The Purgatory of The Open Mike – “The Girl From The Basement Church”

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The purgatory of the open mic.

by Dale Nickey

The ad in the Recycler read, “Wanted: Singer/Songwriters, Poets and Artists for Open Mic at the Basement Church. Sign Ups at 07:00 p.m. Sunday Night”

I decided to go and perform at The Basement Church in Echo Park. My twenties were gone. My rock star dreams were gone. I now played music because it was an obsession; like sex, like alcohol or drugs. So I started going out and playing open mics as one would go out for casual sex. It was about satisfying an urge.

I showed up a little early as was my custom. The Basement Church was indeed in a basement, but looked very little like a church. As soon as I walked in the door; a smiling, puffy faced gent wearing a puke colored cardigan sweater walked up to me. He was holding a steaming mug of black coffee. He introduced himself as Deacon Jim and invited me to sit at his table. I accepted his invitation. It was a welcoming environment.

I asked him what slots were available and he said he could fit me in third. I could play fifteen minutes. That suited me fine. If I curtailed my stage banter, I could squeeze in five songs.

I looked around the room and it had a nice dark vibe. There was a small bandstand and two mics. The bandstand was a nice bonus. It added gravitas and drama to a performance. I was disappointed to see they had no stool. The height a stool provides gives you a psychological advantage over the audience. If you sit in chair, you are closer to eye level and the performer/audience dynamic is compromised. I didn’t like playing acoustic gigs standing up, so I would use my old trick of swinging my leg over the back of a chair and play standing up on one leg with one foot resting on the seat of the chair; show them you mean business.

There were four or five performers scattered throughout the room. All were concentrating intently on tuning their acoustic guitars and running through chord changes. Most looked fidgety and nervous, as though their futures depended on what would happen during their fifteen minutes onstage. I sat quietly and chatted with Deacon Jim. He seemed interested in talking to me for some reason. It was then I noticed The Girl. She was sitting at the back of the club with her nylon string guitar; the right side of her face obscured by a curtain of clean, straight, brown hair.

Her side view revealed a straight strong back and a beautiful curvature down to her buttocks. Her hands were thin, long and had a musculature that suggested a life of work. Perfect for guitar. Her arms were slender and toned. She was playing a rudimentary classical piece. It sounded nice. She seemed to have a grace about her that none of the other neophytes in the club possessed. I suddenly wished I had a sketchpad and a talent for drawing.

My meditation was shattered by a blustering, but harmless buffoon who entered from a kitchenette in the back. His name was Roy. He was stocky with thick black hair. Deacon Jim seemed well acquainted with Roy as he sat at our table without invitation. I gathered that Roy was a church elder of some sort. He was one of those people who stared at you a little too hard and a little too long. Deacon Jim cut him off gently and stood up to start the proceedings.

First up was a serious, bearded, long haired kid. He was far more handsome than he was talented and seemed to know it. He sang a James Taylor tune and a Leonard Cohen tune. He also sang a couple of tunes I assumed were original. He stumbled on chords a couple of times and wore a ‘deer in the headlights’ look on his face the entire set.

Next up was a balding, forty-something blues devotee. He had a poorly camouflaged beer gut and played a cheap nylon string guitar. His repertoire was exclusively blues standards; all of which he strummed unimaginatively in first position chords like a folk singer. Midnight Special, Stormy Monday etc…. He had a harmonica strapped around his neck which he played often and badly. I spent his entire set staring into my cup of coffee in solemn prayer that someone would shove that damn harmonica up his ass. The Basement Church.

I was up next. Even though there was nothing on the line I still got that nervous buzz in anticipation of performance. It was a good feeling. Deacon Jim fiddled with my mics while I checked my tuning. I noticed The Girl at the back of the club. She seemed to be looking at me attentively.

I was at the peak of my musical powers. I saw no reason to hold back and played my most challenging and risky songs. Deacon Jim would interject questions and comments between songs. I didn’t mind. He would say, “Good tune, yours?” Once or twice, buffoon Roy would start to blather during a song and Deacon Jim would shush him quietly and efficiently. The Girl’s dark silhouette sat ramrod straight during my whole set and never seemed to move a muscle.

I closed my set to polite, scattered applause. I sat down back at the table with Deacon Jim and Buffoon Roy. Another gent followed me and did an extremely serious set of originals. He strummed way too fast and hard, and sang way too loud. He grimaced, sweated profusely, and his face turned beet red. I guess he thought perspiration might mitigate a surfeit of inspiration. I looked in the direction of The Girl to find she and her guitar had vanished.

