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THOSE WERE THE DAYS OF WINE AND ROSES: Q&A With The Dream Syndicate’s Steve Wynn

July 26th, 2017

 

EDITOR’S NOTE: This Q&A with Steve Wynn originally published back in the summer of 2013. In advanced of the re-activated Dream Syndicate’s performance at XPoNential Fest on Sunday, we present the encore edition.

ALL MUSIC GUIDE: Dream Syndicate are at the foundation (alongside the Velvet Underground, the Stooges, and R.E.M.) of contemporary alternative music simply because at the time when most bands were experimenting with new technology, the Syndicate deigned to bring back the guitar. Fronted by Steve Wynn (b. Feb. 21, 1960) and including Karl Precoda (guitar), Dennis Duck (drums), and Kendra Smith (bass), the band formed in Los Angeles after Smith and Wynn had relocated there from Davis, CA. They debuted with a self-titled, unbelievably Velvet Underground-like EP on Wynn‘s own Down There label. It was shortly off to Ruby/Slash for Days of Wine and Roses, the most lauded record on the college charts that year. The record has been cited as influential from artists as diverse as Kurt Cobain to the Black Crowes’ Chris Robinson. Live, they had developed into an assaultive guitar band prone to jamming, which helped earn them the tag as leaders of L.A.’s paisley underground movement. MORE

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PHAWKER: So, a couple of things I need to tell you before I get started. One is, I’m dating myself here, I actually saw The Dream Syndicate open for R.E.M. at the Beacon Theater, 1984, in New York City.

STEVE WYNN: Wow, yeah I remember that.

PHAWKER: I guess they were touring on Reckoning and you guys were touring on, what, Medicine Show?

STEVE WYNN: Yep, each of our second records.

PHAWKER: Yeah. And also, I used to play in a band called the Psyclone Rangers, and we used to cover “Halloween,” so the torch was carried for you guys on the East Coast in the early ‘90’s. We were keepin’ the dream of the ’80s alive.

STEVE WYNN: You still playing?

PHAWKER: No, I’m retired now, Steve. Retired rock star.

STEVE WYNN: You never know — every band’s reuniting right now.

PHAWKER: That is true! Well, I’m waiting for the call from Jeff Tweedy myself. But anyways, let’s start at the beginning. University of California at Davis, your schoolmates include Kendra Smith and Russ Tolman? And then Russ started up True West and Kendra played bass in the first version of The Dream Syndicate and then would go on to do stuff with Dave Roback from The Rain Parade and Mazzy Star. Thin White Rope, I think, was from up there too, was that right?

STEVE WYNN: Yeah. It would seem like it was a pretty active scene, although it was just like 50 people who had cool record collections at the time.

PHAWKER: So you guys eventually moved back to Los Angeles, you adopt the name Dream Syndicate, borrowed from the title of Tony Conrad (backed by Faust)’s experimental minimalist ‘60s classic, Outside The Dream Syndicate. Was there ever any blowback on that, on using the name, or…?

STEVE WYNN: Well, we didn’t know. Let me rephrase that. It’s not that we didn’t know about the Tony Conrad connection. When Kendra and I came to L.A., we were joined by Karl Precoda and next thing you know, we were joined by Dennis Duck who was actually, to us, he was a rock star. He was in the band called Human Hands where very popular. And so, when he joined the band, we were fishing around for a name, and he came up with The Dream Syndicate, and we had a name. I said, “Where’d you get that from?” and he had pulled out a record called Outside The Dream Syndicate by Tony Conrad. And, you know, starting a band, first of all, it’s hard to agree with a name. Second of all, you think it’s not going to matter anyway because you’re probably going to play a couple of shows and break up or whatever. And here we are 30 years later, we’re still talking about it. What we didn’t know that the Dream Syndicate was the name of the band that John Cale had before the Velvet Underground. On our first tour we played Buffalo and it turns out that Tony Conrad lived there. We heard he was coming and we were kind of nervous that he would show up with a lawyer saying, “You can’t use the name anymore.” Which had happened to our friends in Red Cross and the Salvation Army. But instead he came to the show, he came backstage, and said, “You guys were great. You are the perfect band to carry our name forward.”

PHAWKER: I wanted to ask you about The Velvets comparisons, which you guys got a lot of. Did you find that to be annoying or belittling or did you guys like the comparison?

