IT'S A LIVING... BUT IT'S NOT A LIFE #9.92
J Church and Honey Bear Records blabbings
End of the Year 2002

 

What better way to start the last month of the year than with a fucking virus on our computer… Sorry if the worm got passed along to you. I got it from Crass, if you can believe it…

 

FINALLY…

Okay, I'm finally sending off stuff to start the Honey Bear Records Singles Club. The final list of bands will be Hard Skin, Semiautomatic, Tami, J Church, Cringer and… hopefully Princessed. If not, you'll be getting another J Church or Cringer 7" at that time. Man, this singles club thing is a pain in the ass. But I'm really stoked on it. I know that nobody is really buying 7"s anymore and if I do any more in the future I'll only be doing pressings of a 100 or so. So it's a big money pit. But so is most of my label at this point. A labor of love… usually…

 

LABEL MATTERS

Got some more things coming out soon on the label. I'm not sure about the order of events (as I'm still waiting for some parcels in the ever slowing post). But I've got a CD retrospective of Flowers In The Dustbin coming out soon. It should be incredible. It includes most of their recorded output including the stuff from the Mortarhate 7" and the All The Madmen stuff. Should have some pretty lengthy liner notes from Gerard as well. You're crazy if you miss out on this.

I've still got lofty ideas as to what to do with these live CDRs. I've got a few more coming out. But I'm sort of thinking of doing some little box sets of them. It would be cool to properly release some four CD box sets of live recordings. If they sell, I can maybe make enough money to do some really limited LP box sets. I just kind of like the idea of everything being available on vinyl if only in the tiniest of pressings. If I did a four LP box set, I'd probably only be able to make a few hundred… Don't know where I'll ever get the money…

The long term plan, of course, would be to get Altamont `99 and Meaty, Beaty, Shitty Sounding out on vinyl. Maybe I can put the two of them out as a four LP box set… Oh, if I could only get a bank loan… or a real credit card…

I'm also sort of toying with the idea of taking some of the better moments of the myriads of live Cringer recordings I've got and putting together a CD. If I did it, all the royalties would go to someone like AK Press. I couldn't totally justify it otherwise.

 

SOME HOPE

Also, I'm trying to get together issue 4 of my fanzine. It's got interviews with the Mob, Lack Of Knowledge, Kronstadt Uprising, Semiautomatic and David Kerekes (of Headpress). It will also come with a bonus live CD of the Mob recorded at Meanwhile Gardens. If you're into them and have the 12" version of Crying Again it's from that recording. Another release I'm really looking forward to…

 

ANARCHY AND PEACE

Don't know how many of you give a shit about this book I'm writing. If you don't remember, I'm working on a book documenting the anarcho punk scene of the late `70s and early `80s mostly around the UK stuff. Anyway, the chapters I've been finishing off have been serialized in Maximum Rock N Roll with the latest issue featuring Kronstadt Uprising. In the previous issues, there's been The Mob, Flowers In The Dustbin and The Cravats. Next up I think is Metro Youth / Sanction followed by Lack Of Knowledge and Flux of Pink Indians. I'm working on the really long Zounds piece at the moment… You can find Maximum just about anywhere these days. But if for some reason it's not in your area or you want to get one of the back issues, you can reach `em at: maximumrnr@mindspring.net… I think…

 

BEST OF…

It's the end of the year and this is probably my last newsletter until January. I thought I'd just throw together a quick best of (like everyone does) to satisfy some inner self-serving need…

Best World Series
Okay, it wasn't the best of all time or anything. But it was certainly the best in the past 10 years. No Yankees. No As. Fuck `em. I'll take the Diamondbacks if need be. Now let's see the Giants do something in 2002. Okay, I'll do my best to refrain from any sports talk until next summer.

Best Stroke Of Luck In The Employment Department
I was pretty broke for a lot of last year. I finally threw together a little resume and applied at Vulcan Video and Sound Exchange. I didn't think I'd hear back from either. But I wound up getting called back by both within a week. I had interviews scheduled within a day of each other and was hired by both on the same day. It was sort of funny. They both said I was probably a little over-qualified with all my experience. But I had to remind them; I'm not qualified to do anything else.

