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BY JONATHAN VALANIA FOR VICE Steve Jones has been a lot of things in his 61 years: a love-starved bastard, a smooth criminal, a peeping tom, an insatiable man-slut, a master thief, an insufferable prog-rocker, a wouldbe Yacht Rock A&R rep, a SEX shop clerk, Chrissie Hynde’s pre-Pretenders fuck-buddy; a teenage Sex Pistol, a 23-year-old has-been, a sticky-fingered junkie, a shit-hot guitar-slinger-for-hire, Iggy Pop’s muse, a Fabio-haired solo artist, a buff and burnished Hollywood biker, a recovering addict, a childhood sexual abuse survivor, a jailhouse motivational speaker, an ascot’d elder statesman of punk, a beloved LA disc jockey and a sexagenarian social media baller.
All of which is confessed in unflinching detail, with a nod and a wink and a pinch of Cockney slang, in Lonely Boy (Da Capo), his painfully honest, just-published must-read memoir, co-written with Ben Thompson. Recently we got Mr. Jones on the horn to discuss the following: Stealing Keith Richards’s favorite coat/Bryan Ferry’s gold record/David Bowie’s bass amp; his cloak of invisibility; his crap childhood; the tens of thousands of “birds” he’s “shagged”; his semi-tragic inability to forge a lasting relationship with a woman; learning how to read, write and spell after 40; an ex-illegal Brit’s perspective on immigrants and Trump; why he can’t stand being in the same room with Johnny Rotten; watching Glen Matlock shag John Cale’s wife; whether or not Sid Vicious kill Nancy Spungen; why Never Mind The Bollocks, Here’s The Sex Pistols is the Dorian Gray of seminal DOA punk rock debuts; the oft-derided virtues of Boston and Journey; and why he pissed on Elvis’ grave.
VICE: Let’s start at the beginning and work our way up to the present. In your pre-Sex Pistols days you were a very prolific and precocious thief. In addition to robbing a lot of unfamous people you also stole Keith Richards’ coat, Bryan Ferry’s gold record, the entire backline of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars in the middle of their infamous two-night farewell concert at the Hammersmith-Odeon in 1973. You refer to your ability to operate largely undetected in the shadows as “The Cloak.”
STEVE JONES: The Invisible Cloak, yeah.
VICE: Were you really that gifted a criminal? Or were the police so incompetent and security measures so insufficient back in those days?
STEVE JONES: Well it was that, that’s it. There was no security. No one had cameras. Even alarm systems in stores didn’t work that great. It was the perfect time to be a kleptomaniac for sure, but there was also an element of balls that you had to have. That’s where “The Cloak” came from. I would literally go to any high-end department store up the West End of London — Selfridge’s, Harrods, Hamleys — and work my way into the storeroom and convince myself I was meant to be there. And oftentimes people would actually, people who worked there would see me there, but I had this confidence about me that they wouldn’t even question what I was doing there. And I was like, 12 years old, it was remarkable how many times I did that and got away with it.
STEVE JONES: It was all about the thrill, to be honest. I mean, it was fine getting some free stuff that I didn’t need, but it was a survival mechanism is what it was. It was, you know, because of the trauma, I guess, if you want to call it that, after my stepfather fucking about with me. After that happened, I didn’t want to be at home, I didn’t feel safe at home. I had this urge on a daily basis to go out into the world and be on a mission. I couldn’t sit still, so that’s why I became a kleptomaniac.
VICE: Your fear and anxiety about your fucked up home situation aggravated your ADHD and may have been the root cause of a lot of the antisocial things you were doing in your youth?
STEVE JONES: It was grim. My upbringing was grim. I had a mother who didn’t really want to have a kid. I had a stepfather who definitely didn’t want me around. Life was good when I was with my Nan, from a very early age to about six or seven. By the time I was about six or seven we moved into this shithole in Shepherd’s Bush in a basement and that’s when the horrible vibes come, you know, and I just hated it. I couldn’t stand it. You know, I was in the way. I was a burden. That’s the feeling I got, you know, and I didn’t want to deal with it.
VICE: In the book you make a very frank and courageous admission that you were once molested by your stepfather. What advice would you offer to somebody who went through something similar to that as a child, who is now an adult but is still so consumed with shame and humiliation they can’t really confront it, even now.
STEVE JONES: I think that happens quite a lot, to be honest with you. I think not 1 in 100 but maybe 1 in 50, where some kind of weird shit happens to you as a kid. But the worst is when it happens to you when supposedly you’re in a safe place, at home, with your parents and, I mean, in hindsight, you know, the best thing to do is to fucking tell someone because when you’re 10 years old you kind of tell yourself that you had a part in it. You kind of made them do it. You know, and it’s when looking back at it, when you’re 10 years old, how the fuck do you know anything, you know? Your totally taken advantage of, and the best thing to do is to talk about it. Talk about it one-on-one with someone if you don’t want the whole world to know. It definitely helps because that’s a big burden, that’s a big secret to carry around and it gives you fucking cancer if you ask me and shit like that, you know?
VICE: Totally. The truth shall set you free. Jumping back to your early life of crime — The Great David Bowie Heist is just hilarious and blows my mind. There’s this iconic moment in rock n’ roll history and there you are in the background sneaking off with everyone’s shit. For the benefit of readers who haven’t read your book yet could you just give a summary of what happened?
STEVE JONES: Yeah, I was a massive Bowie fan, specifically a Spiders from Mars fan — as I was Roxy music, or Rod Stewart and The Faces, or Mott The Hoople. That was my time. When I was a teenager that was what I was obsessed with. Glam rock. Good glam rock, not shit glam rock. I went to what wound up being the farewell concert of Ziggy Stardust & The Spiders From Mars and Hammersmith Odeon where I always used to go and see shows. I used to know that place like the back of my hand, and I went and saw him. I didn’t realize- well no one realized — this was going to be the end of the Spiders from Mars, and they did two nights and after the first night they left all their gear set up on stage, because they were going to play again the next night. The left some guy who was asleep, well he wasn’t meant to be asleep he was meant to be awake looking after the equipment, but he dozed off in about the fifth row and no one else was in this place other than him, me, and my accomplice.
We snuck on the stage started snipping microphones with some pliers, I took the bass amp, I took some of the cymbals. I didn’t take anything from Mick Ronson I don’t know why I didn’t but um, we loaded up my mini-van that I had at the time, dropped it off somewhere, came back for another round and, about to do some more damage, the guy woke up. He didn’t see me. I saw him starting to wake up and I split. I didn’t realize this was going to be such a big deal. I didn’t realize this was going to be the end of that phase of Bowie. It was on the radio the next morning that all their equipment had been stolen. And of course that made you feel a sense of pride and savor the infamy — hey ‘I did that!’ Like the arsonist who sets fire to houses and stands outside when the cops show up, watching it burn. Getting kind of like a “Yeah, that’s me! That’s me!” This nobody has made a little bit of a name for himself and no one knows it.
VICE: You met Bowie years later, did you ever tell him about this? MORE
PREVIOUSLY: Q&A With Johnny Rotten, Anti-Christ Superstar
PLAYBOY: Dr. King, are your children old enough to be aware of the issues at stake in the civil rights movement, and of your role in it?
MARTIN LUTHER KING: Yes, they are—especially my oldest child, Yolanda. Two years ago, I remember, I returned home after serving one of my terms in the Albany, Georgia, jail, and she asked me, “Daddy, why do you have to go to jail so much?” I told her that I was involved in a struggle to make conditions better for the colored people, and thus for all people. I explained that because things are as they are, someone has to take a stand, that it is necessary for someone to go to jail, because many Southern officials seek to maintain the barriers that have historically been erected to exclude the colored people. I tried to make her understand that someone had to do this to make the world better—for all children. She was only six at that time, but she was already aware of segregation because of an experience that we had had.
PLAYBOY: Would you mind telling us about it?
