Wherein the famed funny lady/Taylor Dane-stalking lesbian cancer survivor treks cross-country playing the living rooms and back yards of super fans. Presumably awkward hilarity ensues, given that awkward has always been her sweet spot, and hilarity her forte. First episode airs 9:30 pm Friday on Showtime.
PREVIOUSLY: If Tig Notaro never existed we would have never thought to invent her, which not only points out the shortcomings of our imagination but also the depths of her originality. A tall drink of water in low-slung jeans with Billie Jean King hair, she speaks in a laconic drawl that is either medicated or chill to the point of Zen. She doesn’t so much tell jokes as construct these elaborate verbal Rube Goldberg Devices Of Funny and at the end, when you finally stop laughing, you’re like ‘I can’t believe that worked.’ MORE
BY LUKE HOPELY I really don’t know much about Barry Hannah, and after reading Airships I was really pissed the fuck off about this fact. I know that he is a Southern writer and his name is bounced around with the likes of Faulkner and Flannery O’Connor on his book covers. I know that he wrote books from the 70s until his death in 2010. He wrote Airships in the 70s while going through the obligatory alcoholic phase all great writers seem to enter, although some never leave (looking at you Hemingway). Most of importantly I know Barry Hannah writes some of the best short stories I’ve ever read in a style that wildly blends tragedy, comedy, action, and drama. The stories of Airships cover The Civil War, Vietnam, tennis, and high school brass bands all with the same intensity.
Despite all that, neither TIME’s list of The 100 best Novels of the 20th Century or Esquire’s 80 Books Every Man Should Read (the cornerstones of my early reading) include this master. That is criminal. I would have never even heard of the guy if I hadn’t happened upon his name in a blurb on the cover of CivilWarLand in Bad Decline that compared its author, George Saunders, to Barry Hannah. Apparently Airships and Barry Hannah are the kind of thing that people like to refer to, but never took the time to read. I asked an English professor if he knew anything about Airships and he just babbled about knowing the name but not having read it, like a hipster nodding his head and puffing a smoke when asked about the latest band playing Johnny Brenda’s. The obscurity of Airships isn’t the kind of thing that surround inaccessible “masterpieces” like a stack of beat up trashcans in an art gallery, shit you just don’t get, damn philistine. It’s the opposite. Hannah described most modern fiction as being lame and “wussy”:
“Very wussy. Correct, wussy…. I really want stories that are rippers in the old sense. Tales of high danger, high adventure, and high exploration. Tales that are as wonderful as frontier tales. I want more adventure.”
Although it sounds like your grandpa talking about how John Wayne six-shooting some banditos is real entertainment without any of those head-scratching egghead plot twists, Hannah’s opinion is a breath of fresh air when half of the short stories around are about not being able to get out of bed in morning because, you know…. postmodernism? Airships has the kind of action and adventure that Hannah claims to be channeling from Davy Crockett, but, instead of trapping beavers, Hannah’s characters are parachuting into Vietcong territory, blowing up M80s in the dirty South, and doing some good old fashioned Civil War calvary raiding. Despite the action, he never leaves out the philosophical or the cursory social critiques. The real achievement of Airships is Hannah’s ability to make you laugh, cheer, and, oh so beautifully, end his stories with a revelation that makes you feel all tingly inside because of just how goddamn good it is all mixed into a 20 page story. Sometimes what you need out of a short story is action and alcohol wrapped up in a nice literary bow, and Airships delivers. Big time. Read the rest of this entry »
BY JONATHAN VALANIA In 1998, Neutral Milk Hotel released an album of hallucinatory folk-rock called In The Aeroplane Over The Sea that is, it can be said without fear of exaggeration, nothing short of a heartbreaking work of staggering genius. Like Pet Sounds or My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless or Love’s Forever Changes, it is lightning caught in a bottle, one of those rare perfect albums that come along maybe once a decade. Or once a lifetime. In 1999, Jeff Mangum — Neutral Milk’s singer, songwriter and primary guitarist — disappeared from public life without explanation, declining all entreaties to perform or discuss the album or record a follow-up. Over the course of his decade-long Salinger-like hermitage, succeeding generations of Holden Caulfield-types have discovered and come to revere the album, and as such it has become something like The Catcher In The Rye of indie-rock. Four years ago, Mangum emerged from seclusion and started performing again, refusing to offer any explanation for his mysterious disappearance or sudden return and denying all interview requests. Late last night I got the scoop of the century: A phone call from Jeff Mangum. That’s like getting a phone call from JD Salinger — dude does NOT talk to the phonies in the media. The call came in the middle of last night, thank god I record all my phone conversations for the benefit of future historians. It went like this:
PHAWKER: Hello? Who the hell is this?