I should have left at this point, but something was keeping me there. Buffoon Roy pontificated and swigged coffee. He obviously fancied himself an armchair Socialist. As Roy continued his cartoon tirade I watched The Girl quietly and gracefully take the stage behind him and fuss with her hair and guitar while Deacon Jim attended to her microphones.

She was nervous, but game. She played that simple classical piece she was working on earlier. She was obviously taking lessons and practicing. She froze a couple of times, but took the piece to completion. The poorly lit stage added allure to her looks. The curtain of straight, brown, clean hair effectively cut her face in half. The half I could see was lightly made up with strong and pretty features. She surprised us by terminating her performance after one song. Deacon Jim gallantly asked her to sit at our table and play another. She said, “The only other tune I know is ‘Ten Thousand Miles’ and I barely know it.” Deacon Jim helpfully said, “I’m sure Dale could wing it on guitar”.

She sat down. She was sitting between Buffoon Roy and Deacon. She had a flinching posture when sitting at the table. I watched her hands on guitar while she ran through Ten Thousand Miles. It was a typical minimalist folk song. I picked up the chords and she sang the song in a sweet, pleasant – if slightly amateurish – falsetto. I caught her shooting a couple of glances at me. She was pretty, in her late twenties and had a smoking hot hippy body and brains. However, the curtain of hair over the right half of her face seemed to have a purpose. She was covering a scar. A made a point of not staring. She seemed shy and pensive enough.

Buffoon Roy was blathering about art and the disappearance of the friendly neighborhood bar. He complained how you couldn’t walk into a bar anymore for conversation and fellowship. He said every bar in town was either a strip bar or a gay bar. I silently wondered how he would know. At the first appropriate pause, I bent over to put away my guitar and made my excuses to go. The Girl immediately mentioned to Deacon Jim that it was getting late and she had to go to school in the morning. Deacon Jim said something unintelligible. Then, Buffoon Roy blustered, “well…I could take you home, it’s on the way!” Deacon Jim ignored Roy and turned to me and said, “You’re going back to The Valley right?” I said that I was.

“Fine, I’m sure Dale wouldn’t mind taking you home Gail”. I looked at Gail and told her I was fine with giving her a ride home. At that point she smiled and started putting her guitar away to leave. Buffoon Roy looked defeated. Deacon Jim took a self-satisfied slurp from his coffee mug, happy with his handiwork.

I offered to carry her guitar if she would negotiate the door. She walked on my right side as we approached the car. She stood well back when I opened the car door for her. All her movements seemed choreographed to shield her scar from my view. Fate even conspired to only show me her unblemished left side as she sat beside me in the passenger’s seat on the ride home.

We talked. She told me of her love for classical guitar. She also asked me what I was doing playing at the Basement Church. She told me I should be famous.

She lived in up in the foothills near The Church. I couldn’t tell if the neighborhood was ‘funky but chic’ or old and poor. Her apartment occupied the entire second floor of an older building. It probably started out life as a nice two story house that hard economics had morphed into a split level duplex.

Stand-up_comedy_-_Stage_-_cropShe invited me up for a cup of tea and I accepted without hesitation. I carried our guitars as she walked up the stairs ahead of me. This allowed me a discreet examination of her body from the rear and it was exquisite. Her slim, shapely body was housed in skin tight jeans and a leotard top. I doubt men stared at that scar on her face for long.

We entered the apartment and it immediately felt comfortable. I guessed it was built in the 40’s or early 50’s. The most noticeable feature was the hardwood floors that were common to the era. Gail had wisely decorated the apartment sparsely to maximize the esthetics of the wood. Clearly she was not rich and there was no money to waste on ephemera. However, this was the eighties, when it was still possible for those not rich to live in scruffy dignity.

She bounced around the apartment cheerfully and purposefully. I leaned in the kitchen door way while she prepared our tea. She kept her back to me while she performed her kitchen duties. She interrupted her task only to look at me over her left shoulder to reveal her pretty and alluring profile. The stove was a vintage 50’s model reminiscent of our old family stove that first educated me to the pain of fire.

She chatted about school and casually took my hand to show me the view from her apartment. The view was from an empty spare room at the back of the apartment. There were faux French double door windows that opened to a view of a thicket of trees and a small ravine. A very green, lush and (I assumed) dangerous piece of inner-city vegetation. We held hands. My arousal was immediate and sustained. She was proud of the humble but soulful niche she had carved for herself. Clearly she enjoyed my company. At the same time, she did not seem solicitous. She produced a joint and we smoked and chatted amiably and easily.

