Saturday, September 30, 2006

Feast of Feist

Ok, now a personal rave about a musician who is QUITE UNdisintegrating and has actually made this particular KNOCK-OUT punch In One Round (cause for seein' stars, angels, boi-oi-oingin bedsprings, bells, and tweety birds circlin around the head of the floored-in-the-best-sense-of-the-word listener) record in 2004 and is still touring under the snowballing rep from it.

I'm talking about Let It Die by the chanteuse canadienne Feist otherwise known as Leslie Feist. Feist, now living in Paris, is accompanied by her musical partner, Chilly Gonzales, a veritable WIZARD of restrained electronica and together they serve up something rare. The record evidences how much can be done with the deft placement of a DJ style record scratch, or acoustic guitar juxtaposed with claps, and simple keyboard grooves that shift in shape and tone - all seducing the ear with surprise. When you find yourself at the end of the record you've been guided by a voices and whispers through a house of colored rooms accessible through sliding doors, staircases that disappear behind you, liquid mirrors, and hidden locks. You're out the back door into long grass of the yard, giving the dog a pet and ready to head back in the front door and do it all over.
This is one of those records I play in the car and then circle around the neighborhood - at a suspicious, curtain-lifting 10 miles an hour - because I don't want to get home quite yet...

Every song is an unpredictable variation of Folk-Pop-Trip-hop-R&B originals and re-workings - if you need to nail it with a label. Despite the forbidding title, Let It Die is largely a euphoric feast but no piece of fluff emotionally.
Feist has a gorgeous voice and delivery that has drawn a slew of comparisons but my first take on it was a taste of Dusty Springfield. In past musical configurations Leslie was heavy on the screaming and 'threw out' her voice. During her sabbatical from singing she practiced guitar and slowly worked her way back into - well, fuhchrissakes, you really gotta check it out!

* i like this live clip of her singing Secret Heart on youtube

Thursday, September 21, 2006

I'm Only Sleeping

- charcoal/watercolor by Henri Matisse

"When I wake up early in the morning,
Lift my head, I'm still yawning
When I'm in the middle of a dream
Stay in bed, float up stream ......"

Up for auction at Christies a year ago, were some scribbled lines in blue felt pen on the back of a car "radio-phone" bill sent to John Lennon by the post office in April of 1966. They were to become the lyrics for "I'm Only Sleeping", a mysterious wisp of a tune which, a week or so later, commenced recording on the UK version of Revolver.

That song has always stood apart, off the beaten road, in the unmapped place. It captures that twilight sliver just between sleep and waking where the dreamer KNOWS he's dreaming and doesn't give a hang about the pressing issues of the waking world.
The only other song that Lennon wrote that gives me a similar feeling is "Julia" - not, as some might expect, "Strawberry Fields", which is really a different alteration of mind-place altogether.

In my head, the lyrics of "Julia" and "Sleeping" meet and blur as one:
"Her hair of floating sky is shimmering, glimmering,
In the sun" and
"Keeping an eye on the world going by my window
Taking my time"
become that place where the shadows of clouds on a rainy day flicker against a storefront window or puddle in the street - again, the omnibus-shuttle service between waking and dreaming.

When mentioned at all, "I'm Only Sleeping" is referred to as the song where "the backward guitar' of George Harrison makes it's debut. In the fascinating memoir of Beatle sessions by participating sound man Geoff Emerick, "Here, There, and Everywhere", much is made of the exasperatingly long time spent by Harrison getting mere 4 bars or so of guitar just right. Apparently George composed a melody, had it recorded backwards, and then learned it in its backwards form to be played "straight" on the recording. Hard to believe it's "live" in the recording but my hat's off to George for carrying it off. Any artist knows that the absorption in a creative conception, obliterates time (or sleeping, eating, and paying the phone bill as well), so 14 hrs for 20 or 30 seconds of recording is a trifle. Paul too, was caught up in the the backwards guitar bit and the resulting "duet" with George at the end of "Sleeping" is a gem - a bouquet of sonic nerve-end tendrils that suggests bagpipes, hurdy-gurdies or the South Indian shehnai.