STEVE WYNN: We were maybe a little oversensitive to it. Because, let’s face it there aren’t that many great bands in the industry of rock. You know, to be compared to The Velvets, especially in a time when to say that kind of thing was actually flattering, now that I look back it’s one of the reasons that so many people liked us, and so many cool people liked us because we reminded them of their favorite band. That’s great. But we kind of bristled at that. We sort of were defensive with that because we thought that we were much more than just a one-trick pony. We thought that we were more than just a band that was existing to remind you of the Velvets and it’s true. I thought that then and I think it now. When I listen to The Days Of Wine And Roses or old shows of ours. Sure I hear, you know, I hear “Heroin” and “Sister Ray” but I also hear The Fall, who I was maybe more obsessed with at the time. I hear Black Flag in Karl [Precoda’s] playing and I hear Creedence and I hear so many things. We were all music fanatics and we would liberally steal from everything around us, not just one band.

PHAWKER: You guys were lumped in with the so-called “Paisley Underground” scene. Were you down with that or did you find that name to be cloying or precious…?

STEVE WYNN: I never minded. The great thing is the scene was a really great scene for the one year that it truly was a scene. Like, the one year where we were playing together and hanging out together and influencing each other. It was great. I mean, I loved all the bands. So it was exciting, it was our little scene against the world. I didn’t think we were all the same-sounding, but I think we all had a similar attitude that was kind of unique at the time.

PHAWKER: The embrace of ‘60s music really flew in the face of punk orthodoxy at the time.

STEVE WYNN: We would love flying in the face of anything that we could possibly fly in the face of at the time. If the ‘60’s scenesters embraced us, we tried to sound more ‘70s. If punk rockers liked us, we’d play a 15-minute song. If people like The Days Of Wine And Roses we turned the songs inside out and changed the tempo and the arrangement. If we played a show the way we had written and recorded a song, we’d feel like we had copped out. And maybe looking back, we might have tried a little too hard to kind of pound and confront people.

PHAWKER: The Days Of Wine And Roses, now widely acknowledged as a modern classic, turns 30 this year. What do you remember about making that record, and why do you think that clicked the way it did?

STEVE WYNN: It was pretty crazy. For a recording session that led to me being able to make music for the next 30 years, and hopefully beyond, it was a pretty inauspicious situation. It was done in three midnight to eight sessions for three consecutive days and we all had day jobs at the time, too. We were beyond excited that we were going to make a real record, so we went along with it, filled adrenaline from the situation, and eating junk food and sipping on vodka at four in the morning to kind of keep the adrenaline going or whatever else it took. We managed to kind of catch the moment and represent all the things we were doing on stage at the time. So, it worked out great. It couldn’t have gone better. I look back at that record, and I love everything about it. I think the limitations we had, the fact that we didn’t have much time and much money, helped as well because it just made us do what we were all about. And we had no fear.
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ALBUM REVIEW: Offa Rex Queen Of Hearts

July 25th, 2017

Offa Rex

 

Before I start, I should probably confess that I’ve always loved folk music. Growing up with one foot in America and one foot in Ireland, folk music helped me connect with what I felt were my roots. My culture. My people. The songs and artists I grew up with spoke to an older time, when lessons were passed down orally, when work was done by hand, and songs were sung to make it go a little faster. As I grew up, I found artists who mixed those old ballads and stories with a more mainstream, rock’n’roll sort of sound. It makes sense, then, that in Offa Rex’s Queen of Hearts — the latest project from Olivia Chaney and the Decemberists — I would find something enchantingly familiar.

This is a proper folk album, with covers from start to finish, so it’s true to say that Queen of Hearts spans the gamut of English folk music. There are Child ballads and coal miner’s songs here, laments for lost loves and for lost innocence. The overriding theme, though, as with so many traditional songs, is the transience of life. From the opening harpsichord drone of the title track, there is a mournful, almost oppressed feeling in these songs. Death comes swift to the blackleg miner, and later an unknown narrator longs to lie down in the old churchyard. Though the mood is broken by the occasional reel, the levity feels incongruous with the main themes, like a carnival intersecting a funeral.

Combining the old songs with modern styles has long been the fashion for folk musicians. Some have found more success than others, but Offa Rex mostly manage to pull it off. The electric guitar and the rhythm section remind me of Fairport Convention’s innovations, and the harpsichord — never too far from use — sounds like something the Bothy Band made good use of. The album’s real glue, however, is in Chaney’s haunting, mournful vocals, which bring new life to these old songs. Meloy’s more nasally voice is used sparingly but powerfully, a compromise between those who like and dislike that aspect of the Decemberists.

