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HOW TO GROW UP TO BE A DEBASER: An Intensely Personal Q&A w/ The Pixies’ Black Francis

May 22nd, 2017

pixies - 011 CROPPED


EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the complete and unabdridged version of my 7200 word Q&A with Black Francis of The Pixies’ for the cover of the March 2014 issue of MAGNET MAGAZINE. We’re reposting it now on the eve of the Pixies’ performance at the Electric Factory tomorrow night. Enjoy.

BYLINER mecroppedsharp_1BY JONATHAN VALANIA The year is 1988. I’m a college DJ stranded in the middle of Pennsyltucky. Entranced by the naked boob on the cover of Surfer Rosa, I slap it on the turntable and…they had me by the first 20 seconds of “Where Is My Mind?” They never really let go. Shortly thereafter I got a gig working for a Pennsyltucky daily. They asked me one day if I wanted to interview some guy named Black Francis from the Pixies. Would I? Man, this was a dream come true! I could finally learn the WTF of lyrics like, “He bought me a soda, he bought me a soda/ And he tried to molest me in the parking lot.”

When I got him on the phone, he was no doubt bone-tired from endless touring and weary of answering stupid fanboy questions. He insisted I call him Charles and pretty much refused to give me a straight answer to any question. “Who cares?” he’d say. “We just try to make cool rock music.” I remember thinking: what a dick.

It’s 1993. In the wake of a dispiriting trail of tears across North Ameria as U2’s opening act, and years of low-intensity inter-band strife, Black Francis breaks up The Pixies via fax,PIXIES MAGNET COVER rechristens himself Frank Black and proceeds to release a steady string of increasingly irrelevant solo albums. Kim Deal managed to land on her feet, but after a few seasons of success, the Breeders’ career collapses under the weight of the Deal sisters’ substance abuse and related baggage. Joe Santiago managed to eke out a living scoring films you never saw along with the occasional episode of Weeds and the second season of Judd Appatow’s Undeclared. And the drummer gave up music to become…wait for it…a magician.

In some ways — ways he is still not fully ready to cop to — Black Francis suffered the most. Breaking up the Pixies was Black Francis’ original sin. The world — at least the part of the world that had any bearing on the life of Charles Kittredge Thompson — loved the Pixies and decided that he would be punished for his sins with a long twilight bar band exile of dwindling record sales, half-full concert venues and diminished cultural relevance, despite making music that was, almost without exception, as good, if not better in it’s own way, than his Pixies work. “Everything I do as a solo artist will always be overshadowed by this other band called the Pixies,” he says in the documentary Loud Soft Loud. “It doesn’t matter what I do, it’s always going to end in tears.”

The cold hard fact is, people like bands, not songwriters. A band is a narrative – with archetypes, the cute one, the funny one, smart one, and so on — a songwriter, in the public’s imagination, is just some guy who bangs out jingles to make the mortgage every month. Barry Manilow is a songwriter, The Beatles are a narrative. People love good stories more than they love good songs. Frank Black didn’t have a good story.

It would take him a decade to figure that out.

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A GIANT STEPS ON: RIP Mickey Roker, Jazz Legend

May 22nd, 2017




The 20th century took another blow today with the passing of a Philly jazz giant, Mickey Roker. A master of the drums and a mentor to succeeding generations, Roker was a link to an age when people paid big bucks in Tokyo or Hamburg to see what any Philloid could still see for free. 

His death was reported today by Temple Univerity’s WRTI, which will be featuring his music all day; no cause of death has been announced so far. He was 84.

Roker was both a global ambassador and a local institution. Like countless others I first heard him holding down the groove in Ortlieb’s Jazz Haus, during the years when the traditional Philly jazz bar was already an endangered species, and Ortlieb’s was a lonely outpost in a gap-toothed neighborhood whose next boom was still decades away. As a player, he was the epitome of classy, tuneful swing, and as a Philadelphian, he was a standard-bearer for the open-hearted spirit that represents the best of our town; much of what I know of the highest purpose of music I learned watching him and his peers welcome my young friends to the bandstand to share and carry on the legacy of the music they loved.

“When he asked for me to be on the first gig I did with him I felt like my dreams had come true,” wrote local tenor player Victor North on hearing of Roker’s passing. “And then, that contagious, inclusive laugh of his. I miss him already.” North’s Facebook page is full of similar sentiments from other players, harbingers of the tide of testimonials yet to come: “A treasure.” “One of a kind.” “Amazing talent and yet so humble.”

Born in Florida in 1932, Roker landed in Philly at 10, part of the great migration of African Americans from the segregated South to the violent and heartless North. The city’s lively jazz scene “kept me out of prison,” Roker once said. “Philadelphia was so gang-infested at the time, and the drums kept me in the house practicing.”

Mentored by a jazz-loving uncle just four years his senior, learning at the feet of stalwarts like Philly Joe Jones and Jimmy Heath, his resume would eventually include a laundry list of the one-name greats: Dizzy, Sonny, Ella, Herbie, Milt, Wes. Self-taught, self-made, and blessed with an effortless swing that once inspired Gillespie to say: “Once he sets a groove, whatever it is, you can go to Paris and come back and it’s right there.”