MARTIN LUTHER KING: Not at all. The family often used to ride with me to the Atlanta airport, and on our way, we always passed Funtown, a sort of miniature Disneyland with mechanical rides and that sort of thing. Yolanda would inevitably say, “I want to go to Funtown,” and I would always evade a direct reply. I really didn’t know how to explain to her why she couldn’t go. Then one day at home, she ran downstairs exclaiming that a TV commercial was urging people to come to Funtown. Then my wife and I had to sit down with her between us and try to explain it. I have won some applause as a speaker, but my tongue twisted and my speech stammered seeking to explain to my six-year-old daughter why the public invitation on television didn’t include her, and others like her. One of the most painful experiences I have ever faced was to see her tears when I told her that Funtown was closed to colored children, for I realized that at that moment the first dark cloud of inferiority had floated into her little mental sky, that at that moment her personality had begun to warp with that first unconscious bitterness toward white people. It was the first time that prejudice based upon skin color had been explained to her. But it was of paramount importance to me that she not grow up bitter. So I told her that although many white people were against her going to Funtown, there were many others who did want colored children to go. It helped somewhat. Pleasantly, word came to me later that Funtown had quietly desegregated, so I took Yolanda. A number of white persons there asked, “Aren’t you Dr. King, and isn’t this your daughter?” I said we were, and she heard them say how glad they were to see us there. MORE
DAILY KOS: I would like to remind everyone exactly what Martin Luther King did, and it wasn’t that he “marched” or gave a great speech. My father told me with a sort of cold fury, “Dr. King ended the terror of living in the south.” Please let this sink in and and take my word and the word of my late father on this. If you are a white person who has always lived in the U.S. and never under a brutal dictatorship, you probably don’t know what my father was talking about. […] It wasn’t that black people had to use a separate drinking fountain or couldn’t sit at lunch counters, or had to sit in the back of the bus. You really must disabuse yourself of this idea. Lunch counters and buses were crucial symbolic planes of struggle that the civil rights movement used to dramatize the issue, but the main suffering in the south did not come from our inability to drink from the same fountain, ride in the front of the bus or eat lunch at Woolworth’s.
It was that white people, mostly white men, occasionally went berserk, and grabbed random black people, usually men, and lynched them. You all know about lynching. But you may forget or not know that white people also randomly beat black people, and the black people could not fight back, for fear of even worse punishment. This constant low level dread of atavistic violence is what kept the system running. It made life miserable, stressful and terrifying for black people. White people also occasionally tried black people, especially black men, for crimes for which they could not conceivably be guilty. With the willing participation of white women, they often accused black men of “assault,” which could be anything from rape to not taking off one’s hat, to “reckless eyeballing.”
I remember a huge family reunion one August with my aunts and uncles and cousins gathered around my grandparents’ vast breakfast table laden with food from the farm, and the state troopers drove up to the house with a car full of rifles and shotguns, and everyone went kind of weirdly blank. They put on the masks that black people used back then to not provoke white berserkness. My strong, valiant, self-educated, articulate uncles, whom I adored, became shuffling, Step-N-Fetchits to avoid provoking the white men. Fortunately the troopers were only looking for an escaped convict. Afterward, the women, my aunts, were furious at the humiliating performance of the men, and said so, something that even a child could understand.
The question is, how did Dr. King do this—and of course, he didn’t do it alone. So what did they do? They told us: Whatever you are most afraid of doing vis-a-vis white people, go do it. Go ahead down to city hall and try to register to vote, even if they say no, even if they take your name down. Go ahead sit at that lunch counter. Sue the local school board. All things that most black people would have said back then, without exaggeration, were stark raving insane and would get you killed. If we do it all together, we’ll be okay. They made black people experience the worst of the worst, collectively, that white people could dish out, and discover that it wasn’t that bad. They taught black people how to take a beating—from the southern cops, from police dogs, from fire department hoses. They actually coached young people how to crouch, cover their heads with their arms and take the beating. They taught people how to go to jail, which terrified most decent people.
And you know what? The worst of the worst, wasn’t that bad. Once people had been beaten, had dogs sicced on them, had fire hoses sprayed on them, and been thrown in jail, you know what happened? These magnificent young black people began singing freedom songs in jail. That, my friends, is what ended the terrorism of the south. Confronting your worst fears, living through it, and breaking out in a deep throated freedom song. The jailers knew they had lost when they beat the crap out of these young Negroes and the jailed, beaten young people began to sing joyously, first in one town then in another. MORE
BY JONATHAN VALANIA In advance of the eagerly awaited Camper Van Beethoven/Cracker show at World Cafe Life tonight, we got CVB/Cracker mainman Dave Lowery on the horn to talk turkey. Discussed: Bowie, hallucinogenics, Bowling For Columbine, skinheads, Upper Humboldtistan, Patty Hearst, Albanian folk music, The Illuminati, the Inland Empire, La Costa Perdida, what it feels like to be the new Lars Ulrich (pretty good, actually), and just what the hell is a Vampire Can Mating Oven? So Pitch-A-Tent and just get high while the radio’s on. And let us fondly recall The Day That Lassie Went To The Moon.
DAVE LOWERY: [laughs] I haven’t heard it. I’m not really a big Bowie fan.
PHAWKER: David Bowie is going to be devastated when he reads this. Let’s just move on. Do you remember the day you guys came up with the name?
DAVE LOWERY: Camper Van Beethoven? Yeah. We had the name before we had any songs. David McDaniel was one of the founding members of the band. He was my funny, quirky friend, very devout Christian who spent most of his life as a minister. He also had this crazy stand-up comedy persona that he did where he would say these jokes that had all the reason and rhyme of jokes, but they didn’t really make any sense. He would do some foreign Borat-type accent and say, ‘My country is so small every time we change a tire, everybody laughs!’ I mean, it doesn’t make any sense. And he had this rhyme and reason that was his sense of humor — this whole series of never ending things that sounded like they could be jokes but they deconstructed and destroyed themselves in the process. That’s where Camper Van Beethoven came from. Years later there were all these bands that came along like REO Speedealer and Brian Jonestown Massacre. These two half puns that don’t really go together.
PHAWKER: But it was originally Camper Van Beethoven and the Border Patrol, correct?
DAVE LOWERY: Exactly.
PHAKWER: And that was just another non-sequitur?
DAVE LOWERY: Yeah! Yeah. No apparent reason, didn’t mean anything.
PHAWKER: And where did the fascination with Eastern European folk music come from?
DAVE LOWERY: We thought ska sounded like that, at least the ska that we were listening to back in the early punk-rock days when ska and punk-rock were all mixed together. We would just use those scales and those kind of melodies but we were also really influenced by surf-bands, but we just didn’t play surf beats, but that’s what we were into. But we just put ska and punk rock, and sort of put punk beats and rhythms into the song. Surf music was obsessed with the sound of other cultures.
PHAWKER: And those crazy album titles like Telephone Free Landslide Victory and Vampire Can Mating Oven?
DAVE LOWERY: Vampire Can Mating Oven was actually from a friend of mine who I had been in another band with and I left to do Camper Van Beethoven. When Camper Van Beethoven became successful he was very derisive and snarky. He used to call us ‘Vampire Can Mating Oven.’ So we called our album that. We didn’t want our name or our song titles or our album titles to really evoke anything. And it seemed to freak some people out. Some of the stuff we did was weirdly controversial. The punk kids would be like ‘Hippies! Why are you playing ‘White Riot’ by The Clash slow in country style?!? Every time we’d play with these punk bands like The Dead Kennedy’s or something like that, we had people who wanted to fight us after the show, because they thought we were making fun of them. The reason we did all those ska songs was generally, if things were going wrong, we could do a really quick series of ska instrumentals, or one of the Eastern European things and they would be okay for another ten, fifteen minutes.
PHAWKER: What about Telephone Free Landslide Victory?
DAVE LOWERY: Again, we’re playing with words. There’s a good story that goes with that title. There was this band back in the 60s that we idolized called The Kaleidoscope. One of their classic albums, Beacon From Mars, was actually supposed to be called Bacon From Mars. But apparently it went to the printing plant and somebody just figured it was a misspelling or a typo or couldn’t read the handwriting, and they changed it to Beacon From Mars.
Strange parallel: Telephone Free Landslide Victory was originally called Telephone Tree Landslide Victory. But when we sent it to to Bruce Licher to print the cover, he misread our handwriting and thought it was Telephone Free Landslide Victory. We were like, ‘No, it’s Telephone TREE Landslide Victory!’ And he was like, ‘Oh, shit!’ But he’d already hand-printed fifteen hundred covers. And the we were like, ‘Wait, that’s better!’
PHAWKER: “Take The Skinheads Bowling,” your first single, was this fully-formed perfect pop song. Maybe the CVB’s best song. What’s the back story?
DAVE LOWERY: I just got this idea that I thought a lot of great songs really didn’t mean anything; it was kind of just cool, the way the words went together, and that that should be celebrated. So, I was really carefully trying to make it so that each line didn’t really seem like it had anything to do with the line before it.
PHAWKER: So all these years that I thought I just wasn’t deep enough to get the meaning of ‘Every day I get up and pray to Ja, and he decreases the number of clocks by exactly one’ and it turns out it doesn’t mean anything at all.
DAVE LOWERY: Yes, absolutely, yes.
PHAWKER: And then 10 years ago, Michael Moore used it for Bowling For Columbine, which has taken a renewed relevance as of late. How did that come about?
PHAWKER: Early on there was this perception that you guys had spent a lot of time tripping out in the desert and emerged these sort of wild-eyed, blissed-out alt-rock mystics. You guys seemed to play that up a bit. I remember reading a quote, I think it was in Spin, from one of you guys saying that you were totally paranoid and totally obsessed with the Illuminati. Tell me where your heads were at back then. Were you guys as high as everyone thought you were?
