IT'S A LIVING… BUT IT'S NOT A LIFE #9.3
The Penguin Guide To J Church & Honey Bear Records on
CD, LP & Cassette - Spring '01

 

A TINY, LITTLE BIT OF BAND NEWS…

Okay, we've got a couple of new things (sorta) coming out. We're gonna have a track on the New Disorder comp called Palm Tree. It was one of the songs we recorded for One Mississippi that got left off. I have to honest and say that I don't know when the comp is gonna be out nor do I know what it's gonna be called. I'll let you know more when I know more.

Also, our new singles collection thing will be out in a couple of months. It will be on Honey Bear Records and it's gonna be called Meaty, Beaty, Shitty Sounding. Sort of a tip of the hat to the Who. Sort of just our dumb sense of humor. It'll have 20 songs on it and you'll be able to get it right from me when it's out.

That's it for new right now. I'm busy working on the label and my book at the moment. So the band is gonna take a break for a few months. Book? Yes. Let me explain…

 

ANARCHY IN THE UK (AS WELL AS THE STATES AND ICELAND…)

A lot of you probably already know this, but I'm working on a book these days. Yeah, this as of yet untitled bit of trifle is my attempt to commit to print some sort of documentation of the early `80s / late `70s anarcho punk scene. It's a thankless job, but somebody has to do it. Well, maybe nobody NEEDS to do it. But for such an important moment in music and culture, I'm kind of shocked that there hasn't been a book dedicated to the subject already.

I've thought about it for years and year. I kept waiting and waiting. I always thought somebody would do this book. At least one of the members of one of the bands or someone from one of the old fanzines or something … But nothing has been forthcoming. I'm certainly not the ideal person to write the book. Hey, I wasn't there. But it's one of my main inspirations and I certainly bring a lot of passion to the idea of the book. So, hopefully, that with a bit of investigational skills I'll be able to pull it off.

Just so you can see my progress, I'll be having the chapters printed one at a time as I write them in Maximum RockNRoll. I'm in the interview process with the first round of bands at the moment. I'm not sure of the order, but the first few articles will be on the following bands: The Mob, Zounds, The Cravats, Lack Of Knowledge, Flowers In The Dustbin, Rubella Ballet, Kronstadt Uprising, Sinyx, etc.

Needless to say, any information or help would be greatly appreciated. If you've got some old zines from '78 to '83, I'd love to check `em out. Copies are fine. If you happen to be in contact with someone from one of the bands from that era, that would be great too.

 

JON MORITSUGU INTERVIEW

I interviewed my pal Jon Moritsugu for Maximum RockNRoll recently. I think he's great and I love all of his movies. They're smart, biting and really funny. Here's a look at the interview before the print version shows up…

Jon Moritsugu and I have the same birthday. We're both from Hawaii. We both dig what the other is doing heavily. For me, he sums up underground film in the '90s and beyond. We got a chance to do this interview before the release of his latest film, SCUMROCK. Much respect to the man!

Jon Moritsugu interviewed by Lance Hahn.

Lance - Basic banalities; how did you get into film? Had you done any film before school? Did you major in semiotics/linguistics?
Jon Moritsugu - I started getting interested in film in high school - y' know, made a couple super-8 films with friends. In college, after burning out in the history department, I started doing the film thing. As far as semiotics, yeah I studied it, but only 'cause it was required in order to get into the production classes.

Lance - How do you reflect on your days at school? Do you think there's a certain part of you that is still rebelling against the academic establishment?
Jon Moritsugu - School was o.k. I definitely had problems with the "academic establishment," especially the heavy, mind-numbing theoretical shit that was required. It seemed like people got off more on "talking about art and culture" than actually "making it." Pretty boring. My biggest dream was to steal all the film gear from the semiotics department and then burn it down.

Lance - Do you think living in NYC had a lot to do with the attitude of your earlier films?
Jon Moritsugu - Yeah, probably. I didn't live in NYC too long... something like six months, but it was quality time as I was living in a YMCA, going to a fucked-up art school, getting mugged, etc. Ah, the big city experience! Loved them bagels.

