IT'S A LIVING… BUT IT'S NOT A LIFE #9.91
The Official J Church / Honey Bear Records thang
Late November - No designated hitters…

 

First normal newsletter in a while… Here goes nothing…

 

NEW STUFF

Shit, I didn't even remember this record being in the works until a few days before I got it in the mail. Lunch With A Bouncing Space Vol. 2 is out and we're on it. Our track is hella old. But it is un-released. It's a demo version of You're One Your Own. It's pretty raunchy and it totally blows away the version that wound up on Drama Of Alienation. You can get it through A Bouncing Space, friendlytunes@yahoo.com.

Our split record with the amazing Annalise should be out soon. Our tracks are Fuck School and Asphyxia By Submersion. It took me a while to get these tracks on to CDR, so that's why the delay. Don't know exactly when it'll be out. Could be done now for all I know. I'll let you know when I know more. It's coming out in England on Beat Bedsit.

Our split with the equally amazing Petrograd should be out in the near future as well. Our tracks are Hawai'i, War (a Zounds cover) and Three Cop Cars. Again, I'm not sure about specifics at the moment. It's coming out on Petrograd's label in Luxembourg.

 

SINGLES CLUB

The end of the year is coming and like I said, I'm starting this singles club at the start of next year whether all the bands get me their stuff of not. I guess I'll be starting with two of the most anticipated records, unreleased Cringer material and an exclusive, live Hard Skin 7". There's still time to join. Get in touch if you're interested at: honeybearrecords@hotmail.com.

 

VICTOR WONG

At the end of September, Victor Keung Wong died. He was 74. Most people know him from his acting in The Joy Luck Club or The Last Emperor. But I'll always remember him from Wayne Wang's Dim Sum. That's one of my favorite movies of all time and is certainly (along with Chan Is Missing) one of my favorite films about San Francisco. It really captures a part of that city that only living there can expose you to.

What a lot of people don't realize is that Wong was also an artist and not just some colorful character. Born and raised in San Francisco, he attended the Art Institute and studied with Mark Rothko. In the `50s and `60s he became a mainstay in the Beat community and was friends with Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Jack Kerouac and appeared in his book, Big Sun.

Having appeared in 28 films from 1984 to 1998, he retired from acting after suffering from two strokes in two consecutive years. He spent his last two years painting and making computer art. Earlier this year he had a show at B. Sakato Garo in Sacramento.

It's a shame that there really hasn't been much coverage in his passing. I mean, he was no big star. But I thought he was great and for Dim Sum alone, he had a bigger impact on my life than almost any Academy Award winner I can think of.

 

BASEBALL AND THE END OF THE WORLD

I love baseball. Okay, most of you know that. But for those of you who aren't fans of the game, it's hard to explain why I keep following it. For every great moment that lifts my spirit, there's a kick in the teeth to put me in my place. It's masochism. I guess any person's relation to sports has some sexual subconscious mode. Why else would so many single, young, male virgins who are confused enough about sex, be drawn to homo-erotic contact sports like football and wrestling? It's amazing that society isn't able to put two and two together. Young, male virgins spending all of their free time with young male virgins watching men ram and grapple each other? Hey guys, you can't do anything about being young and male but you can do something about being virgins…

With this year's baseball season ending, I was on a high. While my Giants didn't make it to the post-season, Barry Bonds beat to hell the home run record for one season not to mention a few others along the way (he broke Ruth's walk record and slugging percentage record not to mention being the first four time MVP!). Has-beens like Reggie Jackson and hack Yankee writers like Selena Roberts couldn't down my excitement over Bonds' success.

The year also ended with one of my favorite World Series' of all-time. Okay, I'm no huge Arizona fan. It wasn't exactly a triumph of good over evil. Hey, but after the evil Yankees took the last three, I'm very happy for a triumph of lesser evil over evil. Oh yes, Robert Lipsyte, there are people that hate the Yankees and for very good reason.

I was getting sick to my stomach in the weeks leading up to the World Series. "We Are All Yankees"? I don't think so. Mets, maybe, but Yankees, never. The fact that all these sad, sad, Red Sox supporters were chiming in the New York Times Sports letter section that they were burying the hatchet this time around and supporting the Yankees in this time of crisis was utterly pathetic. Made me second guess my life long belief that as much as I dislike the AL and the designated hitter, the Red Sox were worthy of my support.