And if his path found him backing everything from gutbucket blues to the highbrow interpretations of the Modern Jazz Quartet, one spirit animated it all: “If you can’t have any fun, man, I don’t want to be there.”

 That was always obvious at Ortlieb’s. Also obvious was the fact that like all great drummers, he didn’t just play the beat; he didn’t even just play the song. He could open up a song, and bring it, living and breathing, to anyone who was ready feel it; he had that generosity of spirit you find in people who know that while scenes come and go, the power of music is eternal, and universal.

As he put it after winning a 2008 award for mentorship from Intercultural Family Services:

“Lemme tell you, I feel like I died and went to heaven tonight … it’s a beautiful thing when you’re involved with children. I remember when I was a child, the first time I heard the drums, it frightened me! See, my people come from Nassau, and we lived in a project in Miami, Florida. And every New Years, when 12 o’clock come, the children who parade would come around, and they would have on these uniforms, and playing the drums, and when I was about four years old … scared me to death! All this calypso rhythm.

So the next year I was waiting for ‘em! …. And I followed them. I got up out of my bed and followed them … and the drums been a part of my life ever since.

And music – even before I had drums, we used to sit around the radio and sing. Sing with the songs, that’s how I learned songs. And it helped me later on, when I really got into playing the drums I knew all the songs! I tell all the drummers: learn melody. If you learn melody it’s so much easier for you to add rhythm. And everybody has a certain rhythm. It’s like the spices in your food – you can tell where you’re from by the rhythm you’ve got. You know? HA HA HA HA!”

RIP, Mickey.

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REAL ESTATE: Stained Glass

May 22nd, 2017

Real Estate have shared an immersive, first-of-its-kind new music video for “Stained Glass” – the second video to be released from their latest album In Mind, out now on Domino. Directed by Craig Allen, the interactive experience allows fans to color and share their own animated kaleidoscope-like video, creating something unique and experimental. Create your own here: 

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SPOLIER ALERT: Look Who’s In The Black Lodge

May 21st, 2017



David Lynch ratcheted up the mind-bending weirdness to 11 last night on the two-hour debut of the long-awaited third season of Twin Peaks: pie, logs, dwarves, dead blue prom queen wrapped in plastic, Dracula, bigfoot, UFOs, Trump and the Saudis in the Black Lodge doing God knows what with some kind of illuminated orb…OK, you caught me, haven’t watched it yet.

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REVIEW: WXPN’s 17th Annual NON-COMMvention

May 21st, 2017



On Wednesday of this past week, the all-encompassing humidity and ninety-degree-plus temperatures characteristic of Philadelphia summers interrupted an otherwise pleasant stretch of spring. People trudged through the city as if wading through bathwater; their jaws slack, tongues swollen, threatening to hang out of their mouths like dogs. Betraying conventional wisdom, Philadelphia looked into the sky, directly at the sun, asking WHY? Scientists might have an issue with this line of logic, but I think proponents of notions like synchronicity and collective unconscious like Carl Jung may have agreed that we can attribute the heat wave that hit the city on Wednesday and persisted through Friday to the high concentration of musical talent that came into Philadelphia for WXPN’s 17th annual NON-COMMvention, an industry event for non-commercial radio stations to get together to talk shop and check out a showcase of emerging talent and seasoned veterans kickstarting reunion tours. The NON-COMM attendees came in from all over the country, as did the artists who brought the fucking heat.

A couple months back, I saw the list of about thirty bands and artists who were set to play the showcase and tried to whittle it down to the three I was most into. It was rough. I think my first list was about twenty Gallo-8685deep. I like writing and everything, but reviewing twenty artists seemed like a bit much. This is a music review, not a Thomas Pynchon novel.  But it was hard to ignore bands like Baskery, three Swedish sisters whose act sounds like the Triplets of Bellville doing an impression of The Tallest Man On Earth. But like that D.H. Lawrence quip reminds us, “one must discriminate,” so I whittled as best as I could to the following: Ron Gallo [pictured, right], a Temple U. dropout who slips in Philly references like “The Kensington Strangler” over Jack White-esque screeching electric guitar; The Growlers, who sound like the Strokes went to California, dropped LSD in a Redwood forest, and reemerged with an album; and  Benjamin Booker, who makes frenetic, soulful rock music with New Orleans grit overtones.

I checked out the showcase on Wednesday night, even though none of the acts I’d settled on were playing. It’s not hard to find parking in West Philly, so I grabbed a spot within a five-minutes walk of World Cafe Live. A five-minute walk on Wednesday night, though, was more than enough to work up a soaking-through-the-shirt shvitz. For those of you not acquainted with colorful Yiddish phrases, shvitz means sweat. But this isn’t a language lesson.