JEFF MANGUM: It’s Jeff.
JEFF MANGUM: Ha! Keep dreaming. No, Mangum. Jeff Mangum.
PHAWKER: Jesus, what the fuck time is it?
JEFF MANGUM: Four in the morning.
PHAWKER: Four in the…Are you drunk dialing me?
JEFF MANGUM: Kinda sorta.
PHAWKER: Every journalist would give his left testicle to interview you. Why are you talking to me?
JEFF MANGUM: You are the only one who answered his phone.
PHAWKER: Why did you go away after In The Aeroplane Over The Sea?
The Shaggs were three sisters from rural New Hampshire who were just this side of collapse when they strapped their instruments. The Wiggin family was, by all accounts, a study in Pepperidge Farm country gothic. Daddy Austin Wiggin Jr. worked in the cotton mill and applied every coffee can-ful of cash he could earn toward his dream: that his three eldest daughters–Betty, Helen and Dot–would one day become international pop stars. Just one problem: Despite years of music lessons, none of the Wiggin girls could play or sing in a way that you would call “good.” But to Austin, and succeeding generations of astute listeners, it was beeyootiful music when his daughters picked up their guitars and beat on the drums, together in the same room, if not always the same song. Named after the girls’ thick, horsetail-length hairstyle, the Shaggs were born in 1967, taking miscues from the Monkees and Herman’s Hermits songs they heard on the radio. They pretty much had to make it up as they went along, as their father would not allow them to attend rock concerts and insisted on home-schooling to allow more time to work on their music. Recorded in 1969, Philosophy of the World is as much an intriguing anthropological find as it is a timeless, albeit unintentional, statement of outsider art–Frank Zappa hailed it as his third favorite recording of all time. – JONATHAN VALANIA
BY COLE NOWLIN Bobbie Gentry’s 1967 hit “Ode to Billie Joe” — an eerie, genre-transcendent ballad of suicide and forbidden love– is the quintessential riddle wrapped in an enigma. The enduring mysteries of the song have befuddled listeners and sparked debate ever since it’s release. What was thrown over the bridge? Why did Billie Joe kill himself? Even more mysterious and intriguing than the song was the musician behind it, Bobbie Gentry. Gentry enjoyed a meteoric rise to stardom, enjoying roughly a decade in the limelight, before she gradually retreated from the public eye, eventually disappearing altogether. Where is Bobbie Gentry? What has she been doing? These questions have resonated with fans for years. One such fan happens to be Philadelphia’s own Tara Murtha [pictured, below right], who recently wrote a 33 ⅓ about the album Ode to Billie Joe and Bobbie Gentry. Phawker caught up with her recently to chat about Ode to Billie Joe and Bobbie Gentry, and pick her mind about some of these big questions surrounding both.
PHAWKER: What made you choose Ode to Billie Joe to write a book about?
TARA MURTHA: I feel the story of the album is wrapped up in the story of the artist, they are completely inseparable, so it was the story of Bobbie Gentry and how she was this giant mega star and a real pioneer in her own right who just disappeared after just over a decade in show business. So I was attracted to her story through the lens of the production this record. Especially, I came across pretty early on an interview with her that she did in 1974, which was several years after she had left Capitol Records, in which she claimed that she produced the record “Ode to Billie Joe” but didn’t get credit because [back then] women didn’t get credit in the studio, and that came to be the yarn that I’ve started pulling at. And if I could find out anything more about that, if that was true or not.