Best Book I Read This Year Though It Came Out A While Ago
I finally got my own copy of As Serious As Your Life by Valerie Wilmer from a little bookstore in Pittsburgh while we were on tour. It is really hard to find much written history about the jazz avant-garde of the `60s and `70s. I find the whole thing to be utterly moving both in terms of the beautiful music of Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, Don Cherry, Albert Ayler, Archie Shepp, Cecil Taylor, etc. as well as the cultural event. This book isn't the definitive look at any one artist. But it does give someone like me who was born too late a better understanding of the times and the scene.

Best Movie
Were there any really good movies this year? I don't know if I can think of any. I want to say The Life And Times Of Hank Greenberg but I think it originally came out a couple of years ago. I actually kind of like Jay And Silent Bob Strike Back, but I wouldn't say it was great or anything. Don't EVEN e-mail my about Kevin Smith. You love him or you hate him and I like his movies. Keep it to yourself; a lot of my friends hate him too.

One thing I will say is that there were a lot of great DVD releases including just about everything that Criterion has been involved in. The Bunuel stuff including the double disc set of The Discreet Charm Of The Bourgeoisie is a must have. While everyone was fawning over Gimme Shelter, I was especially pleased to see Grey Gardens and Salesman out on disc. Criterion is one of those companies that make my life worth living.

Best Record
You must be fucking joking… I liked a lot of records this year. I don't know if any of them were great. My favorite record that I bought this year? For me, it's probably another copy of the For Almost Ever by the Mice. I could listen to Not Proud Of The USA all day. Why weren't they huge? 1985 was a tough year. But not as tough as now.

Best Alternative To SF General.
SF General sucks. It takes a week to fill a new prescription and you have to spend hours and hours hanging out with crackheads. I don't mind hanging out with homeless people. I'm usually just a few bucks away from being homeless myself. But it's the crazy people that I can't take. After standing around for 5 or 6 hours, they can really get on your nerves.

Here in Austin, we have the People's Community Clinic. Somewhere between General and the Free Clinic, it's a place for broke people like myself who have no insurance to go and stay somewhat healthy. I'm in and out of there in minutes and I can still get my meds for pennies on the dollar. Everyone there is so nice. I don't know how they do it.

Best Food Discovery (local)
I like Austin. But I think it's really sad that there isn't much in the way of Chinese food here. The only place with fake meat as a regular part of the menu is Veggie Heaven and it kinda sucks. First of all, you know something is up when you go to a Chinese restaurant and it's packed and you're the only Chinese person there. Secondly, I think they're part of some sort of weird cult. I guess Shanghai River is pretty decent for veggie Chinese stuff. But the food is only so-so (I'll go back a third time to make sure) and Liberty can't eat there with the MSG in everything.

But I've got a new favorite place to eat here. The lack of Chinese food is made up for with a lot of good veggie eats. I love the bbq seitan at Mother's and I'm crazy for the breakfast tacos (not to mention the ambiance) at Star Seeds. But my favorite place to eat at the moment is Madras. Madras in North Austin is a killer vegetarian, South Indian, buffet. It's hella good and I found myself eating myself sick. If you do the dairy thing, there are also a variety of yogurt drinks as well.

Best Food Discovery (world)
Am I the last person on the planet to find out about Soul Veg? I'm not even sure if that's how to spell it. I was introduced to this amazing restaurant while on last year's tour with Prop-Avail-Disaster. Vegan soul food with locations in Atlanta and Cleveland? Where have you been all my life? I had some amazing bar-b-que, corn bread and greens. My mouth is watering just thinking of the veggie chops with mash potatoes. Jeez, I'm fucking dying here…

Best Gig
It just happened a couple of nights ago. While my friends Paul and Sara were in town, we went to a cool little house party where Philly's Rambo was playing. They were mind-boggling. Powerful and personal, everyone had a smile on his or her face. If that weren't good enough, local stars, the Snobs got up and did an impromptu set of underage punk rock. It was a fucking brilliant night.