Wednesday night I went in with an open mind, looking forward to hearing some music, but more just trying to get a feel for the event. Everyone had on a lanyard that displayed a conference pass with their name and their affiliation. There were four main camps: record-label reps from indie outlets like Saddle Creek, non-commercial radio employees, press, and XPN members. I’d put the median age somewhere around 50. When people bumped into one another, both parties apologized profusely, trying to claim the blame to assuage the possibility of the other’s guilt. The atmosphere reminded me of the co-op in southern Vermont where I used to shop — civility to the nth degree. Definitely not your average concert vibes. When the bands got on stage, though, the tone shifted as the scrutinizing gaze of the record-label and radio industry reps shifted to the artists. The stakes felt high, like the bands were auditioning for radio programmers. Oh right, that’s actually what was happening. Let me rephrase. The stakes were high, as bands sought to attract the attention of radio programmers in hopes of getting some airplay for their new albums. Again, not your average concert vibes.

So, I was wandering around World Cafe Live, alternating between the upstairs and downstairs stages, playing the license plate game with people’s passes, banking states like Washington, Texas, Minnesota, and New Jersey, and seeing what rooms my press pass could get me into, before I found myself wheedling through people packed like sardines in front of the stage upstairs in anticipation of this band called The Districts. I’m pretty confident that World Cafe Live had the AC going, but nothing will ramp up the heat in the room like densely packed bodies. Oh, the smells. I wish I could write a poem for you about the smells. But that’s for another time. I’d heard about this Pennsylvania band, The Districts, who are coming out with an album this summer called Popular Manipulations. I perused a few of their songs online, and they sounded like your run-of-the-mill folk music, lots of acoustic guitar and harmonica. Meh. But, fuck it, I thought, maybe I was missing something that they’d be able to fill me in on through their live show. I have no trouble admitting when I’m wrong, and expletive expletive expletive!, was I wrong about The Districts.

Like I was saying, I had been in La La Land, drifting through World Cafe Live, but The Districts brought me back to earth. The band showcased the rare ability to strike a balance between structure and chaos in rock music. Their sound was tight, but simultaneously sounded like it was exploding. Frontman Rob Grote delivered an unwavering intensity, putting his entire body into his performance with a desperation to express himself that lit a fire on stage. This fire was too hot for some, who trickled out of the venue during the set. But for every person who left, the fire drew another in, like a moth to a flame. The Districts’ performance was an eye-opening call to feel your feels and live your life; a rock band performance like I haven’t seen in awhile, which couldn’t have been further from the effete folk drivel I’d heard online. I left NON-COMM Wednesday night drenched in sweat, but I looked cool and dry compared to Rob Grote, who had to be wet-vac’d off the stage.

After another 95 degree day, and feeling drained from The District’s cathartic performance, I didn’t make it to NON-COMM on Thursday night, which meant that I missed Ron Gallo. After all that whittling, The Districts swooped in like a swarm of termites and fucked it all up. Such is life. What I’ll say about Ron Gallo though, is that If you like afros, the White Stripes, and/or electric guitar, you would be remiss to not check him out.

So Friday night, I went back to check out The Growlers [pictured, below] and Benjamin Booker. Did I mention it was fucking hot? So, I was baffled when The Growlers came on stage and everyone was wearing army canvas button-downs, and frontman Brooks Nielsen was wearing an overcoat. I knew the band was from SoCal, but damn, hot is hot, right? I dug the matching leopard-print collars. But, the outfits were mostly confusing. One of Growlers-8949the guitarists straight-up looked exactly like Ewan McGregor in Trainspotting. The bassist looked like a Swedish dude destined for Death Metal who’d been transplanted from Stockholm to Santa Cruz at a crucial moment that led him join a psychedelic surf-rock band. The best of all of it, though, was the guitarist who was standing directly in front of a fan, which blew through his hair throughout the entire set, making him look like he was acting for a glam-metal music video. It was hilarious, but I’m sure he felt like he’d won lottery getting to stand in front of the fan, while the rest of the band sweat bullets under the sweltering stage lights.

Musically, The Growlers’ sound is an extension of Nielsen’s hyper-intentionally modest dance moves. In a style that mirrored his moves, Nielsen’s vocals weaved intentionally through three-electric guitars, a back-bone bass, and a synth. I looked around around and saw just about everyone’s head was bobbing. Unlike The Districts, The Growlers didn’t drive anyone out of the venue with their rhythmically-driven psychedelic funk , but they also didn’t set the stage on fire. Instead, decked out in their coordinated army canvas tour outfits, Nielsen used his mic as a dance prop during instrumental breaks as he placed his other hand on his belly, searching for his internal rhythm to guide his subdued dance moves. Overall, I wasn’t blown away by The Growler’s music. It didn’t force me to feel, like my favorite music does, but it did act as a portal to another time and place. The Growler’s sound, combined with their odd, quasi-coordinated look transported me into a southern California beach-town drug scene like that of the world of Joaquin Phoenix’s character in Inherent Vice.