There is a risk though, when recording folk standards in the modern age. Not only can it invite negative comparisons with versions folk-purists consider definitive, but it seems to require some justification. We must ask, when a hundred different versions are available online, why we need to hear a new take. Do we care if the king hangs Willy O’Winsbury or lets him live? How applicable are the problems of the old world? Perhaps with music, culture and accepted norms changing so rapidly, there is no need for these old songs. But without a reminder of the past, the present would seem wholly immutable. Maybe by seeing how far we’ve come — musically, culturally, and technologically — we can kindle hope that the seemingly-intractable problems of our age can be dealt with somehow.

This isn’t exactly an album to bring out at parties, but that doesn’t mean it’s bad. It’s gloomy and soulful, but also beautiful. Those who are familiar with these old standards will find interesting, beautiful versions of songs like old friends. Those who are unfamiliar with these tracks will have the joy both of hearing these songs for the first time, and of researching the older version to compare with the new. On a slow and rainy Sunday, the old world will seem to live again in the music that has been passed down to us. – CHRISTOPHER MALENEY

OFFA REX WILL PERFORM @ XPONENTIAL MUSIC FESTIVAL ON FRIDAY JULY 28TH

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PLUTOCRACY NOW: Karma Police, Arrest This Man

July 25th, 2017

Mcconnell

 

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BEING THERE: Thurston Moore @UndergroundArts

July 23rd, 2017

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Photo by SYDNEY SCHAEFER
“Blues is a feeling,” Mississippi Fred McDowell used to muse. Indisputable truth from a blues master (1906-1972). But can Rock n Roll be deemed a Consciousness, as Thurston Moore posits with the title of his latest solo album? Lawdy, yes. Moore’s roiling yet contemplative recent record, released in late April, helps make the case: 5 extended dual guitar song-jams over its 40 minutes, oft-enough reaching “real O-mind” rock-out exhilaration as well as strum-&-blossom thoughtful reflection. The alb’s not a meta-rock document but, especially for those who Believe, it’s some hugely welcome Rock My Religion-ism spirit-uplift from the singer-guitarist, someone so familiar to many from his central role in the iconic Sonic Youth for 3 decades. (And believe this: no matter how boho or avant-garde any of his many pursuits ever seem – free jazz-y experimentation, teaching poetry at the Naropa Institute – guy’s fundamental stance has always been that of an inspiring rock obsessive.)

Onstage Saturday night at Underground Arts, the tall, Connecticut-raised Moore (who turns 59 on Tuesday) flexed the concept/ appellation even further when introducing his rather phenomenal trans-Atlantic quartet (together since 2014, over two albums now): “This band is Rock n Roll Consciousness. I’m Thurston. That’s James [Sedwards, a dazzling London guitarist who, even though playing a Fender Jazzmaster like Moore, coaxed forth a whole ‘nother suite of sounds]; and Deb [Googe, vet bassist of many fine endeavors, most famously in Irish “shoegaze” legends My Bloody Valentine]; and Steve [Shelley, the steady, Michigan-born drummer who also played with Moore in Sonic Youth from 1985 until the group’s indefinite hiatus began in 2011].”

The band was halfway thru a shimmering, unhurried nine-song set, playing all the new record plus its bonus track “Cease Fire” as the opener. Highlights along the way included the now London-based Moore’s ghostly rumination on his old New York City haunts, in the new “Smoke of Dreams” – and, of course, riveting psychedeli-jangle cyber-rock guitar interplay, with all the headstock-knocking arpeggiated trimmings, between Thurston and Sedwards, a talent who leads his own prog-math band Nøught back in England. (It was fascinating to see/ hear Moore paired off in a band setting with a guitar foil so distinct from Sonic’s Lee Ranaldo.)  They encored with a trippy dip into “Ono Soul,” Moore’s homage to pioneering “queen of noise” Yoko, off his solo debut Psychic Hearts (1995).

Moore paused mid-set to give respect to the local openers – long a practice of him and SY, being such sincere boosters of countless underground rock (and beyond) artists through the 80s, ‘90s and into the new millennium – and made another monicker quip: “I’d like to thank Writhing Squares for having the best band name of the year …” And the WS were worthy, having delivered some exceptional stripped-down Hawkwind-cum-Krautrock space skronk. The busy Philly duo of Rickenbacker-bass-wielding (and, indeed, consciously Chris Squire-evoking) Dan Provenzano (ex-Purling Hiss and Spacin’, now backing Rosali in The Middlemen) and saxist-flautist Kevin Nickles (of Ecstatic Vision and ongoing Phila. neo-No Wave-ish sensations Taiwan Housing Project, whom Moore also praised) play Kung Fu Necktie on Thursday with Omaha’s David Nance Band and Hothead.  