Artwork by REXPLUNA
EDITOR’S NOTE: There is more to Sarah Silverman — who kicks off a two-night stand at the Keswick on Sunday — than just ‘fake-racist meta-jokes’ and fucking Matt Damon. There is also doody jokes. But seriously folks, after 34 episodes of The Sarah Silverman Show, 30 movies, two Emmys, and one memoir, she’s just getting started. On the doody jokes. Just kidding. You’ll see. The following is an exclusive excerpt from my 6,300 word 2014 MAGNET cover story. Enjoy.
BY JONATHAN VALANIA When I meet Sarah Silverman for the first time she is coming out of the bathroom. It seems somehow fitting. Her sets are rife with grimy bathroom humor, ‘doody’ is her favorite word and she’s been telling audiences as of late that she wants to make a phone app “that will let you know when your friends are shitting.” For the first and probably last time in my life the prospect of asking a complete stranger if she made a doody actually seems like not just a good idea, but a great one. Still, I think better of it and it passes. Probably all for the best.
Like everyone on TV, Sarah Silverman is smaller and more vulnerable in the flesh. She looks trim, adorable and 10 years younger than her 43 years — which she chalks up to her zero intake of booze or meat. And yet, upon closer inspection something is wrong. There is a dull black bruise under one eye. There is something deeply disturbing and angry-making about a woman with a black eye. Right away, your jaw clenches and your hands ball up into fists. All you want to know is who did this and where is he now.
“Oh, shit. I keep forgetting how crazy I must look,” she says, when I ask what happened. “I tried covering it . This is with cover-up on. I thought it’d be gone by now. I got a concussion playing basketball, like I just landed on my head.”
It is the middle of August and we are backstage at Susquehanna Bank Center in Camden, New Jersey, where Sarah is performing as part of OddballFest, Funny Or Die’s moveable feast of comedy, featuring state of the art stand-up practitioners circa now, people like Louis CK, Amy Schumer, Bill Burr and Aziz Ansari.
We sit down on her dressing room couch and chat about her career (in less than two weeks she will win her second Emmy and be tapped to host SNL), her dad (‘Hey, he does look like Harry Dean Stanton, now that you mention it.”), her weed (never before a show; no regrets about showing America her pot pipe on the red carpet at the Emmys, it’s legal in California), her vegetarianism (“I don’t eat meat or fish, but I eat dairy and eggs. I don’t eat anything dead, but I’ll eat it if it comes out of an animal’s boobs or vagina.”) where she draws the line in pursuit of a laugh (“Nothing’s off limits if it’s funny enough, and it doesn’t make me feel more rotten than excited to tell it. That’s the only gauge you can really go by.”) her nervousness about her impending appearance on the Howard Stern Show (“It’s my first Stern being with Michael.”)
Michael is the esteemed actor Michael Sheen, born in Wales, graduate of London’s Royal Academy Of Dramatic Arts, three-time BAFTA winner, better known in the UK for his stage work, probably better known in this country for playing David Frost, Nixon’s chief interrogator in Frost/Nixon, and for playing Tony Blair in 2006’s The Queen. Or his current incarnation as Master’s Of Sex’s titular Dr. Masters. (Sarah played Betty’s ex-GF Helen for two episodes this season and is expected to return next season) In some quarters he will be better known for being Kate Beckinsale’s main squeeze/baby father from 1995-2003. When she goes on Stern in a few weeks, he will point out that Kate Beckinsale is one of the most gorgeous creatures on the planet ask if Sarah feels intimidated by that fact. This is one of those carbomb questions Stern likes to drive into guests, one of the questions she was dreading, but she defuses it like Jeremy Renner in The Hurt Locker. You can almost see the gears turning. Do I cut the red wire — threaten to scratch that bitch’s eyes out? Or the blue wire — acknowledge Beckinsale’s extraordinary beauty, but instead of being intimidated, take the high road and say you are flattered that her boyfriend is surrounded by all these beautiful creatures “And he chose me!” She snips the blue wire and…nothing happens. Defused. Crisis averted.
She has a cute story about meeting Michael that she clearly loves to share, so let’s indulge her:
“We were fixed up, without knowing it, by Mark Flanagan who owns the club Largo in LA. I did a benefit show there that I will talk about tonight if I remember, and he was there. Flanagan introduced us, and the next day, Flanagan was like, ‘He has a crush on you!’ And I was like, ‘Oh, he’s cute.’ And then without me knowing, he told Michael, ‘She has a crush on you.’ He connected us by e-mail. We went out to dinner, and we were both so confident, because we thought the other one had a crush on us. It wasn’t true. It wasn’t not true. It wasn’t until his 45th birthday dinner, and one of his friends said, ‘How’d you meet?’ And I was like, ‘I’ll take this. Michael had a crush on me, and he told Flanagan, and they made a plan for him to come to one of my shows.’ And Michael’s just politely listening, and then he was like, ‘That’s not true.’ It was so embarrassing.”
And then Louis CK walks in. Just to say ‘hi.’ That almost never happens to me. MORE
BY DAN BUSKIRK FILM CRITIC Andrew’s Video Vault presents a pair of semi-lost 80s rock films are on the bill Thursday night January 12th at the Rotunda in West Philly: Prince’s 1987 theatrical concert film Sign O’ the Times and Brian Gibson’s 1980 rise and fall of a British post-punk star Breaking Glass with Hazel O’Connor, in its extended U.K. Cut. It’s easy to see 1987’s double-album Sign O’ the Times as Prince’s cultural pinnacle, propelling three songs into the Top Ten and raising Prince’s star even higher in Europe. The concert market was weaker in the U.S. than oversea though and Prince was anxious to get his post-Revolution band into the studio so it was decided that a film would be made on the European tour to take the place of U.S. dates. That footage was mostly scrapped as too dark and grainy and the show, with Prince’s new band now well-rehearsed and smoking hot, was re-staged at the studios of Paisley Park.
Prince made three fictional musicals over his career (the monster-hit Purple Rain, the black and white Parisian period piece, Under the Cherry Moon and the pastel-laden Purple Rain sequel, Graffiti Bridge) but most would agree that the high points of each of these films is when Prince is performing. Sign O’ the Times lets the late musician’s fan gorge on those moments. Many of the songs are separated by the band in neon spaces pantomiming scenes of love or anger with a bespectacled Prince observing but those little dramatic moments are less engaging than the drama the takes place on stage. Never do you get the sense this is just a band going through their catalog, the performances are full of inventive staging and loaded theatrical asides, with mock fights, jazz jam sessions, and the dancer Cat Glover and Prince and acting out a number of sexually preposterous mini-scenarios over the course of the film’s 13 songs.
Sheila E unleashes a crazy drum workout, Bonnie Pointer drops in to wail a little but no one is going to upstage Prince, casually burning like Hendrix, testing the seams of every crazy jumpsuit he sports (I lost count), and squealing like a banshee through the fervent gospel closer, “The Cross.” Few concert films have served their subjects so well, Sign O’ the Times is pure purple heaven for Prince fans.
Did Prince ever see Breaking Glass, a rise and crash musical drama made in the post-punk moment of 1980? Produced four years before the similarly-plotted Purple Rain, the gritty British film follows a struggling musician whose life, love, and madness bleed on and off-stage. Like Purple Rain, Breaking Glass was blessed to have a real life musician and performer in the lead, Hazel O’Connor, who gives a nervy and unpredictable performance. Musicians have a unique charisma that is different from actors and having a real musical performer in the lead, (O’Connor was already a seasoned performer at 25, when she made the film) singing her own songs, gives the film an authentic energy.
O’Connor plays Kate and the action begins with a small-time record promoter Danny (Phil Daniel, star of another ’80s British rock film, Quadrophenia) spotting her talent at Kate’s semi-disastrous bar gig and offering to be her manager. Asking her influences Kate says, “I’m not punk, but I’m influenced by punk” verbally staking out the ground that music critics would soon label “Post Punk.” Spiritually her style springs from the scene although it owes just as much to the music of Bowie (Bowie’s producer Tony Visconti produced the soundtrack, which went on to be a major U.K. Hit). Together they assemble a band (with Brazil‘s Jonathan Pryce in his second film role and Gary Tibbs, bassist for The Vibrators) and they climb the U.K. show biz ladder, dealing with dumb record executives, crooked club owners and an increasingly unruly fan base. Giving the film an eerie modern relevancy, the film paints a disturbing picture of the birth of Thatcher’s conservative movement, with neo-Nazis popping up at shows and at one point rioting during a Rock Against Racism-type of concert, something Kate bravely confronts while slowly losing her sanity in the gears of commerce.
