Steven R. Smith

New Steven R. Smith project, called Ulaan Markhor. Available from Soft Abuse website or direct from Smith. And another from late 2011 called Old Skete.

His incarnations (Hala Strana, Ulaan Khol, etc.) have inspired my writing for years. There’s a great interview here by Michael Begg, on a website called The Quietus.

From the interview, something also true for writing fiction (for me anyway).

Do deserts generally appeal to you?

SRS: I haven’t traveled to any other desert region, other than out here in California, so it’s hard to say. I’m certainly drawn to the idea of the desert. It’s sort of like when you are on the phone or back in school and not really paying attention and you find yourself doodling on a pad of paper – what comes out? For me it’s always this sort of sketch of a barren, horizon line landscape, and these sort of wrecked structures or cities, just like on the album covers. It’s what comes out and I don’t really question it much. My guess is that this music is coming from the same place as the doodling on the pad of paper. It’s not intentional, but if you’re playing honestly and without preconceived ideas then what comes out is sort of what’s humming down deep in there all the time. I guess for me it’s this sort of barren vista.

The Big Boys

I recently watched a documentary called American Hardcore: The History of American Punk Rock 1980-1986, directed by Paul Rachman and written by Steven Blush. It’s based on Blush’s book American Hardcore: A Tribal History.

ron and nacy
Please note that this photo displays on the Right.

The film details some of the bands and history of the music, tying the appearance and disintegration of the scene to Ronald Reagan’s first term. One of the musicians interviewed talked about the crazy-fake back-to-the-1950s look that came out after Reagan was elected, and how the bands were reacting to that, saying that’s not us. An idea that maybe works better in retrospect.

There are interviews with various musicians: Henry Rollins (of course), some good talks with Ian MacKaye, and lots of others. One oddity was the interview with Mike Watt of the Minutemen. The Minutemen’s music didn’t fit the hardcore image, and the filmmakers didn’t try to make it fit, but also didn’t explain why they interviewed him. The band was on the same label as Black Flag, played the same clubs and such, so inclusion makes sense as a way of discussing the origins of the scene. A little more of a connection would have been useful. The Watt interview scenes in fact felt like outtakes from the excellent Minuteman documentary (We Jam Econo: The Story of the Minutemen).

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Songs, Reviewers, Children, and The Ephemera on ebook

Lately, my four-year-old daughter has been wanting to listen to the title song of the Mekons Ancient and Modern album. Yes, I know that in some states it’s a crime to let a child listen to real music.

Ancient and Modern coverThe song (in case anyone out there doesn’t know) is an epic tale in four sections, with four different singers (technically, many more than four singers because the fourth section is sung by a choral group.  “Ancient and Modern” is a song that does what a good work of art is supposed to do, slide past the thinking-brain and into the subconscious.

It would be nice to know who the voices are (as a parent, I’m supposed to know everything, and having to tell a four-year-old “I think that’s X…” is most embarrassing. But the band’s liner notes aren’t very revealing. The first vocal is, I think, accordion player Rico Bell. I’m less sure of his voice because he doesn’t sing as much as the other members. Next is a spoken part by either violin player Susie Honeyman or bass player Sarah Corina—it’s definitely not Sally Timms. I’ve never heard either of them speak and can’t place the accent. Honeyman is from Glasgow, but the accent doesn’t sound like Glaswegians I know, mainly writer-friend Neil Williamson. The third part is easy, founding-member Tom Greenhalgh. The song ends with vocals by the Burlington Welsh Male Chorus—also obvious, because they’re credited [updated below].

A note on the arrogance of reviewers. Here someone says “The song begins with Jon Langford….” and here: “The three vocalists—Jon Langford, Tom Greenhalgh and Timms”. I also found a reviewer who said the song faltered toward the end, but at least he didn’t add to his lack of taste by attempting to identify the singers. Were these people really so certain? Or is it because they know that the main singers are two men and a woman, so any men and women have to be from among those three? They could spend a little more time listening before they begin the pontification process.

And in closing, having mentioned Glaswegian Neil Williamson, I’d like to tell people about the ebook version of his very fine but out of print debut short story collection, The Ephemera, now available in the various ebook formats from infinityplus.The ebook edition has four additional stories plus notes on all the stories. I recommend that those of you who posses the modern ink-substitute called an e-reader get yourselves a copy.

[Update]

From a source involved with the proceedings: Lu Edmonds starts, then Jon Langford and Rico Bell join in, Susie Honeyman talks, Tom Greenhalgh sings, Sarah Corina talks, Tom Greenhalgh sings again, then everyone and the choir finish. Reviewers: see, it’s not hard to find things out!

Bill Morrissey

I just heard today that singer/songwriter Bill Morrissey died in July, of heart failure. Various obituaries and tributes here. I talked to him once at one of his shows and we shared a French publisher, but I didn’t know him.

As I type, I’m listening to his 1989 album, Standing Eight. Which, if Amazon is correct, is out of print.