Moore then returned to the music, setting up “Cusp,” another stormy if poetically positive song from R.nR. C., that rode on a tight, tough, nearly martial rhythm-section rumble made by trapsman Shelley and locked-in bassist Googe. “This song was co-written with Radieux Radio [a London transgender poet/ activist who contributed other lyrics to both the band’s new and previous albums]. It’s about sharing with you the energy of going into this honorable resistance against those who seek to divide with paranoia and fear – because it’s not gonna happen.” Turns out, Mississippi Fred McDowell also used to say “I Do Not Play No Rock ‘n’ Roll” – the title of his late-career, first electric guitar album (1969) – but he loved the adoring ‘60s rock kids, with their awareness of both him and other, different artists, ideas, etc. Those youth were onto something: a rock & roll(-based) way to be, w a certain wide-open, creative, all-encompassing consciousness .– David R. Stampone

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CINEMA: Lost In Space

July 23rd, 2017

valerian_and_the_city_of_a_thousand_planets_xlg

VALERIAN (Directed by Luc Besson, 137 min., USA, 2017)

CHRIS MALENEYBY CHRISTOPHER MALENEY Going into Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, I really hoped it was going to be excellent. Though I have never read Valérian et Laureline, the French graphic novel that provides the material for the film, I was impressed by director Luc Besson’s credits (Leon: The Professional, The 5th Element, Taken, Lucy, etc.). I love science fiction movies and detective movies, so the trailers seemed to promise a film that very rarely gets made. I mean, space police, alien worlds, political intrigue, what’s not to love? The opening sequence, soundtracked by Bowie’s “Space Oddity,” even got my hopes up, but the moment I saw pale, pasty, college-freshman-looking Major Valerian and heard him speak, I knew I was not going to be satisfied. No Rick Deckard, this one. Not even Neo, though he delivers his lines with marginally more spunk than Keanu Reeves would on ketamine. Oh well. I leaned back in my chair and hugged the popcorn bowl tighter. I was going to need it.

I don’t want to seem unduly rough, because so much of this could have been a really great movie, so I’m going to start first with what I liked. This is a visually incredible film, with beautiful renderings of alien worlds and species. If you can just sit back and let the colors and images wash over you, you’ll have a good time. There are extra-dimensional cities, a space-station to rival Mass Effect’s Citadel, a planet inside a spaceship, and much more. The colors are warm, bright, and welcoming. Some of the performances from minor characters are memorable, like Rihanna’s appearance as shape-changing erotic dancer Bubble, or Alain Chabat as Bob the Pirate. The trouble is, Valerian has to rely on its minor characters in sequences tangential to the main plot, because the acting and writing are otherwise pretty lame.

Where can I even begin on this? The flirting, unprofessional relationship between the two leads is cliched, and too awkward to seem entirely genuine. And how did two seeming-teenagers get to be officers in the federal police force? They certainly don’t seem mature and hardened enough to be running top-secret operations. They make jokes at moments that belie the seriousness of their situations, something that works in comics, but is harder to pull off in movies. Valerian and Laureline have a few defining traits, most of them annoying, but overall seem to change values as the plot dictates. They’re about one step up from Grecian masks.

More’s the pity, too, because if you break down Valerian, you’ll find the bones of a great movie. As an analogue to our own time, Valerian tells us that colonized peoples deserve to be allowed to determine their own futures, and not be subject to the whims of imperialists. Valerian tells us that marginalized, transient people deserve identities, jobs, and a chance of happiness. There is an undercurrent of whitewashing and white-man’s-burden (700 years in the future, and all the military leaders are still white? Really?), but I believe this movie has a good heart. It wants us to be better than we are, as I wanted it to be better than it was. Oh well. Time to read the graphic novel.

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FROM THE VAULT: Summer Bear

July 21st, 2017

 

EDITOR’S NOTE: This story originally posted on Sept. 5th 2012

BY JONATHAN VALANIA It is another blazingly hot and hip mid-summer day in Brooklyn. Boomboxes, guinea tees, gold chains, water ice, open fire hydrants. It’s kind of like Do The Right Thing without the race riot. The girls walk by in their summer clothes. The boys walk by in their skinny jeans. The subway is redolent of stale urine and diesel. It’s high noon and the sun is punishing and relentless. There are many things in abundance in Brooklyn — coffee shops, craft beers, beards — but shade isn’t one of them.