The film made O’Connor a star in U.K. (an unsigned Duran Duran opened for her tour after the film’s release) where she still records today. First-time director Brian Gibson went on to direct two very popular biopics about women performers, HBO’s 1991 production The Josephine Baker Story and the 1993 Tina Turner biopic, What’s Love Got To Do With It. In the U.S. Breaking Glass gained a cult following, mostly from repeated screenings on the USA Network’s late night show, Night Flight. While the U.S. version unmercifully shortened the film by cutting out its final ten minutes, for The Rotunda screening we’ll be watching the rare full-length U.K. version.
BUZZFEED: A dossier making explosive — but unverified — allegations that the Russian government has been “cultivating, supporting and assisting” President-elect Donald Trump for years and gained compromising information about him has been circulating among elected officials, intelligence agents, and journalists for weeks. The dossier, which is a collection of memos written over a period of months, includes specific, unverified, and potentially unverifiable allegations of contact between Trump aides and Russian operatives, and graphic claims of sexual acts documented by the Russians. BuzzFeed News reporters in the US and Europe have been investigating various alleged facts in the dossier but have not verified or falsified them. CNN reported Tuesday that a two-page synopsis of the report was given to President Obama and Trump. Now BuzzFeed News is publishing the full document so that Americans can make up their own minds about allegations about the president-elect that have circulated at the highest levels of the US government. MORE
NEW YORK TIMES: The decision of top intelligence officials to give the president, the president-elect and the so-called Gang of Eight — Republican and Democratic leaders of Congress and the intelligence committees — what they know to be unverified, defamatory material was extremely unusual. The appendix summarized opposition research memos prepared mainly by a retired British intelligence operative for a Washington political and corporate research firm. The firm was paid for its work first by Mr. Trump’s Republican rivals and later by supporters of Mrs. Clinton. The Times has checked on a number of the details included in the memos but has been unable to substantiate them.
The memos suggest that for many years, the Russian government of Mr. Putin has looked for ways to influence Mr. Trump, who has traveled repeatedly to Moscow to investigate real estate deals or to oversee the Miss Universe competition, which he owned for several years. Mr. Trump never completed any major deals in Russia, though he discussed them for years. The former British intelligence officer who gathered the material about Mr. Trump is considered a competent and reliable operative with extensive experience in Russia, American officials said. But he passed on what he heard from Russian informants and others, and what they told him has not yet been vetted by American intelligence. The memos describe sex videos involving prostitutes with Mr. Trump in a 2013 visit to a Moscow hotel. The videos were supposedly prepared as “kompromat,” or compromising material, with the possible goal of blackmailing Mr. Trump in the future. MORE
RELATED: The Company Report 2016/080
NPR 11/13/16: NATO members Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia are anxious over President-elect Donald Trump’s criticism of NATO and comments about forging stronger ties between the U.S. and Russia. MORE
CNN 8/1/16: Donald Trump said Sunday that Russian President Vladimir Putin won’t make a military move into Ukraine — even though Putin already has done just that, seizing the country’s Crimean Peninsula. “He’s not going into Ukraine, OK, just so you understand. He’s not going to go into Ukraine, all right? You can mark it down. You can put it down. You can take it anywhere you want,” Trump said in an interview on Sunday with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos on “This Week.”
“Well, he’s already there, isn’t he?” Stephanopoulos responded, in a reference to Crimea, which Putin took from Ukraine in early 2014.
Trump said: “OK — well, he’s there in a certain way. But I’m not there. You have Obama there. And frankly, that whole part of the world is a mess under Obama with all the strength that you’re talking about and all of the power of NATO and all of this. In the meantime, he’s going away. He takes Crimea.” MORE
“NATO is costing us a fortune, and yes, we’re protecting Europe, but we’re spending a lot of money. Number one, I think the distribution of costs has to be changed.” –Donald Trump, interview with The Washington Post editorial board, March 21
“NATO is unfair, economically, to us, to the United States. Because it really helps them more so than the United States, and we pay a disproportionate share.” –Trump, interview with The New York Times, transcript published March 26
“We pay, number one, a totally disproportionate share of NATO. We’re spending the biggest, the lion share’s paid for by us, disproportionate to other countries.” –Trump, interview on ABC News’s “This Week,” March 27
“We pay so much disproportionately more for NATO. We are getting ripped off by every country in NATO, where they pay virtually nothing, most of them. And we’re paying the majority of the costs.” –Trump, interview with Charlie Sykes, March 28
“The other thing that’s bad about NATO, we’re paying too much. We’re spending a tremendous — billions and billions of dollars on NATO. …We’re paying too much! You have countries in NATO, I think it’s 28 countries – you have countries in NATO that are getting a free ride and it’s unfair, it’s very unfair.” —Trump, remarks during CNN town hall, March 29
No idea what to make of this but on page 27 of the report it says ask ARAZ AGALAROV, he’ll know what you’re talking about.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This euology originally published in the wake of David Bowie’s death a year ago today.
BY JONATHAN VALANIA The year is 1980 and 14-year-old me drops the needle on Changesonebowie in my bedroom, with the door locked because this is serious business, while staring at the album cover, trying to figure out how all these startling and seemingly disconnected musics — space-age psych folk, white plastic soul, zooming Brechtian glam, bloozy garage-punk, coked-up funk, Teutonic trance-rock, proto-electronica — came out of this one delicate man with impeccable hair and immaculate cheekbones. Thirty-six years later I still don’t have a good answer beyond this: Clearly, he is from another planet. Clearly.
The year is 1983 and I am teetering on my seat, dizzy from the thin air — and perhaps an illicit beer or seven in the parking lot — way up in the nosebleed section of the Spectrum for the Philly stop of Bowie’s Serious Moonlight Tour. Though we seemed miles away from the stage, there was no missing that hot mustard yellow double breasted suit and the curly shock of electric blond hair or that voice — river deep, mountain high, smooth as crushed velvet and sharp as shattered glass, it contained multitudes. You could hear the whole 20th Century in that voice.
The year is 1984, I walk into the only edgy/cool fancy-pants hair salon in Allentown, PA, with the cover of Heroes under my arm. “This is what hair is supposed to look like,” I tell them. “Make me look like this.” When they get done, they insist I look just like the guy on the cover of Heroes, but looking in the mirror I can tell they are lying. A hard lesson was learned on that day: Being David Bowie is harder than it looks. Much harder.
The year is 2004, I am a journalist working on a magazine profile of the Polyphonic Spree who have been hand-picked by David Bowie to be the opening act for what will prove to be his final American tour. We are standing in the support act dressing room — me and 12 gangly, funky-smelling Texans wearing white Jesus robes and dirty Chuck Taylors — deep in the bowels of the Wachovia Center waiting for The Man Who Fell To Earth to pop in for one of those faux-spontaneous carefully-arranged candid shots for the Random Notes section of Rolling Stone. It’s noisy, hot and locker room-rific in here. When he finally arrives literally everyone gasps and the room falls pin-drop silent: It’s David Fucking Bowie. He is elegant and gracious and shorter than he looks on TV. I shake his hand just to prove to myself that this really happened.
The year is 2016. It’s the morning after I heard on the BBC somewhere around 2 AM that David Bowie died. I’m still having a hard time processing it. I feel like a part of me is gone. I’m driving around Philadelphia, the city where David Bowie recorded three albums (Young Americans, Live, Stage), going nowhere in particular. Philly is a big Bowie town. Back in the day, he would sell out the Tower six nights in a row and tickets were a whopping $5. WXPN is playing non-stop Bowie and I have the radio cranked up to 11. “Heroes” comes on and I crank it up to 12. It’s my favorite Bowie song. I lose it somewhere around the third verse, when he sings “I, I can remember…standing by the wall” and the back-up singers repeat his words back to him like horns. That’s when it hits me like a hammer: David Bowie is fucking dead. Tears roll down my cheeks like I’m watching the end of It’s A Wonderful Life. I flick on the windshield wipers even though it’s not raining.
But as the song fades out it occurs to me that that’s not true at all. David Bowie is not dead. Because David Bowie will never die. Oh sure, that guy born David Robert Jones is gone, and that’s a terrible loss for his friends and family. But people like you and me, we never knew that guy. We knew David Bowie, or more accurately we knew the idea of David Bowie. Because in the end David Bowie was, above all things, an idea, a brilliant idea, but an idea nonetheless and you cannot kill an idea. Not even cancer can kill an idea. And that idea is this: we are the imagination of ourselves. We control the illusion and we can change it any time we want. We can be black, white, striped, gay, straight, bi, trans, Martian, glam, goth, hot funk, cool punk, old junk, a bottle blonde, a ginger, a jazzer or even drums n’ bass. There is no right answer. But sooner or later, you become yourself. That is the idea of David Bowie. And that will never die.
