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THE LOCUST ABORTION TECHNICIAN: Q&A W/ Gibby Haynes, Frontman Of The Butthole Surfers

July 19th, 2019

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Valania AvatarBY JONATHAN VALANIA Saints be praised! Butthole Surfers frontman/madman Gibby Haynes will be performing Surfer classics at Connie’s Ric Rac on Friday and Saturday, backed by the kids of the Paul Green Rock Academy — and we are totally there for it. To help get the word out, we got Gibby on the horn for a wide ranging, no-holes barred interview. If you are new to the Gibby/Surfers’ weird-ass corner of the universe, I suggest you read my beginner’s guide Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About The Motherf*cking Butthole Surfers But Weren’t Sure It Was Even Legal To Ask before digging in.

One more thing before we get started. We first did this interview last Friday. Saturday I realized it didn’t record for reasons still unclear. Sunday I sheepishly texted Gibby to tell him tragedy had struck but I was happy to do it all over again — “you know, for the kids” — though I would totally understand if he didn’t want to and I apologized for wasting his time. Gibby texted back: “Call me.” Lord knows Gibby Haynes is not a role model, but he is a gentleman and a scholar. Long may he weird.

DISCUSSED: Fatherhood, penis reconstruction surgery, LSD, how to burn down the Chesnut Cabaret without really trying, the JFK Gibby_School_of_Rockassassination, growing up with a dad named Mr. Peppermint who was in Dealey Plaza when JFK was assassinated, his forthcoming Young Adult Lit novel Me And Mr. Cigar, living with Timothy Leary, the University of Texas Tower Massacre in 1966, the curse words of children, Woody Allen, the Great White Fire, getting thrown out of the Viper Club for heckling Johnny Cash, the future of the Butthole Surfers, the death of the flaming cymbal, the meaning of regret and why playing Butthole Surfers songs with the kids from Paul Green Academy Of Rock is such a gas, gas, gas.

PHAWKER: I actually met you in the late ’80s in the lobby of the now-defunct New York City night club The World where the Butthole Surfers were supposed to play with Spacemen 3, but they were denied work visas because someone had a drug charge or something like that and didn’t play. That is one of the great regrets of my life — that that dream show never happened.

GIBBY HAYNES: Oh, we were supposed to play with Spacemen 3? What a drag.

PHAWKER: Yeah, you don’t remember that?

GIBBY HAYNES: No.

PHAWKER: Oh my god, that was going to be the greatest fucking show on Earth! But anyway, I remember telling you – you had asked where I was from – and I said Allentown, Pennsylvania. And you were like, “Allentown? Didn’t something really bad happen there?”

GIBBY HAYNES: [laughing] I did, uh did it? I don’t know.

PHAWKER: Yes, yes lots of bad things. Lots of bad things happen everywhere. I only mention this because I use that as my go-to ice breaker line when I meet someone from somewhere else and it’s very effective. I just wanted to say ‘thank you’ for that.

GIBBY HAYNES: Right on.

PHAWKER: So you’re living in Brooklyn these days, correct?

GIBBY HAYNES: Yes I am.

PHAWKER: Okay, what is a typical day in the life of Gibby Haynes these days?

GIBBY HAYNES: Oh, well, I wake up. If it’s during the school year, I make lunch for my kid before I take him to school — basically my life revolves around my son nowadays. He’s really my family.

PHAWKER: His name is Satchel?

GIBBY HAYNES: Satchel, indeed. He’s named after – people always say the same thing, “Was he named after GibbySatchel Paige?” And I say, “No, he was named after Satchel Bernstein, Satchel Paige’s manager.” And a lot of times, they go, “Really?” And I go, “No.”

PHAWKER: How old is he?

GIBBY HAYNES: He is nine. And the interesting thing is that Ronan Farrow’s original name was Satchel Allen, but he hated his dad so much that I guess he eventually decided to change his name, and we found that out – we found out that Woody named his son Satchel after we named our kid Satchel. And then we found out that he named his other son Moses. So we named our son after two of Woody Allen’s sons names, without knowing that we did it.

PHAWKER: Yeah that’s some kind of weird cosmic joke the universe is playing on somebody.

GIBBY HAYNES: [laughing] I wonder who.

PHAWKER: Last time we talked you were telling me at the time that kids these days know every curse word in the book.

GIBBY HAYNES: Yeah, they do.

PHAWKER: You told me a story about one of your son Satchel’s friends who was complaining about a mutual friend saying that if his father wasn’t standing there — meaning you — he’d tell Satchel exactly what he thought of mutual friend. You encouraged him to speak freely and he said?

GIBBY HAYNES: ‘He’s a motherfucking asshole!’ or something to that effect [laughing]. He definitely said ‘motherfucker,’ which is like the pinnacle of like – I mean they don’t know what fucking is, but they know that ‘motherfucker’ is a bad word. Like they think to say “Oh, fuck,” but they don’t know what sex is. A lot of them hopefully don’t. But with the Internet, I’m sure they do. You know, I don’t think he’d tell me if he’d seen…he might’ve, well I found, well I’m not gonna say it. One time I had looked at my phone, and it had been googled, “sex in a cab.”

PHAWKER: [laughing] How do parents these days deal with the Internet and small children? I’m curious, what policies, if any, do you guys have?

GIBBY HAYNES: Oh we pretty much let him go at it. We don’t filter anything, and I’m not sure if that’s a good policy or not, but fuck, he’s gonna find out anyway. I don’t know what would be the most horrible thing that could happen. Like, what would he see…I mean it would be pornography or something. He might find a text that Paul Green sent me, which might be devastating to his development.

PHAWKER: [laughing] He could see a penis reconstruction film at a Butthole Surfers concert on YouTube.

GIBBY HAYNES: Yeah, there’s some stuff of me on there too. He could find out the truth about his dad, wouldn’t that be horrible?

PHAWKER: While we’re on the subject of penis reconstruction films, I asked you about this last time, could you just explain what that film that was almost always projected on the band at every Butthole Surfers shows back in the ‘80’s and early ‘90’s – some kind of penis surgery.

GIBBY HAYNES: Okay, yeah I’ll tell you how it happened. It’s really gross, I didn’t tell you about this part last time. But the testicular injury that he got was what they call a ‘de-sheathing.’Gibby-Haynes-Third-Man-single

PHAWKER: Sounds ouch-y.

GIBBY HAYNES: Which, you can imagine, means his skin got peeled off his weenie. But he was a farmer. Hopefully he still is a farmer. Tractors have the ability to do many things via a rotating U-joint at the rear of the tractor. I don’t know if all tractors have this attachment on them, but it’s just a rotating U-joint that can be used to drive a number of pieces of machinery that the tractor is hauling. And this particular device the farmer had, was long, and he chose the shortcut, which was instead of walking to the rear and around to the other side of the machinery – he chose to straddle the U-joint. And the bottom part of the crotch of his dungarees got caught in the U-joint, and just spun around in there. And I’m sure it spun and caught his weenie in there, and just kind of pulled and tore off his jeans. I didn’t see it, but I can imagine it just tore a big hole out of the bottom of his jeans that just left his bloody stump there. I bet it was just horrific. And not only that, but that was pre-cellphone. That was well before “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up.” So he probably took his shirt and stuck it in his crotch and got on his tractor and hauled ass across town.