Ordinarily, I would not venture outside the igloo on a day like this, but today is special. The Bear has awoken from it’s three year hibernation, grabbed the horn of plenty and started making beautiful music again. I always say there are only two things that get me out of bed:

1. A teenage riot. (Obligatory Sonic Youth reference. Look it up, son.)

2. A new Grizzly Bear album. (Actually, I never say that, but it just seems like the kind of thing that should go here.)

Said new album is called Shield, a fact Grizzly Bear kept a secret and teased well into late summer. That’s the kind of thing you do in the Internet era — tease basic facts about your release. Basic facts that would have been given away for free in the pre-Internet era will now cost you. Ironically, music is free (if you know where to look) but knowledge (which is not to be confused with information, a much baser coin) you will have to pay for with the most precious commodity in the Internet Age: your attention. And so the fan is strung along for weeks with cryptic hints on Brooklyn Vegan and Stereogum about the when and what and why of once quotidian details like cover art and album title and release date. And, hey kids, be the first on your block to Tweet/Facebook/Reddit to the world and be king of the goddamn Internet for all of 10 seconds! Whoopeee!

Determined not to have the new album leak in advance of the release date the way Veckatimest did, the band’s handlers have taken to sending out watermarked streams of the new album to journalists with a fake band name (The Toddies), fake album title (False Salmon) and, just to make matters even more confusing for the likes of me, fake song titles like “Mango Lassi” and “Toad To Nowhere.” What japes!

Upon accepting the Grizzly Bear cover story mission — which was relayed to me via mail drop on a cassette tape that played once and then self-destructed Mission Impossible-style, totally fucking up my tape deck — I followed my marching orders: Go to Brooklyn, don’t call us, we’ll call you. When the call came through the instructions were as follows: go to the underground parking deck at 110 Livingston Street and stand next to the pillar by space # 57 and a chain-smoking man in a rain coat who looks like Hal Holbrooke will tell you what to do. Turns out the first chain smoking guy in a rain coat to approach me was not an agent of Grizzly Bear, but just the sort of garden variety sick fuck  perv often found lurking in the shadows of these underground parking garages, which explains why he wanted me to get into the back of a nearby Chevy Impala and give him a Cleveland Steamer. Which I did, because I’m a nice guy. Plus he reminded me of my grandfather.

OK, none of that actually happened, except for the part about the Cleveland Steamer and him reminding me of my grandfather. Even that’s not true. It was a Rusty Trombone. OK, okay. I will make a deal with you, dear reader, from here on will stop making up fantastical semi-obscene plot twists and tell you the unadorned boring-as-shit truth if you promise to stop being so fucking gullible. Deal? OK, good. Now where was I? Ah yes, Grizzly Bear. The call came in from their handlers saying I should meet the band in 10 minutes at Calexico — the restaurant, not the band, which, by the way, has paid me good money to tell you it has been voted best Mexican restaurant in New York by Zagat’s readers. MORE

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From the new Grizzly Bear album, Painted Ruins, due out August 17th on RCA.

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BEING THERE: Kendrick Lamar @WellsFargoCtr

July 20th, 2017

Kendrick Lamar @ Wells Fargo

Photo by LIAM MCKENNA [ENLARGE]

Oh Kendrick Lamar! I often remind myself how grateful I am for his existence and his talent. In the 20-something years that I have been listening to Hip-Hop, no other artist has been able to embody so much of my black experience in America. He is political, hood, eloquent, exceptionally creative and may very well be a genius.  So, I was beyond ecstatic to see Kung Fu Kenny live in person last night at the Wells Fargo Center for the Philadelphia leg of the DAMN Tour. Aside from that one meet and greet that radio station Power 99 hosted at Ubiq, the last time I saw Lamar in real life was back in 2012 when he performed Section 80 at a free concert at Penn’s Landing.

The night kicked off with opener D.R.A.M. and his obnoxiously catchy hit “Broccoli.” By the time Travis Scott took to the stage, or should I say took to the enormous flying phoenix above the stage, the crowd was live as fuck. When he performed “Antidote”, pretty much the only song I knew, Scott’s high energy dancing made me almost sure that he would fall off of the bird. Much to my, and everyone else’s delight, it didn’t take long for the Wells Fargo stage crew to dismantle the fowl and set up shop for K. Dot.