After the Growlers’ set, I stepped outside for some air. HA! Right, still ninety degrees. There was no escape. I gulped down some “fresh air” full of car fumes and headed back inside for Benjamin Booker. I looked up at the stage and was happy to notice two things. First, the lead guitarist looked like Seth Rogen with an afro, which was cool in its own right, but particularly great after missing out on Ron Gallo’s afro the night before. And second, Benjamin Booker performs with a standard arrangement rock band — a rare thing these days. And damn, they provide the perfect framework for Booker’s gravelly, soul-baring voice, scattered, smothered and covered in Louisiana hot sauce. Sonically connected to the likes of John Mayer and Tom Waits, Benjamin Booker delivers a grittier, bluesier version of Leon Bridges’ music. The intimacy of his raspy vocals draws you in like a friendly stranger putting you up for the night after a long day’s journey on your way to somewhere very far away. – DILLON ALEXANDER

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CINEMA: White Hawk Down

May 19th, 2017



THE WALL (2017, directed by Doug Liman, 81 minutes, U.S.)

Buskirk AvatarBY DAN BUSKIRK FILM CRITIC The battlefield on which the new thriller The Wall is set in is boringly familiar, a cliché even: the beige blankness of the desert, the armored U.S. soldiers, the bent and blasted rubble, and the forbidding drone-laden soundtrack with Arab voices chanting overtop. The history of Hollywood’s war films makes for a telling window into public attitudes about national conflicts about our endless wars in the Middle East (if you begin with the Afghanistan invasion of 2001), and the public’s unthinking acceptance of them, have led this century’s war movies to be numbingly immutable. Since at least 2005’s Jarhead, it seems as if war films are always willing to admit to the hypocrisies of our military policy but they are just as readily willing to shrug them off, as if they are as unchangeable as the sunrise. Unashamed patriotism flows, well, unashamedly, and the dutiful soldiers are just guiltless pawns in the game.

As a war film, The Wall pushes back again this formula a bit, giving the soldiers Arab nemesis plenty of time to ask some serious questions of U.S. military policy but it is still, by design, unable to bestow real humanity to the Arab people on the receiving end of our military might. Nevertheless, as a thriller it’s a certifiable humdinger, a gripping little chamber piece about a man trying to stay alive while a sniper picks away at his his cover, shooting it away brick-by-brick.

The set-up is so refreshingly simple it could easily have been whittled down further to a tight little hour-long TV episode. Two soldiers, the Biblically-named Issac and Matthew (played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson and John Cena respectively), are guarding a pipeline after the Iraq War’s announced end. Approaching a pipeline facility, the solders find all the oil workers have been shot dead and before they know it they’re under fire with Matthew quickly down and unresponsive. The rest of the film has Isaac pinned down behind a twenty foot remnant of a wall, with shots firing at his feet whenever he get a clever idea.

Bringing together Bourne Identity-director Doug Liman, a script by Dwain Worrell that was recently on Hollywood’s “Black List” of great unproduced screenplays and the thrilling camerawork by Roman Vasyanov (who did vivid work on the WW2 tank film Fury in 2014) and keeping it to a taut 81 minutes gives the film the smartly-efficient punch of an old 50s B-movie.

But what makes the film most interesting is something we never see. Inside Isaac’s helmet is a built-in headset radio system. The sniper has found its frequency and can communicate back-and forth with Isaac. The sniper’s name is Juba and he’s played by Laith Nakli, a British actor who has specialized in playing ominous men of Middle Eastern descent (he’s in the latest version of the TV series 24 playing, you guessed it, a terrorist). Juba wants to have a conversation with Isaac, who is resistant to letting Juba “get into his head.” But Juba has a lot to say, not all of it easily dismissed. For starters that wall where Isaac has taken cover was once the wall of a school, bombed by U.S. forces. Juba asks why Isaac has come so far to make war in his country. Isaac tunes out these questions and instead concentrates on coming up with a plan to escape this slowly tightening noose.
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REVIEW: HDLSS “False Flag”

May 19th, 2017



I was eighteen when I met Far and Wolfy, sitting at a dining room table, surrounded by sprawling potted plants, original paintings of clowns, and framed collages. With a voice somehow both barbed and soothing, Far charmed me with his thoughts on writing, while Wolfy slipped downstairs to the basement where the concrete walls were splattered with paint and poetry, and you couldn’t step a foot in any direction without being within an arm’s reach of an instrument.

The sounds of electric guitar grew in the basement as Wolfy worked the loop pedal, and upstairs, Far told me about how their project, Headless Horseman, was a vehicle for their attempt to cut off their heads and embrace the instinct of their will. Back in 2010, I was probably too green to really ‘get it,’ but I knew it sounded fucking cool. Far led me downstairs where Wolfy stopped the loop, and played me Headless Horseman’s track, “Wavlngth.” My immediate response was just, “woah.” Surf rock meets Animal Collective, I said. Wolfy scoffed, while Far sort of giggled, explaining that they’d gotten the Animal Collective comparisons a lot, much to Wolfy’s chagrin. Just like Animal Collective’s seminal record Feels, “Wavlngth” sounded like I thought my consciousness might, a breathing Jackson Pollock splattered with the binary blood of the internet, woven together by a guitar riff that could’ve been lifted from a Ventures track.

