issue 11  dec 2001/jan 2002
page 8




Track one ("Dedicated to multi-instrumentalist Jack Gell") is less than a minute long, just a soundcheck that turned out OK so he put it on the album. Or maybe it was composed, as the track listing refers to it as "stage one" of a four-stage composition. Either way, track two ("stage four," "To Composer John Cage") feels like where the real meat begins, a relentless nine-minute honk/squeal/burn fest. We've all heard plenty of honk/squeal/burn fests, but this is Braxton, and his personal rigorous logic is obvious. It's as simple as the single, repeating low note that he honks throughout the piece, in between one crazed overblown high-speed run after another. It's like a period between sentences, or more like a frantic dash-hyphen between thought after thought. Kerouac did the same thing with his spontaneous prose technique, as he described: "...the vigorous space dash separating rhetorical breathing (as jazz musician drawing breath between outblown phrases)..." After all, they both loved the bebop. Braxton also demonstrates new logic in the way he positions his multiphonics, his overblowing. The Coltrane Way was to save them for crescendoing, especially during climactic sequences during the second halves of 20-minute gospel vamps. Playing solo, Braxton uses the multiphonic less as a cry to the heavens, as a way to clear his throat and gurgle a bit while putting forth long and esoteric philosophical maxims.
       For track three ("To artist Murray De Pillars," never heard of him) we're back to "stage two" of the four-stage composition. (Oh boy, what's that Braxton up to now with the titles...) It's a little bluesier, shorter, and quite a bit calmer, though certain trills regularly surge in volume and threaten to spiral out into loud free-falls. A brilliant track that's still revealing new brilliance. Track four, "stage five," "To pianist Cecil Taylor," is paradoxically very little like Taylor...with its brassy, upbeat, and multiphonic-free 'steppin' out' kind of feel, it could pass for Sonny Stitt!
       Track five (side two of the LP) ("Dedicated to Ann and Peter Allen") is the first long track, at 12:49. It's a real beauty, where Braxton gets so quiet that you'll absolutely have to turn your stereo up from where it was for side one. This is where the album really cements itself as being GOOD. Track six (side three of the LP) ("Dedicated to Susan Axelrod") is interesting because it's basically the same melody played at the same soft volume as track five (although it has a different pictogram for a title). This time it's 10 minutes long.
       Track seven is part two of the pictogram but it's a completely different and much more aggressive approach, Braxton breaking out the multiphonics with a vengeance, though with the same rigorous restraint that characterized track two. Throughout, he clenches out one weird tone after another...some coming out as humorous lowdown gut-gurgles. Could this be his version of Screamin' Jay Hawkins's "Constipation Blues"? Of course not. This track is "To my friend Kenny McKenny." (Possibly not his real name.)   
       Track eight (side four, "Dedicated to multi-instrumentalist Leroy Jenkins") is the last track and longest track at 19 minutes plus. It starts really quiet too, but gets into some loud honking, weirdly spaced with a sort of ker-plopping rhythm. Braxton's steady blatting low notes come out like accidental interruptions of his phrases. These low blats become like another 'space dash,' as in track two. In fact, this one almost seems like track two on 16 RPM.
       And there you have it. My appreciation of Braxton comes and goes, but this is perhaps the premiere solo jazz recording I've ever heard. Forget "perhaps": it is the premier. Definitely. Lots to hear here, and LOTS to teach about the use of dynamics.
HENRY FLYNT: You Are My Everlovin'/Celestial Power 2CD (RECORDED)
Man, I'll admit that I'm not all that crazy about the 'extensive hagiographic liner notes printed in a hard-to-read font on paper so glossy you can't help but leave fingerprints on it' school of packaging -- it's a little too nice -- but the packaging on this bitch is G-H-E-T-T-O. Most CDR-only labels do a better job than this. That really is the front cover, and it looks the same on the back, and there's no booklet, liner notes, or inside art. Yes, the MUSIC is what's important, but jeez, come on! As for the music, I'm sure you've heard about it in or because of Alan Licht's Minimalism Top 10 in the very first issue of Halana magazine way back when. A hillbilly version of the Theater of Eternal Music? As high-concept goes, sure, why not? I'd love to hear it. And it is pretty fine. Flynt does cooler shit with the violin than I expected for some reason -- unlike Tony Conrad, sawing away on double stops for decades, he gets up and down the fretboard and does a lot of those 'celestial' 'up-and-away' licks. Lends the whole thing a surprisingly welcome fusoid space-demeanor to go with that 'country-fried' sound all the mags are hyping. Disc one is violin and tamburas, disc two is violin and volume-pedaled guitar. Exercises in mellow sound-flickering taken at immersion-tank lengths.