Okay, most people understand that the main reason that so many people hate the Yankees is their fans. Yeah, if you live in England, think Manchester United. The same kind of person that would support Manchester United in the UK is the same kind of person that would support the Yankees in the states. They're obnoxious, poor sports and borderline racist (you think I'm wrong? Ask Byung Hyun Kim or Ichiro Suzuki about Yankee fans). God, I was so sick of looking at Yankee fans and their dumbstruck faces in the New York Times and on TV.

When the line-up for the World Series was set, dumb asses started writing things in the Times about how great it would be if the Yankees would sweep again and how that would really get the city back on it's feet. Jesus, the New York Times can be a stupid newspaper. But I realize it's all we've got. Still, what excuse is there for their horrendous sports section? What were Mets fans thinking as they read the paper that week? Were they invisible?

The other reason that I hate the Yankees is they represent the death of baseball for me. I've been in denial about it. But baseball has become the most legally corrupt professional sport around. With no salary cap, the Yankees (and the Diamondbacks for that matter) can just throw cash around and buy the players they need. The just deplete teams like the Expos and the Brewers and whoever and ultimately ruin the game by stacking the deck. It's sick and it guarantees that certain teams will NEVER have a chance at playing in the World Series much less a championship. That's quintessential Yankee fair play for you. It's like Steinbrenner is playing fantasy league but with real players and real money.

Oh, I'm not alone here. Most of my close friends are baseball fans and I can count maybe two or three Yankee fans. Yankee haters? In the dozens, literally. And that says nothing of the dozens of other baseball fans I've met who I share nothing in common with except for our love of the game and our hatred of the Yankees. In fact, the anti-Yankee response in the New York Times was so high; Robert Lipsyte was forced to print many of them in his column. I think many of them demand repeating:

"At last, our long national nightmare is over. I'm not talking about Sept. 11, bioterrorism, the Taliban, Bush versus Gore, Islamic fundamentalism, the mayoralty of Rudolph W. Giuliana, Bill Buckner or anthrax. I'm talking about the incessant arrogance of the New York press as fifth columnists for a professional sports fan base that is so parochial in its self-absorption as to make Madonna look like Mother Teresa. Thank god the better team finally won."

"You simply cannot choose one other major league baseball club and come up with a murderer's row of unlikable personalities like these Yankees: O'Neill and Knoblauch are petulant twits, Posada ­ á la Robby Alomar ­ spits in umps' faces, and Clemens is, as your paper's magazine chronicled last year, a frighteningly self-absorbed buffoon."

"Yankee fans are a perversion of fandom elsewhere. Everywhere else, you watch your team's fortunes wax and wane hoping that every several years you'll have a contending team. Yankee fans are bandwagon riders who seem to have this bizarre notion that only a championship team is good enough for them, and that if their team is any good at all, then the other teams should just do the polite thing and step out of the way and let the Yankees take the trophy as though their ascendancy is part of some sort of warped primogeniture.

"Finally, some math. You've got a park that seats 57,000 and a metro population of 17 million, but you draw 3 million fans in a year for the first time? The Red Sox have drawn 2.5 million about a half-dozen times with 6 million people in the region and a 34,000-seat park. Yeah, those Yankee fans. What a stalwart bunch."

"Of course, being a real New Yorker means being a Mets fan."

"Branch Rickey was flawed, as we all are, but he won, made a profit and made the world a better place. Tell me when Yankee management shows any signs that there is life beyond corporate greed."

So you can understand how I (and many others) felt as I watched this brilliant World Series unfold. I can't remember the last time I saw a game seven. Must have been in the `80s. For that game to come down to the bottom of the ninth… It was like a movie and I'm glad I got to watch it.

But now that World Series is over. That means it's the time where I get destroyed by one of the only powers that be that I acknowledge as having tangible control over my life. Major League baseball commissioner Bud Selig announced that they will probably be getting rid of two teams this year. Directly related to the economics of the game and the astronomical fees now demanded by many players and the complicity of the wealthiest teams, baseball has opted for the sickest and cruelest solution completely avoiding the issue of the salary cap. The two teams most likely to go are the Expos and the Twins. I don't know. It seems like nobody in Montreal cares about baseball. I could be wrong. But whenever I watch a Giants game up there on TV it seems like the seats are mostly empty. But it really breaks my heart to think that the Twins might be calling it a day. How could the team that gave the world Kirby Pucket be eliminated to make way for limitless greed (both personal and corporate)?