Headless Horseman released a handful of songs, which showcased a wide range of genres that expressed their experience as musicians acting as musical anthropologists, scouring the most desolate and esoteric corners of the internet, all while Far kept his fingers on the pulse of pop music like Lady Gaga and Katy Perry. Far’s love of pop music was a lot like his favorite snack from back then, sour peach gummies and Cherry Coke.

Now, Far and Wolfy have shed their Headless Horseman moniker in favor of the minimalist, vowel-less, HDLSS. This new name shifts focus away from the folklore association and toward their essential goal in making music, which is to make it a “headless” act of intuition rather than a heady calculation. Their single, “False Flag” presents their collage-reinterpretation sound, heard in their 2010 track “Wavlngth,” but substitutes surf rock for doo wop. The song is a call to stay in touch, or reconnect, with your own truth in a world in which a maelstrom of media attempts to shape the way you see yourself and the world around you. As only a philosopher-poet turned lyricist could, Far morph’s these cerebral sentiments into emotionally provocative lines like, “I’m half awake in my third eye/A grave mistake I normalize.” “False Flag” is a cohesive pop song that draws heavily from doo wop but includes a glitch-heavy bridge that forces the listener to confront the struggle to unify a personal point of view. This single’s been dropped in anticipation of the band’s forthcoming Selections from DUMB, which is scheduled to be released on July 14th via HDLSS Ltd. – DILLON ALEXANDER

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TONITE: Like A Bird On A Wire

May 18th, 2017



PREVIOUSLY: Everybody knows that 2016 was a cruel and unusual year. Intolerably cruel. Everybody knows that war is over and everybody knows the good guys lost. So I am only half-kidding when I ask: How can we possibly be expected to endure the abominable presidency of Donald Trump without David Bowie, Prince or Princess Leia? But I’m dead serious when I say we can’t do this without Leonard Cohen, who died at the ripe old age of 82 on the day before the election. As ever, his timing was impeccable. It goes without saying that he’d seen the future, baby, and it is spray-tanned murder. A few weeks prior to his Leonard_Cohen-2016-You_Want_It_Darker-e1483412666323departure, he’d released You Want It Darker, one part deathbed confessional, one part last will and testament, one part love letter to all he can’t leave behind.

This collection of prayers for the doomed is arguably the most perfect album-length statement in his sacred canon. Like all prime Cohen, it is marked by astonishing verbal acuity and a high-def philosophical clarity that coalesces into a kind of metaphysical calligraphy carved in stone by the Old Testament prophet gravitas of his voice, that patented sepulchral purr that has been getting liberal arts majors laid since at least 1967. He’s never sounded more certain or fearless, or closer to death, so near you can almost hear the Grim Reaper’s Vader-like breath on the back of his leathery neck as he croaks out lines like “I’m leaving the table, I’m out of the game,” “It’s au revoir,” and “I’m ready, Lord.”

Invariably spare and fleeting and surprisingly luminous, the music on You Want It Darker — a midnight jazz lowing in the moonlight, a monastic noir for the ears, and a quick stroll down Boogie Street for old time’s sake — is relentlessly faultless in arrangement, tonality and execution. The recording, overseen by his son Adam, ensures that everything is writ timeless and crystalline as befits the eternal verities he’s been tasked with preserving. History will rank the title track and “Treaty” next to “Bird On A Wire” and “Hallelujah,” a hundred floors above us in the Tower Of Song.

Because the thing about Leonard Cohen is that he was always right, always — even when he turned out to be wrong about, say, Rebecca DeMornay or trusting his manager with his money or his decade-long Zen hermitage atop Mt. Baldy. Because the incontrovertible koanic fact of the matter is that the way to always be right is always admit when you are wrong, acknowledge that was then but this is now. Or as he sings on “It Seemed The Better Way,” it “sounded like the truth, but it’s not the truth today.” Because today nothing is true, and when nothing is true everything is permitted. That is the crack in the center of everything, where the Putin gets in.

Look, nobody should be surprised that The Rapture came and only took Leonard Cohen but that doesn’t make it any less sad and lonesome. While I can’t blame an 82-year-old man with a splintering spine for getting on with the dirty business of dying, I can’t help but feel left behind on an abandoned ship in a darkening sea, still tending the flame of “a million candles burning for the help that never came.” In my prayers, I asked Leonard Cohen “How lonely does it get?” Leonard Cohen hasn’t answered me yet, but I can hear him coughing all night long, a million miles above us in The Great Beyond. – JONATHAN VALANIA

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THE LADY OF THE LOG: Q&A w/ Catherine Coulson

May 17th, 2017



EDITOR’S NOTE: This interview originally posted on September 28th, 2015. In advance of Sunday night’s long-anticipated reactivation of David Lynch’s Twin Peaks, we present this reprise edition.