I finished my tea and it was time for me to go. She stood up and faced me square for the first time. I could see the scarring on the right side of her face was more severe than I thought. I moved closer and I could see through the curtain of hair that her cheekbone was missing; a sunken crater in its place. She was covering more than a scar. Her face was tragically disfigured. I did not hesitate. I put my hand gently on her shoulder and softly kissed her beautiful left cheek. Her body relaxed and her posture was welcoming. It was then I could see the sadness in her smile.

I thought about staying the night. I arrogantly assumed I could do so and her disfigurement did not repel me in the least. I know Gail would have been an amazing lover. However, I couldn’t love and leave her so cruelly. I was better than that. Or maybe I was just too shallow to shoulder the inevitable burden of stares and questions from family and friends. Maybe it was a little of both. Regardless, I made my excuses and left.

I knew I would never see or speak to her again. But, I thought about her every second of my drive back to the Valley. I solemnly prayed for the safety and happiness of The Girl from The Basement Church.

Morning Music Funnies # 7 – John Lydon on Roseanne

On October 7, 1999 John Lydon (aka Johnny Rotten) was scheduled to appear on The Roseanne Barr Show. The show agreed to allow Lydon and his crew to shoot film behind the scenes as part of the deal.

Upon arrival, Roseanne’s battalion of supercilious staffers sprung into action. One snarky comment from Lydon about a life size Roseanne cardboard cutout put her backstage posse on red alert. Suddenly, Lydon found himself in a swirling vortex of bitchy handlers bent on shutting down the cameras and bum-rushing the recalcitrant Punk icon out of the building. This is a wonderful document that illustrates  all that’s wrong with celebrity culture and all that’s right with Punk.

Dean Ford “Feel My Heartbeat” Album Review

 

Dean Ford Releases New Solo Album “Feel My Heartbeat”

By Dale Nickey

Los Angeles, CA (The Hollywood Times) 5/30/16 – In 1969 a Scottish group named The Marmalade hit the charts in a big way with their Top Three ballad, “Reflections of My Life”. It was a melancholic look back at life, sung by a young singer/songwriter who had not yet lived it. The singer was Dean Ford (Born Thomas McAleese). The Marmalade made their splash and suffered the fate of many entrants into the 60’s sweepstakes. They had a couple of hits and faded into history, only to return sporadically on oldies radio, the odd soundtrack or the occasional K-Tel compilation. Continue reading

Now Be Thankful – David Swarbrick Remembered

Authored By Dale Nickey:

I am thankful. I saw David Swarbrick perform live. Twice. Both times with Martin Carthy. Both times at MaCabe’s Guitar Shop. And, it wasn’t until I heard about Swarb’s passing that the fog of years parted and I remembered that I actually spoke to the man. A brief encounter to be sure, but still I touched greatness.

 McCabe’s is an L.A. music institution that goes back decades. It sits in the ocean community of Santa Monica; a safe haven for expatriate Brits. While I’ve been alive there has always been a McCabe’s. It a woody, friendly music shop that specializes in acoustic exotica of all sorts. I bought my Mandocello there. Likewise, if you need paddle tuners for your Beach Uke, that’s where you go. They also host concerts. Their main musical affiliation is with folk and blues. They have a big room in the back with a nice stage where you can squeeze in 150-200 punters on folding chairs. I saw Elizabeth Cotton there. Jean Richie, Pentangle, June Tabor, John Renbourn and John Fahey, I even played there once myself in the folk duo Adie and Dale.

On gig night it’s usually packed out. Fresh baked cookies were offered in the front of the store. The restroom was small and you had to wait your turn. One night I bumped into Bert Jansch exiting as I was going in. I once banged shoulders with Yvonne Elliman whilst trying to navigate the crowded upstairs hallway. It was that kinda place. It might still be.

 Anyway, I went there at the dawn of the 90’s decade to watch the duo of Martin Carthy and David Swarbrick perform. I went with my friend Dominic, whom I was in a band with at the time. He was not familiar with either of the folk heavyweights we were about to see. But, because of my recommendation, he decided to check it out.

 It was an amazing show. Martin Carthy had a youthful, bouncy spirit and his chunky, finger styled guitar playing was as solid as the Rock of Gibraltar. Then there was Swarbrick, he played standing for the entire hour plus set. I remember there was a very tall gooseneck microphone stand that arched far above and pointed downward towards his fiddle. He burned for the entire set. He didn’t sing, he just played. Virtuosic and effortless. My companion leaned over and offered that “The Bloke” was a real monster. – the musician’s code word for an instrumentalist of uncommon skill and virtuosity. Swarb would be bequeathed the nickname “The Bloke” for the remainder of the evening and his exploits were discussed at length on the long drive home to The Valley.

