issue 10  october/november 2001
page 4



Say parson, what's that sound?
Been listening to the Parson Sound double-CD a lot. Mostly just the first jam, which I listen to over and over, the one where the vocals go "you couldn't show me what to should have showed me what to do..." and the background guy (credited with "drums and seance") goes "JAA! JAA! JAA! BLAA!" It's mad, kids.

'Scuse Me While I Think About Putting In A Different Video...
My wife and I happened to rent this disappointing made-for-Showtime biopic called Hendrix last week. We also rented Guy Ritchie's highly acclaimed Snatch (that was not a Madonna reference) but, against our better judgment, decided to put in the biopic instead.
      Any hope the mis en scene might have had -- the lead performance by relative unknown Wood Harris is actually pretty good -- is ruined by lacunar scripting & editing, anachronistic set design, and the fact that none of Hendrix's original music could be used on the soundtrack. A pickup band performs cover versions of "Hey Joe" and "Wild Thing." The singer is not good at all, and to have an actor lip-syncing on top of it borders on unwatchable. The guitarist is actually okay, but still can't hold a candle to the real thing, especially when it comes to a recreation of the live
solo performance of the "Star-Spangled Banner." Elsewhere, we get Toronto not passing for London (no matter how many double-decker buses keep driving by), Billy Zane not passing for a mustachioed Brit manager-tyrant, and MTV-style montages of historical newsreel footage not passing for an historical zeitgeist.
       We still made it through the whole thing -- it's brisk enough. At the end, we learned that Hendrix passed away on September 18th, 1970. This was striking, because we had put the video in at about 11:30 PM on September 17th, so by the time said information appeared on the screen, it in fact was the 31st anniversary of Jimi's death. From the internet later that day, I learned that Showtime had premiered it on September 18th, 2000, the 30th anniversary of Jimi's death. By renting the video on a whim (free coupon from Blockbuster) and choosing it for viewing over a more acclaimed Guy Ritchie feature, we had synchronistically stumbled into observing an annual requiem for Jimi.
        The movie wasn't nearly good enough for that to be fitting, so the next evening -- before midnight, of course -- I broke out all kinds of Jimi Hendrix albums. The first song I played was "Who Knows," the lead-off cut from the Band of Gypsies LP, but that was just to set the mood while Angelina got a drink of water in the kitchen. When she returned to the den and joined me comfortably on our area rug & pillow ensemble, I picked up the needle and jumped ahead to track two, the epic "Machine Gun." After that we played a song that had already, long before we met and long before it was used in the 1993 Cameron Crowe sapfest Singles, been a sentimental favorite of Angelina and I both: "May This Be Love" from Are You Experienced? When that song's introduction, a languid cascade of noise guitar, came out of the speakers, Angelina exclaimed "Yes!" as fond connotations came rushing in. She agreed that "Machine Gun" was epic, but rightly sensed something a little sloppy and unfocused in its quiet-to-loud-and-back arc -- Hendrix thrilling and wailing and crying to the heavens with his guitar but not quite tying it down from one section into the next. The mood is still extremely heavy, but credit is significantly due to the Buddy Miles-and-Billy Cox backbeat (Crazy Horse move over!) and Miles also thrills, and gives good arc, with his vocals that come in at the end of the song.

"Hey, you're not Chas Chandler..." "Well you sure as bloo'y 'ell ain' Jimi 'Endrix!"

For Sun City Girls Fan Club members only...
The Carnival Folklore Resurrection series has been more or less practice tapes/demos/live tapes, records that don't feel as much like "albums" as they do "missives." Of course, SCG has always messed with these distinctions -- one of their more fairly respected albums, Valentines from Matahari, was recorded live to a cheap boom-box in what sounds like about 40 minutes of 'studio' time. Either way, Sumatran Electric Chair -- volume six of the aforementioned 'CFR' series -- feels more like an album, recorded in the studio and featuring what feels like a 33.333/33.333/33.333 mix of songs, instrumentals, and musique concrete, sequenced with great attention to what all great works of art need to suggest: an arc, that is, an overall shape and duration.

Lou Reed "Families"
Totally bizarre song. I heard it for the first time ever a couple weeks ago on WNUR. A single riff repeated over and over again, with a doo-wop chorus singing the word "families" each time the riff goes through its cycle. Cheesy, but drony, and the voice of the guy jive-talking over the top was too much, like he was trying to imitate a Puerto Rican teenage girl from the Bronx or something. I was thinking "This is so weird it almost sounds like Lou Reed. But of course it isn't." I called up the DJ and sure enough, it was Lou Reed, a song from The Bells, that album with Don Cherry. Maybe that's Don helping to honk out the riff, but it sounds more like a sax section. Is the whole album good?

