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:

DVD Cover

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.’

Click here to visit Corwood>>>>http://corwoodindustries.com/Z

Photos by DN

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Ashes to Ashes (Bowie Remembered)

Authored by Dale Nickey:

 

 

Superheroes aren’t supposed to die…

David Bowie loved to surprise and shock people. Sadly, he saved his best for last as he passed on Sunday January 10, 2016 at the age of 69. No one saw it coming.

Everything he did in life was art. The way he looked, his elegant speech, videos, film, music…above all, the music. It makes sense that he would orchestrate his final exit to perfection and go out on top. And somehow, leave us smiling through the tears.

Born David Jones, Bowie entered the music business through the same portal as many other seminal British artists during the sixties; he attended art school and cultivated a passion for music. He paid his dues playing in R&B bands on the London club circuit. The Kingbees and The Manish Boys were among the more notable ensembles Bowie played in during that era.

 

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His recording career was going nowhere in particular until he released the epic single “A Space Oddity” in 1969 (five days before the Apollo moon mission). It became a hit single in Britain (and later in the U.S.). Although “A Space Oddity”” didn’t catapult him to worldwide stardom at that time, its success earned him the opportunity to make more records until he found his stride.

In 1971 he released “Hunky Dory”, arguably the finest album of his career. It was a gigantic leap forward from his previous album, the spirited but scruffy “The Man Who Sold the World” where Bowie grabbed the attention of the press by shooting the album cover lounging on a chaise in a dress. “Hunky Dory” yielded the classic rock evergreen “Changes”. The rest of the album is a masterclass in songwriting; ranging from the acid folk of “Andy Warhol”, to the Punk Glam snarl of “Queen Bitch”, to the dour S & M imagery of “The Bewley Brothers”. There was no filler, only brilliance. But, how could he possibly top himself?

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1972 saw the release of “Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders from Mars”; an album that (in its own way) changed the world as much as Beatlemania. The Beatles only hinted at an androgynous parallel universe where the languages of art, love and lust were freely spoken. Now we had a painted, sequined poster boy who not only talked the talk, but came armed with classic tunes that could outlast the critics and the naysayers. Bowie made it OK for a man to wear makeup and look beautiful. Well, for a little while anyway.

“Hunky Dory”, “Ziggy Stardust” and “Aladdin Sane” comprise one of the most potent trilogies by any artist in the history of Rock Music. 1974’s “Diamond Dogs” was brilliant but something had changed. Bowie dumped his faithful backing band and was clearly eager to jump into the artistic void.

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“Young Americans” used Philly soul to capture the ears of America. The album yielded Bowie’s first American chart topper “Fame” (co-written with John Lennon). With “Station to Station” Bowie entered a harrowing phase of drug abuse that saw him lose his memory and a significant portion of his body weight. Didn’t matter, Bowie was now an artist for the ages who couldn’t make an inconsequential album

Bowie had to rehab and reboot or snuff it. For Bowie, that meant taking his buddy Iggy Pop and moving to Berlin by The Wall. He did things like shop for his own food and wash his own laundry. The austere cold war environment inspired his second great trilogy of albums. “Low”, “Heroes” and “Lodger”. Bowie brought Art-Rock heavyweight Brian Eno in to collaborate and help him explore his inner Stockhausen. Never had such a commercially potent artist taken such a radically uncommercial detour. Bowie was reinvigorated, his muse was overhauled and ready to meet the challenge of the 80’s.

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Bowie was famous and successful. But, he had not yet achieved ubiquitous celebrity in America. That changed with “Let’s Dance”. It was a pure commercial dance record by design. Bowie brought in Chic hit maker Niles Rodgers as producer and introduced the world to an unknown guitar slinger by the name of Stevie Ray Vaughn. Massive hit singles “China Girl”, “Let’s Dance” and “Modern Love” pummeled the charts, radio and MTV. David Bowie owned the year of 1983.