PHAWKER: And what is the origin of that film? How did you come across it, and when was it made?

GIBBY HAYNES: It looked to be sometime from – it was color 16 MM – and it was difficult to tell, it looked like it was probably made in the early ‘60’s. And there was a film library at the University of Texas, that had just a huge directory of films of all sorts, just anything you could imagine. I would go into the film library and bring titles back to the band, and say, “Think we oughta drop a buck on this one?” You couldn’t preview them. There were some losers. There were some that were too mean to show. I don’t know why we thought it’d be funny, but it was an instructional film about toilet training down syndrome kid, and we never showed that one. The title of it did not give that much away. It had sort of an interesting title, but I can’t remember what it was.

PHAWKER: Well, I’m somewhat surprised to hear that there was a line even the Butthole Surfers wouldn’t cross.

GIBBY HAYNES: Well we went for weird, but we didn’t go for cruel. I don’t know, my dad was a children’s Mr. Pepperminttelevision entertainer that most people might know from Dallas, Texas named Mr. Peppermint. And he would go out and do shows, sometimes for money or for private parties, like birthday parties for rich kids whose parents were like “Wow I wonder if Jerry Haynes will come out?” But I remember the family called them personal appearances. He would say “Oh, I can’t I’ve got a personal appearance.” And he would take me out on them. He took me to several of them for the Muscular Dystrophy Association and the Buckner Orphanage Home, and I would go with him and hang out with the kids that lived in this orphanage home in Dallas. And it was this horrifying place, probably built in the ‘30s, with all of these dorms for homeless kids. He did a lot of stuff with Dan’s kids and, in fact, just recently, a friend of mine sent me a photograph that his sister found of my dad performing at his birthday party. His parents probably had some dough, and got my dad to perform. He was probably five or six, it looked like, maybe seven. The picture showed my dad playing guitar with a young Bobby Beeman, and a bunch of other kids sitting around watching my dad perform. And the funny thing is that Bobby Beeman played in a band from Dallas, later on, called The Stick Men with Ray Guns. Have you ever heard of them?

PHAWKER: I have, yes, I have.

GIBBY HAYNES: The Stick Men with Ray Guns, I don’t know what it was about Texas. But to have a state in which the Stick Men and the Butthole Surfers and the Dicks in the same state, was pretty fucking cool. I don’t know, there’s something about those bands that I just didn’t find in any other…just really original forms of punk rock, really original expressions. The Stick Men were just a wasted take on rockabilly, and the Dicks were the Dicks. I’m sure you’re familiar with them. Gary Floyd.

PHAWKER: Yep, [quoting lyric from the Butthole Surfers song “Gary Floyd”] ‘Gary Floyd and all his pals are gonna’ come on down to the roundaround.’ In retrospect, you growing up with a children’s entertainer father known as Mr. Peppermint, it was inevitable that you would become the man that you became, that you would make the music and the art that you have made.

GIBBY HAYNES: It was definitely a big part of it, yeah.

PHAWKER: You have a debut novel coming out early next year, what can you tell me about it?

GIBBY HAYNES: Ah, it’s called Me and Mr. Cigar. It’s about a precocious seventeen-year-old rave-throwing MDMA dealer with a supernatural dog. The dog’s origins are mysterious, and his abilities are amazing.

PHAWKER: Could you tell me some of his abilities?Me and Mr Cigar Cover

GIBBY HAYNES: Well, he, well there was a cigar that was given to JFK by Nikita Khrushchev.

PHAWKER: Are you talking about a Rasputin?

GIBBY HAYNES: Yes, and there are pictures of Mr. Cigar sitting on Rasputin’s lap. There are very old photographs of Mr. Cigar. So he is, apparently he lives forever. He does not age. And he basically has the intelligence of a human being. And without giving away too much else, a little bit’s explained, well I don’t want to go too far into that, it’s like the last five pages of the book where you find out some amazing stuff about Mr. Cigar. I can say that Mr. Cigar has always been the vessel for a human, and how and when and where that happens is kind of revealed.

PHAWKER: And this is in the young adult fiction genre, correct?

GIBBY HAYNES: Oh yeah, everything’s fair game in YAL literature these days. And like some of the most important, like librarians are some of the most important drivers of success in marketing books for kids. I don’t know how important they are in non-kid books. But the Texas librarians in particular are influential in that realm. That’s part of the reason I set it in Texas, I thought they might appreciate it. A book like this is a welcome, the teachers really like it, because it’s a good book for the hard-to-reach kids. Like if there’s a kid who doesn’t like to read too much, they’re like “Oh, yeah? Here’s something you might like to read.” It’s got action and it’s dangerous, and it’s kind of funny. But the Texas librarians are really enthusiastic about my book, which was kind of a shock to me.

PHAWKER: And just to be clear, is it set in present day or in the past?

GIBBY HAYNES: Maybe slightly in the future, but not that far removed. I haven’t really gotten to that. I think it’s better not to mention current presidents. I couldn’t do any anti-Donald Trump stuff, which is probably a good idea, regardless, no matter how much I want to.

PHAWKER: You grew up in Texas in the late 1950s. When you were nine years old there was that horrible mass shooting at the University of Texas, where Charles Whitman went up on the clock tower and was just picking off kids walking around the campus left and right. Was that on your radar at the time, or was that something you realized later?

GIBBY HAYNES: Oh, no that was huge. It was huge. I was really into all of the, I mean my dad was on Dealey Plaza when JFK got shot.

PHAWKER: No way!

GIBBY HAYNES: And as soon as that happened, they ran to the ABC affiliate, which was who he worked for, WFAA. They were like a hundred yards away from WFAA, and they ran back [and went on the air]. There’s some great YouTube footage of, my dad is there, and Screen Shot 2019-07-19 at 12.04.35 AMit’s the first television announcement of the Kennedy shooting, and it’s really great. There’s some of my dad’s coworkers and his boss. They’ve got their rolled up sleeves, smoking cigarettes, and my dad’s in the shot. It’s chaotic. And of course, a couple of days later, Jack Ruby shoots Lee Harvey, and I was just absolutely fascinated with the conspiracy theories from then on.

And yeah, Charles Whitman was a huge thing as well. I was on vacation in South Carolina with my parents, with my family when we heard about it. So we weren’t in Texas, but that was a big one. For some reason, those types of events were really a part of the punk rock scene in Texas. There was a guy in the Austin music scene that was the go-to man for information on Charles Whitman. He knew some of the victims, he knew where bullet holes in some of the places in Austin. But Charles Whitman, he shot some people who were way far away. You wouldn’t have believed how many blocks away they were. I mean that guy…that was the wrong guy with the right rifle.

PHAWKER: I’m actually looking up this JFK footage of your father on TV here right now. It’s amazing. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mYmpOjKUrIE

GIBBY HAYNES: Yeah, isn’t that a crazy look?

PHAWKER: Well what did your father think happened? Did he think it came from the Schoolbook Depository Building?