With his winning of a fourth MVP award, hopefully Barry Bonds will be a little more inclined to stay in SF. But there's been so much talk about him leaving; it's nerve-racking. Worst of all are the rumors that he could end up a Yankee. I have to say that if that were to happen I might give up on baseball forever. People are hemming and hawing around the fact that it's money that will make the final decision. He loves San Francisco but he wants to win a ring. If he wasn't demanding so much money, San Francisco could get some young blood and be a legitimate contender with Bonds. They are always threatening but never coming through in the clutch.

Anyway, Bonds wants to stay in San Francisco. I try to be optimistic. He can obviously make it happen if he wants to. If not, I don't see how anyone wouldn't feel a little disappointed.

 

IN THE J CHURCH LISTENING ROOM

DeMARINIS, PAUL - The Edison Effect CD

I don't know whether this guy is a con artist or insane, but this may be the most intriguing hoax I've heard since the "Ghost Orchid". Part scientific exploration and part art installation, the Edison Effect was a project where lasers played audio recordings from ancient phonograph records, many of which were wax cylinders. Inspired by the Edison's original notion of communication with the dead (as poetic as it is eccentric), DeMarinis combines the "found" sounds with up to date recordings as well as analog and digital reconstructions to try and find meaning between ways communication exists in the process as well as form of recording.

Now that may seem entirely intellectual as far as value, but things take a turn for the odd as military marches are mixed with synthetic drum rhythms at completely different pacing. The result is kind of a mess and the meaning lost. The meaning may also be lost as Edison's piano recitals are displayed and then reconstructed with each false-note. The result is not only the documentation of the recording technique but also the codification of the actual music piece as it's own value. In other the words, the misplayed piano recital and its accidental arrangement has it's own merits alone.

Some of the most fascinating parts are the combines (audio Rauschenberg?) of different musical and vocoder loops from the `20s, `30s and `40s. The collections of sounds range from totally abrasive to inadvertently rhythmic. My favorite track is titled Etaion Shrdlu which is simply a "blank cylinder, recorded over 20 times with no signal other than the vibrations, whirring and inner clunkings of its own clockspring mechanism". The mechanical noise is beautiful in how its synthetic form is not actually determined by human planning. The random-ness of the noise is somehow organic and as a result becomes a merger of technology with nature. Much of this record reminds me of NON, if you can believe it.

I suppose the hoax comes with whether or not you believe that these recordings are all authentic. I don't see how they all could be. Fragments From Jericho #1 and #2 claims to be sounds taken from the most ancient audio recording. According to the liner notes, while making a clay cylinder, voices and sounds were rudimentarily captured in its inner walls. Another is a recording of a song about the anarchists Sacco and Vanzetti coupled with a sermon advocating a "more moderate path" for the Italian American radical community. Sounds like bullshit to me. But it's good bullshit.

So, in the noise world, you kind of need to have your glass half full. I mean, this is mostly bullshit in its intentions and the actual goal of the installation and this record seems to only be expressed in the mind of the artist himself. But taken at face value, its fascinating and quite beautiful.
(Het Apollohuis, Tongelresestraat 81, 5613 DB Eindhoven)

ICONS OF FILTH - The Mortarhate Projects CD

As we all (or at least "I") eagerly await the new full length from Icons of Filth, this CD retrospective is a great reminder of this old UK hardcore band and how much of an influence they've had on generations of anacho punk bands.

It's funny that so many bands cite them nowadays as influential seeing as a lot of their early stuff now seems to be pretty derivative of Discharge as far as song structure. The "Discharge Haiku" style is in full effect on their earliest material as well as part of the record. There is also a clear influence of Conflict as can be imagined (the bands were touring partners for some time).

One thing that really stands out for the band, however, is their clear recordings. Singer Stiggy Smeg, all was had a good basic understanding of hardcore lyric phrasing. The lyrics work with the song as opposed to a lot of anarcho bands that seem to be trying to squeeze as many words per verse as possible. The results could often be a mess.