PHAWKER: So let’s just cut to the big mystery, what do you think was thrown off the Tallahatchie bridge?
TARA MURTHA: So I understand why someone is obsessed with what was thrown off the bridge, because if you solve that, you can solve why Billie Joe jumped off the bridge. Most people saw it as a fetus or baby, some people saw it as a ring or trinket, and I think she wrote it in a literary fashion, knowing that she wasn’t going to be revealing what it was. In film they call it a McGuffin, it’s a Hitchcock term that means something that drives the story forward but is actually incidental to the point. I think she very consciously wrote it that way but I do think that, having talked to people who are working with her at the time, that she very consciously assumed that listeners would think it was a baby. And she knew that it would stir up controversy, and that that was strategic. Read the rest of this entry »
BY ED KING ROCK EXPERT As a buzz went through social media and the Philadelphia rock scene in the days leading up to The Sonics’ Sunday night appearance at the TLA, I found myself feeling shamefully out of step. It seemed all of my friends would be there, all of my friends, that is, beside my quartet of fellow rock ‘n roll curmudgeons. I wanted to post some holier-than-thou thought on the matter, but that wouldn’t have been cool, not even by my standards. I wanted to pick up the phone and bitch to my friend Anthony, but he was out of town on business. Bitching to Larry wouldn’t have gone any further than, “Most of that Nuggets shit sucks.” Mark wouldn’t have cared quite enough for a satisfying bitch session, and beside, I had another cruel rock observation cued up to share with him. Sam was probably half interested in the show, having played in bands that cut their teeth on that Nuggets shit.
I dig that Nuggets shit, but for all their bit-chomping energy, The Sonics’ comic-book kee-ray-zee lyrics were always a distraction. Rock’s long tradition of Creature Double Feature insanity has never appealed to me. I’m more interested in rock’s true loons, the ones who shine a light on the human condition. Even “Strychnine,” the one song by The Sonics that can make the hairs on the back of my neck stand up rings a bit hollow if I stop to consider the lyrics. You can see why there are only 4 guys on earth I can trust with these feelings.
A couple of nights before the big show I had no intention of checking out I received a text from our thoughtful editor. He set me up with a “plus 1” on the TLA’s guest list. “How cool is that!” I said to my wife, as I prepared her for yet another night as a rock ‘n roll widow. The next day I called Mark to see if he had interest in joining me. I figured he’d accompany me with a similar level of skepticism and cynicism. “At the very least,” I said, “we’ll get a peek into all we’ve got left to aspire to.”
We scanned the gathering crowd, playing Rock Scene Bingo as graying, balding musicians from our frat-rock youth came through the doors. Barrett Whitfield & The Savages took the stage and kicked off a wholly competent, toe-tapping, yet tame set of frat rock. They were a well-oiled machine led by a spirited frontman, but I couldn’t help but think how much more I would have enjoyed them if I’d been well oiled with them blasting through a crappy PA in a sweaty, smoky frat basement, like the time I first saw The Fleshtones. Read the rest of this entry »
Did you know that the world’s richest 1% are forecast to own more that 50% of the planet’s wealth by 2016! That’s NEXT YEAR, folks! So, have we finally reached the endgame of all this avarice, greed and selfishness? In fact, realizing that the basic tenets of the Republican party haven’t changed over the past 50 years, is it even possible to reverse direction? Unlikely. Between the 1%’s insatiable greed and the power-at-any-cost complicity of its political representation, the remaining have no doubt been doomed from the start. Let’s face it, an entrenched American plutocracy is a nearly unvanquishable foe — especially once its media joins the fray. Not only have they amassed almost all of the gold, they control all of the means of manufacture for all of the really big guns! Read the rest of this entry »