GIBBY HAYNES: He always said with a wink that he heard three shots. And I forget how many there were, what was generally acknowledged, I forget if it was three shots or however many there were. But my dad was like sort of cryptically always said, “I heard three shots and that was it,” in a sort of mock fear of knowing too much.

PHAWKER: I wanna ask you about the school of rock stuff in a second here, but first I wanted to ask you what else besides that are you involved with musically these days?

GIBBY HAYNES: Ehhhh… not a whole lot, I was– we were kind of actively wanting to do another record and I think we probably will…

PHAWKER: The Butthole Surfers?

GIBBY HAYNES: Yeah, yeah — it comes and goes, wanting to do that.

PHAWKER: Well, I hope you do! Any chances there’s gonna be anymore live shows?

GIBBY HAYNES: It’s too bad, like in order to play, like we get offers all the time, but in order to play on show, we literally have to prepare– it’s the same amount of preparation as if we were going on tour, right? So, ehh, ehh…. You know, it costs like.. Oh shit, you know? Like, ten grand just to just to get out the door, without even talking about the [cost of the] bus, you know?

PHAWKER: Well, I hope it comes together.Dr-Timothy-Leary-Tribute-Death-Tribute-Quote-Poster

PHAWKER: I read recently that for a time in the early nineties you and Al Jourgenson from Ministry were living with Timothy Leary and he was testing out various experimental drugs on you guys, what can you tell me about that?

GIBBY HAYNES: No, he didn’t have any…no, I was really wishing he had some, like, a stash of like, you know, Sandoz acid you know, whatever, some kind of crazy pure LSD. I asked him, ‘What is really good LSD like?’ and he was like, ‘Well, you’ve done acid, right? and I was like, ‘Yeah, I tuned in, turned on, and dropped out, and now I’m an alcoholic drug addict’ and he goes ‘Don’t lay that bullshit on me, man!’ But I was just fuckin’ with him. He said, ‘Well, have you done acid? and I was like ‘Yeah’ and he goes, ‘Well, did you trip? and I said ‘Yeah,’ and he goes ‘Then you did really good acid. It’s either really good acid or it’s not acid.’

PHAWKER: Roughly how many times do you think you’ve taken LSD in your life?

GIBBY HAYNES: Eh, I was never a big acid head.

PHAWKER: No?

GIBBY HAYNES: I mean I think I tried it on several dozen times.

PHAWKER: Okay, not like John Lennon’s one thousand trips or whatever?

GIBBY HAYNES: No, no, no, probably, you know, thirty, forty times.

PHAWKER: So that rumor that you guys were tripping all the time when you played live, that’s a myth?

GIBBY HAYNES: Yeah, but we did do that several times.

PHAWKER: One last thing on the Timothy Leary front: you and Timothy Leary famously got thrown out of the Viper Club for heckling Johnny Cash — this was right around the time of the first Rick Rubin album, I believe.

GIBBY HAYNES: Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah. Johnny Cash was playing at the Viper Room and we had like the awesome fifteen-seat away from the great Johnny Cash and I sat down in a booth side by side with Timothy Leary. Johnny Cash singing starts and Leary just starts heckling Johnny Cash. And like, I was like ‘Oh, man, NOOOOOOOOO, NOOOOOOOO!’ and Leary was yelling ‘You’re a fraud!’ I don’t know why he had it in for Johnny Cash, but we got kicked out really quick. We got eighty-sixed.GIBBY--san-antonio-basketball-butthole-surfers

PHAWKER: You famously declared in “Sweat Loaf” that it’s better to regret something you have done than to regret something you haven’t done. What is Gibby Haynes’ greatest regret?

GIBBY HAYNES: That we didn’t start our own record label and don’t own all our music. Ian MacKaye was a genius.

PHAWKER: So let’s talk about the Paul Green Academy of Rock thing that you’re playing with the school of rock kids at Connie’s Rick Rac here in Philadelphia on Friday and Saturday. Tell me about that: how did that come about and what can we expect? You’re doing Butthole Surfers songs, correct?

GIBBY HAYNES: Yes, yes. Paul, I think, picked out a set. Depends on how well they can play the songs, it’s like three practices and two gigs in Philly where– [laughs] Philadelphia– it’s a tough crowd, Philadelphia. They eat people in Philadelphia, apparently.

PHAWKER: This is true.

GIBBY HAYNES: I’ve done it before with kids of this level and they’re really good musicians. And if they aren’t at the moment, they will be soon. They’re just good musicians, it’s just hard to– it depends on how well they’re prepared.

PHAWKER: Last time we talked I made a joke that I was surprised that you were allowed to be around children, but, you know, in all seriousness, I bet you’re great with those kids and I bet they have a blast with you and I bet the whole thing’s gonna be pretty badass.

GIBBY HAYNES: Yeah, they always– I don’t know about the other, you know, they’ve done this– they did it with school of rock in Paul Green’s previous music school and they did it with various classic rockers. Like the guy from Yes. And usually it’s the singer that they get. And most of the time those guys are musicians, but I’m really not a musician. I’m just the guy with the microphone. So the first practice is really rough, cause I’m like.. “You know the part where you’re like..” and the kids are like “you mean the E that comes after the chorus?” I’m like, ‘I guess.’ Yeah, I think I get along with the kids really well, they end up liking me.

Oh, man, they come through. When they’re on stage, they’re like, that’s a big deal, when they get to be on stage and there’s people in the audience. It’s not like a recital and mom and dad are out there, even though mom and dad are there, their mom and dad are like in rock and roll mode. Yeah, it’s a trip that I’m older than a lot of these kids’ parents. Most of ‘em.

PHAWKER: I see. One last question about this performance, the last time I saw you perform in Philadelphia you nearly burned down the Chestnut Cabaret. Will you be doing the flaming cymbal trick?Gibby_Fire

GIBBY HAYNES: No, the Great White fire was the death of the fire cymbal. But, it looked cool and it’s really harmless. It’d be pretty fuckin’ impossible to light a place on fire with alcohol. The trick was, for those of you that aren’t in the know, is that you’d pour rubbing alcohol on the cymbal and then hit it with the drumstick and a huge gust of flames would like shoot up for a second. The first time we did it, I was at practice and we happened to be practicing in this borrowed practice space, and it was a weird attic that was like maybe five, just under six feet tall, so I really couldn’t stand all the way up or walk around in it very well, and I lowered the cymbal, stomped it inside out, poured alcohol on it, banged it, like as hard as I could, and dude, it shot up like three feet in the air and hit the ceiling and spread out three hundred and sixty degrees and it’s like, it went to the walls. Like, for a moment the ceiling was flames.

PHAWKER: Completely on fire? That’s exactly what happened at Chestnut Cabaret!

GIBBY HAYNES: It hit the ceiling?

PHAWKER: It hit the ceiling and just spread across the whole ceiling. It was really, like, terrifying. And I guess there were always dudes on hand with fire extinguishers when you did this, but…

GIBBY HAYNES: No, no, no. There wasn’t.

PHAWKER: No?!?

GIBBY HAYNES: No.