Lance - What made you move to SF? A lot of people there are transient to certain degrees. Do you think its your final stop?
Jon Moritsugu - I felt the call of the west after one too many east coast winters, so I moved to SF cuz it was a cheap, artsy, and there was a SCENE. But shit changes. SF certainly is a different sort of city now - no plans to move but it is always a possibility.

Lance - How would you compare the underground scenes of NYC and SF then and now? Is that a reflections of the film schools or the psychology of the city?
Jon Moritsugu - Well, in the old days, there was a distinct NYC vs. SF (east coast vs. west coast) thing going on with lots of experimental and underground shit coming outta both cities. NYC stuff was a little more confrontational/in your face while Cali stuff was more hippied-out. Unfortunately, "corporate culture/control" has decimated the film scenes on both coasts. Both cities are now fucked-up and almost totally lacking in cool shit.

Lance - A lot of underground filmmakers spend time looking for a major distribution deal. You've been more successful than most doing it yourself. Isn't your style of business unprecedented in film?
Jon Moritsugu - I am completely cynical about "major film distribution deals." Just like the "major label record deals," they are structured to put fucking stars in your eyes and then screw you. So after a coupla years of dealing with legit distribution, I decided to start self-distributing my own stuff (though I still work with smaller non-exclusive distributors). I was tired of doing most of the work (booking the films, collecting the money, handling press, shipping the prints) but getting paid virtually nothing (and getting paid last)... People are finally wising up in the film scene and doing shit on their own and without corporate backing. In fact, several larger films have turned down mainstream distribution deals in order to do the "self-release" thing.

Lance - Some once describes your shit as Dischord like. Your DIY business style does have more in common with the larger indie and punk labels. Do you think you've been influenced by this? There is a lot of similarities between the business practices of you and FUGAZI/CRASS…
Jon Moritsugu - Actually, the American underground/hardcore scene from the early 80's is what inspired me to take more control of my films and their distribution. Since the film scene was so slow to change, I looked to the music scene for a "model" of self-distribution. Yeah, labels like DISCHORD, SST, TOUCH & GO, bands like MINOR THREAT, GI, CRASS, , etc. - they definitely influenced me. I liked their no bullshit, personal approach, their ability to still get the goods to the people at the right price (IE no $20.99 CDs), and ultimately their firm belief in their music, man.

Lance - What is SCUMROCK about?
Jon Moritsugu - SCUMROCK is my new feature that I am in the middle of editing right now. It's a sprawling epic... about rock-n-roll winners and losers, pretentious art-obsessed kids, back-stabbers and people gettin' old and freaking out...wall-to-wall rock and noise soundtrack..... yeah, this movie is fucked up and great.

Lance - Is this the first film you've shot on Digital Video? Do you think video will entirely replace film?
Jon Moritsugu ­ I actually shot on HI8 video, you know, old school analog gear. I want to drag video through the sludge in the gutter, you know, degrade it! FUCK DIGITAL VIDEO!!!!! At this point, I feel that DIGITAL VIDEO is only a "consumer" revolution, y'know, like when CDs first came out? I don't believe the hype and don't believe this new format is making shit more "democratic." Plus, HI8 gear is incredibly cheap right now because its considered "outdated." I don't think video is ever gonna completely replace film. They are completely different mediums and film will always be around. Sorta like vinyl, yeah?

Lance - Who are the people in SCUMROCK?
Jon Moritsugu - SCUMROCK cast: Amy Davis (was also the director of photography), Jason T. Rail ("J" in FAME WHORE), Victor of Aquitaine ("George" in FW, also in MFX & TERMINAL USA), Peter Friedrich ("Jody George" in FW), Izabela Wojcik ("Mr. Peepers" in FW) plus newcomers Kyp Malone, Courtney Stephens, and guest appearances by: Craig Baldwin, Danny Plotnick, Valerie Soe, and Lance Hahn (!!!). Woohoo!

Lance - What is the writing process like? Is there improvisations, etc?
Jon Moritsugu ­ The writing process usually takes a few months. I try to be as specific as possible with the dialogue and actions during the rewrites, but stuff sometimes mutates. I've found that pre-planning is completely crucial and I do try to control as many elements as possible to keep the project focused and moving. I also try to keep improvisation to a minimum. However, life is great at throwing unpredictable and completely random shit at you on the day of the filming. I try to be prepared for that.

