One of the great sections of the website was a list of interviews with different artists who I felt were interesting. Fortunately, those were all saved. During the course of 2020, it’s my intention to re-post many of my favorite interviews here.
Genesis Breyer P-Orridge is an English performer, musician, writer and artist whose work with pioneering performance art group COUM Transmissions and industrial band Throbbing Gristle, have become the stuff of legend. Later musical work with Psychic TV was far more prolific and received a much broader exposure. This interview took place on a clear Saturday morning in 2009. S/he (Genesis) spoke about love, life, art, music, pandrogyny, and Lady Jaye. I was saddened to hear of Genesis’ passing a couple of days ago. I had heard that s/he had been ill. This is the second part of our interview from 2009.
Please GO HERE to start with PART 1.
* * *
Let’s talk about the current Psychic TV for a moment. Correct me if I’m wrong, but PTV3 is the newest version of Psychic TV with new members. How do you think that this current group of people carry on with the same musical and artistic ideologies compared to earlier versions, or is it an ongoing, evolving process in the same way that one’s philosophy or way of thinking about things also changes?
PTV3 has been the same since 2003. All the people who are in PTV3, as we gradually collected ourselves together, were told that PTV3 would not just be a rock band. The propaganda of pandrogyny that we wanted to maintain, the visual aspect and the idea of content that was not just straight-forward, “I’m in love, I’m not in love; I’m happy, I’m not happy.” It would also evolve propaganda that would primarily be in the video-light show rather than in the lyrics necessarily, although it could cross-over. Everyone had to understand what we were talking about, that we really believed in it, and that they felt comfortable with it. In fact, they’re so comfortable with it that they all got into cross-dressing, and their entire inherited idea of gender play and gender stereotypes has evolved with us. This particular version of PTV, in my opinion, is by far the most pure and is the band that we dreamed of having in 1967. So finally, we found the people who can execute the music in a way that’s exactly what we hear in our head, at the same time with joy and laughter and without being pompous, while understanding the dialectical issues as well. It’s been really exciting for me, certainly.
You say joy and laughter, is there more of an element of play than previously?
Absolutely. That’s one of the big differences. The most common thing we hear after a gig with someone who has never seen us before is, ‘you all look like you’re having such a great time on stage. You’re smiling and making jokes and doing silly dances. It’s so intoxicating and makes us feel excited and relaxed and want to join in.’ Hence, the slogan, ‘pleasure is a weapon.’ We were much more po-faced in the past.
I remember seeing Psychic TV at the Showbox in Seattle in the late 80s, and it was a fantastic show, a very bold and grand production. But I do remember there was a very stark sense of seriousness. Do you think that having that element of play, is that something that has come together because of the group of people, or is that something that you find yourself embracing as you get older? Where do you think this comes from?
It comes from Lady Jaye because she found Morrison Edley, the drummer. Edley would then present different people to us to pick. We would always default to Lady Jaye because she had great intuition. She very much brought in that element of ‘don’t be so serious and don’t get so pompous, it’s ok to laugh; be silly, in fact, it’s just as powerful.’ Having Lady Jaye there from the beginning very much altered the balance. She opened me up to whole other ways of tactics in a really positive way. For me, that’s made being in a band so much more fun. We actually look forward to it now. We rarely play less than two hours on stage, often three and a half.
How are you doing since the loss of Lady Jaye? I imagine it must have been really difficult. I also understand if it’s something you prefer not to talk about.
Oh no, we can try, but it still makes me feel very emotional. It’s horrible, just horrible. She did say, always, that the only thing she wants to be remembered for was being in one of the great love affairs. We think that’s going to happen. When we toured in Europe, last November (2008), it seems that everybody knew about it and they were being genuinely sympathetic in discreet ways. When she came on screen in videos, they would cheer as well and sometimes cry. There’s this incredible bond that has become possible, before with the fun and afterward with the emotional connection and people understanding the loss.
I think on some level, most people can certainly identify with deep, meaningful, transformative love, and as a result it’s hard not to be able to imagine the loss connected with a loss of that kind of love.
And of course she’s still present whenever we play, on the videos. At the moment, somebody called Hannah Haddix, who’s Marcus Aurelius’ girlfriend, stood in as the neo-Lady Jaye. Jaye had already worked out all the samples for the set list for the new album, so Hannah played them as Jaye would, on behalf of Jaye. The song “New York Story” seems to become Lady Jaye’s song in that it’s partly talking about finding somebody who’s died. It’s somewhat spooky because we did find her in the house dead. She died in my arms in fact. So whenever we sing that song, it’s a rare occurrence for me to get to the end without being in tears. It seems to be healing for me, and it’s also creating a whole new level of commitment in the audience towards the band. It’s not the straight-forward love affair either. I think people are aware of the pandrogyny idea, the fact that commitment was so deep that we were blending our bodies to become one, and that there’s a whole evolutionary story there.