GIBBY HAYNES + PAUL GREEN ROCK ACADEMY KIDS PERFORM THE SONGS OF THE BUTTHOLE SURFERS @ CONNIE’S RIC RAC FRI. & SAT. JULY 19TH & 20TH

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SH*T MY UNCLE SAYS: The Imperial Wizard Prez

July 19th, 2019

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SMUSBY WILLIAM C. HENRY The Feces in Chief hosts a gathering of some 200 social media bigots at the nation’s house and America’s so-called “news” disseminators barely raise a whimper! Why? Because they’re too goddamn busy filling their headlines and newscasts with House Dem internecine warfare, divisions and discontent, mostly centered around Nancy Pelosi and the belligerence of a few fellow House members. You know what? I’ve changed my mind. I no longer give a shit–or even a teeny weeny iota–who the Democrats choose as their standard bearers. I’ll support financially and physically whoever they select so long as it will get this ungodly piece of diarrheal excrement out of the Oval Office! All I ask is that the Speaker and the bickerers take their goddamn silly–yes, that’s right, SILLY–arguments behind closed doors and stop airing them in public where the country’s apparently far from impartial news outlets and that scum-sucking, sleazebag president of ours can GLOAT about it!

Meanwhile back at American racism’s “Base” Camp Zero, our self-proclaimed Imperial Wizard declared that if the aforementioned House members (four women of color) don’t like it here they should go back to the crime infested countries from whence they came (never mind that three of them were, in fact, born in the good old USA) and then doubled-down on said fecal mouthed excretion with a number of equally racist twits following a backlash from leading Democrats (Republicans were too busy cleaning up burned cross residue) and nearly all of the country’s “legitimate” news outlets (excluding, of course, Fox News and the Washington Examiner).

And then President KKK tripled down. And then he sent his top female four-flusher, Kellyanne, out front to quadruple down. I think that earns you a complimentary plunger, Kellyanne. And apparently the plunger came in handy as even she needed to add another “flush” to the Oval Orifice toilet. So there you are. It’s the same old sewer system there at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. The only things that change are the viscosity, the rate of flow, and the machinations of the administration rats that feed off of and flourish within it.

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BUTTHOLE SURFERS WEEK: Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About The Motherf*cking Butthole Surfers But Weren’t Sure It Was Even Legal To Ask

July 16th, 2019

Locust Abortion Technician

 

EDITOR’S NOTE: To mark the auspicious occasion of infamous Butthole Surfers frontman Gibby Haynes performing choice selections from the Surfers skidmarked back catalog with the kids from The Paul Green Rock Academy at Connie’s Ric Rac on Friday and Saturday (July 19th and 20th), we are officially declaring this Butthole Surfers Week here at Phawker industries. We will be re-posting choice nuggets of Butthole Surfers jetsam and effluvia that has run on the site over the years, culminating with our brand spanking new no-holes-barred Q&A with Gibby on Thursday. Look for it on a Phawker near you. In the mean time, let’s get started with this Beginners Guide To The Butthole Surfers I penned back in 2009. Let the buyer be weird!

IN 1987: I Saw An X-Ray Of A Girl Passing Gas

BY JONATHAN VALANIA First thing you should know is that what I am about to tell you violates a solemn pact that was made by all involved: Whatever happens in 1987 stays in 1987. I grew up in Pennsyltucky — Allentown, PA, to be exact — and by the time I was getting to the be the age where you just WANNA GET THE FUCK OUT OF bs5tweaked.jpgDODGE, a shiny new superhighway literally appeared out of thin air, connecting the hinterlands of the Keystone State to New York City with a directness and efficiency that was heretofore unimaginable. You could now go door-to-door from Allentown to NYC in one hour and 20 minutes. Me and my pals would make regular pilgrimages to the Big Apple to see all the great underground rock shows of the day: The Replacements circa Let It Be, when Bob Stinson played in a dress and afterwards threw a phone out of his high-rise hotel room window, got arrested and subsequently fired from the band; REM circa Reckoning with the Dream Syndicate opening, when Michael Stipe still had those long pre-Raphaelite locks; Green On Red circa Gas, Food, Lodging; Meat Puppets circa Up On The Sun; Sonic Youth circa Daydream Nation. But the one band that kept us coming back for more was the Butthole Surfers. Between 1986 and 1989, if the Butthole Surfers they were playing anywhere within a 100-mile radius, we were there come hell or high water — no ifs, ands, or, um, butts.

It was a weird time. Independent rock was in a lull: all the old school punk bands had imploded, exploded or some variation of the two; the Great White Hopes of Amerindie — REM, Husker Du and The Replacements — had moved up to the Big House of major labeldom, a grand bargain that two thirds of those bands wouldn’t survive; and all the skinhead hardcore bands either got killed in fights, O.D.’d or went to jail. But an important minority grew their hair out long, started smoking dope and began experimenting with the notion that rock music could be more than just a sledgehammer of noisy aggression, it could also be a portal into heretofore unexplored realms of experience and sensation, and the narrator of a million private mythologies. Wayne Coyne was there, too, and he would later describe that period to me as the time when “the acid hit the punk rock.” Indeed.

Filling this vacuum was an unlikely quartet of Texas freakniks travelling around the country in the back of an old van — along with their trusty dog, Mark Farner (named after the guy from Grand Funk Railroad) — defoliating entire mountainsides of sinsemilla with just a Bic lighter and sheer lung power and eating mescaline right out of the cactus. They were called the Butthole Surfers — the name being picked back when they were just trying to be the most noisy, grating and annoying band in the great state of Texas — and while they were initially punk-identified, their music was increasingly morphing into something much more paganistic than pogo-worthy, evoking the third-eye altered states soundtracks of legendary Lone Star acid-punks like the Moving Sidewalks and the 13th Floor Elevators.

By the mid-80s, the nihilistic anti-establishmentarianism of punk had evolved into taste for the transgressive in all its most toxic and sociopathic forms: serial killers and Illuminati conspiracy theories were all the rage; a stocky bald man named GG Allin, who performed naked and covered in his own feces became a must-see live spectacle; Dope, Guns & Fucking In The Streets was the name of popular label sampler series by the then-important Amphetamine Reptile label; Big Black called their second album Songs About Fucking; there was a band called Millions Of Dead Cops. This was a very bs14.jpghospitable climate for a band like the Butthole Surfers, given that they had a certain scatological genius and a proven willingness venture into the dark side of bad taste in the pursuit of sick kicks, alchemizing surprise into horror, and generally being a rude thumb up the rectum of the mainstream. They gave their albums outrageous titles like Rembrandt Pussyhorse and Cream Corn From The Socket of Davis, and wrote songs called “The Shah Sleeps In Lee Harvey’s Grave” and “I Saw An X-Ray Of A Girl Passing Gas.” In short, the Butthole Surfers were to transgressive what Belle & Sebastian are to twee.

