Monday, April 27, 2009

The Further Vindication of Rollins

Recently, I felt the need to defend the honor of Henry Rollins in the face of criticism that he "ruined" Black Flag. Well, as if he needed further vindication, I now want to point out how great Rollins is as a DJ. That sounded rather fawning. But it's true. I had listened to his "Harmony in My Head" program on the now-defunct 103.1 FM radio station here in Los Angeles and sang its praises. By myself. While stuck in traffic. But it was indeed a great show.

Through the show, I was introduced to the music of Daniel A.I.U. Higgs and High on Fire, as well as the Bad Brains' amazing Black Dots record. Then he would throw a wonderful curve ball and play something I love like Fela Kuti or the entire first side of Here Come the Warm Jets. Just a great what'll-he-think-of-next kind of show. He published many of his early playlists (with commentary) in the Fanatics series of books, where I learned that he loves the music of King Sunny Ade as much as I do.

Now that "Indie 103" has been interred in the radio graveyard, Santa Monica's KCRW has taken Rollins in and given him his own show, following the same autonomous format of what he had before. I didn't realize that until this past Saturday, when my wife had KCRW on and I heard the recorded muezzin's call to prayer that was the signature beginning to Rollins's self-styled "sonic jihad" of "Harmony in My Head." The show that followed was a great show devoted to post-punk. Over the course of two hours, Rollins's playlist reminded me of the immensely creative period of the late 70s/early 80s that often also goes by the overbroad genre-title "New Wave." It was like stumbling across Andrea Enthal's great midnight show on KPFK circa 1981.

Here's the playlist from April 25, 2009, and there's not a weak moment in the whole thing:

01. Neu! - Super / Neu! 2
02. David Bowie - Art Decade / Low
03. Iggy Pop - Funtime / The Idiot
04. Public Image Ltd. – Careering / Second Edition
05. Magazine – Recoil / Real Life
06. DEVO - Mechanical Man (Booji Boy Version) / Greatest Misses
07. Pere Ubu - Nonalignment Pact / The Modern Dance
08. The Normal - Warm Leatherette / single
09. Gang Of Four - Damaged Goods / Entertainment!
10. The Slits - Typical Girls / Cut
11. The Pop Group - Words Disobey Me / Y
12. Joy Division – Interzone / Unknown Pleasures
13. The Fall - Bingo Masters Break-Out / The Fall Box Set CD #01.
14. Glaxo Babies - Who Killed Bruce Lee / Dreams Interrupted
15. This Heat – Sleep / Deceit
16. Wire - Being Sucked In Again / Chairs Missing
17. Cabaret Voltaire - Do the Mussolini (Head Kick) / The Original Sound Of Sheffield
18. Young Marble Giants - Music For Evenings / Colossal Youth
19. The Swell Maps - Steven Does / A Trip To Marineville
20. Spizz - Cold City / Where's Captain Kirk?
21. Family Fodder - Savoir Faire / Savoir Faire: The Best Of
22. Passage – Fear / Pindrop
23. Dum Dum Dum - Dum Dum Dum / Messthetics Greatest Hits
24. Ludus – My Cherry Is In Sherry / The Seduction
25. Crisis – Frustration / Holocaust Hymns
26. Scritti Politti – Bibbly-O-Tek / Early
27. The Cravats – Precinct / Land Of The Giants
28. The Pseudo Existors - Beyond The Zone / Stamp Out Normality
29. Desperate Bicycles – Handlebars / single
30. The Sound – Skeletons / From The Lion’s Mouth
31. Suicide - Ghost Rider / Suicide

Friday, April 24, 2009

Giving Up Victory and Defeat

Victory breeds hatred,
The defeated live in pain.
Happily the peaceful live,
Giving up victory and defeat.
— Dhp. 201

The above is a verse from the Dhammapada (sayings of Shakyamuni Buddha) that I came across today, prompted by my own musings about Buddhism yesterday. Wise words.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Guru Guru "Electric Junk" (1971)

These guys would have so been on SST if they'd been born later. Is this a Saint Vitus rehearsal I'm watching?

AFTERTHOUGHT: Maybe more like a Das Damen rehearsal.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Einstürzende Neubauten's "Autobahn"

I remember taping this onto VHS back in 1984 (?) from Night Flight/USA Network and then showing it to my mom and my sister to "freak them out." The "you-tube" has everything! I've never really been a big fan of Einstürzende Neubauten (never bought their records), but this video is pretty awesome, and it's fun to watch them bang around on a construction site, or wherever they are. Blixa's "guitar solo" rocks. (Oh, and it's not to be confused with the song with the same name by Kraftwerk.)

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Dream Journal: Lying to Michael Gira

I was staying at an expensive hotel near the ocean. It was a white, wooden structure, but showed its wear. At one point, I spoke to [cousin] who lived there. I asked her if she wanted to go to Peet's to get some coffee. She was with a friend. She said to me, "Oh, Peet's won't let me buy coffee since I drunk-dialed them a few weeks ago."

I asked if I could call and smooth things over. Maybe they'd let her in again. Then a dog entered the room. It was a skinny white dog, like an undernourished retriever. I followed it out of the room.

It led me to a grassy grotto next to the hotel. There was jazz music playing in the background. There was a series of tall tables, maybe four of them. You could stand or lean against them because there were no chairs. I followed the dog over to a tall man with long, stringy hair. His face was dirty. I recognized him as Michael Gira of the Swans, though he actually didn't look like Gira very much.