HUSKER DU: Zen Arcade 2LP (SST)
Husker Du are one of the weirdest bands of all time. The look alone: they were punk rock youth, but the drummer had long stringy hair and was kinda chubby, and seemed a little hippy-ish, and the bassist had a fucking moustache (but was a hard rocker and the stache did look pretty cool with those handlebars), and the singer/guitarist chain-smoked, screamed his veins out, and wailed on the guitar, but the whole time he looked like a scarf-wearing bookworm who just got home from golfing! And he's kinda chubby too! Not to mention that two of the three members ended up coming out of the closet, and they were the two that didn't have a moustache!
        As for the music itself, that was kind of weird too, because it was more tuneful, classic-rock influenced, and unabashedly tortured-artist romantic than punk had been before. I always figured I did or should like their records, but actually listening to them never really bore it out. Tape-dubs and used vinyl LPs would be made/bought, but mostly stay on the shelf. Even when making it to the stereo, side one wouldn't always get flipped over. I'll admit I was trying stuff like Candy Apple Grey, which was solid but considerably more 'cleaned up' and ultimately not that inspiring. (And I'm not saying that just because it was on a major label -- I mean, that might actually be the reason, but it was their sixth album and for deeply serious romantics like these guys, a maturation/matriculation/cooling-off phase was inevitable.) Warehouse: Songs and Stories again had a solid, roaring rock sound, but seemed especially bloated -- with seriousness, earnestness, booze, whatever -- and was long on time while being short on hooks. (For the record, I know a few people who heartily disagree, though for the life of me I can't hear why.) Mould's solo debut Workbook was the confirmation/nadir of this tendency toward maturation/bloat, featuring some sort of Townshend/Stipe 'prematurely grey rock'.
       Despite these misgivings, I picked up Zen Arcade anyway, because it was used, on vinyl, and it had a beautiful cover painting and a reputation as a masterpiece. Still, on the turntable it didn't quite register, and I played it maybe twice in two years. It seemed like at least 30% of it was just Soul Asylum folk-rock arpeggios, with Bob Mould's nasal voice sounding like a precursor to emo. Well, I just got it out again, and though I still hear that 30% Soul Asylum thing goin' on, the other 70% (and it might be more like 85%) is so musically vicious (the folk-rock arpeggios are played at land-record speed) and so clearly tunneling through a passionate and dangerous self-induced mental fog
/mad romantic dream, that, well, I just can't write it off any longer. I realize now that they were a lot more like Black Flag than Soul Asylum, vocals screamed as often shouted, songs played with thick distortion at breakneck speed, the whole thing a veritable breakneck chicken run with their innate Midwestern sentimentality speeding headlong into the retch 'n sneer worldview they'd learned from their SoCal mentors. Any folk-rock-emo tendencies were kept in serious check by the band drug experimentation, which enabled them to conceive their music just as wild-assed and loosely tight/tightly loose as did the Flag.
        On top of this, Bob Mould plays one amazing guitar solo after another -- check "Indecision Time" and "I'll Never Forget You." In terms of 100-miles-and-runnin' sonic liftoff, he actually plays just like Greg Ginn on these songs (cf. the Ginn solo on "Thirsty and Miserable"), except that he knows more hair-metal licks. These solos, the tempos, the buzzsaw beehive rhythm guitar sounds, and all the primal scream vocals create a wild, seething sound; mix in a unabashedly romantic (proto-emo?...absolutely) sensibility and you've got a sound that actually embodies every single one (I checked) of the adjectives put forth by All Music Guide in their goofy "tones" feature. They have one for every band; the Huskers' reads: "Somber, Intense, Confrontational, Fiery, Passionate, Rousing, Reckless, Aggressive, Tense/Anxious, Visceral, Earnest, Cathartic, Angst-Ridden, Bleak, Volatile." (I like how "Tense/Anxious" stands as a separate, single "tone.")
        One they forgot is "Seething." In addition to being finally struck by how damn seething this record is, I'm also really getting the 'epic psychedelic concept album' aspect of it for the first time. They always sounded slightly proggy (a lot of washy suspended guitar chords and oddly Rushian bass-n-drums syncopation...and jeez, the only thing keeping Mould's piano instrumentals "One Step At A Time" and "Monday Will Never Be The Same" from full Genesis/Eno/Cluster status is that they're both barely a minute long...), but Zen Arcade is a concept album because: 1) it's a double record with 'mirror' tracks on the first side and last side and 2) all the songs in between are about youthful, torrid, and mostly unsuccesful romances with friends, lovers, and drugs.
        The very first three sung lines on the album are about the lessons of LSD: "Something I learned today/black and white is always grey/looking thru the window pane." In the third and last verse, the lesson is "something I learned today/never look straight in the sun's rays/letting all the sunshine in/can't remember where I've been." These kids, at their already inherently confusing adolescent age, weren't quite ready to have liquid sunshine, window pane acid, and punk rock all happen to them at once. This new wash of experience impassioned but further confused and even somewhat terrified their humble midwestern minds so much that they wrote and performed and recorded an entire double-LP concept album about it. Indeed, on only the fourth song, "Chartered Trips," they already seem to be repeating the same warnings and double entendres: "Out there on the desert/I see trees on every wall/nothing's ever solved/said 'the sky's the limit on this chartered trip away'/guess I'd better stay away...horizon is oblivious/
chartered trip away...said 'there's no returning from this chartered trip away'."
       As other songs describe, it's not just the drugs that have gotten them down, it's parents ("Whatever"), current events ("Newest Industry," "Turn on the News"), and disappointing friends ("Never Talking To You Again," "Pride"). Grant Hart starts "Turn on the News" by saying, simply, "If there's one thing that I can't explain/it's why the world has to have so much pain," and on the galloping anxiety attack "Masochism World," they ask/howl/demand "Why don't you tell me why it is so confusing!" right before a thrilling instrumental freakout. One more song, though, is definitely about drugs: Hart's "Pink Turns To Blue," a description of the change in color of a young woman's skin as she overdoses on heroin. A sweet rising chorus melody and just three short verses give the song a deceptively simple feeling, like a little hardcore nursery rhyme, one that couches stunning thanatological images like those of the last verse: "No more rope/and too much dope/she's lying on the bed/angels pacing/gently placing/roses 'round her head."
       The album is psychedelic musically and structurally as well as lyrically; side three ends with "The Tooth Fairy and the Princess," a purely psych-rock instrumental, complete with backwards voice loops and a voice at the end screaming something like "STOP!!!!", a move that could've come right off Pink Floyd's The Wall, another psychedelic double-LP concept record of the era. It was released just three years earlier, and let's face it, the Huskers were probably familiar with it. Speaking of which, side four even opens with radio/TV found-sound detritus over ominous piano chords! It's not too artsy, though, just a brief introduction for "Turn On The News", a roaring midwestern rocker (complete with a football-chant chorus and Paul Stanley-inflected lead vocals by Grant Hart!), but then comes "Reoccurring Dreams," an infamous, terrifying 10-minute psych-noise boogie-rock instrumental (the song mirrored on side one, where it's excerpted and played backwards as "Dreams Reoccurring"). "A single with a weird long B-side" is how the Spin Alternative Record Guide describes side four, but however you wanna put it, it pretty much shouts "psychedelic concept album." (The gatefold cover art helps too.)