After three years of constant touring, leaving an enduring rep for shock-and-awe in their wake, the Butts’ music had grown immeasurably, as did their live show. There was impossibly tall Gibby Haynes, stripped down to his boxer shorts and shouting gibberish into a megaphone like the Tasmanian Devil himself before unleashing a fire extinguisher on the audience, Paul Leary pulling cross-eyed, cerebral palsied faces while dredging up Herculean lava-lamp riffage and stratospheric peals out of his guitar; two drummers, Teresa Nervosa and King Coffey, who looked like inbred twins but they weren’t, and always played standing up, pounding out the exact same hypno-tribal beat. Bass players came and went, until they finally landed Jeff Pinkus whose sinister aggro redneck Manson vibe was par for the course. For a time, there was a mute woman that used to dance naked in front of the band — she just showed up one day and stayed for a year — while Gibby poured lighter fluid onto a cymbal, then lit it on fire and then repeatedly hit it with a drum stick, sending a great gust of flames 30 feet in the air. You could feel heat on your face from the back of the club.

Projected onto the band members and the two giant movie screens behind them were a series of instructional films on loan from the Austin Public Library. These films ranged from the profoundly sublime (mesmerizing sub-oceanic footage) to the deeply disturbing (a farmer undergoing re-constructive penis surgery after a run-in with a corn combine). The songs would seesaw between ecstasy and dread, sludgy bump-and-grind would give way to shimmering, ultra-groovy passages that swelled into these towering, transcendental climaxes, whereupon Gibby would push a few buttons and dial in an infinitely repeating loop of speaking-in-tongues satanic smashmouth, speeding it up to sound like he was bs4doublelive_poster01.gifhuffing helium or slowing it down to sound like he was on an ether binge. Oh, and then the the strobe lights would come on. For, like, 20 minutes. Thankfully the smoke machine deadened their seizure-inducing powers and reduced visibility down to two or three feet in front of you, mercifully blotting out the penis surgery film. And even that was worth suffering through because, even though it may not seem like it on paper, and quite possibly the drugs had something to do with it, but as God is my witness: This was THE goddamn greatest show on Earth. I would never hear music the same way again.

PART II: Remember, Son, ‘It’s Better To Regret Something You HAVE Done Than Something You Haven’t’

Admittedly it was hard to evangelize about a band called Butthole Surfers – the name itself took a lot of explaining. (”Yeah, I know, I know ’stupid name’, but…not gay, no, nothing gay about them…well actually I guess the drummer is gay…but there is a naked chick dancing most of the time.” And that was just with my mother! It didn’t go any easier with the family pastor, let me tell ya.)

But evangelize we did, because brothers and sisters, friends of the revolution, after 20 epileptic minutes under those strobe lights we had quite literally SEEN THE motherfucking LIGHT! I guess the one thing I had failed to mention explicitly is that every time we went to see the Butthole Surfers we were blitzed out of our gourds on lysergic acid diethylamide. (Now, I would never recommend that anyone experiment with black market hallucinogens, especially under such circumstances — it is against the law, you never know what you get, and psychedelics are wildly unpredictable under even the most experienced of tongues — but at the risk of sounding like every other annoying gonzo-wannabe burnout that reads too much Hunter Thompson, I have to confess that it always worked out for me. Big time, as the Dick Cheney used to say.)

We weren’t alone. I am pretty sure just about everybody in the audience had made similar preparationsBS16_1.jpg for the Butthole Surfers show. All of us were young and mad because of it and all too willing to roll the dice with our psyches, flip our chemical switches and mutate out of the matrix of ordinary lives and make the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night, as Allen Ginsberg used to say. In some cultures that would be called an ‘epiphany’, in this country we call it a felony. But that’s a discussion for another day. More to the point, this shared sacrament was one of the first great breaches in the divide between the hippies and the punks, an unprecedented intersection of alt-rock’s ascendant trajectory and and the emerging jam band nation. It was the time when it first became readily apparent that hippies and punks had the same basic endgame in mind, just different means to reach those ends. Mostly, it just came down to different haircuts and the music and surrounding subculture that went with those haircuts. And when the hippies shaved their heads and the punks grew their hair long, well, things got interesting. Real interesting.

GIBBY HAYNES + PAUL GREEN ACADEMY @ CONNIE’S RIC RAC JULY 19TH & 20TH

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INCOMING: The Locust Abortion Technician Live

July 16th, 2019

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At Connie’s Ric Rac this Friday and Saturday!

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INCOMING: Destroy Your Safe And Happy Lives!

July 16th, 2019

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Legendary British punk/country/folk/post-whatever vets The Mekons, in the midst of a rare full-band tour, play Johnny Brenda’s on Thursday July 18th in support of their fresh-from-the-oven new album, Deserted. Mekons mainman/cult leader/lovable madman (and visionary painter) Jon Langford said of the album’s inspirations:

“The idea was to go to a brand new studio our bassist the Baron had set up just outside the Joshua Tree national park in Yucca Valley CA and see what happened – we were in the middle of a hectic tour and had been attempting to write material first by email and then in the van… Most of what we wrote was abandoned after arriving at the Los Gatos compound. The desert is not unlike the ocean (just drier) and equally inspirational to old pirate punk rockers. The harshness of the environment, the bold and embattled plants and creatures that live there are metaphorical for us perhaps. Have you seen the desert after the rain? There are deserts everywhere. We took time to ponder the vastness and the weirdness of the desert. Going to the country to get your head together is a ripe old rock cliché. We went to the desert to have our brains scoured… We went from one desert to another. A more hopeful place where we arm ourselves with spikes and endure.”

THE MEKONS + FOND FAREWELLS @ JOHNNY BRENDAS THURSDAY JULY 18TH

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Play this loud! NO, LOUDER!

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TONITE: Orchestral Manuevers In The Dark

July 13th, 2019

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EDITOR’S NOTE: I wrote this after seeing ELO at the Wells Fargo Center last summer. They return to the Wells Fargo Center on tonight, with George Harrison’s son Dhani in tow.

The year is 1977. Eleven-year-old me is sitting on my best friend’s bunk bed listening to his older brother’s copy of Electric Light Orchestra’s Out Of The Blue on the Hi-Fi, staring at the neon starburst-colored spaceship on the gatefold sleeve which, he informed me, was used to clean your weed on. Being 11 I had no earthly idea why somebody would collect weeds nor why they would want to clean them, and said as much. My best friend didn’t seem to really know either, but said he had it on good authority, i.e. his older brother. My best friend’s older brother could have played himself in Dazed And Confused, he sold weed, as was the style of the day, and trapped muskrats in the crick out back, and kept the pelts in freezer of the family fridge. When he was like, 14, he took a bus to see The Who at Madison Square Gardens without telling anyone, and it took him three days to get home. We were all impressed. Well, everyone except his mom.