Let’s talk about pandrogyny for a moment.
Well, before we forget, let’s just talk quickly about how the album, [Mr. Alien Brain Vs. the Skinwalkers], came about. After Jaye, as she called it, ‘dropped her body,’ we didn’t play at all for six months. We couldn’t. In fact, we spent most of the time in bed with people looking after me. Then, National Public Radio got in touch and asked if we’d do a live concert for World Café in honor of Lady Jaye. We weren’t sure if we could, but we decided we would try. All we did was have one brief one-hour rehearsal the day before, and then went to Philly and recorded five songs live, straight to tape. There are no over-dubs on the album except for “Papal Breakdance” and “I Love You, I Know.” Everything else was played live. Oh, and “New York Story.” You can tell there are six or seven songs that are straight down. The performance is archived on World Café. When we got the recordings back, we were all stunned at the delicacy of how everyone had played. It really sounds as if it was arranged and that we had practiced and it was mixed and perfected in some way. In fact, they were just jams that we’d been trying out, mainly at sound check on the last tour with Jaye. She’d collected together samples ready to improve all of the tracks. It’s a stunning example of that ability of PTV3 to enter a communal trance state, where we’re so locked in, so aware of every detail of what each other’s doing that we pull away and stop and re-enter and, in my case, do vocals as sparingly as possible on this one, so that it sounds perfect. It’s come from somewhere unusual, somewhere outside our self. It’s a great testament to Lady Jaye because it’s so pure.
And this is the new record?
Yeah, Mr. Alien Brain. It’s honestly, in my opinion, the best album that we’ve ever done. We suspect that’s because Jaye was hovering in some form, making sure. There’s a track at the end called “I Love You, I Know,” which is a good example of the magical aspect of how we work. We thought the album was done, and we were using my friend Bryin Dall’s digital studio just to master it. We went over one evening to render all the tracks so they were the same levels and had the same technical detail. Just as we were going out of the door to the apartment, we banged into the stereo and a pile of CDs fell to the floor. On top was one that just had scrawled on it “Jackie’s Samples.” So we picked it up, put it in my bag, and thought, ‘that was strange, she must want me to listen to this.’ We went to the studio, and as all the tracks were being rendered we said to Bryin, ‘we found this CD, it fell on the floor as we were leaving the house; put it on, let’s see what’s on it, maybe there’s something we can use at the end.’ So he put it on, and it was these various rhythm loops that Jaye had been working on, and most of them were quite straight forward. Then there was this really odd one that was much more gratingly electronic and had this really peculiar syncopation. We both looked at each other and thought it was great, so we recorded three minutes to see what would happen. As we were doing that, unconsciously we were banging on an empty wine bottle with a big ring that was actually the first gift Jaye ever gave me, tapping a rhythm out without thinking. At the end, Bryin said, ‘Gen, could you play that again with the ring on that bottle, it sounded really good.’ Then he said, ‘it really needs bass,’ so we called up Alice Genese, who lives in Hoboken, and said, ‘would you mind very much getting dressed, getting your bass, and driving to Manhattan to play bass on this new track we just started?’ So off she came, sat down, listened, played once, and went home to bed. Bryin thought it still needed something. We were going to have this piece from a telephone message Jaye left where she said, “I love you, I love you so much,” so we tried that. We put it on, and it fitted the rhythm perfectly. Bryin then said it needed an answer and told me to go stand and say, “I know.” So that’s what we did, and that’s the track.
And that’s the final track on the record?
Yeah. So she even wrote a track from beyond, and it was perfect. That fluidity, that openness to what other people might think of as random chance, is always present in the way we work. We never take for granted that formal structures are enough. We always have a little door open for surprises, novelty, etc. Now, you were going to ask about pandrogyny?
Yes, I was interested in your thoughts about the human body being raw material for whatever you want to make it and how that relates to “standard” notions of body image and aesthetics in culture.