The first album I heard, after catching him live in Austin in ’93 or ’94, was Night Train, which has “Birches,” probably his best-known song. It’s a song that struck me a perfect short-short story, set to music. So I wasn’t surprised when he wrote a novel, Edson, which came out in ’96. I had some problems with it (mostly repetition that should have been edited out), but it had some impressive story-telling and characterization. He wrote a second novel that never came out in the U.S. It was to have appeared in France this year, but the publisher went bankrupt (soon after their edition of The Painting and the City came out—sorry Bill, if it’s my fault).

A couple of years ago, I read on his website that he had been dealing with alcoholism and depression. Depression that he had self-medicated for years with the alcohol. Which happens. I wish it hadn’t. He might still be here.

Tulsa

My 3 1/2-year-old daughter recently injured her hand, requiring reconstructive surgery and an ongoing recuperation period. One of the therapies we’ve tried (her choice) is listening to Western Swing music on CD and watching YouTube videos of Bob Wills, Don Walser, and Hot Club of Cowtown.

We’ve always listened to music during the bedtime process, an evolving playlist of non-children’s music, usually albums with songs that I can sing to. These have included Don Walser’s albums, The Archive Series (Vols. 1&2). Walser was an old-time Texas country singer who died in 2006. I used to go hear him play a lot during my last couple of years in Austin, and once at the Mercury Lounge when I was living in New York. Walser mixed originals and covers, including some Bob Wills songs. At first, I would put a CD on at the beginning, but as my daughter got older, she started asking for specific songs on each CD.

I still don’t know what makes her pick up a particular song, things like Alejandro Escovedo’s cover of the Rolling Stones “Sway” from his More Miles Than Money album, Jimmie Dale Gilmore’s “Santa Fe Thief” (she liked the line “Look over yonder”) And Don Walser’s version of Bob Wills’ “Take Me Back To Tulsa”. Which led to my explaining that people do other people’s songs. I found a YouTube video of Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys doing the song (with Luke Wills singing). Which also led to a weirdly sped-up video of Hot Club of Cowtown doing it, and then videos of Hot Club of Cowtown doing “Big Ball in Cowtown” (also covered by Don Walser), and videos of Don Walser doing some of his originals (mainly “The John Deere Tractor Song”).

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More on Jack Hardy, and Journalistic Preconceptions

There was a nice piece at the New York Times online about some people getting together for a Monday night songwriter’s meeting/farewell to Jack.

The write-up had a link to a 1999 NYT article on the meetings.

I had forgotten about the article. It wasn’t a bad piece, but the reporter was stuck on the idea of having to give everyone’s age and occupation. I thought that was odd and unimportant. What was important was the reason for being there, art and song.

And, not that you can tell from the article, I was there. It happened to be the one time during that period when I tried to write a song. I wrote some lyrics and sent them to Mike Laureanno, who worked on them and came up with a melody. I also happened to have brought a copy of Back Brain Recluse, which had recently accepted my story, “Tales of the Golden Legend” (as I’ve said elsewhere, the story never came out in the magazine, but appeared later in The Third Alternative; the issue of Back Brain Recluse that I had there turned out to be the last). It was a funky magazine, with lots of art, and stories laid out in sometimes hard-to-read ways. Having the magazine, being a fiction writer at a songwriter’s meeting, illustrated Jack’s desire to include everyone, his love of interdisciplinary aesthetics.

But here’s what the reporter said: “Michael Laureanno, 38, an electrical engineer who drove nearly four hours from Wakefield, R.I., tried out a tune he co-wrote, via E-mail, with a friend from western Massachusetts.”

I’m not trying to be petty about my name being omitted. It’s the bad journalism that bothers me. I have a journalism degree so I know some things. What I think happened is that the reporter had already decided what the article was about, and my existence didn’t fit. The story would have been a better if he had written about what was there.

Somewhat connected bit. Here’s an excerpt from a Suzanne Vega documentary, showing one of the songwriter meetings in Jack’s apartment. Funny New York bit at the beginning–she’s riding in the back of a cab, looking at the camera and talking, the driver turns down the wrong street.

Jack Hardy, Gone

Jack Hardy and daughter Morgan, July 2006

Friday (March 11) for naptime, Merida, my three-year-old, wanted to listen to “Willie Goggin’s Hat” from Jack Hardy’s CD The Passing. As usual, she asked if he would sing it when he comes to visit. She also wanted him to do her other favorites, “Sile Na Cioch (Sheila),” “The Boney Bailiff,” “May Day,” “Blackberry Pie.” She says that about Ringo Starr and “Yellow Submarine” too, but with Jack it’s different. She’s seen the pictures of him at Rebecca and my wedding. She knows he’s been in our house.

Once she was asleep, I went to my computer. I looked at Facebook, which I hadn’t done in a couple of days. Someone had tagged Jack in a photo. I clicked on it, and was about to close the window when I saw that whoever had posted it had put dates, 1947-2011. I thought that was an odd way to date a photo. I looked at it again. Maybe it had Friday’s date—I can’t remember…I was starting to realize…I literally felt a clenching in my stomach. (This is one of the feelings that is difficult to convey in fiction without drifting into cliché.) But I felt it. I went to his Facebook page and saw the posts.

Continue reading “Jack Hardy, Gone”