My best friend’s older brother was a bottomless fount of dubious rock elder lore, forever sharing, in a hushed conspiratorial tone, shocking secret information about mysterious rituals performed at the rock concerts we were still years away from being eligible to attend, like how Alice Cooper would pass around a bucket at concerts and everyone would spit and puke in it and then Alice would drink it, as was the style of the day, and Rod Stewart once had to get his stomach pumped because he had ingested too much semen, all of which sounds Alex Jones-ludicrous in hindsight but makes a lot of sense when you are 11. He also assured us that all bands had spaceships that they climbed aboard back stage and then flew over the heads of the crowd, landed on stage and disembarked already rockin’. Especially ELO. At the time, I didn’t know much about music, popular or otherwise, but I did know that ELO’s sad, pretty prismatic songs always made me smile when I would happen upon them on the radio while growing up in the 70s when there wasn’t a lot to smile about — my parents had split up, and then my father died, and the next door neighbor’s German Shepherd ate my rabbit and on it went. Bad moon rising, ten soldiers and Nixon coming, etc.

According to news reports at the time, ELO’s spaceship cost, $300,000 to build, a then-astronomical sum of money, took eight tractor trailers to transport and 45 crew members 10 hours to assemble. The spaceship sealed the deal: ELO was officially my new favorite band. One day, I vowed with God is my witness, I would go to an ELO concert and see this neon Deco spaceship in action and then somehow stow away on board and join the band the way kids used to run away to join the circus, as was the style of the day. Spoiler alert: never happened. By the time I was of concert-going age, ELO was no longer a touring act, at least not in my town, nor were they accepting underaged stowaways with no discernible skill on any known musical instrument.

Still, those songs always stuck with me, always made me smile, even after I’d become a sullen punk and publicly disavowed all pre-punk music as dinosaur-rock, as was the style of the day. I outgrew the sullen punk pose the day I finally wised up to the fact that you could like both punk and hippie music, that they were all spokes on the same wheel of sonic possibility and equally valid in the right contexts. This became increasingly apparent as I got into bands like The Flaming Lips circa The Soft Bulletin, or Grandaddy circa The Sophtware Slump, or Air circa Moon Safari or Daft Punk circa almost everything they ever did, and I could clearly hear the ELO in the DNA of all that music: The gated snares, the spiraling flangers, the super-compressed, phase-shifted vocals blown-out with oceanic reverb and infinite echo, the immaculate robo-harmonies, the orchestral maneuvers in the dark. ELO sounds like a Beatles song that you plug into the wall and it lights up. Or to put it another way: ELO = The Beatles + Tron.

Fast forward 40 years to the Wells Fargo Center Friday night. The spaceship has been long-since been mothballed in the wake of Spinal Tap’s “Stonehenge” fiasco, as has almost everyone from ELO. Jeff Lynne’s ELO is basically Jeff Lynne — still rocking the electrocuted ‘fro, the G.I. Joe beard and Dr. Johnny Fever sunglasses of yore — who is the mastermind behind all the music, backed by a crack 12-piece band of hired guns who are able to replicate the Electric Light Oeuvre down to the most minute sonic detail — the vocoder vox on “Sweet Talkin’ Woman,” the alto operatics that bookend “Rockaria,” the funky clavinet on the chorus of “Evil Woman.” The show sold out within days of going on sale back in the spring, and despite the hefty price tag for tickets, as is the style of the day, a transcendental time was had by all.

Judging by the milky aura of the crowd, going to ELO was what middle-aged suburban white people were doing Friday night. We all sang back-up on the trilled falsetto “Groooos!” that punctuates the chorus of the mighty “Don’t Bring Me Down.” We all broke into loud cheers when Jeff Lynne and co. positively nailed the blown out phasers-set-for-Queen part of “Turn To Stone” and then again mid-song during “Handle With Care” during backing vocalist/guitarist Iain Hornal’s impeccable Roy Orbison impersonation; and we all cried a little in our souls as images of George Harrison, Tom Petty and Roy Orbison flickered on the giant screens behind the band.

We all stood up and pumped out fists in the air for the hits — “Evil Woman,” “Can’t Get It Out Of My Head,” “Telephone Line,” “Do Ya,” “Sweet Talkin’ Woman,” “Mr. Blue Sky” — and, pacing ourselves, took our seats for deep cuts like “10538 Overture” and “Wild West Hero,” and the new-ish “When I Was A Boy,” from 2015’s Alone In The Universe. We were all kinda bummed they didn’t do “Strange Magic” and some of us were hoping they would do “Hold On Tight” or “Lights Go Down” or even the deeply spooky “Fire On High,” but that’s all small beer in the face of a note-perfect evening of beatific music flawlessly rendered by nice people. That’s the difference, I suppose, between being 11 and REDACTED, when you don’t get the spaceship you hoped for your whole life you finally realize you don’t need one to get high. – JONATHAN VALANIA

JEFF LYNNE’S ELO + DHANI HARRISON @ WELLS FARGO CENTER SAT. JULY 13TH

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INCOMING: The Songs Remain The Same

July 11th, 2019

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Photo by RON RAFFAELLI

THE MANN: 50 years ago, on July 12, 1969, Led Zeppelin played the Spectrum in Philadelphia. 50 years later, on July 12, 2019, Classic Albums Live will be performing at the Mann Center, playing both Led Zeppelin I and Led Zeppelin II albums, back to back, note for note – cut for cut. Performing these albums since 2003, Classic Albums Live focuses entirely on the music. They don’t wear cheesy costumes or do bad impersonations. Their first show at the Mann is going to be an event that brings a sense of nostalgia and community, paying the ultimate respect to both albums. MORE

ILIKEPHILLY: On this day July 12, 1969 at the Spectrum in Philadelphia, Pa. it was the fourth date of the 1969 Summer Pop Festival , that started in Atlanta, Georgia on July 5th and ended on August 31, 1969 in Lewisville, Texas thirty- six shows in all. The tour featured Johnny Winter, Jethro Tull and Buddy Guy Blues Band with Led Zeppelin as the headliner. Here are some comments made by fans that were at the show…”I was at this show. It was an amazing night. The stage was in the center of Zep_Spectrumthe Spectrum floor, was round and rotated. Sometime during the evening they decided to stop the stage from moving. There were only about 3500 people in attendance so they told everyone to come down and sit near the stage after it stops rotating and we’ll just leave the stage in its STOPPED position for the night. I was blown away after that show. I saw them again in March 1970, this time they sold out the same venue.” MORE

DISTANT DRUMMER: A notice was tacked on the door of each dressing room at the Spectrum last weekend requesting that performances be kept under thirty minutes each. The explanation given was that the police commissioner [Frank Rizzo], fearing a rock-inspired riot, wanted the show over by 11:45P.M. The truth was that the Spectrum management, having already dropped a bundle in the three part pop festival, didn’t want to lose another $1000 in overtime charges to the union employees, etc. The result was that in the few instances where the groups got cooking for the small crowds, the management literally forced them off the stage. Led Zeppelin had to beg the crowd to let them off. They cited the “commissioner’s order” as the cause for the abrupt and mutually disappointing conclusion to their set. MORE

PHILADELPHIA MAGAZINE: The fact that Philadelphia barrister Francis Alexander Malofiy, Esquire, [pictured, below right] is suing Led Zeppelin over the disputed authorship of “Stairway to Heaven” is, by any objective measure, only the fourth most interesting thing about him. Unfortunately for the reader, and the purposes of this story, the first, second and third most interesting things about Malofiy are bound and gagged in nondisclosure agreements, those legalistic dungeons where the First Amendment goes to die. So let’s start with number four and work our way backward.