Basically, again, it began because of Lady Jaye. The very first time we met, she dressed me in her clothes and put make-up on me. She sometimes would dress as the boyfriend with a moustache and so on. As we fell madly in love we got to this point, you know, when you’re falling in love and you feel it so passionately and deeply that you feel, ‘I wish I could just eat you up, I wish I could just get you and crush you inside me so that you could never ever be gone and I could always be with you.’ Or you could have that little tiny version of the person you love in your pocket so they would never have to go away. It began with that kind of sentimental cultivation that we just wanted to absolutely become each other. We both had a mutual vision one night. We were with our friends and suddenly we both went ‘ah!’ and looked at each other and said, ‘did you see what I saw? Just draw it without telling me what you see.’ We both drew what we were seeing, and we both drew one body with two heads. We actually both saw this with friends around. It was quite strange. That was our confirmation that that was our path. As we developed it and realized we wanted to take it further than people might think, not just dressing up like each other, not just doing our hair like each other, and so on, but actually physically trying to become as much like each other as we could as a commitment, we realized that we were really extending the Burroughs-Gysinidea of the third mind, where by cutting up literature or images and reassembling them, the two people involved in that process are no longer the artist or the author. Somehow it becomes the product of something they call the third mind, the two of them combined. So we thought that we’d do that, we’d make ourselves the cut-up and create a third being, the combination of our two bodies together. We began to actually do that. As you know, we both got breast implants on Valentine’s Day 2003 to state very clearly we’re really serious about this. We also started to realize that we were back in that thing of behavior, DNA. We were in a way rejecting the shape our body would normally have because of DNA. We were confounding the DNA by choosing our body shape and adjusting it. That meant that DNA was somehow involved in this process of being at the mercy of behavioral loops and patterns that weren’t necessarily ones we wanted to buy into. As we looked at DNA, we realized that we were trying to find ways to short-circuit control, to rest absolute control for our being cell-by-cell from DNA, to try and drag the human species into its own future, where instead of thinking for example that the human body is sacred or even that it’s finished evolutionarily, we are in fact still supposed to be evolving. To let the human body languish in a half-finished state is a tragedy and probably a recipe for more disaster. In fact, the human species must let go of the idea that the human body is meant to look like this and realize that we are now at the point where we take over evolutionary control from chance, climate, pressure and so on and actually take responsibility for what we will be, how we will function, how we will look. Especially if we’re going to go into space. It becomes about evolution in the end. Is the human species going to become a tragic by-line like the dinosaur, which is probably what’s going to happen if we carry on as we do, or are we suddenly going to wake-up, be inspired and think not about any kind of separation from the rest of the world but actually just see ourselves as the human species evolving in the most amazing incredible way in order to be proud of itself instead of ashamed of its behavior? Also, in order to populate the universe as we should. So that’s where it goes to.
Why do you feel that we should be populating the universe?
Brion Gysin had a whole book called Here to Go. Basically, with the long-term stresses that are inevitable for us as an intelligent species, once we take control of every aspect of the recording that is our species’ DNA, once we let go of any sense of guilt or sin or travesty, we can inevitably say ‘let’s go out there and look.’ How would that happen? One thing we can do is find out how to hibernate. Bears do it; frogs do it. Frogs aren’t all that bright, that we know of. It’s probably just a hormonal, chemical trick. The main issue with traveling in space is what to do in this tin can that’s going along for years. Hibernate. Another issue would be keeping warm. Let’s be cold-blooded, or grow fur, or have fish scales and live in a tank. Who knows? The minute you let go of thinking that this is the final version of humans, everything opens up into possibilities. Possibilities are what inspire our species to be brilliant. Our species bring brilliant is what’s so exciting about us. It would be so nice, wouldn’t it, to let go of being brutish and barbarian and finally live up to our promise. That’s what it’s really all about, that’s the message.
That’s a very interesting idea. It’s fascinating imaging all this.
It would be great. ‘I’m thinking about moving to planet such-and-such, could I have gills please?’
I would like a prehensile tail myself.
That would be nice. We think we’d like gills, so we could swim under the water with dolphins.
That would be pretty fantastic. This seems like a good place to leave off.
It does. It feels like a good ending.]]>
Sanders won California and that was the single biggest prize of the night – and he won it decisively. Needless to say, I genuinely believed that he would win more than four states. Massachusetts and Maine were both upsets that I was not expecting.
This morning Bloomberg ended his campaign and gave his endorsement to Biden. On the surface, it is clear that the Democratic establishment is coalescing not around a particular candidate specifically, but from where I stand, I think that they’re coalescing specifically against the other one – one who presents a clear threat to that establishment. This is not how politics is supposed to work, but it is how the game is played, and during the 72 hours after Biden’s success in South Carolina, they (meaning the DNC/establishment) played it well.