For Jad I'd Kill
Bunnybrains "For You I'd Kill" (recorded in 1989 despite the topical title) sounds a lot like Jad Fair, specifically one of the early Half Japanese rockers. It's sounds so much like an early Half Japanese rocker that it's just as GREAT as an early Half Japanese rocker. I guess the difference is that the Bunnybrains get a little nastier with the imagery, repeating "For you I'd kill!!!!" over and over in a high howl. But it's not quite totally evil -- like with Fair, you get the feeling that the singer might be a shy wise library nerd in real life. Besides, the band makes it so groovin', that geekiness, barbarianism, and killing are just puppet issues, with grooving being the real issue.

Short takes...
Did you know that the words "grocer" and "grocery store" are related to the word "gross"? First there was the Middle French adjective gros, which meant "thick, coarse." Its feminine was grosse, from which Middle English derived the word groce, which simply meant "an aggregate of twelve dozen things." So, a grossery is a store where twelve dozen (give or take) of any one good is up for sale....What's up with Teri Hatcher in those commercials for Howie Long? She's looking kinda skinny or something...What are they selling again in those? I've seen about fifteen different ones and I still don't know....When in the Chicago area, try El Ranchero tortilla chips -- the best tortilla chips I've ever eaten, and they have "No Cholesterol!" Made right here in West Chicago, on South Kedzie Boulevard. Look for them at a Mexican grocery, like Cuatros Caminos on Milwaukee & California....The last movie I saw in the theater was From Hell, the Jack the Ripper thing with Johnny Depp directed by the Hughes Brothers. It wasn't quite excellent or anything, but it does linger in my memory. The currently hip adjective "dark" actually applies...Speaking of From Hell, and skinniness, has Heather Graham lost a little too much weight?

The Shuffler
I don't mean to sound like Greil Marcus, but when Blind Willie Johnson sings and plays "If I Had My Way I'd Tear The Building Down" (recorded December 3rd, 1927) it's so intense and loud and growling and DEFINITELY out of tune that it indeed sounds like he could tear a building down. Greil would add something like "Tear down the guitar, tear down the harmony, tear his own vocal cords, tear down anything. Even after September 11th, 2001, I still want Blind Willie to tear that building down."
And I don't mean to sound like Robert Anton Wilson, but my five-disc CD player's "shuffle" function is sending me synchronicities. In addition to Blind Willie Johnson's Dark Was The Night collection, I've got a couple discs from Captain Beefheart's Grow Fins in there too, and just now, Beef's version of "Yer Gonna Need Somebody On Yer Bond" ended and the changer shuffled right to Blind Willie Johnson's original version, which is titled "You'll Need Somebody On Your Bond."
     Beefheart aficionados will recognize that phrase, as it is repeated many times in the 19-minute jam "Tarotplane" from the Mirror Man album. "Tarotplane" is credited to Don Van Vliet, because when he added another refrain, "I'm gonna take yuh for a ride in muh tarotplane," they stopped calling it a cover. Even when it was a cover, it wasn't much like how Blind Willie Johnson played it -- more a drone-blues raga-stomp, a thrice-as-hard Grateful Dead.
     And, for synchronicity no. 2, also in the shuffler I have the 6-song CD that accompanied the copy of Richie Unterberger's book Urban Spacemen and Wayfaring Strangers I have on loan from Chicago's Harold Washington Public Library (an amazing building, by the way). Earlier today, before listening to these CDs (are you on the edge of your seat or what?), I was reading Unterberger's chapter on Fred Neil, about how he had written the song "Candy Man," which became notorious when Roy Orbison recorded it and put it on the flip side of "Cryin'," which was to be a smash hit single. Ah, but the shuffler hasn't taken me to the Urban Spacemen and Wayfaring Strangers disc, which Fred Neil doesn't even appear on, but once again to Grow Fins, specifically to a moment from the Trout Mask Replica "house sessions," where in between performances by the band Mr. Beefheart can be heard performing an impromptu solo a capella rendition of .... "Candy Man"!

Cute electro-acoustic composer alert!
Olivia Block is a Texas native and Chicago resident who composes long-form works that combine field recordings with live instrumentation. And she's cute too!


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