Artwork by BUBBLE GUN
FRESH AIR: As the child of two Hollywood actors, Jeff Bridges can’t remember the first time he was on a film set. He wasn’t yet 2 years old when he appeared in the 1951 film The Company She Keeps with his mother, Dorothy Dean Bridges. Later, he and his brother, Beau Bridges, sometimes appeared in the TV series Sea Hunt, which starred their father, Lloyd Bridges. But despite his early exposure to show business, Bridges tells Fresh Air‘s Dave Davies he wasn’t always sure he wanted to be an actor. “I had a lot of different interests,” Bridges says. “I wanted to get into music and painting. … And my father said, ‘Oh Jeff, don’t be ridiculous. That’s the wonderful thing about acting is you get to incorporate all of your interests in your parts.’ ” Looking back, Bridges is glad he listened to his dad. Over the course of his career, he has appeared in scores of films, including The Last Picture Show, The Big Lebowski and Crazy Heart, for which he won the Best Actor Oscar in 2010. In his latest film, Hell or High Water, Bridges plays an aging Texas ranger tracking two bank robbers. The actor says that no matter what the role, he tries to approach each film with the same spirit as his father. “That joy that he brought with him into the set was kind of contagious, and it would spread through the company,” Bridges says. “He really wanted all his kids to go into acting, because he loved it so much.” MORE
NPR: Embracing small heist-film cliches while cannily dodging big ones, Hell or High Water is a sort of present-day mashup of Bonnie and Clyde, No Country for Old Men, and Heat. It follows two thirty-something brothers on a campaign of small-time bank jobs across West Texas. Chris Pine, hungry to prove starship captaincy is not his only skill (it’s not), is the handsome and smart one. Ben Foster is the loud one, a hot-tempered ex-con whose impulsiveness seems destined to kill them both.
They’re desperate, as we’ll learn, but still cautious: They choose their targets strategically, and strike early in the morning, before those banks fill up with concealed-carrying customers. (This is the Lone Star State, after all, though the movie was shot in New Mexico). They take only the loose drawer money — no bill-bundles that could contain a dye pack, and they certainly aren’t going to hang around trying to open a vault. Crime flicks far more fetishistic and lurid than this one have attended to this sort of how-to; what these two know about robbing banks they probably learned from movies. But this one has something up its sleeve.
Hunting the brothers are a pair of Texas Rangers. Jeff Bridges stops just shy of reprising his phlegm-choked role as Sheriff Rooster Cogburn from the Coen brothers’ remake of True Grit, playing a slow-moving but conscientious lawman on what is — of course — his last case before retirement. He affectionately peppers his stoic partner, Gil Birmingham, with racial invective. “You know I’m part Mexican,” Birmingham says after one especially artful indictment of his Native-American heritage. “I’ll get to that,” Bridges croaks. MORE
Photo by CHRIS GLASS, ACA beneficiary
BY JOSH PELTA-HELLER After an epic legislative struggle, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) — aka Obamacare — was made the law of the land on March 23rd, 2010. It would, as of this writing, provide health care for 20 million uninsured Americans. “This is a big fuckin’ deal!” as Joe Biden publicly congratulated the president upon officially signing his landmark healthcare bill into federal law. The triumphs of our healthcare system’s largest regulatory overhaul in 50 years are a signature part of Obama’s legacy, championed by the progressive left, by millions of beneficiaries, and by the supporters of a president who after eight years boasts a near-record-high approval rating.
Over the last seven years, disgruntled Republicans voted over sixty times to delay, defund, or repeal the legislation, their efforts rebuffed time and again by vote or veto. But after last November’s election left more power in the hands of the Republican party than it’s enjoyed for almost a century, the law will now face its greatest existential threat: the 115th Congress has vowed to put the ACA to death, as soon as this week.
Having campaigned ardently against Obamacare, President-Elect Trump promised ad nauseam to “repeal and replace” the bill, offering no substantive substitute. Now, having managed to gaslight his way into the White House, Trump and his nascent administration seem to be actively working to forget about that whole “replace” thing, and to repeal the legislation as a matter of priority, in an apparent vacuum of policy, foresight, and empathy. As New Jersey Senator Cory Booker put it, “This is akin to shoving someone off a cliff and as they’re falling down saying, ‘Don’t worry. We’re going to figure this out before you get to the bottom.”
Kelley Deal — probably best known for her work with twin-sister Kim, in their seminal ‘90s band The Breeders — has joined the #CoverageMatters campaign to save the ACA. Today, she will appear at the National Press Club in Washington DC, alongside outgoing Secretary of Health and Human Services Sylvia M. Burwell, to give voice to the health care struggles of the creative class, a demographic she feels will be hit particularly hard by an abrupt loss of affordable access to coverage, as well as the average working person in the Rust Belt, of which she knows a few. A big part of the #CoverageMatters is to get the millions of Americans for whom it has been a lifeline to stand up and share their stories. Yesterday we got Kelley on the horn to tell us about what the ACA means to her and her friends and family and why she was moved to join the fight to save it from the death panelists of the GOP.
PHAWKER: It’s great that you’re doing this.
KELLEY DEAL: I’m a little nervous! [laughs] You know, I talk in like, word salads, and a lot of facial expressions — you know, to supplement — so for me to try to talk intelligently about some sort of issue, it’s not what I do. It’s odd, for me. I mean I can do it, but it’s just like, ahhhhh..
PHAWKER: It’s interesting, often when I talk to musicians, they’ll note a stage fright about having to speak publicly, or a social introversion, but by contrast say it’s much easier to get up and sing to a large audience.
KELLEY DEAL: Totally.
PHAWKER: Why do you think that is, speaking just for you?
KELLEY DEAL: [pauses] I think the manner of communication — like I said, word salads and usually phrases. I guess the expectation when I’m supposed to speak intelligently about something, that implies that I’m gonna speak in complete sentences and kind of have some paragraphs that make sense to each other. But for me — and maybe a lotta other musicians — they kind of talk with their hands, or use their face, or use inflections in their voice [illustrates] that right there! should speak way more than my actual words. My tone! You know, stuff like.. shit like that! Anyway. I guess a different way of communicating.
PHAWKER: I know that your music with The Breeders and your other bands hasn’t been overtly or pointedly political, but I wondered if you could put into context what in particular is driving you toward political activism for this issue, or sort of describe the dog you have in this fight?
KELLEY DEAL: You know it’s interesting, this idea of politicizing stuff. I remember Lollapalooza — back in the early 90s and all of that — I mean it was just a given that if you were out there doing that kind of music anymore, that everybody was political. I remember mean [Jane’s Addiction singer and festival founder] Perry Farrell was really good about that, especially at Lollapalooza. Whether it be a Rock For Choice booth, a Young Republicans booth, a Get Out The Vote booth — you know and they would register voters right there, and obviously it was more left-leaning — but the point was, awareness, action, involvement. And so, I kinda just assumed everybody thought that. And then as you get older, I think to myself, geez, there is this part of me — for chicks nowadays, for girls and stuff — like I can’t want Planned Parenthood or the right of choice, I can’t want that for them more than they want it for themselves. I can’t wait it for them more than they want it. It’s their time. I can tell you, motherfucker, I don’t need an abortion. I am so fuckin’ menopausal, I’m not gonna need that anymore, you know what I’m saying? And thank god, I got mine! I got mine already thank you very much. You know what I’m saying? And I get all twisted up, and I’m thinkin’ about Gloria Steinem, and it was such a big deal — Rock For Choice! All that stuff! And I have to think calm down, calm down, step back, because that’s not my fight. And you know what, to be fair, it may actually not be important to them. And I can’t make it important to them, if it’s not important to them. Either it matters to them, or it doesn’t! So, that’s about Planned Parenthood, which of course — NEWS FLASH! — it shouldn’t be a news flash, but they’re apparently wrapping Planned Parenthood funding up in this. [pauses] And it could be all about that. It could be all about just [legislating] healthcare for women, because that is what it’s about — Planned Parenthood uses no federal funds for abortions. So it must be personal, it must be because I’m a girl, that you wanna do that. Because it cannot possibly be about anything else! It has to be because you hate me, because you’re a misogynist, and you hate women, and that’s why you wanna take this kind of healthcare away. It has to be! Logically. Right?
PHAWKER: It would seem that way, another stab at gender control by old white men.
KELLEY DEAL: There you go, “gender control.” That’s nice.
PHAWKER: It’s funny that you mention that about politicizing music — when I was younger I’d tend to assume that my favorite music icons were by default..
KELLEY DEAL: …liberal. Yeah..
PHAWKER: …right. But then you find out more about people like Joey Ramone or Maureen Tucker from the Velvets, that they’re a little right-wing-nutty…
KELLEY DEAL: …and I just wanna cover my ears and go no no no don’t tell me that!… Yeah. I don’t know. I mean, was there a question there? [laughs]
PHAWKER: Tell me about the logistics for the event in DC — are you gonna eventually be testifying in front of Congress or what?