EDITOR’S NOTE 4/25/16: Just found out the sad and shocking news that Katherine passed away today. In tribute, we present a reprise edition of this very in-depth interview we did with her last October in advance of her talk at the Pennsylvania Academy Of The Arts, which was part of PAFA’s David Lynch retrospective, The Unified Field. She was very generous with her time — this was probably the most in-depth interview she ever did — and flattered that we would devote so much time and space to the discussion of her life and career. As you might expect of the Log Lady, she went through the interview with a fine tooth comb checking facts and sent back two extensive lists of corrections. I know she was very pleased with how it turned out. The resulting interview is a wide-open window onto Katherine’s fascinating life and career. She will be missed. Good night, Miss Coulson, wherever you are.

BYLINER mecroppedsharp_1BY JONATHAN VALANIA Catherine Coulson, aka Twin Peaks‘ resident Log Lady, will be giving a sold-out talk at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts on Saturday about all things David Lynch, with whom she has collaborated creatively since production commenced on Eraserhead back in 1971. Like everyone else in the cast and crew, from star down to cameraman, she was paid $25 a week. When money ran low — as it often did over the course of the six years it took to complete the film — her weekly salary was halved to $12.50. But true to his word, Lynch cut everyone in on the proceeds when Eraserhead became a cult smash. “Eraserhead helped put my daughter through college,” Coulson told me a few weeks ago when we spoke on the phone. She still gets a check every year. Back in the lean years, Lynch and Coulson brainstormed a character called The Log Girl — kooky, clairvoyant, and always cradling heavy lumber. She would have to wait more than a decade  to bring the character to life as cast member of Twin Peaks. By then, The Log Girl had blossomed into The Log Lady — a role she will be reprising next year when the Twin Peaks franchise reactivates after going dark for 25 years, with Lynch and Mark Frost back at the helm. As you’ve no doubt heard by now, that gum we all like is finally back in style.

DISCUSSED: Doing experimental theater naked in Haight-Ashbury in the Summer Of Love; meeting David Lynch @ The American Film Institute; being assistant director of Eraserhead and earning $12.50 a week for six years; being married to Jack Nance, aka Henry from Eraserhead; doing Jack Nance’s Eraserhead hair style; The Unified Field; The Amputee; Bertolt Brecht; Hamburger Hamlet; Jean Genet; Anne Bancroft; Ellen Burstyn; Mel Brooks; The Elephant Man; Pennsylvania Academy of The Fine Arts; Jack Fisk; Sissy Spacek; why David Lynch always wore three ties while making Eraserhead; the Lady In The Radiator; Bob’s Big Boy; Agent Cooper; Major Briggs; the prevalence of Log Lady tattoos on the internet; Roseanne Barr; Russ Tamblyn; Richard Beymer; Piper Laurie; Mark Frost; Kyle MacLachlan; Fire Walk With Me; the return of Twin Peaks.

PHAWKER: Tell me about your life before David Lynch comes into the picture. Where are you from?EraserteamCROPPED

CATHERINE COULSON: Oh, gee. I don’t even remember life before meeting David. I was a young woman then. I met him at the American Film Institute in Beverly Hills, right after he moved there from Philadelphia. He was a student at the American Film Institute, and he heard about our theater company, which was in San Francisco, where I had been working. I was married to Jack Nance, who went on to play Pete Martell on Twin Peaks, and Henry in Eraserhead. David heard about the two of us in a workshop that we did at the American Film Institute teaching acting to director fellows. He asked Jack to come over and work a little bit on his script for Eraserhead. He cast Jack, and then he asked me if I would be a nurse in Eraserhead. He had a kind of outline. I had graduated from Scripps College in Claremont, California, and then moved to San Francisco for grad school. Met Jack Nance, got married. Came down to Beverly Hills on tour with our theater, and that’s when I met David. I really spent the next four or five years of my life working on Eraserhead, because Jack was playing Henry. I kept waiting to shoot my scene, but by the time we got to it, it seemed like overkill to do the scene where the nurse gives Henry and Mary the baby. I was helping to raise money for the film, by that time. David decided not to shoot it, which I’ll always regret, because it would’ve been fun to be in it. I am in an outtake — which unfortunately, I think is lost — where I’m strapped to a bed tied with battery cables. It’s in the room next door to Henry’s. During this time, working together on the film, we became very good friends and collaborators. I always felt like I was the handmaiden to genius. I did everything from styling Jack’s hair to making grilled sandwiches for the crew. We also made The Amputee, is that in the show, do you know? Have you seen it?

PHAWKER: No, do tell.

CATHERINE COULSON: Oh, OK. It’s an interesting piece,  When the AFI executives wanted to test two kinds of videotape ‘stock’ for use in the students’ projects they asked Fred Elmes to shoot something twice on the two different kinds of tape. (I think they were expecting a color chart or grey scale). David heard about it and he and Fred decided to shoot a scene which David wrote about a woman writing a letter. I played the woman — an amputee — and David played the doctor who tended to her bandaged stumps. We shot it twice on two video tape ‘stocks’ and used voice over only. The short was called The Amputee and when it was screened by the AFI executives for the two video tape companies, I remember one of them saying, “LYNCH. LYNCH HAD SOMETHING TO DO WITH THIS!”