Strangely enough for the Beatles, this song always seems on the verge of, or down-right dipped into, the realm of jazz. Paul's walking bassline (with passing tones!)and John's melody give it the lilt of swing. I spent a long walk thinking of an ideal "put-together" jazz quartet to do the song justice - with as little "alteration" as possible; no diminution of the melody by bullshit jazz cliches, just cool and crisp blowing with a sense of breathing space. I'd have Miles Davis circa 1954 on muted trumpet (ala Solar or If I Were A bell) - or maybe Tony Fruscella on straight trumpet - then Jimmy Jones on piano (Sarah Vaughn's brilliant accompaniment for many years) and a straight-forward but swinging rhythm section; Percy Heath on bass and Conny Kay on drums.

"Please don't wake me, no
don't shake me
Leave me where I am
I'm only sleeping

Everybody seems to think I'm lazy
I don't mind, I think they're crazy
Running everywhere at such a speed
Till they find, there's no need

Please don't spoil my day
I'm miles away
And after all
I'm only sleeping

Keeping an eye on the world going by my window
Taking my time

Lying there and staring at the ceiling
Waiting for a sleepy feeling

Please don't spoil my day
I'm miles away
And after all
I'm only sleeping

Keeping an eye on the world going by my window
Taking my time

When I wake up early in the morning,
Lift my head, I'm still yawning
When I'm in the middle of a dream
Stay in bed, float up stream

Please don't wake me, no
don't shake me
Leave me where I am
I'm only sleeping"

- John and music critic Ralph Gleason in 1966

*thanks to Jimmy and Steve for mention of Geoff Emerick's "Here There and Everywhere"
- also of interest to UK "Revolver" fans:
"Every Sound There Is" edited by Russell Reising - a compilation of writings about the "Revolver" sessions.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Sky of Orange Whispers


since poetry is the only nightclub
where anything can happen
let's take a look at it

if you go to the right you're wrong
if you go left you're incorrect
if you go straight you're a fool

poetry is a swimming pool

no it's a diving board
this drink is so good I could dive right into it

you've got to avoid
......................the ice cube

- Howard Hart from "The Sky of Orange Whispers"

mr. hart
jazz drummer
mentored by kenny clarke
left for paris in '46 and met django
who asked him to audition but howard let it slip as
he found baudelaire's flowers of evil at a kiosk by the seine and wasted the hours
in epiphany then and there poetry was as important to him as music
returned to nyc in 47 studied composition with mills and bernstein
hung with charlie parker and delmore schwartz
roomed with and read alongside kerouac and lamantia
wrote plays
wrote poems
blew some wigs
shuttled twixt coasts
between arts
passed through worlds in 2002
over to the other side

Howard Hart wrote poems of unusual subtlety and color and I'm having trouble putting down
"The Sky of Orange Whispers" which is in a slender pocket-size volume that i take everywhere
check and your local inter-library loan to get hold of his others

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Jazzpoets at Blue O'Clock

late in the game photo of poets Howard Hart and Bob Kaufman in the basement of City Lights Bookstore circa 1980

Howard Hart and Bob Kaufman were the among last unsung poets influenced by jazz idiom and cadence. They were contemporary with the likes of Jack Kerouac and Ted Joans back in the 50's and migrated from New York to longtime residency on the "Left Coast", North Beach, San Francisco.

Bob Kaufman, in particular, was steeped beyond the others in the sound of jazz. "Crootey Songo" featured "meaningless" words created as one would blow a jazz solo over a rhythm section; not the "oobie-doobie la wah doo-bah" of scat singers but more along the lines of;


However most of his poems were accessible and spoke immediately to the listener/reader;


I climb a red thread
To an unseen existence
Broken free, somewhere,
Beyond the belts.

Ticks have abandoned
My astonished time.
The air littered
with demolished hours.