KELLEY DEAL: Oh god I wish! Oh my god, that would be so awesome. No, let me explain how it got started. Merge Records knows a friend of The Breeders, and Mac [McCaughan] and Laura [Ballance] said, hey, we’re trying to gather some interest about this, this affects musicians, artists, lots of people we know, doesn’t anybody wanna get involved! And I was like hello! This issue’s really important to me! Because I have my insurance through the Marketplace. And I started talking to them, and then they hooked me up with this idea of doing a video, so people came to my house and we did an interview, and I talked about how important it was to me, and what the issues were. And then after they left, I guess they’re planning a specific day for #coveragematters, and really trying to get that out. And they also did a blurb on a skateboarder — I don’t know what the guy’s name is — but the skateboarder’s [wondering] how the hell was he supposed to get covered [because] he’s a skateboarder, which is kinda funny. Anyway, so that’s how it started.
And then I was invited, I think because I’m a musician, self-employed, I’m 55, I’m single, and I have a previous condition. There was no way that I first of all would ever get covered, and second if I was gonna buy a private plan, there’s no way I could ever afford it. With the Affordable Care Act, once that was passed, everything changed for me. And that’s what the story was, that’s how I got involved.
I was invited out there, with Secretary Sylvia Burwell — it’s her final speech, before she leaves office. It’s at the National Press Club, and she’ll be talking about how important this is, and who this affects!
What I can’t get over is, I was ruminating about is it just me? Is it because goddammit I just wanna be a musician and I feel like somebody should pay for my insurance while I schlep about being a musician? You know, and you can look down on what I do for a living, you know… So the first thing I would do is call over to my mom and dad’s [and talk to Joanne] — she’s one of the careworkers for my mom. She voted for Trump. She works full-time at [her] company as a careworker for my mother, who has advanced Alzheimers. And we love her, and she’s so good with my mother — she just gets in her face and says I love you, how ya doin’ today Anne? And she wears what we call “bling,” and my mom looks at the shiny jewelry, you know, and it’s a really sweet relationship. Now, Joanna is not covered. She has no insurance. Her company does not provide it, even if she works 40 hours a week. And this such an important, nurturing job to the structure and thread of society! So like, even if you just think I’m a drunk, drug-addict musician rammin’ about — “you don’t have coverage? Too bad, get a job!” You know, you can’t say that about this beautiful woman, who’s doin’ the work of an angel. But no, she doesn’t have coverage, and she couldn’t afford it!
PHAWKER: She didn’t go through the Obamacare Marketplace for it?
KELLEY DEAL: Well, funnily enough, she is a Trump supporter. And I asked her, why don’t you get health insurance? And I think she might not want to be involved in it. Now she’s in her fifties. And I haven’t talked to her about this [recently], but what I would like to ask her is, why not? I don’t know. But there’s a couple other girls [at the company] who do — one girl works part-time, she goes to school full-time, she lives with her ninety-year-old grandfather — in his house, to help care for him — and she definitely signed up and is in the Marketplace. It’s just all these people that you meet. And then there was a guy over this week, he was helping me do a one-sheet, it was a design thing — it was so nice that he came down, it was a neighbor — and I asked him hey, where do you work? — I constantly wanna get in people’s business now, it’s crazy! He said he works a couple different part-time jobs, he works for a designer right now — a book designer, where they lay out books that get published — and he works another part-time job. Neither of those companies pay for his insurance. You know, I don’t know what people are supposed to do, I really don’t.
BY DAN BUSKIRK FILM CRITIC Another year ticks by and 2016 reinforces the idea that the creation of serious, non-blockbuster films is less and less of interest in the American movie industry. No less a voice of authority than Martin Scorsese professed this opinion in a recent Associated Press article proclaiming “Cinema is Gone,” and while film culture is still consistently flourishing in pockets around the world, only four of the dozen films listed here as 2016 favorites are by U.S. directors, surely an all-time personal low.
People carry with them a lot of myths about creativity being a human constant but supportive economics are what is necessary for a sustained culture of music and art. While nearly all Hollywood’s resources go into franchise pictures and comic book adaptations, the support for small-budgeted films where skills are sharpened and experiments are played out has all about died. It was heartbreaking to listen to director Sean Baker on Bret Easton Ellis’ podcast discuss his experience as a filmmaker last year. He said despite having two highly-praised, nationally distributed films (2012’s Starlet and 2015’s Tangerine) the process left him so broke he had to move back with his parents. He and other indie directors have stated that despite the ubiquity of their work, they can’t find a way to make modern filmmaking anything other than an expensive hobby. This is not a scenario in which “golden eras” arise.
It’s popular to state that TV is what movies once were, the place where we gather and share stories. But while TV has loosened up its long-censorious standards (yet not so much that Scorsese was not slapped down by HBO over sex, drug-use and violence in his series Vinyl) its funding and format brings its own limitations. Working minute-to-minute to please advertisers, TV can’t help but a cast wide net in regards to subject matter, politics and actors chosen for roles. Extreme edges are sanded, music skews poppier, and actors are measured for likeability because success is based on viewers returning again and again. The filmmaking itself short-changes atmosphere and mood-setting asides and instead pushes forward with endless narrative. With films, your support is given upfront, with a filmmaker knowing he has his audience’s undivided attention through whatever he unveils, until the credits role. The finality of the non franchise-driven feature film form still makes for bolder statements then the open-ended structure of episodic TV.
You Want It Darker
Everybody knows that 2016 was a cruel and unusual year. Intolerably cruel. Everybody knows that war is over and everybody knows the good guys lost. So I am only half-kidding when I ask: How can we possibly be expected to endure the abominable presidency of Donald Trump without David Bowie, Prince or Princess Leia? But I’m dead serious when I say we can’t do this without Leonard Cohen, who died at the ripe old age of 82 on the day before the election. As ever, his timing was impeccable. It goes without saying that he’d seen the future, baby, and it is spray-tanned murder. A few weeks prior to his departure, he’d released You Want It Darker, one part deathbed confessional, one part last will and testament, one part love letter to all he can’t leave behind.
This collection of prayers for the doomed is arguably the most perfect album-length statement in his sacred canon. Like all prime Cohen, it is marked by astonishing verbal acuity and a high-def philosophical clarity that coalesces into a kind of metaphysical calligraphy carved in stone by the Old Testament prophet gravitas of his voice, that patented sepulchral purr that has been getting liberal arts majors laid since at least 1967. He’s never sounded more certain or fearless, or closer to death, so near you can almost hear the Grim Reaper’s Vader-like breath on the back of his leathery neck as he croaks out lines like “I’m leaving the table, I’m out of the game,” “It’s au revoir,” and “I’m ready, Lord.”
Invariably spare and fleeting and surprisingly luminous, the music on You Want It Darker — a midnight jazz lowing in the moonlight, a monastic noir for the ears, and a quick stroll down Boogie Street for old time’s sake — is relentlessly faultless in arrangement, tonality and execution. The recording, overseen by his son Adam, ensures that everything is writ timeless and crystalline as befits the eternal verities he’s been tasked with preserving. History will rank the title track and “Treaty” next to “Bird On A Wire” and “Hallelujah,” a hundred floors above us in the Tower Of Song.
Because the thing about Leonard Cohen is that he was always right, always — even when he turned out to be wrong about, say, Rebecca DeMornay or trusting his manager with his money or his decade-long Zen hermitage atop Mt. Baldy. Because the incontrovertible koanic fact of the matter is that the way to always be right is always admit when you are wrong, acknowledge that was then but this is now. Or as he sings on “It Seemed The Better Way,” it “sounded like the truth, but it’s not the truth today.” Because today nothing is true, and when nothing is true everything is permitted. That is the crack in the center of everything, where the Putin gets in.