David Lynch & Log LadyI guess they weren’t prepared for blood spurting out of an amputated limb.We just called it a simple little love story, Eraserhead. But it seemed really normal to us, at the time. When people would ask what Eraserhead was about, we would just say it’s a simple love story. So that’s pretty much my history. I was an actor, and I worked for David, and then I went on and worked in film as a result of working on Eraserhead. I did camera work, and then I went back to acting full-time, and that’s what I’m still doing. We’re going do Twin Peaks again, so I’m excited about that.
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TONITE: Epic Soundtracks

May 16th, 2017

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JAMIE DAVISBY JAMES M. DAVIS At the birth of the Internet, David Bowie famously remarked that soon music would be like “running water.” Everywhere, inescapable, available at the touch of a button. Any song from the entire history of recorded music, available at your fingertips, on your smartphone, anywhere you go. This is the world we live in now, and for me personally, it’s difficult to remember a time even when hearing a certain song meant having to go out and buy a CD. Farther back still is the time when hearing obscure music meant finding a dusty old record in a yard sale, or paying some incredible sum of money at an auction. But where PBS’s new documentary three-part series American Epics begins is before even then, when those dusty records were brand new. A time when, for vast parts of America, the only way to listen to music was to hear it performed live. Having musical talent made you an asset to your community. The first episode, which airs tonight at 9 pm, opens with the story of the Carter Family, detailing how Sara Carter could draw a crowd just by beginning to sing from her porch. It’s difficult to imagine a world where entertainment was hard to come by, and also to recognize this world as the beginning of our own.

American Epic tells the story of these people, American folk artists who worked so hard on their craft out in the middle of nowhere, only to be scooped up by the beginnings of the record industry. These people were given bus fare so that, for the first time in their lives, they could leave their towns and go to New York, to the 22nd floor of some skyscraper so that electrical engineers in lab coats could record their American-Epicmusic and sell thousands of copies of it. American Epic tries to live entirely in this single moment in history, when the phonograph was just becoming widely used. It’s the moment of discovery, after which what is discovered can never remain the same. Its Schrodinger’s cat writ large. The most heartbreaking example of this is in the final episode, detailing how the Hopi people began to promote their own sacred dances as entertainment for white people. How after hundreds of years of tradition, what had been a central part of the community became a curio, practically overnight.

For anyone interested in the history of American music, American Epic is essential viewing. It removes the sense of old-timey music being the realm of beard scratching intellectuals and reminds us that these people were real, and that at the time their music was marketed and promoted just like popular music today. The way we listen to music now is utterly different, we live in a world of technology and leisure. But we are fundamentally still the same combination of soul and body that we were a hundred years ago, and listening to music from that time, understanding stories from the past, can remind us of that fact.


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CRIME & PUNISHMENT: What’s Good 4 The Goose

May 16th, 2017



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FROM THE VAULT: After Dark, My Sweet

May 16th, 2017



EDITOR’S NOTE: In advance of The xx’s performance at the Skyline Stage of The Mann on Wednesday May 17th, we present the complete 2012 MAGNET cover story profile written by yours truly. Enjoy.

BY JONATHAN VALANIA It is the tail end of another hot, dog breath day afternoon in early August. Mercifully, we are on our way to some place that is, for one night anyway, cool: Staten Island. There are many locales that you might associate with the sound, the look and the vibe of The xx — London after dark, Tokyo circa Lost In Translation, Manhattan around midnight, capitals of cool each and every one of them — but Staten Island is most assuredly not one of them. There is nothing young or cool or stylish about Staten Island, which even residents refer to it as ‘the forgotten borough.’ And yet here we are, standing on the deck of the Staten Island ferry, motoring across the Hudson for a semi-exclusive audience with London’s black clad indie pop darlings who are playing a hastily announced concert on the island that is Staten. Behind us the Manhattan skyline recedes into the distance, off the starboard bow the sun dipping behind the Statue of Liberty like a solar eclipse, giving Lady Liberty a corona of brilliant white light that sets the twilight reeling.

In advance of the release of Coexist, The xx’s much-anticipated follow-up to 2009’s beloved debut, the band is capping a completely sold out pre-release promotional tour of select West and East coast dates in the U.S. with a performance at the little-known Snug Harbor Cultural Center, a sprawling complex of botanical gardens and majestic Greek revival buildings, situated on Staten Island’s north shore. Erected 1801 as a retirement facility for sailors, Snug Harbor has in more recent years been re-purposed to serve the arts. Tonight it will serve The xx and serve them well.