Best TV Show
Okay, I try to not watch TV anymore. That's not totally true. But I find that when I watch TV for like 2 hours a day, I'm a lot dumber than when I just sit and stare at a blank wall for the same amount of time. So, I restrict my TV viewing to videos and DVDs. But I have to admit that I've become really addicted to Grounded For Life. I can't think of another show like it ever. It's clever in it's reverse timeline structure. It's funny and self-effacing. It's very real. Kevin Corrigan is brilliant as usual. It's really the only new show on worth watching.

Best Teddy Bears Dressed As Other Animals
The Wee Bear Village is the hands down winner in this department. Aside from the fact that the bears they make are all about 5"s tall (the cutest of the Teddy Bear sizes), they're all dressed up like other animals. There's not much cuter than a bear in a bunny suit. But what sets them far and ahead of the other manufacturers of these products is that the bears are all so serious. They aren't smiling or anything. If anything, they all look a little confused. They're existential Teddy Bears.

Biggest Disappointment
There were a lot of big disappointments last year. The Giants, Michael Jordan, Planet Of The Apes… But was there anything more disappointing than the new Weezer? Maybe I'm alone here. But I really loved the blue record. I kinda liked the second album. But the new album… It's so non-descript you can't even get any pleasure out of hating it. It's a great big nothing. It was so irrelevant that I was still depressed the second time I listened to it.

 

IN THE J CHURCH LISTENING ROOM

GRAHAM COXON - The Golden D CD

Nope, I didn't really care for this guys first solo record. I wasn't expecting or even hoping for any Blur-isms. But I wasn't really looking for self-conscious lo-fi or Dinosaur Jr-isms either.

I wasn't expecting anything from this record and Graham certainly doesn't have anything to prove this time around either. Still, it was quite a relief to know that Coxon is sort of letting loose and doing a record with no pressure other than to make the music that he loves. I mean, he's a punk rock kid deep down inside. Shit, he used to go to Epicenter when Blur was in Frisco. He's the only person I know of that would mention Universal Order of Armageddon in Spin. Hey, he slept with one of the Huggy Bear grrrls for years; that must count for something!

One sixth of this record was originally performed by Mission Of Burma, which makes me think that this whole record is a nod of nostalgia. Ah, the good old days and the old school days and the salad days and yeah, yeah, I wasn't there and neither was Graham. I'm happy enough that I'm old enough to remember punk rock and hardcore BEFORE pits and stage diving. Old school punk gigs to me mean standing on a chair at the back of the room so I could see the band over the audience's heads. Slam dancing? No, I bruise way to easily. Only when I've knocked back a few and I figure I'm going to be getting a few bruises anyway. Might as well be getting them while seeing Verbal Assault blow away 7 Seconds at Fender's.

Was that enough nostalgic ranting for you? No? Well, here's a punk record from Graham Coxon who really just wants to have fun and be accepted and all that. It's a good record. I don't think the Blur stigma is so bad anyway. It's not like he was in Menswear or some shit. Besides, his version of That's When I Reach For My Revolver blows away Moby's version. It's enough to make a BU alumni weep for days gone by.

A lot of today's emo is rooted back to Mission Of Burma. This record captures a lot of that feel with its melodies and harmonies buried in the noise and fuzz. Historically, when Brits try for this formula it winds up sounding like Jesus And Mary Chain or Spacemen 3. But Graham has obviously got some different reference points. There's a little Dischord and a little Homestead thing going on here. It was hinted at with the last Blur LP. But left to his own devices, it becomes much more cohesive and listenable mélange.
(Trans Copic)

SPARKLEHORSE - It's A Wonderful Life CD

I think this is the third album. Every dumb ass has been writing that it's the second album. But I'm pretty sure it's the third and I'm too lazy to go in the other room and find out if vivadixiesubmarinetransmissionplotmanisthebastardrammalammadingdong is an EP or a full length. I think it is and it really doesn't matter, as I won't mention that record again.

I really loved Good Morning Spider. When our van was broken into in Leeds and my CDs got stolen I was especially sad about losing Soft Bulletin and that one. I couldn't imagine a day going by without hearing Pig or Ghost Of His Smile or Hundreds Of Sparrows. I still haven't been able to find a used copy of it. Anyone out there got an extra copy of the vinyl?