At the risk of stating the obvious, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, let the record show that “Stairway to Heaven” is arguably the most famous song in all of rock-and-roll, perhaps in all of popular music. It’s also one of the most lucrative — it’s estimated that the song has netted north of $500 million in sales and royalties since its 1971 release. Malofiy’s lawsuit, cheekily printed in the same druidic font used for the liner notes of the album Led Zeppelin IV, alleges that Jimmy Page and Francis-Malofiy-lede-768x1024-e1549917695813Robert Plant — Zep’s elegantly wasted guitarist/producer/central songwriter and leonine, leather-StairwayComplaintPiclunged lead singer, respectively — stole the iconic descending acoustic-guitar arpeggios of the first two minutes of “Stairway” from “Taurus,” a song with a strikingly similar chord pattern by a long-forgotten ’60s band called Spirit. At the conclusion of a stormy, headline-grabbing trial in 2016 that peaked with testimony from Page and Plant, the jury decided in Zep’s favor.

When the copyright infringement suit was first filed in Philadelphia by Malofiy (pronounced “MAL-uh-fee”) on behalf of the Randy Craig Wolfe Trust — which represents the estate of Randy “California” Wolfe, the now-deceased member of Spirit who wrote “Taurus” — people laughed. Mostly at Malofiy. The breathless wall-to-wall media coverage the trial garnered often painted him as a loose-cannon legal beagle, one part Charlie Sheen, one part Johnnie Cochran. “Everybody kind of dismissed me as this brash young lawyer who didn’t really understand copyright law,” he says, well into the wee hours one night back in December, sitting behind a desk stacked four feet high with legal files in the dank, subterranean bunker that is his office.

If Malofiy prevails in the coming “Stairway” retrial, he’ll completely shatter the Tolkien-esque legend of the song’s immaculate conception — that it was birthed nearly in toto during a mystical retreat at a remote Welsh mountain cottage called Bron-yr-aur, to which many a starry-eyed Zep disciple has made a pilgrimage once upon a midnight clear when the forests echo with laughter. It will be like proving that da Vinci didn’t paint the Mona Lisa, that Michelangelo didn’t sculpt David. Barring a last-minute settlement, many legal and copyright experts predict that Malofiy may well emerge victorious, and credit for the most famous rock song in the world will pass from the self-appointed Golden Gods of Led Zeppelin to some obscure, long-forgotten (and not even very good) West Coast psych band, along with tens of millions in royalties, effectively rewriting the sacred history of rock-and-roll. And the man who will have pulled off this fairly miraculous feat of judicial jujitsu is the enfant terrible of Philadelphia jurisprudence. MORE

CLASSIC ALBUMS LIVE PERFORM LED ZEPPELIN I & II @ THE MANN JULY 12TH

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INCOMING: Return Of The Red-Headed Stranger

July 9th, 2019

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A man who needs no last name, Willie is to Country what Neil is to rock: the Buddha, bestowing laid-back grace on all those who bask in his benevolent THC-tinged glow. Born April 30, 1933, in Abbott, Texas, Nelson begins writing songs at age seven. After serving briefly in the Air Force during the Korean War and studying agriculture at Baylor University, Nelson moves through a series of luckless, low-paying career changes– from disc jockey to door-to-door vacuum and encyclopedia salesman. By 1958, in dire financial straits and married with children, Nelson is forced to sell his songs for cheap (“Night Life,” later a hit for Ray Price, went for the princely sum of $150). By 1961, he’s inked a proper publishing deal, which results in Patsy Cline turning Nelson’s “Crazy” into a Country gold mine. In 1975, he releases Red Headed Stranger, pioneering the “Outlaw Country” movement–along with Merle Haggard, Waylon Jennings, Kris Kristofferson and Johnny Cash–with stripped-down honky-tonkisms and the most soulful nasal twang since Hank the First. Red Headed Stranger is a marvel of American beauty. After all the highs (lending a helping hand to the American farmer and smoking a joint on the roof of the White House) and the lows (that duet with Julio Iglesias; the 16 million-dollar raft of shit from the IRS, and, as a result, his shilling for Taco Bell), he has become the embodiment of everything that is good and right about the American experience. Willie Nelson headlines the Outlaw Music Festival — which features Bonnie Raitt, Alison Krauss and Gov’t Mule — at The Mann on September 13th. This you don’t want to miss. Trust me: There are few moments more soulful in this life than hearing “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain” take wing on a summer breeze. – JONATHAN VALANIA

RELATED: Our guest is Willie Nelson, who at age 86, has a summer tour and a new album. We’ll listen back to two of Terry’s conversations with Willie Nelson, from 1996 and again in 2006, about music and why he never quite fit in as a country star. MORE

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WORTH REPEATING: Did Nazi That Coming

July 8th, 2019

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DAILY DOT: Residents in a Philadelphia neighborhood are accusing the far-right, neo-fascist organization the Proud Boys of making armed “house calls” to harass and threaten private citizens. At the center of the reported house calls is community organizer Gwen Snyder, who according to her Patreon page, researches and writes about “radical white supremacy, corporate greed, and other pressing justice issues.” Due to the work she does, Snyder has been on the receiving end of threatening behavior for months, but things appear to have escalated over the weekend of July 1 when she and others detailed late-night visits from armed Proud Boys members, numbering up to a dozen. “This horror show just gets more and more surreal,” Synder tweeted. “There are now two Philly residents, myself included, who received terroristic late-night visits from a crowd of gun-toting Proud Boys, and a third being threatened. They fucking flew Proud Boys in from across the country for this.” Her tweets were accompanied by screenshots, one of which claims a Proud Boy flew all the way into Philadelphia from Texas just to make “house calls.” Synder and others report finding “Philadelphia Proud Boys” stickers placed on their homes and around the neighborhood. MORE

RELATED: The Philadelphia Proud Boys — An Introduction

RELATED: U.S. Law Enforcement Failed to See the Threat of White Nationalism. Now They Don’t Know How to Stop It

RELATED: Violent Far-Right Extremists Are Rarely Prosecuted as Terrorists

RELATED: Does the American Military Have a Problem With Far-Right Extremism?

RELATED: Why Can’t the Military Root Out Far-Right Extremism in Its Own Ranks?

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BECK: Saw Lightning (Freestyle)

July 8th, 2019

Beck’s new “Saw Lightning (Freestyle)” video captures the GRAMMY-winning artist stripping his latest single down to its bare bones. Rendered in striking minimalist black and white, “Saw Lightning (Freestyle)” relies solely on the impact of raw talent and passion: a man, a harmonica, a camera and nothing more. Beck’s vocals, stomping feet and solo harmonica somehow fill the same space occupied on the original by his raw acoustic slide guitar and Pharrell Williams’ drums, keyboards and mumbles. Directed by Giovanni Ribisi and edited by Nick Roney, “Saw Lightning (Freestyle)” is a radically different take on Beck’s first single from his forthcoming 14th album, Hyperspace, due out sometime in the future on Capitol Records. Surprise released April 15, 2019, “Saw Lightning” was made available simultaneously as a single and as the score to the Beats by Dr. Dre Powerbeats Pro campaign, directed by GRAMMY winner Hiro Murai. Beck will spend the remainder of the summer co-headlining the Night Running Tour with Cage The Elephant and Spoon which stops at the BB&T Pavillion on August 21st.