Husker Du, photo by Daniel Corrigan

THE SCOTT AND GARY SHOW video (available from
This is a 90-minute-or-so compendium of highlights from a NYC-area public access live music show that aired in the early-to-mid-80s underground rock heyday. It was put together by
Jeff Krulik, the auteur behind the independent horror movie Heavy Metal Parking Lot, though I don't believe Krulik was involved with the original program. That was Scott and Gary themselves (don't remember their last names). Inspired by Hugh Hefner's Playboy After Dark and shows like Hullabaloo and Shindig , they conceived a show in which their favorite bands could play to an extremely informal live-in-the-studio audience. A palpable sense of hipster anarchy is achieved (rivalling Chicago's wonderful Chic-a-Go-Go), and the guys seem to have fine musical taste, although the main host (Scott or Gary, I can't remember which one!) is not a great interviewer and the attempts at humor and skit comedy had my gigglebox almost totally paralyzed.
        Nonetheless, as a music show The Scott and Gary Show was an unqualified success. Half Japanese (TOTALLY nerd out), the Velvet Monkeys (curse loudly and wrestle the hosts during their interview), Shockabilly (make fun of Prince), and a host of other forgotten but oft-impressive and totally of-their-time bands all turn in rollicking sets.
Ben Vaughn appears I supposed to know who this dull avant-country rocker is? They act like he went on to become famous or something. One act that definitely went on to be famous, and are presented here as some sort of 'coup', are the punk rock-era Beastie Boys. Their clip is bizarre to watch because they're so young (Ad-Rock is still in high school) but also because they are so TERRIBLE. The drummer, Kate Schellenbach, comes off as the only skilled musician and their stage presence is so stand-in-one-place-shyly-facing-sideways-and-stop-the-song-early-because-you-unconfidently-missed-a-note ZERO that a truer lesson of "anyone can become famous" perhaps doesn't exist anywhere. (Granted, during the interview segment they finally reveal some of the witty-hipster chutzpah that took them to the top. They knew what they were doing when they stopped playing punk rock.)
        Perhaps the most memorable appearance on the tape is by The Butthole Surfers. The music is pretty ramshackle and out-there, and the charisma of Gibby Haynes is undeniable. (Although it should be noted that watching this performance, I immediately thought for the first time "He sounds just like Jello Biafra," and a couple hours later, when my wife watched it, she immediately said "He sounds just like Jello Biafra.") I also was extremely impressed by the backwoods-psychopath androgynous twin drummers with shaved heads shtick -- visually, of course, but also musically: they were a maelstrom of energy and movement, making it legendarily easy for the other musicians to sound good no matter how fucked up they were.
       Chunklet Magazine recently declared the Buttholes "the #1 assholes in rock," and while that was mostly due to their much-publicized feud with the saintly Touch and Go Records, watching them during the interview segment reveals that they could have deserved the honor in 1983 anyway just by being themselves. Again, Gibby's charisma is undeniable even when he's being an inebriated brat, which is basically all the time, but I actually found Paul Leary and his cold 'weirdo' shtick a little frightening. In fact, I have a strong feeling it was Paul Leary who instigated the whole suite against Touch and Go. Oh well, that's a whole 'nother essay, which I don't care to write. And regardless, seeing the Surfers perform made me get out Rembrandt Pussyhorse and Hairway to Steven. Both still sound pretty incredible.


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