I didn’t hear Swarbrick play a bum note the entire set, and he played a lot of notes. If he did hit one, his confidence and experience probably spun it to gold somehow. There he stood, taking the occasional drag from (what looked like) a home rolled cig. He had a bowl styled Beatle haircut. Swarb got the biggest laugh of the night when McCarthy told a joke and Swarb reacted a good half minute later when a helpful audience member in the front row translated it to the diminutive fiddler. Even then, Swarb’s ear problems were legend.

During this period, the duo of Carthy and Swarbrick cranked out two fine albums; “Life and Limb” (1990) and “Skin and Bone” (1992). It was upon their return to McCabe’s to tour the second album that I saw them perform again.

This time I went with a female companion (and future ex-wife). I was sad to find Swarb playing seated for the entire set. His bearing seemed less robust than the first gig I saw. However, the playing remained the same. Flowing, effortless and perfect. My English challenged companion had never heard of these two musicians. She whispered into my ear about “The Little Guy” and how “strong” and “very correct” his playing was.

After the set we loitered at the front of the store, everybody congregated and chatted. My date held court with Billy Connelly, Maddy Prior and Martin Carthy near the repairman’s counter. She was blissfully unaware of the celebrity she was confronting. Martin Carthy laughed broadly and was animated by a sweaty post-gig buzz, Connelly seemed bemused and Maddy looked a bit put out. Meanwhile, I made my way to a hunched, solitary figure sitting at a round wooden table near the album bin. It was Swarbrick. I’m always flummoxed and shy around musicians I admire. I sheepishly told him, “great set” and offered up a rare vinyl copy of “Fairport Convention Live at Sydney Opera House” for his signature. I seemed surprised at being presented with such an artifact. He perused it and quietly mused, “I wonder if I ever got paid for this one?” He then signed, and I slowly backed away and thanked him in the manner of an acolyte retreating from the master. I told it you it was a brief encounter. But we met. I’m so glad we did.

Fast forward to the new century. I was pleased when David Swarbrick accepted me as a Facebook friend. Oh, me and lot of people. I’m sure he would not have remembered my name, we only exchanged the odd thumbs up and the occasional pithy aside in the comments section. But I valued the connection none the less. It’s one of the few upsides to this digital media world that David Swarbrick could still remain present and connected with fans and friends the world over despite his restricted mobility. Think about all the musical giants of the previous century who lived out their winter years with only a rotary phone and a black and white television as their links to the outside world. Forgotten and sad.

I’m at that age now. I’m surrounded by so many friendly ghosts and people preparing for the great transition. I’ve been lucky so far but I am nervously clutching my ticket number dreading my turn to be called. Swarb did alright in the life sweepstakes. He made it to 75 with loads of memories, accomplishments and a loving family at the end. He laughed in the face of death twice. He was a one-off. It seems like this year more than any other, the great upward migration has begun. RIP Swarb.

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David Swarbrick Dead at 75

 

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News has just come in to The Muse Patrol that Folk-Rock pioneer David Swarbrick died on June 3. He was 75.

Swarbrick has courageously beat back illness and infirmity for decades. He will always be remembered as a key member of the greatest Folk Rock ensemble in the history of British Music, Fairport Convention. The line up of Swarbrick, Sandy Denny, Richard Thompson, Dave Mattacks, Simon Nicol and Ashley Hutchings was a virtual all star band dedicated to giving British traditional music its groove back during a time in the late 60’s when The Band was similarly reviving interest in American roots music on this side of the pond.

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David LaFlamme was America’s electric violin pioneer during the late sixties. In Britain, it was David Swarbrick.  ‘Swarb’ was already folk royalty in Britain when the call came to join Fairport Convention in their desperate attempt to retool and recover after a road accident that claimed the life of drummer Martin Lamble. Swarbrick took the gig just in time to feature on the band’s 1969 masterpiece, “Liege And Lief”. Suffering and conquering the agonies of stone-age electric violin technology, Swarbrick found his inner rocker and became a star attraction in the band. He even multi-tasked as Fairport’s lead singer after the departure of Sandy Denny. Eventually, ear problems and other health issues forced his retirement from the band and active touring. He’s cheated death twice. Once after a premature obituary was published in the “The Daily Telegraph” in 1999; and again after a risky, but successful double lung transplant in 2004. 

