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 use 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 by life.
I said that this blog is a place to throw out issues great and small that I haven’t sorted out as an arts critic. So here’s another.
I notice that as I’ve gotten older I’m less drawn to performers who do not seem to have any clear path to growing up in their youthful work. I recently went back over some ’80s Memphis Garage Rockers anthologies and those seem delightful rampages — but frozen in time, which is fine. Into the ’90s releases I have more and more hunger for songwriters and players that are not stuck on a road to playing what they were at 18 when they’re 36, and that’s all they got.
I’m at the same time reacting heavily to the glorification of oldies (both as releases and performances). Is this merely giving in to the idea of pop music as a career process rather than a cosmic spasm of the soul? Is this because an increasing chunk of what I find contemporary sounds have no age references? Is this because anger and assimilation are no longer landmarks on a tidy age line?
I got a malware pitch this week that tried to ask me “If I had any advice to blog writers.”
Sorry, evil machine, no direct response to you. But not the worst question. Because a quite simple answer came to me, which was of course an intention of the twisted bot pitch.
For me, blogs are:
Basically, the oldest message I’ve sent out on the Interwebs — don’t write/post/whatever you would not say on the open street where anyone could hear you. But try to hold an active, varied, funny conversation that entertains and provokes ideas and new interests.
I can do quick, informal reviews of whatever I want here, old or new. And I’m very gratified that these are now considered real journalism of very informal sort. That’s fun, and the fun is what I want to preserve.
Two final birthday notes. Instead of assembling a knockout-album soundtrack, my birthday surprise this year was that I played a record for one of my favorite intriguing reasons: I could not remember a single thing about it (happens when you dig into the hard-to-reach back stacks of CDs). Turned out to be very intelligent and very entertaining:
The soundtrack for a documentary about Cuban National Art Schools (!!) that combines Cuban and classical avant-gardes from a fellow who does many TV soundtracks (??). Anyway, 20 quite short tracks that keep you swaying and bopping along the whole way. Check it. Sooner than I did.
Next, an afternoon drive in the cold sunshine where again and again I recalled that one of the last times my Mother spoke to me was on my birthday the year she passed away (about six months later). She was far from lucid then, but suddenly she came out with this:
“I remember the first time I saw you — when they placed you, wrapped up, on the counter next to me.” (This was the era of anesthesia childbirth.) She had never, ever, said this to me before.
I remember the plain little rooms of the pre-hospital “medical center” where I was born. And yes, at least a few times each year on this day, the two of us are back there.
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.)
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.