Presence abolished
I become a ray
From the sun
Anonymous finger
Deflected into hungry windows
Boomerang of curved light
Ricocheted off dark walls
The ceiling remembers my face
The floor is a palate of surprise
Watching me eat the calendar

(from a Kaufman compilation called "Golden Sardine" supposedly found on brown wrapping paper rolled up and found in his room)

Kaufman was born in New Orleans of mixed heritage. Touring the world as a merchant seaman he ended up in NYC and then San Francisco where he became a mainstay on the North Beach poetry scene. Styling himself a Buddhist and incapable of self-promotion, he
performed his poetry from memory and only reluctantly, on his wife's insistence, wrote anything down. His most famous haunt was the Co-Existence Bagel Shop on Grant Street where devotees would flock in the hopes he would show for an extemporaneous "reading".
He became more reclusive as the 60's ended; taking a vow of silence during the War - although friends would point out, with some levity, that he would break it occasionally to ask "Got any speed?"
Worn down and ailing from years of drug addiction, police confrontation, and shock therapy, Bob passed away in San Francisco Jan 12, 1986.

Though he was published by New Directions and City Lights, respected and held in awe by his peers, "the hidden master of the beats" never quite fit in to the beat movement or any any movement - an individual to the last;

'...i know of a place in between between, behind behind, in front of front, below below, above above, inside inside, outside outside, close to close, far from far, much farther than far, much closer than close, another side of an other lies out on the far side of music...that darkling plane of light on the other side of begins at the bitter ends..."

Bob Kaufman in younger days

* thanks to dear pal Sarah of Waterville for sending me some Kaufman just when the soul needed it most!

check out Bob Kaufman's poetry books:
Golden Sardine
Ancient Rain
Solitudes Crowded With Loneliness
Cranial guitar

Friday, September 15, 2006

P-celts and Q-celts

A strange happenstance in the story of European language that continues to fascinate me and 12 other odd souls in the world;
The division of the Celtic Languages into those who will use a "P" sound for the same word that another Celt will use the "Q" (or more modernly expressed hard "C" sound).
So, on the P team we have the Welsh, the Bretons, and in days gone past; the Cornish, Cumbrians, the Gauls (for the most part), the Lepontic Celts (Northern italy) and a few other stragglers. The Picts in Scotland are thought to have spoken a Pre-Celtic language that was later melded with. or superseded by, a P-Celtic dialect
On the Q Team we have the Irish, the Scots, the Manx, and in days gone by; the Celtiberians of Spain - now represented by the Galicians, Asturians, and to some extent, the Portuguese (presently, respectfully, speaking dialects of Spanish and Portuguese influenced by their former Celtic tongues).

as an example;

four and five in Welsh are "pedwar" and "pump"
in Irish they are "ceathair" and "cuig"

son in Welsh is "map"
in Irish it's "mac'

"head" or "headland" in Welsh is "Pen" - thus a large number of place names beginning wwith "Pen"
in Irish it's "Ceann" - ausually anglicized into "Ken" or "Kin" (thus Kenmore and Kintyre, etc.)

.....and so it goes. No one knows for sure how, why, and when the division began.

What is even more interesting is that a similar division occured within the Italic languages (Latin was a "Q" language and the long-gone Oscan-Umbrian languages "P").
The division was also evident between Latin and Greek. Thus prefixes for five derived from Greek use "penta-" (ie. pentagon, pentacle) while Latin uses "quinta-" (think of quintuplets and quincunx).
There is some postulation that the P-Celts on continental Europe lived in areas near the P-group Italics and Hellenics and there was some exchange of language pattern.

We know from Pre-Roman inscriptions that the Celtiberians of Spain spoke a Q-celtic language and this may give credence to the ancient Irish oral tradition that claims a major Celtic settlement via the sea from Northern Spain some 2500 or more years ago. A friend of ours from Galicia is fond in pointing out that her family could easily pass for Irish.

* now, for an almost unrelated diversion; I've heard it said that some scholars claim that "the eeney, meeny, miney, moe" of "catch a tiger by the toe" is derived from the Pre-Celtic language of Britain. Then there is the old language of the tinkers in Ireland and Scotland...