This new record is much more low key. No rip-roaring, ass-kicking moments like Pig or Happy Man. It's a shame because I thought those songs really helped Spider in that it made the record move and gave it real depth. There's a nice valium-like haze over It's a Wonderful Life. It's nice and sedate. It is probably what Linkous feels when he watches Capra and thinks of America. It's like being in a happily contained snow globe. The delivery is so discreet that it's almost too personal.

Unfortunately, it's just not enough somehow. I don't know how to explain it. I don't want to sound like a gym coach saying "I really expect Linkous to give 110% and nothing less". Really, every song on this record is great. They're sweet and concise and quite imaginative. Simplistic melodies are arranged with pretty keyboards and instrumentation creating moments that are both naïve and baroque. In fact it's so interesting that when guest vocalists Tom Waits and Polly Jean Harvey chime in, they're so apparent in their approach that they sound ostentatious.

But it's really stuck in one gear. It's like the Stray Gators jamming with This Mortal Coil. It's cool and it's unusual. But it makes me a little sleepy. Even when the secret bonus track creeps up, it just puts us right back in the golden slumber.

CECIL TAYLOR - Fondation Maeght Nights Volume 1 CD
CECIL TAYLOR - Fondation Maeght Nights Volume 2 CD
CECIL TAYLOR - Fondation Maeght Nights Volume 3 CD

I wish I had more room on my website! I'd take all three of these 30+ minute CDs and link them up as they were meant to be heard. It would be glorious to have the entire hour and forty-seven minute piece available in it's entirety. You would think that with CD technology and blah, blah, blah, there would be a way of fitting a couple of hours worth of material on a disc. I guess not.

Featuring regulars Jimmy Lyons on Alto Sax and Andrew Cyrille on drums, this recording is first remarkable as the only legit available recordings of Taylor with Sam Rivers. Still early in his continuing career, Rivers rambles a lot over the long piece and finds many interesting passages. The length of the piece actually gives all four musicians a lot of room to wander and while the over all feel is that of four scientists in the lab testing out their hypothesis, there are many unique solo moments as well.

Unlike The Two Towers, Die Hard 2: Die Harder or Robin Gibb, the middle part of this trilogy isn't the least appealing. In fact, the two extended solos that Taylor takes are the highpoints of the whole piece. The first is a great mathematical problem that makes me think of Dali's "Lincoln" painting. Up close it looks like a chaotic mass of images but stepping back reveals the image of Lincoln. Same with these solos; listening note to note will give you a headache while letting it flow over you is like massage. Always great hearing him humming and singing along with his creation.

With the length of this recording, it's a challenge to the listener, as the improvisations aren't meant to entertain. But diving headlong into the music allows for epiphanies as to how a band like this operates and what it must have been like creating with Cecil Taylor at the time. It was only the second time that I listened to all three CDs back to back to back that I started to see it as a drama… a sort of intellectual conversation being carried out and over the top with amphetamine exalt. If you think Taylor is way out, this will help get you onto his level.
(Jazz View)

VELVET UNDERGROUND - Bootleg Series Volume 1: The Quine Tapes CD

There's a lot of hoopla about this three CD box set of live recordings mostly from San Francisco's long gone Matrix club. I guess Peter Abrams, the old club owner, is now claiming that he's got board tapes of the actual shows and that one of his board tapes is what actually made up the 1969 live LP and blah, blah, blah. Yeah, yeah, who gives a fuck?

I personally like the way these recordings sound. Live room mic job and it sounds like a real bootleg. It gives you an idea of what the audiences were really hearing and, like any decent live bootleg; you have to let your imagination fill in the blanks. Besides it's the confirmation of the rumor mill that bootleg fans feed on and there aren't many bootleg fans hungrier than the Velvet Underground minions. Everyone has known about the Robert Quine tapes for year. But only an elite group of traders (the kind of scum who don't feel you have the "right" to hear this music if you don't have something worth trading them) have been privy to this material until now.