Before the man of the hour rose from the depths of the stage, the story of Kung Fu Kenny played out on the big screen. The video showed Kendrick practicing his martial arts, the footage was reminiscent of old school karate moves. The lights when dim and Lamar appeared from behind a plume of smoke wearing an unflattering yellow tracksuit that reminded me of Beatrix Kiddo. Throughout the night, Lamar totally played up the Kung Fu Kenny schtick. During the Rick James-sampled beat switch up of “DNA,” the first song he performed, Lamar was accompanied by what most would be considered to be a ninja who was fully equipped with a sword. For a while the ninja danced/shadowboxed around Lamar until they faced each other and began to battle – Lamar’s weapon of choice being his bars.
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NPR 4 THE DEAF: We Hear It Even When U Can’t

July 20th, 2017

Billy Bragg Skiffle

 

FRESH AIR: It’s hard to believe, but before the 1950s, guitars were rarely heard in British music. Billy Bragg says the first guitars to hit the British pop scene came as a part of skiffle, a musical movement inspired by African-American roots musicians.Bragg, who’s written a book on skiffle called Roots, Radicals And Rockers, describes the genre as “a bunch of British school boys in the mid-’50s playing Lead Belly’s repertoire… on acoustic guitars.” One of the most pivotal performances was Lonnie Donegan’s 1954 cover of Lead Belly’s “Rock Island Line,” which Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin later described as a song that changed his life. But Bragg notes that the entire genre was transformative in that it opened the door for The Beatles, Van Morrison and other Brit rock bands that followed. MORE

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DATELINE WOODY CREEK: Home On The Strange

July 19th, 2017

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First a note of justification. I’m about to say a few words about Hunter S. Thompson, the writer, in what is ostensibly a column about music because: a) HST was rock ‘n’ roll incarnate; we’re talking balls the size of cantaloupes. b) Despite the pharmacopia of substances controlled and otherwise he ritually pickled his gray matter in, he was in possession of one of the sharpest minds of the 20th century, possibly even up until he personally disconnected it with a gun to his head. c) I just happen to be hiking in the Rockies.

Which is why I’m writing this from a patio table at the Woody Creek Tavern. Located a stone’s throw from HST’s Owl Farm, this was Thompson’s semiprivate watering hole, and I’m knocking back a few too many Flying Dogs, a tangy local microbrew with quite literally eye-popping label art by HST illustrator Ralph Steadman. As the sun drops behind the purple mountains, Christmas tree lights twinkle into incandescence on the umbrellas overhead and a folksinger warbles harmlessly over in the corner.

HST’s widow is sitting at the next table. She discusses Dylan selling Live at the Gaslight at Starbucks with her dinner companion. I apologize for the intrusion and tell her I just wanted to let her know I’ve come from Philadelphia to pay my respects. She seems a little gunshy … er, poor word choice. Nonetheless, she’s gracious, grateful and probably younger than I am. So we leave it at that, and I go off in search of the signed affidavit wherein HST promises the proprietors of the Woody Creek Tavern to never again set off a smoke bomb in the bar. It’s supposedly hanging on one of the walls, somewhere in the dense mosaic of HST paraphernalia and tippling snapshots of less famous habitues.

On the night of HST’s funereal moonshot, at the moment of ignition, they played “Mr. Tambourine Man,” but they should have played Hendrix’s “Star-Spangled Banner,” because the man clearly earned his stripes. He was a lot of things, most of them genius or at least ingeniously funny, or true in their lies, and all of them dangerous — often to himself, sometimes to others, but always to the status quo. Chaos was the ace up his sleeve, the reason God made fire extinguishers.

But above all things, he was a great American. He was part of the Great Days — before the wave broke and rolled back. A time already long past when Jack Nicholson declared in Easy Rider, “You know, this used to be a helluva good country.” And if HST couldn’t quite remember that time after years of unbuttoning his peyote mind, he could at least envision it. And he would light his hair on fire and bray to the moon every day it ceased to exist — up to a point. Eventually you just say, “Fuck it. Let’s go to the bar.”