If Joe gets the nomination (and it appears that this is a very real chance), I remain convinced that his candidacy will be an unmitigated disaster. He’s another 100% establishment candidate who is promising all the same business as usual, at a time when the bulk of America on both the left and the right are essentially sick of establishment politics. Biden is Hillary Clinton for 2020, only I believe he’ll prove to be even less adept on the campaign trail than she was. While Clinton ran a less than stellar campaign, she was at least concise, clear minded and able to stay focused and on-point. Biden seems old, seems weak, appears to have a hard time staying focused, and fumbles even in his responses to debate questions against his Democratic opponents. I think that he seems like a doddering grandpa, and we need a fighter against the attack dog who currently inhabits the White House.
I believe that if Biden goes on the debate stage against Trump, that his performance will essentially hand the next election to Trump. Nothing would make me happier than to be wrong.
Gabbard needs to leave the race yesterday, but I suppose that her staying in makes no real difference one way or another. Warren sadly will probably be dropping out soon as a path towards victory seems unlikely at best.
So where we stand right now, it’s basically a two-man race, and the positions of the two men running advance completely different agendas and visions of what the future of the country could look like. It is also a race between two OLD WHITE men; both of them are even older than Trump, and with that in-mind, I think they both need to do something unprecedented: I think that they need to decide on running mates ASAP and they need to finish out the primary season running as a ticket and not just as a singular candidate. I think that they both need to bring somebody on board who is younger—and if they’ve been paying any attention to the state of America these days—a WOMAN.
This means that Warren being tapped as a VP is out of the question (but she deserves an important cabinet position should either of them win the election in November). Sanders will need somebody who will energize people of color more effectively and who represents a different part of the country. Personally I see Stacy Abrams as an exciting choice, but the buzz is that Biden might tap her as well. That said, it sure seems like a Biden/Klobuchar ticket is all but inevitable. Other strong candidate considerations: Tammy Baldwin, Julián Castro (yes, I know – not a woman, but he brings Texas into the mix, it very articulate and would secure the Latino vote) and let us not forget Kamala Harris, whose ferocity and tenacity I am a big fan of. Curious to hear what you think about these ideas and who you’d like to see as a running mate (for either candidate)—and why.]]>
One of the great sections of the website was a list of interviews with different artists who I felt were interesting., Fortunately, those were all saved. During the course of 2020, it’s my intention to re-post many of my favorite interviews here.
This is the first one (part 1 of 2)
Genesis Breyer P-Orridge is an English performer, musician, writer and artist whose work with pioneering performance art group COUM Transmissions and industrial band Throbbing Gristle, have become the stuff of legend. Later musical work with Psychic TV was far more prolific and received a much broader exposure. This interview took place on a clear Saturday morning in 2009. S/he (Genesis) spoke about love, life, art, music, pandrogyny, and Lady Jaye.
* * *
I understand you’re preparing to go to Nepal?
Yes. Nepal and India, and just maybe Thailand. It depends how engrossed we get in the culture in Nepal and India.
Have you been to these places before?
Never to India. We’ve been to Nepal two times. In fact, we were in Nepal in Katmandu the day we heard the house had been raided by Scotland Yard. It was quite strange, we came to breakfast to this fax that said ‘Urgent.’ We looked at it, and all it said was, ‘Scotland Yard has raided your house. Don’t come home.’
What year was that?
And that was what led to you moving here?
Yeah, to America.
How do you compare the experience of living here versus living in the UK?
Oh, we never do that. Actually, we were talking about that with someone the other day. It might sound corny to people who have not been nomadic, but all my life we’ve moved. When we were four, my parents moved from Manchester to London, at six from London to Cheshire, at fourteen to Birmingham, at eighteen to Hull in Yorkshire, at nineteen to Islington in London, at twenty back to Hull in Yorkshire, at twenty-three to Hackney in London, at thirty-eight to Brighton, in ‘92 to Sonoma County, California, and in ‘96 to Brooklyn. So we’ve been moving around, and as you can imagine, especially during childhood and adolescence, we never had a consistent group of friends. Every time we went to a new school and started to make friends, we would move again, and we’d be thrown back on my own solo resources.
That sounds like my childhood. I was in California and along the West coast, but I moved constantly and was always in new schools. I actually spent several years not going to school at all. Many of those years I had little or no exposure to television.