It’s 1985, I’m a college radio DJ in the hinterlands of Pennsyltucky, about to go on the air. As per my usual ritual, I cover my eyes and reach into the shelf of vinyl behind me. I pull out the above LP. I don’t even need to listen to it, I can tell by the cover it’s going to be fucking awesome. (Or to quote the captain of the boat to Martin Sheen in Apocalypse Now: “My orders say I’m not supposed to know where I’m taking this boat, so I don’t! But one look at you, and I know it’s gonna be hot!”) I slap it on the turntable and…mind is blown. The music is raw-boned gasoline-gargling maximum R&B garage shake bama lama. The singer sounds like Wilson Pickett running around with his hair on fire screaming through Link Wray’s one good lung. In other words, my kind of thing. Upon closer inspection, I learn that Barrence Whitfield was born Barry White in The Dirty South in 1955, raised in New Jersey, and studied journalism at Boston University where he worked at the cool local record store, which is where he met up with Jeffrey Greenberg from garage-punk avatars The Lyres/DMZ. One day, Greenberg hears White’s leather-lunged soul-screaming, and decides they must record an album. Immediately. White changes his name to Whitfield to avoid confusion with The Real Barry White. Barrence Whitfield & The Savages was officially born. The records rip, the live shows are like a nitro-burning funny car without the parachute. Think The MC5 on Soul Train on angel dust. The chicks scream. Critics cream. The quality of life index on planet Earth rises exponentially. Eleven years and nine albums later, Barrence Whitfield & The Savages go dark. Then in 2013, without warning or explanation, a new Barrence Whitfield & The Savages album, Dig Thy Savage Soul, drops from Bloodshot. Somehow it’s even more badass than their early albums. It sounds like Screamin’ Jay Hawkins fronting The Sonics in some kind of David Lynch fever dream, where time stands still and everyone has awesome hair. It was the Party Album Of The Year that nobody heard. But that will change. Don’t call it a comeback. Call it The Second Coming Of Barrence Whitfield & The Savages and praise The Lord for that. – JONATHAN VALANIA
The Decibel Magazine Tour made its Philadelphia stop this past Saturday at a packed-to-the-brim Union Transfer, as hardcore and metal fans flocked from far and wide to experience the likes of Vallenfyre, Pallbearer, Converge, and At The Gates. Each band brought a unique sound to the table, all while sharing the communal staples of headbang-inducing riffs and sympathy for the devil. Salem, Mass. hardcore heads Converge exploded onto the stage as openers for At The Gates, but it’s fair game to say that these guys stole the show. Vocalist Jacob Bannon spent the set in a convulsive headbanging fit as the group thrashed through an impressive 12-song stretch. Crowdsurfers constantly poured onto the stage and Bannon met them with an angst-y glare before offering them the microphone to scream what lyrics they could before security yanked them away. Next up, death metal Swedes At The Gates took the stage to sentence our souls to eternal damnation. With his wild smirk and signature trucker hat, frontman Tomas Lindberg rattled off horrific anthems such as “Raped by the Light of Christ” and “World of Lies” as the band serenaded the massive circular pits of drunk punks raging below. At the end of a long loud night of death, doom and despair, it was clear the Decibel Mag Tour remains one of the scariest and fucking wildest hardcore tours of modern metal era. – DYLAN LONG
BUZZFEED: In 1965, Tacoma, Washington’s The Sonics released a debut album of raw-boned, hemorrhagic garage-punk and maximum R&B called, simply, Here Are The Sonics. Exponentially louder, wilder, and weirder than their woolly-bully frat-rock brethren on the SeaTac teen club/roller rink/armory circuit, The Sonics sang about witches, psychopaths, Satan, and strychnine as a social lubricant, along with the more standard themes of hot girls and fast cars, or, even better, fast girls in hot cars. The 12 tracks on Here Are The Sonics capture the needle-pinning, speaker-blowing, tonsil-shredding, balls-to-the-wall mating call of five hormonal mid-’60s teenage savages forever in hot pursuit of Mad Men-era booze-cigarettes-sex-magic and the glorious din that made it all possible.