The final years were sodden and fallow, save for a fairly exhaustive closet cleaning, wracked with infirmity after the better part of 67 years of abuse. With his great red shark of a legend burnished and looming, he seemed aware for some time his best work was behind him, that he was a man for his season, and that season had passed. He went out in a blaze of self-inflicted glory, his atomized DNA snowing down on pastures where the buffalo roam. I never did find that affidavit, but nowhere was heard a discouraging word as the crescent moon set on the ridge like a smile over Woody Creek. – JONATHAN VALANIA, August 24th 2005

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NPR 4 THE DEAF: We Hear It Even When U Can’t

July 19th, 2017

steve-bannon-cover-time

 

FRESH AIR: In August 2016, three months before the presidential election, Republican nominee Donald Trump was behind in the polls. Instead of staying on message, the candidate was engaged in a politically damaging fight with the parents of an Army captain killed in Iraq. On Aug. 17, in an effort to change course, the Trump team appointed Steve Bannon, the former executive chairman of the conservative Breitbart News, to lead the campaign. Journalist Joshua Green of Bloomberg Businessweek says the switch would Devil's Bargainprove to be a turning point.

“[Trump] was headed toward a pretty serious loss, and Bannon brought his wealth of anti-Clinton knowledge into the campaign and managed to keep Trump focused on a target,” Green says.Green argues that Bannon’s experiences with Breitbart gave him a framework for mobilizing disaffected young white male voters who were attracted to Trump. Without such guidance, Green says, “I don’t think that Donald Trump would have been elected president.”

Despite Bannon’s success in the campaign, Green says that the adviser’s nationalist vision remains largely unfulfilled. “The kind of tragic, Shakespearean irony of the Donald Trump-Steve Bannon relationship is that Bannon finally did find the vessel for his ideas who could get elected president … [but who] now doesn’t have the focus, the wherewithal, the self-control to even do the basic things that a president needs to do.” Green’s new book, Devil’s Bargain, profiles Bannon and explains his role in Trump’s election. MORE

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CINEMA: Bedtime For Gonzo

July 18th, 2017

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EDITOR’S NOTE: Hunter Thompson would have turned 80 today.

gonzofist.thumbnail.jpgNEW YORK TIMES: HUNTER S. THOMPSON, who has been lionized in two feature films, served as the model for a running character in “Doonesbury” and is the subject of enough doctoral dissertations to build a bonfire, now has a documentary devoted to him, “Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson,” by Alex Gibney. Thompson, who always seemed to keep one drug-crazed eye on posterity behind his ever-present shades, would surely be pleased but not surprised.

But how to freshly document the life of a man who was his own Boswell, whose books and articles slavishly documented his own every tic, whoop and hallucination? A journalist who announced his arrival in American letters by riding with the Hells Angels and in the end choreographed a memorial from the grave that made the Burning Man bacchanal seem chaste? Few writers have commodified narcissism so completely — his participatory style of journalism became its own genre and gives the film its title — but still we are invited to sit in the dark of the theater and have a flashback about his flashbacks. When the film opens on July 4, why willgonzofearandloathing.jpg people, as Thompson would say, buy the ticket, take the ride?

The documentary by Mr. Gibney, who also made “Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room” and “Taxi to the Dark Side,” does not attempt to work around Thompson’s endless self-consciousness but uses it as leverage instead. Produced by Graydon Carter, the editor of Vanity Fair, and narrated by the actor Johnny Depp, “Gonzo” mirrors the subjectivity and immersion of the journalism Thompson and his trusty arsenal of psychoactive agents perpetrated in Rolling Stone and elsewhere. Mr. Gibney eschews narrative conventions and switches point of view on a dime, creating a prism of interviews and episodes that gradually assembles into a compelling portrait.

In his long-running fever dream about America and its abundant pathologies, the bald man, with the tumbler of whiskey and head full of Schedule 1 narcotics, captured not only a mood — your government is not your friend — but many realities of civic life, most notably that if candidates were willing to do what it takes to get elected, they would probably arrive in office corrupted beyond hope. Thompson, whose defects of character could occupy a separate ZIP code, was not just an original, he was also a patriot and a romantic. Working from the far reaches of the culture and often lucidity, Thompson, who died in 2005 at 67, changed the way that much of America thought about itself, in part because his version of journalism threw a grenade at the bland convention of formal balance and straight reporting. MORE

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WRECKLESS ERIC: Q&A With Eric Wareheim, Philly Homeboy & Exactly One Half Of Tim & Eric

July 17th, 2017

 

EDITOR’S NOTE: This interview originally published in the summer of 2014 on the occasion Tim & Eric’s last world tour. We are posting this special encore edition in advance of Tim & Eric’s 10th Anniversary Tour stopping at the Merriam Theater on Thursday. While Dr. Steve Brule, tragically, will not be joining them this time, a second season of Tim & Eric’s creepy-as-fuck Bedtime Stories, which is discussed at length in this Q&A, is slated to air later this year. Enjoy.