This collection is on Polydor. It's great to know that one of the best things that this blood sucking label has and will ever release was recorded in a club with a common tape recorder and one hand-held microphone.

The one thing that I do feel is a real shame is that the performances aren't complete. Quine even mentions in his liner notes that he took his cassette tapes and only put what he thought were the best moments on the reel and that's what these CDs are made up of. Would've loved to hear it all unabridged. Oh well…

I don't have to tell you how important this band is. They're my favorite band of all time. If you don't know enough to know why this release is important, read a book. There is plenty to read on the VU out there. Even better, go out and buy all of their studio records first. Once you've joined the tribe, you'll feel the need to this.
(Polydor, can you believe it?)

JOHN ZORN - First Recordings 1973 CD

I have to admit that this is probably my favorite Zorn release. I don't know. A lot of his stuff isn't varied enough to really engage me. Most of the records sound like he's got this new idea and he's working over the course of an hour long record. Well, sometimes the chase is better than the catch as Lemmy once said and I'm inclined to agree. Of course, I say all this only having owned five or six of his recordings (which I guess is like saying, "I've only had escargot, so I don't like French food".) so I'll probably completely change my mind in a few months like I did about Jad Fair, Saccharine Trust and, uh, Beck.

But I love this record. It's really insane at times and frightening as well. The recordings involve long and unedited saxophone pieces with everything from primitive tape looping to toys, cookery, TVs and a vacuum cleaner. But it's all used to create long abstract images. Don't think of Eugene Chadbourne so much as Nurse With Wound with Sam Rivers. There's even an end track that's a tribute to Albert Ayler. Pretty cool influence to wear on your sleeve for a teenager in '73.
(Tzadik, 61 East Eighth Street Suite 126, New York, NY 10003)

V/A - Echo ­ The Images Of Sound II CD

Is this the "process of removing the boundaries between the various media and arts" or just a bunch of nerds pretending to be artists and not scientists by "performing" in front of an audience? Whatever it is, there are a few interesting moments on this CD without consistency in reason.

Richard Lerman, among other things, plays a bicycle. He mics it up and gets people to bang on different parts with metal bars to create different sounds. Hey, didn't I see Zappa do the same thing on the Steve Allen show? I think I'm not wrong. I'm not sure, but I think that this is the same guy I saw a separate piece on where he got a bunch of bikes and rigged up contact microphones near the spokes and put amplifiers on each bike. He then got a bunch of his nerd friends to ride the bikes throughout the city making an improvised symphony of metallic clangs and hums. Sort of interesting guy with some neat ideas, but considering he doesn't expand greatly on Zappa's original idea (which was probably a gag) I'm not sure if this counts as expiremental.

Martin Riches got his degree in architecture so you can imagine what kind of a Teutonic artist he is. His "percussion machine" is made by converting predetermined graphic signals which activated woodblocks to create perfect rhythms. What's most amazing to me about it is that this extremely complicated machine is essentially a metronome. I guess that's what makes it art.

Terry Fox is a performance artist and not ashamed of it. But his contribution is beautiful sustained hum that sounds something like a single discordant note played on a violin eternally. Amazingly, the sound is entirely created by strings stretched out along the wall vibrating under different objects (a bow, a sardine can, his fingers). No electronics at all.

What I don't get about this is that there's some snobbish undercurrent throughout the whole thing that these artists are creating something totally new both in form and content. It's really nothing less than snobbery. Experimentation with electronic sounds and the distinction of aesthetic notions within those sounds goes back to the `60s. Alternative approaches to classical acoustic instruments goes back much further (obviously). But now these art snobs (I mean there's even an ex-Fluxus guy here) have "discovered" this art form sort of like Columbus "discovering" America. Will Paul Panhuysen claim to be the "founder" of Throbbing Gristle when he one day "discovers" them?

Hey, there is a lot of pomposity in punk rock so why expect it to be any different in the avant / blip beep / electronic / ambient world? Take away parts of the polemics and it's still a pretty interesting listen though I find the whole thing to be secondary to a lot of the Irdial stuff.
(Het Apollohuis, Tongelresestraat 81, 5613 DB Eindhoven, The Netherlands)

 

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