Icons of Filth never really suffered from that with the best examples coming from the first 16 tracks on this CD coming from their only LP, Onward Christian Soldiers. The recording is also very clear without the domineering "metal" guitar sound that cluttered up a lot of UK hardcore from the same scene.

The CD also includes the tracks from their three brilliant EPs as well as their original demo tape. Thirty songs of hardcore can be a bit much. But I'm certainly not arguing with the value for you dollar aspect and it's nice to see all of this stuff collected in one spot.
(Go-Kart Records, PO Box 20, Prince St. Station, NYC 10012)

MAGIC MAGICIANS - Girls CD

One part 764 Hero and one part Black Heart Procession and here's what you get; a very pretty record that's charm is in its manipulation of nostalgia. While this isn't Brit Pop (of course) it will appeal to people like me (those who should know better) in the same way that Blur can (at times). Mix elements of various generations gone by ­ a little Arthur era Kinks with a little Television with a bit of the Pixies ­ and you've got a band that sounds, though not unexpected from their pedigree, fresh and catchy as hell.

Now, there's a fair amount of this kind of stuff floating around in the indie pop world today. I can dig a bit of Quasi, Olivia Tremor Control or Elliot Smith. But whereas a lot of those people tend to "pay the bills" at times, the Magic Magicians are still at the stage where they are defining their style. Despite being a two piece, John Atkins multi-instrumentalist and they are happy to bring in outside musicians to augment wherever necessary. John's bass playing and keyboarding as well as Joe Plummer's fluid drumming create a dense field with little muddle.

Despite the lo-fi studio disposition (this record was recorded "in houses, apartments, and a theater that is now a reggae nightclub" according to the liner notes) the sound is pretty huge. Like the bands I've mentioned earlier, one of the biggest benefits of home recordings is the new vocal style and range that comes with. Partly due to the comforts of recording at home (if it doesn't work out, no one has to know about it!) and the fact that sometimes you're singing softer than normal so your roommates don't hear you, this new vocal style has more in common with the stoned singing of the `70s. Like Neil Young saying he had to stay up late to be tired enough to record, the Magic Magicians vocals are conversational without sounding bored.

(Suicide Squeeze, Box 434, 4505 University Way NE, Seattle, WA 98105)

SAUCER CD

Not too much info with this CD. I think it has something to do with former members of Boyracer as it's on 555 and the band is definitely British.

Yeah, the info is pretty minimal. Seven tracks over 40 minutes of music with no song titles, names of band members or recording information. Nothing to shape the listeners opinion one-way or the other.

In many ways, this music is a cross between the earlier Boyracer pop music with what was called space rock a couple of years ago. Taking some of their cues from Spaceman 3 and maybe My Bloody Valentine, Saucer turn simple musical ideas and turn them into mesmerizing soundscapes using oft demeaned tools of drone and repetition. Like the aforementioned bands, the delicate and pretty nature of the music is made into a strong force by building concentrically over a period of time rather than with changes and seemingly more complex arrangements.

The seven tracks are all connected by the use of a simplistic pattern as a starting point. Dynamics and timbre are used in broader strokes as opposed to the obvious and often clichéd use of most guitar oriented groups. The amount of layers as opposed to distortion sets Saucer apart from the My Bloody Valentine route and almost into areas explored by Branca. Either way, its ambience alone is very pretty and engaging.
(555 Recordings)

 

IN THE J CHURCH VIEWING ROOM

Painters Painting Video

I was drawn to this film while searching for stuff on Rauschenberg and was pleasantly surprised to find that it was directed by Ron Mann. While much more involved and detailed than Imagine The Sound the approach that I appreciate so much is the forwardness of his documentary style. Unlike many documentaries that are defined in the editing process, Ron Mann is methodical in his documentation of the post World War avant-garde art scene in the States allowing room for different conclusions to be drawn. The film is quite linear while never avoiding the desire to treat the films subjects as odd and unsuspecting celebrities. Theory is mixed with gossip and straight interviews are mixed with the making of art.

Starting with the Abstract Expressionists and their champion, Clement Greenberg, the film documents the only interview footage I've ever seen of Barnett Newman who speaks directly on the intentions of his art and that of his contemporaries like Pollock and DeKooning.

Newman, "There's no questions that my work and the work of the men I respect took a revolutionary position, you might say, against the bourgeois notion of what a painting is as an object, aside from what it is as a statement because in the end you couldn't even contain it in any bourgeois home."