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For a brief time during the late sixties and early seventies, British Folk-Rock threatened to make a big splash on both sides of the Atlantic. It was old music played by young guns at high volume. This outdoor performance from 1971 is a period curio that captures the genre and Swarbrick at their peak.  This performance could also well be the precise time and place where the spirit of the sixties died. Now Swarbrick has also passed. British music will be forever poorer in his absence.

 

Jandek releases new CD – Dublin Friday

Authored by Dale Nickey:

More Jandek ?  >>> Houston ThursBrussels Sat / St. Louis Fri

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JANDEK – Dublin Friday (CD)

Corwood Industries (0820)

 

Word salad surgery…

Corwood Industries has just released Dublin Friday – a live acoustic set of guitar/vocal pieces, I have given up trying to read logic into Jandek’s release schedule. This performance dates back to June 11, 2008. The venue is The Douglas Hyde Gallery in Dublin Ireland. As of late, Corwood’s releases tend to hopscotch back and forth in time without any explanation or pattern.

Dublin Friday seems a companion work to Houston Saturday (2011), which employed the same solo acoustic format. Indeed, Corwood included a DVD version of the Houston performance (along with Dublin Friday) in its latest care package to this reviewer, so it’s clear they see the linkage as well. However, where Houston Saturday (2011) was a song cycle totally in thrall to lust, love and human connection, Dublin Friday is totally absent any sentimentality, romance or emotion. If it were a book, I would describe it as an eight chapter novella set in a Kafkaesque parallel universe of the mind. Or perhaps, Finnegan’s Wake on Ambien.

On Dublin Friday, It’s tough to gauge how much of the lyric content is composed or extemporized. It’s apparent The Representative has stockpile of phrases and images preloaded – while at the same time – his delivery suggests a cut and paste methodology. Evocative phrases are delivered in random order with no consideration to narrative. There are times you can hear Jandek trying to stay a step ahead of himself, reshuffling his mental deck on the fly. The songs on Dublin Friday (as do many of Jandek’s compositions) occupy the nether region between automatic writing and conventional song craft. At this performance, Jandek’s internal clock set set between seven and nine minutes per piece. Only Part Seven deviates from this time frame, coming in at 5:41.

The Representative of Corwood Industries has dispensed with song titles for this release. Instead, we get eight selections titled “Part One”, “Part Two”…etc. However, the eight selections scan like segmented parts of a conceptual whole.

That being said, Dublin Friday is a strong and involving set. Jandek ‘the man’ keeps reviewers at arms distance, so the intent and motivation behind this set of non-stop, non-sequiturs will forever be open to conjecture.

 

What follows is a track-by-track analysis of the songs found on Dublin Friday:

Part One – A protracted and meandering guitar introduction paints a desolate musical landscape. What follows is a clutch of lyric snippets that stop and start maddeningly. Short unfinished phrases cut and pasted together. Example: “You see the general terms basking in the gentle hues. To make things clear, he said nothing.”

Part Two – A delicate, pin-prick guitar intro precedes more florid word play. Part Two describes abandoned journeys and thoughts inadequately expressed. Jandek seems trapped in some kind of emotional stasis. The Reps guitar work is active and possesses a harmonic logic that reveals itself only to those willing to invest in repeated listens. Sample lyric: “He said nothing enthralled by demeanor, ravished by the movement of hands…”

Part Three – This selection promises something more in the realm of a structured narrative. But, that’s just a come-on. Musically; The Rep is exploring richer, darker tones than he did in Part Two. However, no threads are maintained. Example: “Tell me I’m not mistaken by the holocaust of vision, the break-up of a sentence. It’s only that…I mean. It’s all so obvious.” Oh, is it?

Part Four – Some recognizable harmonic motifs threaten to emerge throughout this piece but are ultimately stillborn. After some introductory improvisation, the artist finally intones, “The cacophony of gestures, flew about like secret symbols, or martial arts chopping phrases, into bits of a conundrum.” The guitar work throughout Dublin Friday is oddly appealing and involving. Later in the piece, The Representative expresses his desire for a ‘box of surprises’. The Representative demonstrates a command of subtle dynamics throughout the piece. Nice ritard ending.

Part Five – Part Five starts off with some clacky single string work, Jandek continues to toss his existential word salad… “Imbued with his blustery bellow, and his promenade of gestures like a floating benevolent cloud that captures your imagination when you’ve nothing to do.” A fairly symmetrical song structure ultimately reveals itself as the vocal verses alternate with guitar breaks that further explores the wild, interval leaps in the songs intro. So far each piece seems to have its own musical identity. However lyrically, entropy and confusion still reign supreme; or to quote The Representative, “To interrupt this madness would be catastrophic”.