Bowie would never scale those heights again. He still made good records. He also did some big tours and stayed ahead of the curve by selling shares in the David Bowie brand on the stock market. He also accurately predicted that streaming and file sharing would destroy the music business as we knew it. He did several films, live theater, raised a wonderful family and manfully followed Queen after their epic Live Aid performance at Wembley Stadium.

People sometimes forget he was a good sax player. He did all the horn parts on his early albums. He was a one take wonder. Super producer Ken Scott rated him as the best studio singer he ever worked with. There were no bum takes on a David Bowie session. He wrote “All the Young Dudes” for Mott the Hoople; and who can ever forget his duet with Freddie Mercury, “Under Pressure”?

He was also a heavy smoker. He packed up in later years, but who knows what damage had been done. He died of cancer far too soon. However, he remained trim, youthful and dapper to the very end. He died a dignified and peaceful death surrounded by family. Listen to his music and be amazed by the wonder of it all.

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Jandek on DVD – Houston Thursday

Authored by Dale Nickey:

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 JANDEK “Houston Thursday”

Corwood Industries (0818)

Filmed live at Mango’s in Houston Texas – July 12, 2012

Prepare to get punked….

“Houston Thursday” sees The Representative of Corwood Industries (aka Jandek) getting down to his industrial-punk roots. In stark contrast to Jandek’s recent trend towards extended compositions; “Houston Thursday” is a taut, no nonsense sprint through 16 songs. The majority of the numbers clock in at under three minutes with only the final track (Glass Boxes) breaking the four minute mark at a tolerable 09:37.

Don not attempt to adjust your screen at the start of this DVD. The opening image is an indistinct (but intentional) blur that had me fiddling with my remote. However, once we gain admittance to the venue, the videography reveals itself to be creative and mood appropriate. Front woman Sheila Smith is the visual focal point of this performance. Sporting a pageboy hairstyle that is reminiscent of Uma Thurman in Pulp Fiction; Smith shouts out verse over thick slabs of Guitar, Bass and Drums. The Representative of Corwood Industries confines himself to electric guitar for the entire set. His fully bearded face is seldom seen. Mostly, we get shots of the man from the waist down or close ups of his hands playing the guitar.

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In keeping with the fast and furious spirit of “Houston Thursday”, here is a brisk wind sprint through the track list:

My Letters – DVD opens with artsy fartsy camera work set against a staccato eighth note groove. Droning metal mayhem sets the pace for the remainder of the set. Opening missive, “You don’t understand my voice”.

Emergency – Old school thrash quickie for the A.D.D. sufferer. The homer crowd is clearly into it and cheers lustily after each number. Smith advises, “You should learn how to ride a bike”.

Your Designs – Concise little ditty that answers the musical question, ‘who gives a shit?’ Key lyrics, “I don’t want to know your designs, I don’t want to know your thoughts, I don’t want to have a clue about you. Not knowing is better… You confuse me, you confuse everyone…” Well done.

Dallas Bitches – Nice razor wire guitar work from The Representative in support of Sheila Smith’s rant about…well…Dallas Bitches.

On The Metro – Prickly echoed guitar squall set to a nice bass hook and syncopated drum work. Sheila likes cars about as much as she does Dallas Bitches.

Walk Talk Leave – Sheila looks amazing. But, she’s pissed because people are jackoffs. “They exist to resist”. They are also crappy listeners; because apparently, they have water in their ears.

Asked For A Refund – One of the longer entries at 3:20, The Rep kicks things off with a space needle guitar intro. Then Sheila testifies, “They cut me open and I did not bleed…they sewed me back up”. Sheila’s desire for a refund remains unrequited.

Can’t Hear You – More auditory problems ensue as Sheila laments “I can’t hear you, even while I am listening”. One of the few selections on “Houston Thursday” that courts dispensability. Nice bass line though. The Representative finally makes his verbal presence felt with two well timed grunts.