It’s probably hard to imagine, but in my early childhood there was no television. By 1953, when we were three years old, my parents had a television that they got to watch the coronation. That’s my first childhood memory, watching this strange, bizarre, baroque ritual on this tiny black-and-white television with all the neighbors in the house, crowded and staring at this incredibly magical box with pictures and sound. No one else on the street had one. There were only two people who had cars on our street. So we’ve actually watched television arrive and mutate and become planet-wide and then become the most entropic garbage one could imagine.
Did that experience, being one of your earliest memories, directly or indirectly influence the development of Psychic TV and your use of television as part of your performance medium?
That’s a really interesting thought, which has never occurred to me, but it certainly had a very profound effect on me. There’s been this ongoing relationship, not a happy one, between myself and the Queen ever since. For example, at the age of fourteen when we moved to Birmingham, we were sent to a private school. In England, they call a private, fee-paying school a public school, which is confusing here. It was so well-connected that the Queen was one of the main patrons. It had its own modern church that had been built on the grounds that had actually been consecrated by Her Majesty the Queen. In honor of that they started an extra house, a team called Windsor, after the House of Windsor. There were six teams in the school, and everybody had to be on one of them for everything. We were put in Windsor. We then suddenly were re-embroiled with the Queen’s vibe. In 1975, we were actually prosecuted for making collage postcards using souvenir postcards of the Queen and adding soft-core porn and strange imagery and so on. We got the maximum sentence of a year in prison and the maximum fine, which fortunately was suspended if we didn’t do any more collages of the Queen for three years.
And you were how old at this point?
By then, 25.
So this was after you had started with COUM Transmissions and all of that?
Yes. And then of course in 1976, COUM did the farewell retrospective at the [Institute of Contemporary Arts] in London called Prostitution. That building, the ICA, was owned by Her Majesty the Queen. The Queen actually sent Law Lords, the advisors she has, to request that we close down the exhibition voluntarily, which we refused to do. One of the things we said to the Law Lords was, ‘If you try and close us down, we’ll just put sandbags up, paint the building pink, and refuse to leave.’ So there’s been a strange friction between my art and music and lifestyle and the establishment as represented or symbolized by the Queen.
Since COUM Transmissions and Throbbing Gristle and Psychic TV, you’ve been involved in all sorts of art and performance and media and music. It seems at the very core it’s aimed to challenge or breakdown societal constructs of normalcy.
Well, we wouldn’t use the word ‘normalcy,’ but inherited cultural templates that are usually just accepted unquestionably by anybody in any culture. Cultural constructs are basically arbitrary, we all know that. If you travel, you’ll realize that in one country what’s acceptable sexually, or in terms of marriage, or the position of women, etcetera, is one thing, and that’s considered the norm. In other places it could be completely the opposite, and that’s the norm. Anything that purports to be a norm is an arbitrary imposition. As William Burroughs said to me once, when you’re confused by something or mystified by it or you’re concerned and suspicious of it, look for the vested interest and usually that’s the answer for what’s going on. And so we look and say, well who is getting the advantage by policing my sex life? Who is getting the advantage by intimidating me by having an army, an air force, a navy and a police force to impose their arbitrary rules of normalcy? Who does this serve? And obviously it serves the people who have power. Why do people want power? Who are these people? Is it the symbolic figures like the Queen, or is it an invisible group of businessmen and power brokers and politicians who are almost addicted to power plays as they would be to playing chess? And some of them, of course, are disturbed individuals who actually think power has some innate value, which is does not.
Do you think it’s just the process of amassing power that is intoxicating, or is there something more that they actually get to exercise influence?
We think you’re right, the primary excitement of power for people who find themselves getting the opportunity to explore it is intoxication. Sometimes there is also at the beginning an altruistic mindset, a little ideology that they truly believe in, but it’s the power itself, the control system that seems to actually, as well all know, corrupt and dismantle good intentions.
So do you think that power and ideology are antithetical? That one cancels the other out over time?