Look, nobody should be surprised that The Rapture came and only took Leonard Cohen but that doesn’t make it any less sad and lonesome. While I can’t blame an 82-year-old man with a splintering spine for getting on with the dirty business of dying, I can’t help but feel left behind on an abandoned ship in a darkening sea, still tending the flame of “a million candles burning for the help that never came.” In my prayers, I asked Leonard Cohen “How lonely does it get?” Leonard Cohen hasn’t answered me yet, but I can hear him coughing all night long, a million miles above us in The Great Beyond. – JONATHAN VALANIA
(Boys Don’t Cry)
The weekend of Aug. 19-20-21 was a relatively dull one. Donald Trump was sliding in the polls, several campaign surprises were still ahead, and the Olympic glow belonged to Usain Bolt. Oh, and Frank Ocean released the heady Blonde and its carpentry-packed companion video, Endless. Months later, R&B music that dropped suddenly but sweetly during the dog days still has sensuous and summery resonance, despite the intervening collapse of reality. It’s a singular triumph, for sure. Ocean’s aesthetic is intentionally dodgy at times (e.g. the voicemail from his mom), but tracks like “Pink + White,” “White Ferrari” and “Nights” are eternally gorgeous — they make sense on sleepless nights and skating rinks, too. The stink of 2016 can’t cling to them, no way. — JOE WARMINSKY
I’ve had a large appetite for bands monkeying around in the deep psychedelic detritus left behind in Hendrix’s Electric Ladyland but nobody makes this terrain more their own like the Brazilian trio Fumaça Preta. While the band can lumber around in Sabbath’s dinosaur steps, without warning its drummer vocalist Alex Figuiera will bray like a goat and scream like a madman while breaking the music down to rural batucada beats and back again. Where many contemporary rock records are content to tickle my nostalgia and scratch my fuzz tone right where it itches, Fumaça Preta is a slap across the face that demands and deserves full attention. – DAN BUSKIRK
NICK CAVE & THE BAD SEEDS
(Bad Seed Ltd.)
“You fell from the sky/Crash landed in a field/Near the river Adur,” Nick Cave narrates, his voice cold and stark against the mesmerizing pulse of “Jesus Alone,” the song that opens Skeleton Tree, the 16th album from Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds. In the wake of the tragic and sudden loss of his son Arthur in 2015, the expectation that Cave’s follow-up to 2013’s Push The Sky Away would be heartbreaking was confirmed with Skeleton Tree, itself rife with somber and cathartic poetry. Though compositionally minimal, the album’s emotional density is, at times, almost too much to bear. By the end of “Magneto,” one of the Skeleton Tree’s more beautifully rendered offerings, the album’s psychic weight becomes almost suffocating. In “Anthrocene,” a percussive loop and ghostly melody propelling Cave’s vocal, his lamentations are turned to the world, an acquaintance with personal loss qualifying his closing advice: “Close your eyes, little world/And brace yourself.” – SEAN CALDWELL
A Moon Shaped Pool
Maybe it seems too easy to put a Radiohead album on a best-of list, especially one composed, in part, of songs that have been in their live repertoire for years. But A Moon Shaped Pool, the band’s first in five years, is essential Radiohead, and Radiohead is still operating at a level of cerebral experimentalism and complex musicianship several degrees above most other bands. A Moon Shaped Pool is restrained—no cathartic guitar pyrotechnics, no electronic cacophony, few set-pieces for Thom Yorke’s unhinged dancing—but it’s deep with texture: stately rhythms offset by string arrangements (the orchestral strings are something new for a Radiohead album); plenty of shimmery acoustic guitar; Yorke’s melancholy and beautiful vocals. Songs unspool gently. Album closer “True Love Waits” has been around for over two decades: this perfect version, with its balance of sorrow and hope, was worth the wait, as was this album. – STEVE KLINGE
Music For Time Travel
Closer to dream merchants than a band, NINETEEN THIRTEEN is comprised of ex-Violent Femmes drummer Victor DeLorenzo and classically trained cellist Janet Schiff, aided by a revolving cast of esteemed studio session players. Named after the year Schiff’s beloved cello was milled in Transylvania more than a century ago, NINETEEN THIRTEEN traffics in a kind of jazzy, retro-futuristic ambient noir of their own devising, mapping out a twilit sonic space where Brian Eno’s Music For Airports lays down with Miles Davis’ Kind Of Blue. Think neon signs blinking ominously behind a semi-opaque curtain of manhole steam. The crisp slap of wingtips on wet sidewalks. The dull hum of underground trains and sirens in the distance. Everyone wears famous blue raincoats and fedoras. Everyone smokes. There are two extant recordings, an LP called Music For Time Travel, released late last summer, and an EP called The Dream, released earlier this month, that comes billed as a tribute to Eno. Music For Time Travel is a series of prismatic snippets that vibe like soundtracks for imaginary films about secret wars and spies in skinny suits and vampires with diamonds on the souls of their shoes. If you listen closely, you can almost hear the black turtlenecks and Ray Bans in the warm thrum of upright bass, the pristine shuffle of snare, and the lowing moan of the cello. The highlight is a mesmerizing version of Gershwin’s aria “Summertime,” featuring the Valkyrie-like vocals of Monia and the dancing skeleton bass of legendary sideman Rob Wasserman (Lou Reed, Van Morrison, Elvis Costello). Good as Music For Time Travel is, The Dream is a giant step forward. The music not only vividly evokes distinctive moods, but sustains them long after lesser combo’s would have abandoned ship.“Arco Pizzicato” — built upon a slap-back echo drumbeat, a shivering cello, and dark washes of keyboard that recede into the infinite — clocks in at nine minutes-plus. Likewise, the album closing “#1913 Dream” — a ghostly lullaby of sprawling pneumatic drones prodded along by a gorgeously muted pinging — also clocks in at nine minutes plus but never ceases to enchant the ear. The spectral murk of “Walk Light” sounds like a marching band playing the halftime festivities of doomsday. The otherwordly “A Dream You Can’t Remember” straddles the fulcrum of the sinister and the sublime, with DeLorenzo’s son Malachi vamping ominously on bass. Highly recommended, The Dream is bewitching beginning to end. — JONATHAN VALANIA
All hail 2016’s Queen of Indie Rock, Angel Olsen. Her Majesty’s fourth full-length album proved to be the record that plunged the 29-year-old singer/songwriter into the mainstream. Coming off the heels of Burn Your Fire For No Witness, Olsen decided to top herself by writing some of not only the catchiest stuff she’s ever written, like “Shut Up Kiss Me,” but some of her most introspective and tempestuous music to boot, like “Sister” and “Heart Shaped Face.” Olsen touches on a variety of genres, including synthpop (“Intern”), Spanish guitar style music (“Never Be Mine”), and straight up feel good rock and roll (“Shut Up Kiss Me”) in her album’s quest to explain what she calls “the complicated mess of being a woman.” Now kneel before the Queen. – TOM BECK
FAT WHITE FAMILY
Songs For Our Mothers
There is nothing going like Fat White Family. If Rock and Roll is dying, FWF may have managed to resuscitate it, if only briefly by pumping puke breath and tinfoil smoke directly into it’s rotten lungs. With say-nothing pitchfork bands like Porches currently enjoying a vogue by sitting around and writing songs about breath, or something, it’s nice to know there are genuine crazies still out there. Not since Captain Beefheart has anyone made pop-music so unsettling and brilliant. – JAMES DAVIS
Leave Me Alone
On the other end of the spectrum is Hinds, four young women from Spain writing music that is both sunny, catchy, but most of all startlingly authentic feeling. In my opinion authenticity is at a premium in this year of our lord, and any group that can effortlessly evoke something like real, actual life should be worth their weight in gold. If anything, the lesson to be learned from Hinds is that writing a good song is something very rare, but you know it when you hear it. How simple it might be hardly enters the equation. – JAMES DAVIS
If love is a many splendored thing, one of those splendors is anger. That is the premise, and the joy, of Savages’ Adore Life. “This is what you get when you mess with love,” singer Jenny Beth proclaims, rapidly and accusingly, and she could be addressing either the giver or the receiver of love. The London quartet extends the lineage of punk feminists such as X-Ray Spex, Siouxsie and the Banshees, and Sleater-Kinney; they’re intellectuals with a penchant for manifestoes and complex ideas, but they also love the cathartic power of noisy, unvarnished post-punk guitar rock. When Beth sings, “I adore life,” it’s a reminder in the face of disappointment rather than a happy affirmation, although the song’s ominous intensity is itself life-affirming. Adore Life is messy, angry and altogether splendid. – STEVE KLINGE
LAKE STREET DIVE
You know what you’re in for from the moment you first hear the bass riff in Side Pony’s opening track “Godawful Things”: A scrumptiously toe-tapping collection of vocal-driven, soul-pop jams from four schooled musicians. But Lake Street Dive, who met while attending Boston’s highly regarded New England Conservatory of Music, know more than just their scales; they know how to make you get up and dance. Labeling the band with a single genre is impossible, as the band incorporates soul, pop, blues, rock, jazz, folk, Motown, and more. You name the genre, and it’s probably in there somewhere. The album’s ballads (“So Long,” “How Good It Feels”) perfectly complement its high energy songs (“I Don’t Care About You,” “Spectacular Failure”), and everything in between is a bonus. – TOM BECK
A TRIBE CALLED QUEST
We Got It From Here…Thank You 4 Your Service