Part Six – At this juncture, Jandek’s limited harmonic palette begins to reveal itself. However, despite the musical groping and meandering, interesting motifs continue poke their head out into the light, then wither and recede just as quickly as they came. Instrumentally, this piece less busy and employs descending lines in lieu of the nihilistic noodling of the previous piece. Again, the landscape is strewn with faceless people, saying nothing and revealing nothing. The narrator’s use of evocative phraseology only succeeds in plunging the listener further into the dark.

Part Seven – A guitar intro mines the lower registers of the instrument. “You simply must understand. Let’s begin where it all started. All is agreed. I will not repeat. The conviction pierced fleshly barriers of sound.” Elsewhere: “He said nothing, and they acted like he was saving the world”. As with all the selections on this CD, the song’s conclusion is met with pregnant silence followed by sustained, reverential applause.

Part Eight – On this, the final song, Jandek’s amps up the adrenaline, strums a little harder and gets a tad more bellicose. Unidentified people are saying nothing. In fact, this entire eight part odyssey could well be summarized by the phrase. “My heart is shaken by this witness, he said nothing.”

Upon first hearing, Dublin Friday exhibits the familiar traits that have denied Jandek a mass audience for decades. The cold, brackish exterior will forever scare off the casual listener.

It makes sense that music journalists are the most fervent ambassadors of his work. We are forced to pro-actively listen to this music as part of our job, and it’s in these requisite, repeat listens that Jandek music begins to reveal its layers. Despite first impressions, this is not throwaway bullshit. Neither is it pop craft. It’s something different; and I’m relieved to say, it’s as honest and purposeful as any music currently being created. We can come along for the ride or not. Jandek will never thank you for coming. He plays, and we either show up or stay home. The Representative is one of the few musical artists who understands art shouldn’t give a shit and it doesn’t apologize. The muse just issues forth its nectar or poison from its pustule or pod when it no longer can be contained. A work such as Dublin Friday allows us to witness the act of creation with without filters. It’s not entertainment. It’s pure spectacle.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

JANDEK – “Los Angeles Saturday” (DVD Review)

Authored by Dale Nickey:

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Jandek – “Los Angeles Saturday” (DVD)

Corwood Industries (0819)

 

Jandek’s Hollywood Premier… 

Jandek has just released his latest work “Los Angeles Saturday”, a DVD of his first Los Angeles performance on May 24, 2014. A special performance to me personally, as I was there to witness the event. Press credentials allowed me to crouch at the corner of the stage three feet away from The Representative of Corwood Industries. I was in closer physical proximity to the man than anybody else in attendance.

So, I have a unique perspective from which to judge the merits of the DVD presentation. It was pro shot with one center camera, alternating with shots originating from the right front corner of the stage. The same area I happened to be shooting stills and video footage of my own. Which is to say, many of the side angle shots reveal the exact view that I had at the corner of the stage.

What this DVD strains to capture is the vibe. That unquantifiable ambiance informed by smell, temperature, humidity, lighting, chatter and ingested substances. I suspect all of Jandek’s live DVD’s are absent this dimension, as are most filmed performances of live music.

Corwood Industries allowed me to interview band members but not The Representive of Corwood Industries himself; and it was in my interview with band member Kris Bernard that I discovered the musicians contracted for this gig (Kris Bernard and Emily Curren) had never played on stage before. Moreover, they had never played musical instruments of any kind before their induction into the ensemble. This fact was fascinating and revealing. But, a fact that never would have seen the light of day had your intrepid reporter not investigated. My interview with Kris Bernard revealed how Jandek transcends (or bypasses) the conventions of human music making. Moreover, the music this night sounded just as “Jandekian” as music performed by seasoned musicians on other records and performances.

So here, I republish my original impressions of the concert for your consideration. The inside information revealed here may (in part) contribute to your experience viewing the DVD. Included is a transcript of my phone interview with band member, Kris Bernard.

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Jandek Live at The Echo – Los Angeles (May 24, 2014)

Imagine you find yourself in the ultimate dystopian incarnation of Los Angeles. Blade Runner come to life. A societal structure beyond the control of those who inhabit it. A basic social infrastructure still exits, although it’s unraveling daily. You still have paper currency, markets to buy food and goods, and if you travel to the darker, stranger recesses of the city, Art. Someplace, somewhere in a disintegrating megalopolis of 10 million, a band plays in a dank, dark temple of song, conjoined in the sacred audience/performer covenant. However, what band is this? And, what kind of music would they be playing?