I asked him if that was his dog. He said, "Yes." Then he stuck his hand out for a handshake and said, "My name is Warden."

"You're the singer from the Swans, right?" I asked.

"Yes, I am." He smiled.

For some reason, I felt I needed to buddy-up to him. I said, "I really liked your last album." In my mind, I pictured a black-and-white album cover. I thought their last album was from a few years ago. I knew I was lying. In reality, I didn't like their last album at all, and it wasn't from a few years ago, anyway. His smile disappeared. I knew that he knew I was lying.

Then I looked away, looking for the dog. About fifteen feet away, I saw this scrawny, mangey brown-and-white dog with long rabbit-like ears. I wondered how the dog had transformed itself like that.

AFTERTHOUGHT: I just realized why he didn't really look like Gira, had stringy hair, and called himself "Warden." It's because he actually looked like Ward Churchill! He's the guy who called the workers in the Twin Towers on 9/11 "little Eichmanns" and who just won his case against U. of Colorado.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Baroque Improvisation, Darkness, and the Blues

Yesterday, my sister and brother-in-law gave me a ticket to join them at Disney Hall for a concert of Handel and Haydn. I felt run-down and exhausted and fighting some very minor cold, but I agreed to go. I love Handel's music, and this was his "Organ Concerto in D Minor," no less. That meant I'd be able to hear the massive Disney Hall organ again. Last spring, I saw Terry Riley's organ recital there, which was a great trip through the many Riley worlds and the many stops of this deliberately Fantasia-like instrument.

The pleasant surprise was that Handel wrote improvisational sections into the score of the organ concerto. In the book Improvisation, free-music guitarist Derek Bailey described this wonderful but lesser-known feature of baroque music. "In all styles of baroque, whatever period, whatever country, improvisation was always present, integrated into both the melodic and harmonic fabric of the music...[t]o decorate, to supplement, to vary, to embellish, to improve...." (Bailey, p. 21, emphasis in the original). As the conductor Bernard Labadie explained in the pre-show chat, Handel quite sincerely notated portions as "ad lib" for the organ.

And the fifteen-minute concerto did not disappoint. The French-Canadian organist, Richard Paré, performed well, adding--I swear--the most subtle blues chords at certain points. It caused momentary dissonance, which is not a criticism in the slightest. That's the beauty of improvisation. This might be only a subjective and "unprofessional" view of the music, but I like to think that Paré explores whatever connections exist between blues tonality and ancient music. Perhaps he does this inadvertently.

Haydn's "Violin Concerto in C" gave me a renewed appreciation of the sound of the bow against the strings. As my brother-in-law pointed out, every seat in Disney Hall affords good acoustics, but our seats were, nonetheless, really good. Every slight sound from those four violin strings was clear.

The second half of the program was Haydn's "The Seven Last Words of Our Savior on the Cross," which featured an actor reading the New Testament verses that describe Jesus's last moments. Labadie explained beforehand that Haydn's piece was composed for a certain church in Spain that would bring the lights down completely within the sanctuary save one chandelier during the performance. For similar effect, he had Disney Hall bring down all the house lights. The only illumination came from the musicians' music stands and the legally-required emergency footlights leading us to the exits (in case of disaster). I wondered why more classical concerts aren't presented in darkness like this.

With the reverie of the darkness and the music, I am proud of myself for remaining awake through most of hour-long piece. I was moved by William Christian's reading (aptly named!), but just got too comfortable not to give in to sleep. The applause woke me up. I felt no guilt.

Work Cited:
Bailey, Derek. Improvisation. New York: Da Capo, 1992.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Rollins and the Ruination

Recently I came across this 2001 interview with Jack Grisham of the original TSOL in which he touts Black Flag as a great band but at the same time clarifies that only “pre-Henry” Flag was any good. “Early Black Flag -- I f***in' loved 'em,” he says, “I think Henry [Rollins] ruined 'em.” I have encountered this sentiment elsewhere, and it puzzles me.

What, exactly, did Rollins do wrong? Grisham offers no explanation except that the Keith Morris Flag was his Flag. He “f***in’ loved ‘em” and that’s that. Perhaps he's simply confusing Rollins's Black Flag tenure with the later machismo-core of the Rollins Band. I don't know.

I saw Black Flag in the more experimental Kira-era, and they certainly delivered the goods. Besides, Greg Ginn himself tapped Rollins to replace Dez, didn't he? Plucking Rollins from the D.C. scene wasn’t the act of some mersh-minded manager cobbling together a radio-friendly supergroup. And Dez's throat was hurting.

So, Grisham should cut Rollins some slack. Damaged, My War, and Slip It In are amazing albums, despite Flag’s less-than-impressive later releases. The hair-waving duo of Rollins and Ginn was pure rock chemistry onstage. Mixed with Dukowski's neck-snapping bass presence and Dez's deceptively aggro hippy style, the Rollins five-piece phase captured on Damaged is anything but a ruination of the band. More like a fulfillment.

Maybe Grisham is just sensitive about what happened to his own band. After releasing the brilliant Beneath the Shadows, TSOL dumped him—or he bolted—so that they could eventually become a hair band. So, Grisham knows firsthand what it’s like to be the original and better lead singer in a band, but that’s no reason for him to project the “TSOL tragedy” onto Rollins.