He also speaks directly to the components of his paintings and the moment of epiphany.

Newman, "What had I done? What was it? …I got rid of atmosphere… It does not divide. It united the thing. It's not a window."

The viewer than is taken on a slightly eerie visual trip as the camera tours Newman's studio right after his death. Finished and un-finished work become confused and the large and over-sized canvasses feel like lovingly painted mausoleum walls. In his commentary through art, Newman was stilled interested in beautiful things and surely he would want to be surrounded by them in death.

Clement Greenberg is also interviewed. I'm not sure how long before he died that the interview took place. While cubism isn't much mentioned in the film, the influence of Duchamp is made clear by Greenberg by declaring him to be the most daring and groundbreaking artist in the 20th Century. It begs the question as to whether Duchamp can really be considered an American artist. For convenience he must be otherwise DeKooning couldn't be considered to be an American artist. Otherwise, the notion of abstract expressionism being America's revenge on Europe is brought into question. Is it enough to physically make art in America to be considered an American artist?

The death of Newman leads to the birth of the next generation as perfectly defined in Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns. Over poorly lit footage of him making one of his combines, Rauschenberg perfectly sums up his differences with the abstract expressionists while detailing what he took from them. His use of and ambivalence towards the tactile has often led to him being confused as an abstract expressionist or even a pop artist. Even in his pointing out how he differed from the abstract expressionists, he reveals how important they were in relation to his art in terms of art history if not more intimate influence.

Rauschenberg, "I was never interested in their (the abstract expressionists) pessimism or editorializing. You have to have time to feel sorry for yourself if you're going to be a good abstract expressionist. I think I always considered that a waste… With their grief, and art passion and action painting they let their brush strokes show."

There is some reminiscing as well about how Rauschenberg discovered his "erasure" paintings where he would literally erase a work of art. His first was his most famous and wound up being quite a task as he erased an entire DeKooning. It's "L.H.O.O.Q. ­ The Next Generation"!

His brother artist, Jasper Johns is also interviewed though with a much lighter self-analysis.

Johns, "What about Dada? What kind of question is that?" (laughs)

Though by no means a Dada-ist, Johns was also stretching away from the Abstract Expressionists. While they showed the light at the end of the tunnel to the American avant-garde, it was Johns and Rauschenberg that broadly opened up the field of possibility. Still, it was the Dadaists through Duchamp that allowed the abstract expressionists to go beyond the formalism of most American art up to the `30s. Johns, like Rauschenberg, reveals his own niche in art history.

Johns, "The idea that had come to me (was) that I should have to mean what I did. Then accompanying that was that there was no reason to mean what other people did. So, if I could tell that I was doing what someone else was doing then I would try not to do it. Because it seemed to me that DeKooning did his work perfectly beautifully and there was no reason for me to help him with it." (laughs)

Helen Frankenthaler continues this playful vibe in describing how she discovered her own style as a need to break free from the rigid structure she had subjected herself to. Inadvertently, it's a Situationist idea being taken to one possible conclusion.

Frankenthaler, "Having looked at Cubism which can be very detailed, I just wanted to break free, put it on the floor, throw the paint around…"

When asked what it was like to be a woman painter, her reply is "I think the first issue is being a painter."

There's a lot more to this film and it is interesting to hear everyone discussing his or her work. At times, with Frank Stella for example, it sounds more like a defensive posture. For Andy Warhol, it's the blasé indifference that comes off as shallow as ever. Like Greenberg says about pop art, "it's easy stuff".

But the film, while trying to document all aspects of the art process (creating as well the market and art criticism) only furthers the age-old irony: it's a sport of intellectuals. Of course, the sport is bolstered by profiteers and pseudo-intellectuals who do nothing but create the idea that art appreciation in post World War II America is equally bourgeois. But that makes the class-ist assumption that intellectualism is for the rich.

The sad reality that I was left with at the end of the film is that everyone is essentially an opportunist. The artists may have their ethics, but understandably, they need to make a living. The art critics exist to document the genealogy as it occurs as well as the great leaps forward. The patrons are there for equal doses of egoism and generosity. The dealers are there as the sycophantic glue maintaining the status quo in terms of business in the art world. Everyone is making money or at least trying and the end result is that the art world gets smaller and smaller every year.
(Mystic Fire)

 

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