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CINEMA: Swedish Death Mettle

July 8th, 2019

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MIDSOMMAR (Dir. by Ari Aster, 140 minutes, 2019, USA)

Dan Tabor_byline_avatarBY DAN TABOR FILM CRITIC It’s been a little over a year since Hereditary was unleashed on audiences and horror wunderkind Ari Aster is already back with Midsommar, yet another transgressive opus. A24 had originally planned to make Midsommar as a slasher film set in Sweden when they offered Aster the project, instead of taking it as is, he rewrote the script from the ground up, turning in a sophomore effort that solidifies him as one of this generation’s most interesting voices in horror. The film still shares some DNA with the slasher genre, but its rich mythology and dramatic performances elevate the film into something much more than a simple horror film. Aster invests the narrative with a vibe reminiscent of surrealist master Alejandro Jodorowsky as it precariously straddles that thin line between art and exploitation.

As with Hereditary, Midsommar operates on two very distinct levels, the first being the tumultuous relationship between Dani (Florence Pugh) and Christian (Jack Reynor). Christian was looking to end the relationship before his planned vacation to Sweden backpacking with his friends, but after Dani’s troubled sister commits suicide, taking their parents with her, he puts the breakup on hold. Dani is then begrudgingly invited along for the trip and we watch their relationship disintegrate over the next two-plus hours. The second level is terrifying folk tale about a Swedish cult in a small secluded village that carries out a sacred rite every 90 years and the unfortunate souls that are unwittingly invited like lambs to the slaughter. The way Aster deploys these competing story lines to push and pull the narrative in opposite directions before coalescing in the cathartic third act is a marvel to behold.

This wouldn’t be possible without the rich visual language of Midsommar. The lush, summery Coachella aesthetic and bright Instagram-like cinematography is accentuated by moments of garish violence. This works not only to help build the unease, but also is a reminder of the brutality of nature and the cycle of life that is preached by the pagan cult. As with Hereditary, Midsommar’s scene transitions are sprinkled with Easter eggs/warnings. The throbbing and ethereal sound design is also used as a super effective tool to reinforce the nagging suspicion that there is a dark side to the beauty onscreen. Aster uses this sublime audio-visual tapestry to great effect, delivering what is possibly the most poignant film about a break up ever made. Midsommar is an exquisitely visceral cinematic experience that leaves you both physically and emotionally exhausted as the credits begin to wash over you.


Now playing in area theaters.

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

July 3rd, 2019

Midnight In Chernobyl

 

FRESH AIR: In the days following the 1986 explosion in the Chernobyl nuclear reactor, a military officer working to manage the response from an abandoned hotel nearby noticed a mysterious black carpet in the empty dining hall. When he got closer, he realized it was not a carpet; it was thousands of flies, alive but immobilized by the radiation in the air. That’s one of the details you’ll find in the book Midnight In Chernobyl by our guest, journalist Adam MidnightHigginbotham, who writes for The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine and other publications

The book has drawn new interest with the recent airing of a five-part HBO series about the disaster called “Chernobyl.” It was produced independent of Higginbotham’s research, and he believes it misrepresents some aspects of the story. Based on newly declassified documents and scores of interviews with participants, Higginbotham’s book offers a gripping account of the explosion and its causes, the frantic efforts to contain the damage, which exposed thousands of workers and soldiers to radiation, and the impact of the catastrophe on civilians. Large areas around the plant were so contaminated that whole villages had to be bulldozed and buried. MORE

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CINEMA: Homeboy

July 2nd, 2019

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SPIDERMAN: Far From Home (Directed by Jon Watts, 129 min., USA, 2019)

Dan Tabor_byline_avatar BY DAN TABOR FILM CRITIC With Marvel fans still reeling from the events of Avengers: Endgame, Spiderman: Far From Home is here to officially close out the ‘Infinity Saga’ and bring an end to phase three. Reuniting Tom Holland’s Spidey with Homecoming director Jon Watts, this installment of the Spiderman saga introduces Jake Gyllenhaal into the MCU fold as Quentin Beck aka Mysterio. Honestly, it’s a little odd to see Gyllenhaal back in the blockbuster game and with Disney, of all studios, after his unfortunate turn in Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time — a miserable experience that had the actor swearing off the popcorn movies for good. Far From Home became instantly infamous among the Marvel fans for its teases trailer, which, hitting too soon after Infinity War, let the air out of one of the most heart-breaking deaths in the MCU.

Far From Home picks up a few months after the events of Endgame with Parker going on a school trip to Europe, where he hopes to confess his true feelings for MJ. The problem is Nick Fury crashes his holiday to recruit him for a team-up with Mysterio — a refugee from another timeline, specifically from Earth-833 — to take on the newly-appeared Elementals. These are monsters made of earth, wind and fire who seek to destroy our planet like they did Mysterio’s. While this is all transpiring Parker is still trying to find his footing after the events of Endgame (which are now referred to as “The Blip”), and deal with the widespread expectation that he will fill Iron Man’s shoes. The film bounces between this and the fact that Parker just wants to be a normal kid, despite the fact that he finally got what he spent the entire last two films trying to attain: Avenger status.

Truth is, Far From Home is frustrating and underwhelming. The film wants to lean hard into what everyone loved about Homecoming, that John Hughes-eque teen innocence vibe, but to justify that we would have to forget the events that have transpired so far (like Parker fighting in the shit only to watch Iron Man, his mentor, kill himself to stop Thanos). As such, the film plays this weird game where it wants to have its cake and eat it too. Improbably, the script has Parker, who has just sacrificed himself to help to save literally galaxies of people, telling Nick Fury he’d rather go hang out with a girl who may or may not like him, than save his own planet. Fury brilliantly replies, “Bitch please, you’ve been to space,” which more or less sums up my thoughts about Far From Home. This tonal imbalance is further aggravated by the fact that we’re supposed to be surprised that Mysterio is a bad guy. I will give writers Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers bonus points for Quentin Beck’s driving motivation, and getting to watch Gyllenhaal chew the hell out of that scenery in that last act isn’t too bad either.

I don’t know what I had a harder time believing: That after having 59 heroes on screen in the previous film they couldn’t find anyone to help Spider-Man other than Mysterio, the guy who just showed up from a universal rift, or that Marvel would allow the event they spent 10 years working toward to be forever referred to as “The Blip.” (I’m sorry, but this really drives me crazy!) Far From Home has some great comedic moments, but the fans are smarter than this lazy script which attempts to redeem itself with an ending that’s just the inception of twists that Marvel could just retcon later. At its best, Far From Home feels like a Disney+ movie of the week, and after Endgame the new height of the MCU bar is a bit out of this film’s reach. You could chalk it up to Marvel fatigue, but we should call it like it is: it’s just not as good as Homecoming, and a lackluster endcap to the stellar phase 3.

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