Floor – Throughout “Houston Thursday” The Representative of Corwood Industries (aka Jandek) mixes in liberal amounts of echo to pleasing effect. Moreover, his guitar work boasts an atonal cogency that is eye opening. Part way through “Floor”, the bassist and drummer ‘floor it’ unexpectedly and drive the tune into a nice concrete wall ending.

Chit Chat – Sheila regains control of the stage and eloquently communicates her inability to communicate. The Representative kills it on guitar. One of the best tracks on the DVD. Really could have gone on a bit longer.

Sit On Your Feet – Speed metal drumming in support of The Representative. Smith sits at the feet of The Representative in another paean to ineloquence.

Not Think – Nice jazzmeat drum solo starts things up as The Representative does some higher register lead guitar work suitable for a slasher flick, then dives down to some thick, lower register improvisation that brings to mind some of Robert Fripp’s more anarchic moments.

Books That I Read – Lo tech/high concept camera angle brings us into the audience for the first time. Guitar, Bass and Drums come at each other from all directions – fists flying – until a sudden breakdown ends the piece. Impressive.

Beholden To You – Still viewing from the audience, the band slams in and we find Sheila (stage right) kvetching about being too short for the microphone. The Representative guides the way with a wall of red noise, then switches gears to some nuanced lead work and back again.

People Will Talk – Dumb as dirt drumbeat starts in support of Jandek’s wall of grunge. Close ups of Sheila evoke the image of a pretty little Goth princess who could murder you in your sleep after giving you the best sex of your life.

Galveston – Sheila Smith scores more face time and the camera clearly loves her. Key lyrics, “She’s in charge, she’s responsible, she takes care of us all. We love her, but we don’t know her.” And, “I moved to Houston after the flood.” Sheila also states unequivocally that she doesn’t believe in renters insurance. Jimmy Webb run for your life.

Glass Boxes – Weirdest thing, my reliable old hi-fi receiver packed up and took a shit right before this track commenced. Spooky. Anyway, viewing this without sound gave me an appreciation for the videography which appears to be a single camera shoot. The vibe of the music is captured and augmented by creative use of angles, movement and light (or) lack thereof. Textbook example of DIY Punk videography – if there is such a thing. Musically, “Glass Boxes” is a slow burn monologue that finds band and Sheila playing off each other. Smith describes a visit to an art exhibit where the artists are housed in glass boxes. Armed only with a pamphlet and instructions to keep smiling, the narrator tries to make sense of it all without much success. After some initial musical fireworks, the flame of the song flickers and slowly extinguishes itself courtesy of a delicate drum beat fade out. Show’s over.

Houston is Jandek’s hometown. It makes sense that he would do some of his best work on his home turf. “Houston Thursday” is a refreshing change-up from Jandek’s supersized offerings in recent years. Fans of L.A. speed-punk merchants – The Minutemen and noise-pop purveyors Beast of Beast will find comfort here. This DVD also reveals Sheila Smith to be a key player in Jandek’s late period renaissance. Among the many live DVD concert performances that inhabit The Corwood Industries catalog, “Houston Thursday” stands as one of the best.

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To visit the Corwood Industries catalog click >>corwoodindustries.com/

 

Debut Albums that Shook My World – Lene Lovich “Stateless”

Authored by Dale Nickey:

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LENE LOVICH – STATELESS (1978)

They were called “promotional films” back then. There was no television broadcast channel dedicated to music. MTV was a few years off. The Z Channel was the one cable channel on the block where you could watch movies intended for mature audiences. Now and then you would see a band you liked on The Midnight Special or In Concert. There were a few local music shows on TV too. But, not many.

Anyway, promotional films were becoming the main avenue for up and coming British artists to plant their flag on U.S. soil. That’s how I found Kate Bush. Then, one day Lene Lovich came.