There were two groundswells for We Got It from Here… Thank You 4 Your Service: One by the loyalists and nerds who dove in unconditionally, and then another by people whose Gen X skepticism eventually crumbled. The result is a rare case in which the hype (“Phife Dawg didn’t die in vain, yo”) and the word of mouth (“seriously, man, you should check it out”) were equally productive. As a comeback record, it’s a hoot, and as a stand-alone boom-bap opus, it’s elite. Think of it like an arty Western: Q-Tip and the original gang go looking for gunslinging allies (Busta Rhymes, Jack White), but the theme isn’t revenge or justice — it’s the question of relevance. The way to answer it, of course, is with love of oneself and one’s crew. For without that love, you’ll never greet the devil with a twinkle in your eye. — JOE WARMINSKY
The 11th album by these beloved sons of the Dirty South finds a great American band at their peak. The laser focus of principle singer-songwriters Mike Cooley and Patterson Hood on political issues like the Confederate flag, police killings, gun control, and racism gives American Band its mule-kick power. The record leads off with “Roman Casiano,” which is about a young immigrant who was murdered 75 years ago by Harlan Carter, who would one day lead the NRA. (Carter never served jail time for the murder.) “What It Means” is a simple yet powerful response to police shootings of unarmed African-Americans in 2014, events that both Hood and Cooley cite as the catalyst for the blunt approach on this release. “Surrender Under Protest” and “Darkened Flags On The Cusp of Dawn” finds Cooley and Hood addressing the confederate flag controversy. On “Once They Banned Imagine,” Cooley writes about Clear Channel’s head-scratching decision following 9/11 to put John Lennon’s Imagine on a list of banned songs. The musical style may be somewhat tamer on this release, less Alabama ass whuppin’ and more introspection and sadness, but the result is no less intense. As Mike Cooley says, “No bones about it…I wanted to piss off the assholes.” – MIKE WALSH
The Glowing Man
(Young God Records)
The Glowing Man is the final installment of what has proven to be a stunningly prolific and creative stretch for Michael Gira’s latest iteration of Swans. Having revived Swans in 2010 with the excellent My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky after a lengthy period of inactivity, Gira’s vision grew exponentially in scope with every subsequent release, his soundscapes rich with layered repetition and terrifying crescendos. Over the course of its almost 2-hour runtime, The Glowing Man constantly challenge listeners, tempting accusations of pretension and self-indulgence with lengthy intros (“Cloud of Unknowing”) and a penchant for compositional ruts (“The World Looks Red/The World Looks Black”). But, for all its excesses, the album pulses with unbridled energy and a seemingly limitless imagination, ideas that result in something enormous and distinct. Yes, The Glowing Man is a heavy listen, but only if you mean heavy on reward. – SEAN CALDWELL
A Sailor’s Guide To Earth
A Sailor’s Guide to Earth retains all of the strengths of Sturgill Simpson’s 2014 breakout Metamodern Sounds in Country Music — the big Waylon Jennings baritone, the tearjerkers, and the relentless existential strife, but it also includes a few take-no-prisoners rockin’ raveups and some Memphis soul and funk. Throw in a couple concepts and a Nirvana cover, and you’ve got a stew that works surprisingly well within the country framework of his music. A Sailor’s Guide is a letter to Simpson’s newborn son. The first song, “Welcome to Earth (Pollywog),” is Simpson’s lullaby/apology to his son for not being at home with him more. Simspon’s heartache is wrenching on this and other songs to his newborn. He folds this concept around a nautical motif, his yearning for home wrapped up in the stress of a sailor’s life. Turns out that Simpson spent several years in the Navy traversing the seas, so he experienced the pitfalls of such a life. Somehow these two concepts make sense within Simpson’s music. This is Simpson’s first release on a major label, and he used the label backing to bring in the Dap-Kings, who appear on about half the songs. It was a wise decision. The up-tempo horns provide relief from Simpson’s downer inclinations and merge surprisingly well with Dan Dugmore’s ever-present and ass-kicking slide. The other charming surprise is Simpson’s cover of Nirvana’s “In Bloom.” Simpson’s gentle reading gives that classic a new perspective and power — a young boy seeking his place in the world. Imagine George Jones singing Kurt Cobain. Memories are made of this. – MIKE WALSH
CAR SEAT HEADREST
Teens Of Denial
Car Seat Headrest is the musical outlet of 24-year-old wunderkind Will Toledo. Working at a prolific Dylan-in-the-60’s pace, Toledo has released 13 albums in a short six year long career including this year’s Teens of Denial, which sounds like what would’ve resulted if a properly medicated Lou Reed had joined Television instead of the Velvets. Teens of Denial is a blast of indie rock perfection that coasts to an easy victory on thrashing waves of glorious guitar wankery, a bed of galloping drums and the occasional blast of a lonesome mariachi trumpet. Over 70 minutes Toledo laconically speak-sings and navigates his way through a maze of slackers, hippies, unforgiving girls and killer whales while creating one of those albums that makes you fall in love with a different song every time you listen to it. – PETE TROSHAK
SONIC LIBERATION 8
(High Two Recordings)
Philadelphia’s Kevin Diehl has morphed his percussion-driven Sonic Liberation group into numerous shapes and sizes over their fifteen year history. After a collaboration with free jazz drum innovator Sunny Murray and a set dedicated to Sun Ra’s Arkestra, Sonic Liberation’s latest brings in elder statesman Oliver Lake and his saxophone, joined by the experimental string group the Classical Revolution Trio. While the Afro-Cuban drum grooves still pulse beneath everything, the string trio bolsters a moving version of Satie’s “Gnossienne” and the second side sets the band loose on a trio of the great Lake’s memorable original compositions. The project is as smart, passionate and engaging as any jazz release out this year. – DAN BUSKIRK
The Ghosts of Highway 20
The Ghosts Of Highway 20 is an 86-minute lonesome dustbowl meditation on love and mortality that finds Williams’ sounding weary and ghost-addled, looking back on the long jagged highway of life and trying to make some sense of it all. On her journey Williams is ably abetted by revered jazz guitarist Bill Frisell, who throughout the length of the album spins spidery cobwebs of his inimitable spectral echo-and-decay guitar lines around Williams beautifully cracked and weathered vocals to stunning effect. Among the highlights is the haunting “House of Earth” which features lyrics written by Woody Guthrie and used by Williams at the behest of Guthrie’s daughter and the nine minute biographical sound painting “Louisiana Story” which reads like a long lost classic poem by William Carlos Williams. The emotional centerpiece of the album is the title track, a seven-minute white line apocalyptic fever dream that finds Frisell delivering guitar lines straight from the astral plane and Williams referencing “the final days” and uttering lines like “every exit leaves a little death,” a fitting description of 2016’s fade to black. – PETE TROSHAK
I have a tradition where every July my headphones and I take a midnight beach walk on the Redneck Riviera (aka the Florida panhandle) and debut some album that I have been eagerly anticipating. This year that album was Orion from King Buffalo, whose 2013 demo yielded the epic “Providence Eye.” This year, conditions were glorious with a heat-lightning storm over the water providing an orange-and-white light show to add to the feel of the water and the crash of the music. I started my walk, and the album, and then….not much. I couldn’t believe it wasn’t amazing. I was disappointed. And it took me several subsequent listens to figure out why: the first three songs are the appetizer. The main course starts with the fourth track, “Kerosene”, a hearty helping of wailing guitar served over a bed of Navajo sandstone with a side of awesome sauce. — MIKE WOLVERTON
Away with You
Physically, Mary Halvorson’s prim librarian visage doesn’t summon past images of guitar gods but over the last few years axe-wielder Mary Halvorson has been the must-hear instrumentalist on the improvised music scene. Halvoson’s playing can be heard over dozens of releases over the last decade, playing with everyone from indie rockers Make A Rising to avant garde master Anthony Braxton, always finding new aural landscapes to flaunt her elastic, tone-bending sounds. She molds all those experiences into something unique on her own releases, particularly her latest, Away With You. Her octet, half male/half female (something increasingly common in modern jazz) brings two other unique string players into the mix, cellist Tomeka Reid and pedal steel player Susan Alcorn. Listening to Halvorson pitch-twisting runs dancing along Alcorn’s soaring steel summons textures never heard before while Halvorson’s melodic but restless compositions, filled with witty asides, make for the type of record that pulls you in deeper with each listen. – DAN BUSKIRK
The Inland Sea
This one is a grower. You can put it on in the background while working and after the scuzzy/fuzzy start it soons turns spacey and exploratory. Both sparse and lush. And pleasant. You may not notice the droney vocals much in your distracted state, as five tracks unspool over 70 minutes. But then it ends, leaving you forlorn and despondent. You didn’t realize how much you needed it until it was gone. Album closer “The Empty Quarter” may be my favorite song of 2016, an unhurried wash of spiraling sound bookended by a catchy melody; by the time it crashes back in late in the twelfth minute it’s like a helicopter ladder to a man drowning in an inland sea. – MIKE WOLVERTON