Those were the pictures my mind painted while observing the dark and intense set by Jandek on a balmy Los Angeles Saturday. The Representative of Corwood Industries has not yet exhausted of his bag of tricks. He gifted us with a desperately energetic band of three women which produced a joyful noise laced with estrogen and innocence at ear splitting volume. The dark stage and club ambiance contributed to the illusion of being part of a very exclusive secret society. It was a thing to behold.

After the original performance venue, “The Church On York” lost its permit, The Jandek performance went off as scheduled at the The Echoplex. The club was jammed with several hundred Jandekophiles. And, if my informal straw poll is accurate, the demographic of the typical Angeleno Jandek enthusiast skews decidedly towards anglo, polite, attractive, educated late-20’s to early 30’s Alternative music fans. Good demo for Jandek, bad news for the barkeep, who saw precious little activity at the watering hole. Of course, the seven dollar draft beers might have been a deterrent as well.

The common topic of pre-show conversation revolved around which Jandek would show up. Would he perform solo? Would he go ambient for a two hour stretch? Or, would he improvise on electric guitar atonally as he did on the live album “Houston Saturday”? To say there was a pre-gig buzz, would be an understatement. History was about to be made, if only for a cult of a few hundred.

Jandek rewarded us with a generous sampler of his various musical personalities. The big surprise was the appearance of lead singer/spoken word artist Sheila Smith. She was pretty much group spokesperson and focal point while The Representative hopscotched from instrument to instrument. However, the show opened with The Artist sitting on a stool at the front the stage armed with his acoustic guitar and his voice. No “Hello Los Angeles!” was offered by the artist or desired by the audience. In fact the club was dead silent while the artist fiddled interminably with a plastic bag of ‘who knows what’ to retrieve a suitable guitar pick. I saw Andres Segovia perform at the Dorothy Chandler pavilion in the seventies. That crowd was unruly by comparison. This portion of the show consisted of prepared and composed acoustic songs, “Whiling the Night Away” and “Hallway”. Both were effective and very well received.

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Jandek then put down the guitar and his charismatic female ensemble took over the stage. He grabbed the microphone and proceeded to engage in an improvised spoken word smack down with front lady Sheila Smith. The piece will probably end up with the title “I Got It” because the exchange revolved around who had what and why, although it was never specifically revealed what “it” precisely was. Smith played the role of “Da Rep’s” lust interest with sass and brio. Many in the audience wondered if the hormone drenched stagecraft on display was psycho-drama or the real deal. The Representative himself, was animated and engaged. He then strapped on a Fender Precision bass and more interplay with Smith ensued. This portion of the show was clearly performed without a net or prepared music. Jandek’s bass playing was inspired, energetic, and filled the room with his unique, harmonically ambiguous presence.

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Clearly, The Representative was relishing his role as The Zen Master of chaotic convergence. The third act of the set saw the artist sit behind the drum kit. The ensemble out front jammed and free associated while the man himself proved a capable –albeit idiosyncratic -skin beater.

The fourth and last act saw our hero strap on an electric guitar and lead his ensemble in a classic Jandekian demolition of all discernable melodic or harmonic structures. Then, too soon, it was over and the man in black left the stage and disappeared into the night. An encore was desired and called for, but we all knew The Representative would not engage in such a hackneyed Rock and Roll convention.

 

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After the concert, I had the opportunity to speak with multi-instrumentalist Kris Bernard. She was a member of Jandek’s ad-hoc ensemble convened exclusively for the L.A. performance. She played bass and drums. Her back story is nearly as compelling as the performance itself. Kris had never performed on stage before May 24, 2014, and even more remarkable, had no prior musical training or experience on any instrument at the time of her induction into the group.

 

Dale Nickey (DN): Before the gig, were you familiar with Jandek’s music?

Kris Bernard (KB): “I was, I have a couple of his records. How all this came to pass is, I played one of the records for my boyfriend. He basically had a reaction that I thought was funny, so I tweeted that.”

(DN): What was the tweet?

(KB): ‘I played a Jandek record for my boyfriend, he immediately hated it, mid-way through he said he wasn’t sure about it, and then by the end of side one he loved it.’ So I tweeted that”

 (DN): Which record was it?

(KB) “The Living End”

 (DN): How were you contacted for the gig?