BY JONATHAN VALANIA In advance of the Tim And Eric & Dr. Steve Brule (aka John C. Reilly) 2014 Tour stopping in Philly on Friday for two sold out shows at The Keswick, we got Temple alum Eric Wareham on the horn. DISCUSSED: Their new show Tim & Eric’s Bedtime Stories, Twilight Zone, and the horror of the every day, Bob Odenkirk, Emmet Walsh, John C. Reilly, Jason Schwartzman, Zach Galifanakis, Three Stooges, Dr. Steve Brule, Darkside, Fishtown, White Rainbow, and Philly soul.

PHAWKER: The two episodes of Bedtime Stories, your new show on Adult Swim, that I watched were very funny and really, truly unnerving. I’m not a big horror guy. I’m not easily scared, I usually just roll my eyes. But in the ‘Hole’ episode, Tim is truly frightening. The ‘Toes’ episode, which takes place is some bizarro universe where people have their toes removed for cosmetic reasons, is equally unsettling. Both are only a step or two removed from current reality. It strikes me that the subtext of Bedtime Stories is ‘the horror of the everyday’? Like the suburban dad hardass jock guy Tim plays in ‘Holes’ — I find those people terrifying.

ERIC WAREHEIM: Yeah. You couldn’t have said it better. Each of these episodes is really based on the horror of everyday life, and what’s really going on. For example, the ‘Toes’ episode is not far from plastic surgery. In Los Angeles, we see insane things: people injecting concrete into their butts, and to me that’s not too far off from being like, ‘Ah, yeah, toes are disgusting. Let’s get rid of ‘em.’ And with ‘Holes,’ I just feel like most of life is a nightmare. Just walking around and encountering people who are assholes, and your neighbors are freaks. I remember growing up, and there were a couple people in my neighborhood that I didn’t really see very often that I kind of imagined what their weird lives were like. I also had neighbors that my parents would quarrel with, and I kind of developed these little stories in my head because of the nightmare worlds in their homes, and that’s what it’s based off of. It’s also based off of this dream I had, which was the worst dream I’ve ever had in my life at this point, where everyone turned on me. Like my girlfriend, all my friends, Tim and my parents disowned me. All of this happened in one dream. It was so heavy, that when I woke up, I felt it. That’s kind of what we want to do in the show. We want to make you laugh, but we also want you to feel all of these other emotions that are part of life.

PHAWKER: Yeah, and it’s funny, but it feels like a bad dream afterwards. You sort of shiver a little bit.

ERIC WAREHEIM: Yeah, totally.

PHAWKER: I wanted to ask you about Twilight Zone, which seems to me to be a direct influence on Bedtime Stories. I’m assuming you guys are fans.
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SUFJAN STEVENS: Neptune

July 17th, 2017

Sufjan Stevens, Nico Muhly, Bryce Dessner and James McAlister will perform “Mercury,” taken from their new collaborative album Planetarium, on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” tonight. Also, the video for “Neptune,” the latest from the album, premieres today—watch it here (SEE ABOVE). Stevens, Muhly, Dessner and McAlister are in the midst of a limited run of special dates, accompanied onstage by strings and brass. Following a concert at the Philharmonie de Paris, the band will play July 18 in New York at Celebrate Sufjan_PlanetariumBrooklyn!, July 20 in Los Angeles at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery and July 21 at the Fox Theater in Oakland, CA.

PREVIOUSLY: In 2005, when I was all of 15 years old, Sufjan Stevens’ angelic voice drew me into Illinoise’s whispery bedroom ballads about serial killers and cancer-claimed lovers and its swelling orchestral epics about Chicago and UFO sightings. The otherworldly sonics and emotional depths of the music on Illinoise! were matched by the lyrics, which I scribbled all over the covers of my high school notebooks and white canvas Chuck Taylors. When my obsession with Illinoise waned, I moved onto his earlier albums, namely Michigan. Friends told me that he was set on the endearing, but ludicrously ambitious goal of writing an album for all 50 states. Listening to his music while walking around the tired landscapes of home, through the cookie-cutter housing developments bifurcating endless cornfields, my imagination surged with the myriad possible narratives Sufjan might find in the rest of the union. MORE

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