay, but - it was on my own label and stuff. It’s still selling, but if it had been on a major label and was on MTV, I’m sure it could have done better. I think we sold 30,000 in the US, or maybe more. And I get cheques from i-Tunes every month - it does well.

A: I didn’t know it was even still in print. So Strange and Beautiful is still manufacturing it.

J: Nyaah, kind of. I mean, you’re talking to Strange and Beautiful right now. There’s not really anybody running the label. But it’s still in print.

A: Did any of that ever get performed live?

J: No.

A: Too bad.

J: It would be impossible - there’s no way. I don’t think I could sing onstage, and I mean - one of the hardest things about performing onstage is learning how to use monitors, to hear yourself back. That took me years, just with the saxophone. I can’t imagine trying to figure out how to sing onstage. That would just be something I couldn’t do. Plus the way the songs are all constructed, it’s like - me playing guitar, me playing the saxophone, me playing the harmonica, me playing the marimba - y’know what I mean? And there’s a lot of stuff on there, so it would have taken an eighteen piece band with twelve of the guys just standing there half the time.

A: Too bad. But it’s a fucking amazing album. Did you get unusual responses to it? I remember reading that people were upset that you were making fun of the mentally ill...

J: Well, that was bizarre to me. What happened was - I was going to put it out without the musician’s names and really do it like it was this insane guy that people should know, and they don’t. And so they think that they want to be cool by saying, “I knew about him all along.”

A: Right.

J: I got all those people to do [testimonials] - they were all happy to do it: Leonard Cohen, Flea, David Bowie... [Beck, Iggy Pop...]

A: Those were real quotes?

J: Those were real quotes, yeah. And then it was getting a lot of attention as this insane African guy who’d gotten hit and killed by a bus, and had two hits, and these were his undiscovered songs. And it was getting a lot of attention like this. I hired a publicist who, right in the middle, without even warning me, panicked and didn’t want the press to be angry with him. And he called everybody and said, “It’s John Lurie - it’s not really a dead African guy.” And so everybody was furious! Because there was a guy from the Voice who was writing this five page thing about undiscovered genius and...

A: (laughing)

J: ...and when they found out they’d been duped... a lot of these white writers, they really have racial problems - because they liked it better when they thought he was black, they’re pissed at me!

A: (laughing)

J: I tell you one thing - I proved white men can sing the blues! least some of them. I proved it!

A: (laughing)... thank you very much, John.

J: No, wait wait wait - let me just tell you the insane thing. I get invited to be on NPR about people who do things in masks. I thought, perfect - that’s exactly what it was: I put on a mask, I created a character, and that was how I did this project. But I didn’t realize it was some kind of negative thing. Instead of being annoyed - I had sent this to every African person I knew, and I sent it to Isaach De Bankolé, I sent it to Spike Lee, I asked - ‘will you be offended by this,’ and they said no. So I went on NPR expecting to have to defend myself for doing this thing, basically, in blackface, but what she was mad about was, she’d bought this record at this store in upstate New York because the guy had recommended it because it was an insane person. And she was particularly interested in the music of the insane. So she was mad that I was pretending to be insane. I was shocked by it. I said, “Look, I wrote the music and lyrics first - LATER I decided on the guy’s bio that he was insane.” I didn’t say, “Oh, I’m going to be insane and do this.” Why does it lessen what you think about the music?

A: Some liberals just don’t have a sense of humour at all.

J: Not only not having a sense of humour - their racism and their prejudice against the insane is what’s really suspect.

A: You think that’s where it’s coming from?

J: Yes!

A: But it seems so harmless as a gag - and it’s a fond gag, as well.

J: It’s all done with the best of intentions.

A: There’s an interesting link between the insane and Marvin Pontiac and outsider art, because your paintings sort of play on the sort of way outsider art is received.

J: There was a thing at the Drawing Center about eight years ago that was all people from institutions. And it was the best thing I ever saw. It was just real.

A: Do you consider yourself an outsider artist? Are you comfortable with that term?

J: I don’t know what that means. Some people say so – I couldn’t care less. I mean, there’s a certain naïve quality to a lot of my work, but some of it’s quite painterly, so I don’t know.

A: Some of your later paintings are stunning. “When I Die, I Want to Go Like My Grandfather, Asleep and At Peace, Not Like the People Screaming in the Other Car.” That’s really beautiful.

J: Yeah, that’s pretty good. I got the book here... some of them are so badly painted, and some of them are so good. (Chuckling).

A: What’s one you think is really bad...?

J: There’s one: “The Indians Didn’t Like the Looks of This.”

A (laughing in anticipation): I don’t know it.

J: It’s two pilgrims standing on the water.

A: Like, walking on the water?

J: Yeah.

A: (laughs)

J: Really badly painted. I mean, they’re just terrible. But it’s funny, how bad they are. And there’s another one – “Harry Didn’t Want to Say Anything, But the Appearance of Jesus was Ruining His Vacation?” The title’s great, but the painting is bad.

"Harry Didn't Want To Say Anything, But The Appearance of Jesus Was Ruining His Vacation," by John Lurie. In the Subterrain article, Lurie explained, “Christians think it’s an affront on Jesus, but it’s really the opposite, it’s an affront on yuppies! It’s like – Jesus appears to you, but it’s going to ruin the luxury of your vacation? It’s like – ‘hello?’” I'd asked Lurie whose side he was on. “I’m right down the middle of that! I’m Jesus and I’m the boat – I’m both.”

A: Your work got more painterly as you went along?

J: Yeah, but some are bad on purpose... I mean, “Portrait of a Cow,” it would take a painter to do that.

A: Is there one piece in the book that represents the direction you’d want to go in?

J: I’m particularly fond at the moment of “Everybody Loves Sardines.” Hang on one sec.
(Pause, toilet flushes.)

J: Sorry – that wasn’t me peeing, that was soup.

A: (laughs). I hope you don’t mind, I’m going to put that in: “(Pause, toilet flushes): that wasn’t me peeing, that was soup.”

J: That’s fine. I remember the day I learned that, from Maria Duval in 1982. It’s like, ‘What do you do with soup?’ The leftover soup? What do you do with it? You can’t put it down the sink, you can’t put it in the garbage. You flush it down the toilet! I was like, ‘Awwwh! That’s genius!’ (laughter). It’s one of those moments in your life where you learn something, maybe everyone else knows it but you never knew it? ‘You flush soup down the toilet!’ That’s brilliant!

Note: if you're a fan of John Lurie's work - past or present - do leave a comment! I'll make sure he sees them...