Lance - Have you ever thought of putting a book out of your scripts?
Jon Moritsugu ­ I think that's a great idea. I'm glad you think the writing holds up on its own.

Lance - How has distribution been with FAME WHORE? It's your most technically accomplished film and your most accessible. Has it been your most successful?
Jon Moritsugu - Distribution for FAME WHORE has been all right! I agree that it is my most accessible flick - strong storyline and characters, higher technical values, etc. Check this out - this movie was also up for Academy Award consideration! I shit you not. But unfortunately, it was kicked outta the running cuz of format (it played in Los Angeles in 16mm and not the required 35mm)! FAME WHORE has just been released on video and I'm totally excited about this.

Lance - There are a lot of stories about the hassles with TERMINAL USA and MOD FUCK EXPLOSION. Could you tell us a little more about the stories behind the production?
Jon Moritsugu - Well, uh, let's just say both films were quite challenging to make. I suppose an extreme low point in TERMINAL USA was about a week into production...we were on a vampire schedule (work from 7PM to 9AM) and the hassles from the executives had just started (this was a project for PBS broadcast). And the whole cast and crew (like 35 people) was jonesing for meat cuz we had vegan caterers, so one of the producers goes out to buy our "dinner" (3AM) and returns with Chinese food, except the only thing she brings back is cartons and cartons of chicken necks! Chicken necks and nothing else! Dude, it was totally fucked up when everyone realized that was our dinner!
As far as MOD FUCK EXPLOSION, one of my cinematic dreams was realized when we filmed London's fantasy sequence in a meat garden constructed from 800 pounds of rotting meat. However, we had to get rid of it immediately afterwards because it was starting to really heat up! I remember driving around the city late at night with Jen, the art director, and a pick-up truck filled with almost half a ton of meat, looking for a "cool" place to get rid of it. Needless to say, we dumped it in the back of a police station.

Lance - Is SCUMROCK the first film you've done since teaching at SF state? How long have you been teaching there?
Jon Moritsugu - Yeah, SCUMROCK is the first flick I've made since I've started the SF state gig. I've been teaching a low-budget film production class there for the past three semester, and let me tell you, it is a kick corrupting minds and turning them onto the cool underground shit.

Lance - Do you force any of your students to work on your films? How would you characterize the kinds of people you teach?
Jon Moritsugu - Nah, nobody is forced to work on my films, it's not like, "oh yeah... now to pass the class you gotta do this work on MY film...." I definitely have gotten some really great help from students(acting, crew, etc), especially on the latest project. As far as these students go, they're all very cool people. some of 'em are definitely questioning the ways movies are made and trying to figure out more efficient/economical/less bullshitty ways of getting stuff done.

Lance - Would you call SCUMROCK a "rock opera?" Will there be any Ken-Russell-isms?
Jon Moritsugu - SCUMROCK is definitely not a rock opera and has nothing whatsoever to do with rock operas! Also, it has nothing whatsoever to do with Ken Russell.

Lance - Except for your cameo, you're not really in FAME WHORE while in SCUMROCK you're one of the main characters. Do you like acting or is it just a necessity for certain films?
Jon Moritsugu - In SCUMROCK I play a fucked-up underground filmmaker! HA! I actually do get quite a kick from acting. Not only is it adrenalizing, but it's also a really cool way to laugh at yourself, don't you know.

Lance - What do you miss the most about Hawaii? What is the one thing you would transplant in SF if you could? Believe it or not, I really miss Zippy's with Grace's running a close second.
Jon Moritsugu - Man, to be totally honest with you, I miss my parents the most. They're chillin' in Hawaii, having a good time. The second thing I miss is probably the nature there. Incredible. If I could transplant one thing from Hawaii to SF, it would definitely be Pidgin English. I dunno, I just think SF would be a much better place if everyone was saying "da kine" and "brah" more often. Yeah, Lance, I totally miss Zippy's too. Their ZIP MIN is ono!

Lance - Do you see a lot of current Hollywood films? Have you ever thought of going for it and trying to play the game and make a big studio film?
Jon Moritsugu -I see an OK amount of Hollywood films. It's not like I am avoiding Hollywood films just cuz they're from Hollywood. As far as trying to make a big studio film - I've heard it is quite a process and at this point, I would rather not get involved in the "process." You know, life is short; you gotta go for what you believe in. Time is precious so don't waste it on shit that you don't respect.