Fifty years after its release, Here Are The Sonics still sounds, as one wag aptly put it, “as raw as a freshly scraped kneecap.” On the continuum of rock ’n’ roll as a 20th-century art form, Here Are The Sonics remains a vital and important relic, the aural equivalent of a prehistoric cave painting, as primitive as it is seminal. It changed music. More accurately, it changed the people who would change music.
Feeble national promotion and ham-fisted distribution may have ensured that few outside of The Sonics’ Pacific Northwest stomping ground heard Here Are The Sonics when it was first released, but in the fullness of time its sphere of influence now transcends generations and spans continents thanks to the Esperanto of electrifying noise.
Just don’t tell The Sonics that.
“I think that’s overstating it a little,” says Larry Parypa, 68, The Sonics’ guitarist and de facto leader, when I recite some variation of the last two paragraphs to him. “I’m not sure how much influence we had on rock ’n’ roll.” “Parypa” is a Hungarian name that means “man of strong horse or something,” he says, but I just don’t see it. Parypa is more mild-mannered than you’d expect from a man whose claim to fame is playing guitar on a song called “Psycho,” and, it turns out, is suspicious of grand statements, especially about his band.
“I know we did some things that were very different, but to that degree? I don’t know,” he says with a shrug. We are sitting in the living room of Parypa’s house situated in a leafy suburban cul-de-sac outside of Seattle and paid for not by The Sonics’ paltry record sales royalties (about $4,000 a year) but a decades-long career as an insurance adjuster from which he finally retired earlier this year. He is only mildly amused when I point out that it only took 55 years for the guitar player for The Sonics to finally be able to quit his day job. Parypa is oddly joyless given that the thwarted rock star dreams of his youth have finally come true in his old age. Perhaps he senses, deep down, that it’s come too late.
Parypa is not a sentimental man. You have to look hard to find signs that the guitar player from The Sonics lives here. He doesn’t have copies of the original pressings of The Sonics’ ’60s recordings. No film footage of The Sonics performing live or even a video clip of their 1966 performance on Cleveland’s Upbeat, their one TV appearance. He doesn’t even have any old photos of the band from back in the day. “We just never kept that stuff,” he says, again with the shrug.
There are a few framed gig posters tucked away in an upstairs hallway — but nothing older than five years ago. Parypa never even bothered to tell his now-adult daughter that he was in The Sonics when she was growing up. She had to find out on the street when she was 14. “She must’ve gone to a record store and saw my picture and asked the guy behind the counter and I guess he made a big fuss,” he says, with that I-don’t-see-what-the-big-deal-is tone of voice he adopts when talking about the band. “She came home with a Sonics album and was like, ‘What’s this all about?’”
The reason we are debating the band’s place in the canon of rock ’n’ roll is that a reconstituted Sonics — Parypa, saxophonist Rob Lind, singer-songwriter-keyboardist Jerry Roslie, all three original members, plus bassist Freddie Dennis and drummer Dusty Watson (replacing original bassist Andy Parypa and drummer Bob Bennett, respectively) — are on the verge of releasing This Is The Sonics (out earlier this week), the first proper Sonics album in nearly half a century.
Wisely they enlisted the production services of Detroit garage guru Jim Diamond (White Stripes, The Dirtbombs), who laid down the law on day one.
“I told them, ‘You know, you’re not 19 years old, so it would be silly to try and copy your ’60s records; having said that, we have to stay true to the spirit of those recordings,’” he says a few weeks later, calling from somewhere in the ruins of the Motor City. “I want you to play like you haven’t gotten any better than when you were 19. Raw and mean. If it’s not punk as fuck, I’m not putting my name on it.”
Well, Jim Diamond put his name on it, as well he should. Despite the 48-year gap between albums and the fact that the median age in the band is now 70, one spin of This Is The Sonics makes a persuasive case that The Sonics are still The Rawest Band on Earth. Parypa can still swing a riff like a Louisville Slugger, the drummer still beats the drums like they owe him money, the sax player still honks as if he’s horny, and the singer still sounds like he gargles with gasoline and can’t be trusted with breakable things. All of which means The Rawest Band on Earth are now old enough to be your grandfather — and more popular than they ever were in the prime of their youth.
