Stuff in the Air That Came Out of Speakers Today #68: Master Musicians of Jajouka

A latter-day release I did not have until recently: The Source (Le Son Du Marquis, “Recorded in 2010”). I pick up whatever I run across by this, uh, “outfit,” because, as much as any performers I know, their works all sound the same but the more you listen the more each has its own language. Obvious this was worked on and worked on, until leader Bachir Attar says, “Let’s go — this is a set.” (And who can resist titles like “Hadra of Sidi Amed Sheik (music for healing sick people on Friday at the tomb of the Saint)”?)

Nearly every time I listen to the Master Jajoukas, I think of the late pioneering music critic and musician Robert Palmer, because the one time I met him, he was sitting next to us at a Jajouka concert in Harvard’s Saunders Theater (incredible acoustics, what a treat). After the show, I introduced myself and tried to ask him about not just Jajouka but his recent Rock & Roll: An Unruly History and even Deep Blues, one of the most profound and enlightening books about the South and that more-defiant-than-sad music from there. He was pretty grunt-and-nod in a sadly too-short exchange, but I now understand he was quite ill by then (did not last all that long after) and wanted to get backstage to talk to the musicians. Sorry, Bob Palmer, that I did not get to tell you how much Insect Trust and Hoboken Saturday Night changed my life.

Madfunk Art After Xmas: The Hairy Who

Screamin Jay.jpg

I admit, there’s a couple Roy Lichtenstein works I like a great deal. They’re sculptures. I always disliked his comic-book art from the first time I saw it because, undeniably, it argued that his source material was commercial junk and that his treatments transformed trash into Fine Art. Flooosh. All the vitality and wit in the works sprung from the originals, not Lichtenstein’s re-dos. And it constituted a narrow, square view of what comics could do. No weirdos. No underground.

The first time I encountered work by a Hairy Who artist was when I picked up a Screamin’ Jay Hawkins LP late in my Missoula era that featured the above as a cover illustration. In the language of the day, I thought it was way outta sight. But I believed it was just ace art done by the record company. Hah. (By Karl Wirsum, as it turns out.)

So we’ll skip a couple-three hairy Hairy Who encounters over the years and get to my Art Book present to myself this holiday: The catalog of this exhibit I would love to see in Chicago.

Now, these days Art Books have a real problem. Too small and too-cheap reproductions are the norm. This book is an exception. While I would like it to be inches bigger on all sides, the reproductions are beautifully precise and color-lively and include media like ceramic dolls and photos of the artists at those dazzled-’60s art shows that I had no idea about.

This gets down to it: the raging passions of comics and design and funk and rock&roll had a deranging delight that could be represented in the gallery. Sometimes with downright ominous tones.

If you like what you see, like they say: go, go, gogo.

There Goes Simon’s Rhymin’

We voted this morning (Yes, Yes, Yes and Mr. Baker is toast and even better there was no doughnut table to guilt-trip you about not donating something to the polling-place school).

Then I did my initial listen to what, for now anyway, is Paul Simon’s final album, In the Blue Light. And it felt like closing a circle.

Back in Park Senior High, the simpering set adored Simon & Garfunkel, but I thought “Parsley” puke and even “Sounds of Silence” too quivering-nerve. “Bridge Over” was impossible to scoff away, however, and did provide my first revelation: the simp set was in love with Artie and Paul was ready to divorce all of them.

I think the Dean has had a damn-near-perfect ear for Simon through the decades and we responded to identical same tracks. Except that I always adored “One Man’s Ceiling Is Another Man’s Floor,” which came out the year I became an official adult and started living in my own apartment. Yeah, here’s somebody mirroring my mind. But I did have trouble with “Rene and Georgette Magritte With Their Dog After the War” — thought it was abstruse. I have not checked to see how much lyrics were modified, but sure enough, this is now a masterful metaphysician operation.

Biggest stinko of the whole set (I’ve listened to it twice and realized I did not even grok this cut the first time through) is that “Love” is track #2. It’s a plain regression to S&G manners and mores and even language. Worst of all, it confirms that part of Simon still respects simp swill. And if “The Teacher” is clearer than it used to be, I still can’t bother to pierce its opaque. It is abstruse.

“Darling Lorraine” is a casually complex example of the Simon the old pimple farms would never grasp — he became an adult, even a weathered adult, not just a pop star with years heaped on him. “How the Heart Approaches What It Yearns” pulls back every lonely era of my life and best of all “Can’t Run But” delights me anew as a twittering and trumpeting machine that radiates the sensibility of the saints.

Thanks for the trip.

The Cosby Immolation, Pt. Two

This is what I wrote almost four years ago. I would make one major change. I suggested that if Cosby had muffled his arrogant criticism of younger black culture, the story of his serial molestations might have stayed dead. That is absolutely not true. He could have used everything he had to keep the accusations old news, but social and cultural change would have kept them burning-hot items. It’s one of the saddest, most abject collapses of my life.

Michael Jackson: On the Cross or Off the Hook?

In the process of retiring summer wear, now-skinnier me was able to wear the T-shirt I picked up when I covered the first performance of Michael Jackson and the Jacksons’s Victory Tour. Like so much associated with these performers, the shirt itself was a contradiction: beautifully designed and printed, but made of oddly thin, fragile fabric.

MJ

(Mine has red sleeves.)

MJ really was the king of pop then. Ten times more alive than even excellent performers on stage, he turned into an enigma the second he walked off. Now I thought how far he had rumbled down and never quite climbed out of the rubble. How it was impossible to have settled feelings about him.

This is a good examination of the whole story, which, to coin a cliche, should be in the dictionary next to “sordid.”

What saddened me most this time, however, is that Michael Jackson has become a King Donald-type symbol.

OF COURSE he was a wicked, guilty monster who bribed his way out of it.

OF COURSE he was an emotionally stunted superstar who showed disgraceful bad judgement and was attacked by evil extortionists because of it.

But either way, on the cross or off the hook, he ain’t gonna be resurrected into the Victory-era life he knew anytime soon.

R.I.P.: Dick Gregory

I’ll be honest — comedians, even social-activist ones, are off my screen. The only funny-stuff albums I own are by Jonathan Winters, the Firesign Theater and Richard Pryor. And I almost never play them. So I know way more about Dick Gregory after reading his obits. Confirms my long-held belief that it’s possible to be an admirable figure and a crank at the same time.