Lance - If a studio gave you free reign and a multi-million dollar budget to make whateveer film you want, what would you do?
Jon Moritsugu - Well, I would probably make an extremely lavish; high-production value movie that would be the MOST FUCKED-UP thing to ever hit theaters.

Lance - When was the last time you rode a motorcycle?
Jon Moritsugu - A coupla years ago.

Lance - What do you think of that Danish "dogma" thing? I guess I always thought that all hand held camera and natural lighting had more to do with necessity than aesthetic value.
Jon Moritsugu - I've always been a fan of manifestoes and I think the "dogma95" manifesto is alright. Actually, have you seen Dancer In The Dark, Lars von Trier's new flick? He's one of the dogma writers and in this film he totally disregards his own manifesto. That's a pretty cool goof move.

Lance ­Is there anything you've ever totally regretted? What do you think is the best thing you've done?
Jon Moritsugu - Ok, so there's nothing I'VE TOTALLY REGRETTED, y'know, it's not like I've murdered people to create my "art" and shit... as far as the best thing I've done.... well, I would have to say I've been able to make my movies my way. That's a pretty big thing in my opinion.

Lance - What are you 5 fav movies?
Jon Moritsugu - (in no particular order) Liquid Sky, Kustom Kar Kommandoes, Vinyl, Querrelle, Aguirre Wrath Of God. Ok, so this list totally changes all the time too.

Lance - What's the worst movie you've ever seen?
Jon Moritsugu - The Romeo And Juliet remake (with Dicaprio) was one of the shittiest movies ever. Really. Don't see it.

Lance - What's the next step for you? Are you already planning out your next film or are you still caught up in SCUMROCK?
Jon Moritsugu - I'm definitely thinking about my next film, but right now, I'm in the middle of editing SCUMROCK and putting together the soundtrack. Also, I've just released FAME WHORE on video so that's another side project, you know, getting the tape out into the world.

Okay, you can check out Jon's movies on video at most hip video stores. If your local store thinks that they're hip and don't have at least Fame Whore, they're fucked. If you want to order copies of his videos, you can either order them from me at my website (www.hbrecords.org) or you can write to: New York City Records ­ PO Box 210535 ­ SF, CA 94121-0535

 

IN THE J CHURCH LISTENING ROOM

AURORAL CHORUS II: Music Of The Magnetosphere CD

I hate the term "skronk" mostly because of the context in which it was conceived. I dig Lester Bangs. But, no, I'm not some fanatic and that's not why I would dismiss a term created by Robert Christgau. I just hate the idea that everything outside of what's considered normal tonality could be labeled with something. It's not just the presumption. It's the laziness in journalism. But there it is. It's an accepted term staring you in the face and creating it's own connoisseur class and collectors. Despite all efforts to the contrary, I'm sort of one of `em… much to my chagrin.

So, I tried to resist it. But like most addictive things, I started dabbling a little and soon found myself on that slippery slope. It started with White Light, White Heat. Then it became Sonic Youth. Next, it became the Ex. Then it became Ornette Coleman. Now I'm sitting at home alone listening to blips and electronic hums created by natural occurrences in the Earth's atmosphere.

Auroral Chorus II: Music Of The Magnetosphere is a challenging listen. But if you are an addict like myself with a high tolerance for abstract recordings and an inexplicable desire for unique sounds and distorted soundscapes, then this CD features some really beautiful sounds. I say that as a fan and not as a so-called expert.

What this CD consists of is 18 field recordings done up in the forests of Canada of sounds sent through radio signals by magnetic storms ­ the Northern Lights. Mastered straight from the original analog tapes, there were no alterations or effecting of the recording in any way. What you get is a beautiful collection of hums and whistles, surging and cutting, creating a soundtrack to the aurural Borealis. Listening becomes compulsive as the sounds become more and more attractive in their subtlety. This is an organic Metal Machine Music that's beautiful in it's understatement rather than in aggression.