(KB): “I was contacted on twitter by Sheila. She told me Jandek was going to be playing in L.A. I told her I was definitely going. Then, she asked me if I had any musical experience, and I said no. So I thought she wanted to form a band, not realizing she had any association with Jandek. I asked her where she lived in L.A., and she told me she lived in Houston. I still didn’t know what was happening. At a certain point, she told me she was going to form a band to play the same night as Jandek. I thought this was going to be an opening band. I didn’t know it was going to be Jandek.”

(DN): Had you ever had any musical experience before you got up onstage with Jandek?

(KB) “No. Well actually as soon as I found out about the show. I have a friend who gives music lessons, so I got three hours with him, with a guitar, a bass and on drums. But it was a very limited amount. And, I basically forgot everything since a month ago.”

 (DN) Remarkable, I would not have known you had zero experience as a musician.

(KB) “That’s good.”

 (DN) When you told Corwood that you had no musical experience, it didn’t matter?

(KB) “I think that was their preference.”

(DN): What do you do?

(KB) “I used to do web design, and now I’m project manager at a tech company.”

 (DN): As far as preparation, was there any rehearsal at all?

(KB): “No. I had anticipated there would be. We met at The Echo at 2:00 p.m. We waited a long time for the sound guys to get set up. Finally the sound guy went like, ‘do you guys want to try some of your instruments?’, At that point The Representative from Corwood said, ‘yeah, why not?’ Like it hadn’t been thought of before, But, because the sound guy suggested it, they’re like ‘OK, sure let’s do that’. So I picked up the electric violin and I just kinda started hacking away at that. And it sounded really rough. But that (sound-check) was basically the only thing we had other than a prepared set list which was not about songs, but just, ‘at this point you’ll work on this instrument, and at this point you’ll work on that one.’

(DN): No keys or riffs or anything like that?

(KB) “No, not at all (laughs).”

(DN): You mentioned your boyfriend, was he in the band at all?

(KB) “Yes Marcus Savino, he’s the one who played at the end.”

(DN): As regards free form music, it takes a certain fearlessness to stare down 300 people packed into a club. A lot of trained musicians won’t do it. Was there apprehension? Did you have to slam down a couple of Tequilas?

(KB): “Well, I definitely had some Tequila. But, I think, for me I was most comfortable on the drums. That was during the second set I played two songs on the drums. That was definitely my favorite part. At the third and fourth set, I was on bass. And the third set I was supposed to do some improv vocals and I don’t think I got anything out. So that was the least comfortable part for me.”

(DN): I don’t want to get tabloid, but with Sheila onstage, there was a lot of sexual energy or interplay with The Representative. Was that shtick, or was there something going on?

(KB): “I don’t know the workings of their relationship.”

 (DN): So you never met Sheila before the gig?

(KB) “No. Nor had I ever met Emily (Emily Curran)”

 (DN): Do you think you’ll ever meet Jandek again?

(KB): “I would be surprised. Although I am from Texas. And so, I think I’ll be in Houston sometime this year. I’ll definitely try to reach out, but I don’t know if it will result in anything.”

(DN): I want to get to the soul of the man. But I’m as interested as anybody else in preserving the mystique. Did he introduce himself to you as anybody?

(KB): “No. He didn’t actually introduce himself at all. At the point where there were introductions, he didn’t say a name at all. He just said hi. He was so nice. From what I’ve read from other press, he doesn’t refer to himself as Jandek at all, but instead, as The Representative. But he did not call himself that either.”

 (DN): I’ve heard he is well spoken.

(KB): “Yes.”

(DN): After the gig did you toast each other or say ‘Nice Job’ or anything?

(KB): “Yeah, when it was just the five of us up in the green room, the Representative seemed to be really pleased with it. He said it was one of the best shows.”

(DN) Did anyone mention that this show would be released on CD or DVD? Was it filmed?

(KB) “Yeah it was. So I think it will be released. That’s the sense I got.”

(DN): Now that this has happened, do you have any plans to pursue music?

(KB): “You know it’s funny, Marcus and I are together so I live with a drum set, but I’ve never played it ever. But it’s in my basement. I had so much fun with the drums, I think I’m gonna continue to play with it.”

 

The interview was winding down. Kris Bernard’s story was compelling. However, my desire to get inside the soul of the man was left unrequited. Then, before we rung off, Kris turned the tables and asked me a question……

 

(KB): “Can I tell you something he said before the show that I will probably have with me for the rest of my life?”

(DN): Absolutely.

(KB): “One thing the representative said to all of us was…‘there are no mistakes, if you think you made a mistake, go further into that mistake, and then it’s not a mistake.’

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Photos by DN

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