Anthony Bourdain, host of CNN’s Parts Unknown, used “Have Love, Will Travel” in promos for the current season. He emailed the following when I asked him why: “The Sonics were true originals, garage before garage, the way rock and roll should be: loud, dirty and dangerous.” MORE
The Sonics were just four teens from the Pacific Northwest at the dawn of the ‘60s making some of the most primitive and primal rock n’ roll ever committed to wax, and in the process almost singlehandedly invented garage, punk, grunge and metal. Everyone from the Cramps, Dead Boys and Bruce fucking Springsteen to the White Stripes, Nirvana and Mudhoney have acknowledged their sonic debt to the Sonics. After five decades of silence, the Sonics are back with This Is The Sonics, their first proper album since 1967. Though they are old enough to be your grandfather, they still play with facemelting intensity. And hells yeah they’re going on tour, sonny boy! They’ll be ripping the roof off the TLA on Sunday (April 12th) and we have a pair of tix for some lucky reader. To qualify to win, all you have to do is sign up for our mailing list (see right, below the masthead). Trust us, this is something you want to do. In addition to breaking news alerts and Phawker updates, you also get advanced warning about groovy concert ticket giveaways and other free swag opportunities like this one! After signing up, send us an email at FEED@PHAWKER.COM telling us a much, with the magic words HAVE LOVE WILL TRAVEL in the subject line. If you are already on our mailing list, just send us an email saying as much. Please include your full name and a mobile number for confirmation. Good luck and godspeed!
BY DAN BUSKIRK FILM CRITIC I’ve “liked” or “loved” all of Noah Baumbach’s directorial work up to now which makes his latest While We’re Young feel like a sad departure, the point where a filmmaker gives in to convention at the same spots where previous works like The Squid & the Whale and Margot at the Wedding once defied it. Baumbach has created quite a catalog of disgruntled square pegs across six films and whereas in those films he always allowed them a chance to squirm free of expectations, in While We’re Young he is determined to hammer them into round holes. With 2006’s Greenberg, Baumbach took Ben Stiller agitated shtick and gave it some real soul. With While We’re Young, Stiller seems to have brought Baumbach to his side to make a Ben Stiller film. You know, something that people who really loved Meet the Parents would enjoy.
Stiller and Naomi Watts play a married couple who work in documentary film. Actually Watts works for her father, played by Charles Grodin as a Maysles-type doc film legend. Stiller (more troll-like than ever) on the other hand has spent a decade trying to follow-up his well-regarded debut and is obviously floundering with a film whose premise even he can’t describe. Although the couple has had fertility problems, their infant-coddling friends are a tone-deaf version of the “why don’t you have kids?”-type. Just before the middle aged blahs swallow them whole, Stiller meets a young couple in the film class he teaches, played by Amanda Seyfried and Adam Driver of HBO’s Girls. Stiller (and to a slightly less extent Watts) are dazzled by the youthful pair and before you know it they’re eliciting snortles by refusing to act their boring age.
Admittedly, as Stiller vehicles go, While We’re Young is sturdy enough, it has a comic timing and zips right along. In comparison to Baumbach’s more subtle comedies, it’s a disaster. In the past Baumbach has been a master at painting flawed, complicated characters who stubbornly remain human and likable. With While We’re Young, Baumbach works more broadly in a way that has left us with characters that are condescendingly cartoonish. Meeting the adorable 20’s couple instantly unmoors Watts and Stiller in a way that reminded me of The Brady Bunch, as in one of those episodes where an off-handed comment makes a Brady talk in an accent or wear a wig for a couple days. And then, a lesson is learned. Witnessing the insecurity behind Stiller and Watts’ morphing personalities is so grotesque it is hard to get on board and root for their characters. Read the rest of this entry »
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