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Epistle To Derroll

Epistle To Derroll - Donovan

Come all ye starry starfish
living in the deep blue sea
crawl to me i have proposition to make thee
would you walk the north sea floor
to Belgium from England
Bring me word of a banjo man
With a tattoo on his hand.

The spokesman of the starfish
spoke as spokesman should
"If’n you met our fee then
certainly we would,
If you cast a looking-glass
upon the scallopped sand
You'll have word o' this banjo man
with a tattoo on his hand."

"Come ye starry starfish
I know your ways are caped
maybe its because your astrologically shaped,
Converse with the herring shoals
as I know you can
Bring me word o' the banjo man
with a tattoo on his hand."

The eldest of the starfish
spoke, after a sigh,
"Youthfull as you are young man
you have a 'Wisdom Eye';
Surely you must know a looking-glass
is made from sand?
These youngfish are fooling you
about this banjo man."

"Come then aged starfish
Riddle me no more,
for news I am weary
and my heart is sore;
All on the silent seashore,
help me if you can,
Tell to me if you know
of this banjo man."

"All through the seven oceans
I am a star, most famed,
Many 'leggys' have I lost
and many have I gained,
Strange to say quite recently
I've been to Flemish Land
And if you are courteous
I'll tell you all I can."

"You have my full attention"
I answered him with glee,
His brother stars were twinkling
in the sky above the sea
So I sat there with rapt
attention, on the sand,
very anxious for to hear
of the banjo man.

"I have seen this tattooed hand
through a ship port-hole,
Steaming on the watery main
through the waves so cold,
Heard his tinkling banjo and
his voice so grand
but you must come to Belgium
to shake his tattooed hand."

"Gladly would I come oh
gladly would I go,
Had I not my work to do
and my face to show,
I rejoice to know he's well
but I must go inland,
thank you for the words you brought
of the banjo man."

I walked along the evening sand
as charcoal clouds did shift
revealing the moon shining
on the pebble drift
Contemplating every other word
the starfish said
whistly winds they filled my dreams
in my dreaming bed.

(below, a little about the man behind my favorite Donovan song - off of "For Little Ones" in 1967)

Derroll Adams was one of those peripheral legends whose name was threaded in and out of the music and commentary of some of the musical idols who really turned me around to playing and composing (yes, even in the jazz realm)- notably Bert Jansch, John Renbourn, and Donovan Leitch.
Derroll came over to Britain in the 1950's on tour with his pal Ramblin Jack Elliot -and together they really had an impact on the British folk scene.

Derroll wrote a famous song much covered in the folk world "Portland Town". He had a deep singing voice, a magnetic stage presence, and a simple but original, "up-picking" banjo-style that even guitarists like Donovan and Bert Jansch were drawn to and incorporated into their guitar styles. On his 2nd record, Bert Jansch actually recorded his only solo banjo tune, "900 Miles", which he learned from Derroll.
Derroll remained in Britain throughout the 60's and 'retired' with occasional appearances to Antwerp, Belgium where he lived til his death on Feb 2,2000.

* kind readers -as someone said, Derroll's life reads like a full-length Wallace Stegner novel - and i wouldn't know where to begin to pick up all the bits and pieces.
here are some nice links.
A must-see video clip of another legend, English guitarist/ singer Wizz Jones singing and playing (with a bit of Derroll's influence on guitar) a tribute to Mr. Adams
a simple and affecting song "The Man with the Banjo"
The site of the incredible Belgian blues and roots musician Hans Theessink featuring plenty of great pictures of Derroll Adams. Hans contributes some great renditions to "Banjoman: A tribute to Derroll Adams" which also features Arlo Guthrie, Donovan, Ralph McTell, and even Dolly Parton among other luminaries!
discussion and soundclips regarding Derroll's banjo style and songs. currently under revision; as I remember seeing it many months ago, very impressive.