Kate Bush was odd and ethereal. Lene Lovich was just plain weird…and wonderful. She just materialized on my television one night. Exotic, pretty and tough as nails. Never saw that combination of attributes in a woman before. She was Punk, but not really. It was a whole different ball game. In her music I heard Classical, Motown, and Rockabilly…the works. Her first song that made it over to the states was “Lucky Number”. The film for that song was from a hipper world than the one I lived in. Lene’s boyfriend (Les Chappel) was the guitar player and looked ominous with his shaved head. Not like today – when everyone from your cable guy to your coffee barista is a skinhead. Back then, in the era of Prog caped-crusaders with flowing locks, it was a real statement. A statement of what, I was wasn’t sure. I wasn’t jealous of Les because he didn’t seem like a typical yob boyfriend. He seemed more like Lene’s loyal subject and henchman. Indeed, the video showed the band standing well behind Lene bowing in submission while she declared:

“…everything I do I take complete control, that’s where I’m coming from. My Lucky Number is one”

The only question that remained was; where can I buy this goddamned record?

Stateless was her first album and everything about it was perfect. This was an album by a female artist, but the artwork was refreshingly absent  pinks, pastels and squiggly graphics. The American version had Lene facing the camera, unsmiling, shot from the waist up. Giving nothing away. Wearing a black tunic like those favored by Communist politburo officials. She looked like Stalin or Mao Tse Tung reincarnated as a hot chick. Even had a dimple on her chin like Mao. Love at first sight.

The back cover was equally austere black and white. Nobody could guess what era this album came from if they didn’t know already. It was the perfect tonic for a lost, inquiring, non-conformist punk like me. There was a time when kids didn’t want to fit in, or wear the same poncy sneakers as everybody else. We didn’t want our heroes to look like us. We wanted something out of this world; or at the very least, not of our world. Lene was a British artist, born in Detroit with Yugoslavian ancestry. Maybe there was a god.

Lene would show up fairly regularly on TV. I can’t remember which shows. But, somehow she found me. Then came the film for “Say When”. It was a live band performance mimed to the record. Didn’t matter. The film showed a town hall full of kids, arms locked and smashed together like sardines going ape shit. There was Lene, braids down to her ass, blissfully ignorant of any fire code, gleefully detonating this explosion of teen hormones. Little did I know the woman was 30 years old.

Lene had a hot hand. Kate Bush couldn’t gain any traction with the American audience but Lene was making her mark. After Stateless, came the album Flex and a thunderbolt from the heavens, “Bird Song”. “Bird Song” (the film) got a lot of play in America. I was surprised it didn’t do better on Billboard, but I saw it on TV a lot. Lene in a wedding gown, in mourning dress, in graveyards, stalked by evil priests.  Beautiful, dour, bold, and gothic. I fell hard under the spell of “Bird Song”, Her vocals were from another dimension. I then realized that at the core of all great art there was sadness. Happy songs were stupid.

Lene needed a hit, so she came up with “New Toy”. The perfect single. She swung the hammer that drove the final nail into the disco coffin by becoming the first musical artist to put on a concert at the disco mecca Studio 54. She was on her way. Incredible performer. Better than Jagger even. Nothing could stop her it seemed.

Then she was gone. She didn’t say goodbye. She just wasn’t there anymore. Me and my friends got older and started making our own music and hooking up with girls. The new wave of rock music (inspired by Punk) got co-opted by the dweebs in The Biz. They hogtied it, categorized it, and gave us Spandau Ballet and Haircut 100. That wasn’t how it was supposed to go down. Stiff records didn’t think Lene was commercial enough so they held up her next album for two years. Just long enough for Michael Jackson to happen. Just long enough for the Hip Hop hoards to arm themselves with their beatboxes and begin their long march, trampling over all that stood before. The music world slowly but surely began its fade to black.

Lene Lovich wasn’t made for this world, but she stopped by for a visit and left us some cool presents before she de-materialized. Stateless was one of those gifts. We never got to see the production of ‘Lene Lovich Superstar’. But we will always have the legend. Legends are better than stars. They endure.