Of course, I'm an uptight asshole and I'm as bound to irony and cynicism as the next new millennium hipster. In other words, a good part of the enjoyment is consideration for the artist / scientist who collected these recordings. Stephen P. McGreevy made these treks alone into the wilderness. Maybe out of convenience. But maybe because he couldn't find anyone to go with him. His passion for the subject matter is touching and humorous. While certainly not on the level of Project Grizzly there is a certain ironic chuckle involved in enjoying the CD.

But ultimately it's an inspiring pathology. His determination and joie de vivre is contagious in any contest.
(S. P. McGreevy Productions ­ PO Box 928 ­ Lone Pine, CA 93530)

ARCHIE SHEPP Blase LP

Get Back is a fucking weird record label. What is their fucking deal? I don't know what the hell it is. But it's pretty cool. Punk rock and avant garde jazz? These Italians are crazy !

Okay, this is one of several amazing vinyl re-releases of classic American, free artists from the French label, BYG. It was part of a series they did called 'Actuel', identified by uniformed and unique record covers. The series also included work form Don Cherry, the Art Ensemble of Chicago and more.

This 1969 recording of Archie Shepp, I feel, is one of his greatest documents. His playing is especially frenetic and schizophrenic. His bursts and blasts are unlike his later, blues-ier recordings and is also less complicated by the heavy Coltrane influence of his earlier recordings.

Certainly the context of the times had some influence on the outcome of this record. Perhaps the experimentation of the times and other competing artists spurred him on and kept him moving forward into uncharted territory. Maybe the freedom of the times allowed him to make these recordings, unlike a lot of his later stuff (good as it was). Maybe it was just the style of the times as shaped by artists like Eric Dolphy, Ornette Coleman and Albert Ayler. Either way, it's unlikely a record like this could have been made 10 years earlier or later.

One of the things that I've really loved about a lot of his stuff is his use of poetry. His commitment to black power issues, made the message of his music critical to his wanting to create. On this record, that is represented by some amazing vocals by Jeanne Lee spoken, sung and screamed. It's content and attack could almost allow you to view the recording as a more militant response to Max Roach's Freedom Now Suite.

Additionally, there are some pretty great performances by the "guest" musicians on this session. Lester Bowie's playing is tasteful and is a cradling juxtaposition to Shepp on There Is A Balm In Gilead. Chicago Beau and Julio Finn also contribute some aggressive harmonica playing making for the center piece of the lead track, My Angel.

Again, I'm not totally sure what's going through the minds of the folks at Get Back. But this is one amazing record and seeing it on quality vinyl is a miracle. Get this while you can.
(Get Back ­ Aretina, 25 ­ 50069 Sieci (Firenze) Italy)

V/A Bullshit Detector 2 2xLP

So, I've been doing my research for this anarcho book and series of articles and I've really gone back to this record more than any other. Fuck, I remember everyone telling me what a piece of shit it was when it came out. You know, some of the bands are pretty weak and the recordings are all over the place. Yeah, yeah, I nodded my head in agreement.

But secretly, I've always really loved this record. In fact, I probably like this more than most of the anarcho stuff. I remember when this record came out. I'll try to recapture some of that in this little review…

There's a feeling that hits you straight away with these releases: there's something going on and it's dangerous. These records look like ransom notes from terrorists. They talk about things that go against the grain of what most people would think of as being in good taste… Politically in particular… The layout makes each band seem like a terrorist cell. They've all got their agendas and they're working towards that end.

You listen to the record and it's not your typical punk rock compilation. There is no attempt to clean up rough recordings. There are no attempts to hide iffy musicianship. Music is a means to an end. The varied sounds become a wash and the whole record becomes an entity of it's own rather than a representation of any one band.

Even the idea that it's a compilation of bands becomes false as there are sound collages and spoken word bits interspersed with all the music. Even the "bands" are often less than what one would consider traditional punk.

Listening to this record was like diving under water and opening your eyes for the first time. There's something really intimidating about this record. It challenges you intellectually and forces you to find out a lot of things for yourself. It challenges you to think beyond terms of a normal rock band. The music that is recorded really poorly… The bands that aren't complete and can't play… The sound collages… It all ends up coming from the same perspective and therefore can only be judged as such. There are no bands after a while. There are only sounds.

For better or for worse, I find that I can appreciate noise in it's own right and can judge noise, even when made in mistake, by it's own merits.
(Crass Records)

 

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