* special thanks to Hans Theessink for the picture off Derroll and his "tattooed hand" featured above

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Hotel de Lauzun

In the 1840's, the Hotel de Lauzun, on the Ile de St Louis in the heart of Paris, rented out rooms to the Club De Hashiscins. The Hashischins counted among their members some the most respected novelists, painters and poets of Paris of the time.
Theophile Gautier, Victor Hugo, Alexandre Dumas, Gerard de Nerval, Eugene Delacroix were regulars but Gustave Flaubert and Balzac dropped by.
Charles Baudelaire was the most notorious member, although he was not a frequent "paricipant" he rented an apartment in the building and worked on his famous "Artificial Paradises" book which described (more from observation and conversations with the "Club" members than his own experience) the effects of hashish intoxication.

Gautier recounts his initial experience at the Hotel:

"One December evening..I arrived in a remote quarter in the middle of Paris, a kind of solitary oasis which the river encircles in its arms on both sides as though to defend it against the encroachments of civilisation. It was an old house on the Isle the Ile De St.Louis the Pimodan hotel built by Lauzun..."
Gautier comes to room where, "several human shapes were stirring about a table, and as soon as the light reached me and I was recognised, a vigorous shout shook the sonorous depths of the ancient edifice. 'It's he! It's he!' cried some voices together; 'let's give him his due!' "
In their rooms at the hotel, the "Club" would don Arab clothing. Before dinner they would drink a strong coffee laced with hashish. Called 'dawamesk" by the Arabs, this concoction, featured a mixture of hashish, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, pistachio, sugar, orange juice, butter and cantharides. Hash smokers must take note that in this "paste" form the drug was far more potent.

"The doctor (Jean-Jacques Moreau, a founding member)stood by a buffet on which lay a platter filled with small Japanese saucers. He spooned a morsel of paste or greenish jam about as large as a thumb from a crystal vase, and placed it next to the silver spoon on each saucer. The doctor's face radiated enthusiasm; his eyes glittered, his purple cheeks were aglow, the veins in his temples stood out strongly, and he breathed heavily through dilated nostrils. 'This will be deducted from your share in Paradise,' he said as he handed me my portion..."
Dinner follows and then the hashish begins to take effect. Gautier notices the others appear "somewhat strange. Their pupils became big as a screech owl's; their noses stretched into elongated probosces; their mouths expanded like bell bottoms. Faces were shaded in supernatural light....a deadening warmth pervaded my limbs, and dementia, like a wave which breaks foaming on to a rock, then withdraws to break again, invaded and left my brain, finally enveloping it altogether. That strange visitor, hallucination, had come to dwell within me."
What then transpires in each of the participant would depend on whom one asks...

Baudelaire introduces his comments in Les Paradises Artificiel by what now appears to be common knowledge, that the hasheesh eater "
will find in hashish nothing miraculous, absolutely nothing but an exaggeration of the natural. The brain and organism on which hashish operates will produce only the normal phenomena peculiar to that individual - increased, admittedly, in number and force, but always faithful to the original."
Baudelaire's personal experience was fascinating and otherworldly but ultimately nightmarish, as if he had been reading nothing but Poe for a decade.
Balzac, who claimed to have heard celestial voices and beheld divine paintings remained a loyal unadulterated coffee-fiend: he was known to drink 20 or more cups a day.
Gautier's love affair with the drug was short-lived, and he quit "after trying it some ten times or so,... not that it hurt me physically, but because a real writer needs no other than his own natural dreams, and does not care to have his thought controlled by the influence of any agency whatever."
Amen to that!

..and yet, wouldn't I like to venture down to the local time-travel rental on a foggy evening, tear out of the 21st century lot, and make my way (my vehicle now transformed to a horse and carriage), down the avenue Quai d'Anjou to number 7, the Hotel de Lauzun, adjusting my fez as I wend up the staircase and take a corner chair in the dark? Sipping on strong coffee, of course...

* thanks to the ever-eloquent persephone2u for reacqainting me with Baudelaire and De Quincey.