I am huddled on the deck amidst a de facto posse of employees from the Beggars Group, which, in addition to providing the care and feeding of legendary indie institutions like 4 AD, Matador, and Rough Trade, serves as the stateside outpost of The xx’s British home, XL Recordings. Everyone is, to put it charitably, over 30. Crouched nearby is a tender-aged, barely twenty something couple leaning against the wall and discussing, improbably enough, the exigencies of aging. “Life sucks more the older you get,” says the male to the female who nods knowingly. He looks left and right to make sure this conversation is going unnoticed before adding, “I won’t say it too loud because everyone here will just be like ‘shut up we know’.” We all hear it, but pretend we didn’t, feeling no particular need to provide confirmation. He’ll find out soon enough, the poor bastard. Just like we did. Just like everyone does sooner or later.

I bring this up because the distinguishing characteristic of The xx — beyond the tar black wardrobe and deep debt to the darkly emotive guitar bands from the 80s and the high-shine chart-topping 90s R&B that provided the background noise of their childhood — is how impossibly young they are: barely 20 years old when their hushed nocturnes of their self-titled debut won The Mercury Prize, the British music biz’s equivalent of the Oscar, and sold a whopping 1.5 million copies. It feels a little like we are all on our way to see our little brother’s (and sister’s) band, which, after patting them on the head somewhat condescendingly upon learning of their ambitions for world domination, has somehow grown up to do just that.
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WORTH REPEATING: White Riot In Levittown

May 15th, 2017



THE ATLANTIC: Levitt famously would not sell his houses to African Americans—not that such a policy was unusual at the time. Between 1946 and 1953, as New York University professor Tom Sugrue notes, 120,000 new homes were built in the Philly metro area. Only 347 were open to African Americans. In 1957 an African-American couple, William and Daisey Myers, bought a house as part of a plan to begin the integration of Levittown. Two thousand residents signed a petition denouncing the purchase: “[W]e feel that we are unprejudiced and undiscriminating in our wish to keep our community a closed community . . . [and] to protect our own.” Some went further. Mobs of people gathered, overwhelming local police, and smashing out the windows of the Myers’ ranch house. Protesters clashed with the cops and felled a few officers with rocks. White supporters of the couple were harassed as well, and crosses were burned on the lawns of at least two of their neighborhood allies. The riots against the Myers made headlines across the world. 20645951.47ddb56e.640Although another African-American family purchased a house shortly thereafter and was not met with a violent response, Levittown’s integration stopped cold. MORE

THE BALTIMORE SUN: Daisy Myers vividly remembers the rocks through the windows, the taunts and name-calling and cross-burnings and the day-and-night blaring of “Old Black Joe” that greeted her arrival as a member of the first African-American family in Levittown, Pa., 40 years ago. Memories of nights, more than a week of them, in which a mob that was estimated from 200 to 1,000 people gathered along Deepgreen Lane in the Dog Hollow section screaming racial epithets, throwing Molotov cocktails and yelling threats. But she quickly dismisses those memories. She says that she prefers to remember the positives that came out of those violent summer days in August 1957.

“I look back on it as not a bad time in my life. With all of my schooling [two master’s degrees], I would never have learned as much about human nature as I did then, and I wouldn’t have met such fine people like Martin Luther King, Pearl Buck and Jackie Robinson.” All of them, and many others, wrote to Myers and her husband, William E. Myers Jr., during their several-week ordeal in what had been an idyllic suburban, and white, community of 17,311 houses the largest planned community in the world. Today, it is still a mostly white town of about 60,000 residents.

“People brought us food very often. All kinds of fruit and food and flowers. One woman came from another section of Levittown one day and offered to clean up the house for me,” she said, in a telephone interview from York, Pa., where she works for the federal government. Myers also believes her family’s plight spawned a fair-housing law passed by the state about a year afterward. On Aug. 13, they moved in, and the mailman, assuming Daisy Myers was a maid, asked her if she knew the owners. She told him she owned the house.jet-2nd-family-levittown

“He back-tracked and told everybody that he had delivered mail to us and that we were there. That evening, people started gathering outside. They were banging the mail box, throwing rocks through the windows and lighted cigarettes against the house,” she said. […] A cross blazed in the blackness in the Wechsler’s yard. Another cross was burned outside a friendly Quaker’s home. More threats came over the Myerses’ telephone. His fire insurance was canceled. A druggist refused to deliver medicine because his driver was afraid. MORE

NEW YORK TIMES: Levittown had been Hillary country all the way — it gave Mrs. Clinton roughly three out of every four of its votes in the Pennsylvania primary in April. In doing so, it conformed, in some ways, to its history and stereotype. William Levitt built the vast postwar development in the shadow of a giant United States Steel plant, some 17,000 homes sprawling across three Pennsylvania townships and one borough. He would not sell to black families. According to the latest United States census, just 2 percent of Levittown’s current 54,000 residents are African-American; about an equal percent are Hispanic. The community is overwhelmingly Democratic, but filled with older whites who did not attend college — the so-called Reagan Democrats who in recent presidential elections have been the voters most likely to swing between parties. MORE

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