Probably. We would prefer a world based on compassion than on power and ideology. Whilst challenging all inherited cultural and ethical systems as a matter of principle, in order to see what they are and whether they really serve any purpose for each individual or not, whether they’re things we want to buy into or reject, while that’s part of the earlier work, as time has gone by and we find our approach to trying to analyze and observe the cultures within which we were living, we became more and more convinced that it was just human behavior that was the issue, the problem. The engrained instinctive, genetic behavior code, those ultimately are where real control resides, those patterns that basically we inherit through DNA and through repetition throughout cultural history. So for example, one of the things we really isolated and looked at was in what we could call prehistoric time, barbarian time, very early on when humans were in small clans, moving from cave to cave, and just getting food and surviving the climate was the only real imperative. Then, the males of the clan were strong, violent, and capable of scavenging and killing for food, and it was appropriate for us to have a gene or a genetic code that said the male could be strong and violent and would protect its group by fighting and trying to kill anything different, anything that appeared to be a threat, including other clans. That’s what helped the human species survive through the earliest ages against all the odds when we didn’t even know why there was daylight or night time and we didn’t know where fire came from except that it came from the sky sometimes. That’s how we survived, and you could call at that time, in the early days, a ‘friendly’ gene or program. But of course it was a program that absolutely intrinsically related to its environment. It allowed us to survive in the environment of prehistoric times, where almost everything was a threat. Now, what’s happened over thousands of years is that we have, by the use of tools and problem-solving, changed the environment, manipulated it like a sculptor with clay. This has been done to such an extent that we can divert rivers, create electricity, live in space, and talk to people anywhere in the world with tiny boxes by our ears. We have video and computers and all this amazing stuff, which is our current technological, post-industrial, miraculous tool-based environment, but we’ve done nothing to change our behavior patterns to be equal and relevant to the environment we’ve created. We’re still basically at the mercy of those ancient, prehistoric, vicious genetic codes and routines. So what have you got? Inevitably you have this terrible problem. We’re basically clever apes with incredibly sophisticated and dangerous toys, and that’s a recipe for disaster. Our entire thrust, our entire direction has been ‘how can you?’ Is it possible even to adjust voluntarily through different techniques of human behavior so that we are not self-destructive? So that we do not in this new, wonderful environment still think that anyone different, anyone outside, anyone we don’t understand is an enemy and we should attack them? That the solution to everything confusing is violence and intimidation? We think it’s pretty obvious that that’s still where we are at the moment. You can see it very easily in world events that we’re using prehistoric templates to resolve futuristic issues.
I think intimidation is a tool of power.
Oh, absolutely. We think a lot of people would agree if they were honest with themselves that the main reason societies appear to remain stable is because of the intimidation of those who can direct the police and the armed forces. But, people say if we didn’t have them then there would just be anarchy. That’s why we have to as a species let go of spending every spare penny in aggression and invest in consciousness and the understanding behavior, looking at what the rest of the brain might be capable of, exploring scientific boundaries for the sake of everybody. We should all be thinking as a species instead of as parts of the species as rivals. The great mistake now in the picture people have of the world is that they’re not thinking on the whole of the world as a species, they’re thinking of it as them as an individual trying to get their life to work or them as a part of a group, whether it be religious, economic, or cultural such as hardcore music or skinhead or whatever. We breakdown and we try and have these clans, these tribes, these nations, and so on. They’re all basically still suffering from this knee-jerk prehistoric violence that’s underlying the way they exercise their attempt to establish themselves in terms of control.
Do you consider much of what you’ve created through your music and art as a way to challenge people’s thinking around those things and reconsider…?
We’d prefer our body of work to be taken in as a whole. One of the big problems we have is that we get ghettoized, especially by the art world. ‘Oh, they can’t be serious when they’re making art because they make music.’ That’s a very common response. ‘They can’t possibly have any merit because they make music, and rock music is people who are ex- or anti-intellectual,’ which is rubbish as you know. So we get deliberately sidelined and ignored in the same way the music industry sometimes to some degree thinks, ‘they’re not really interested in making music that has any kind of profound significance because they make art.’
Why do art and music have to be mutually exclusive?
We would say the same thing, why do they have to be exclusive? Surely, ever since the 50s, the main lesson we’ve learned from art is that it’s multi-media now. Art and life are basically one thing, a mirror to each other. We would agree with you that it’s a ludicrous position, but it is still one that’s quite altercative. There’s a lot of ignorant prejudice between one clique and another clique. One of our jobs, of course, is to keep on demanding that people see that, in fact, life and art are no longer separable. They are but one thing. The artist, as the source, is the artist, and the media is just whatever is useful to talk or create dialogue in that given moment.
Please GO HERE to continue on to PART 2.]]>
But it was more than that.The band had become a tense animal and we had established a complex pattern of conflict and strife between the various members, and while we were at the absolute peak of our creative prowess and musical capability at the time of my departure, it had ceased to be fun. Ben had already started Gruntruck with former Skin Yard drummer Norman Scott, and his attention definitely seemed more focused on that band than it was on Skin Yard. Inside Yours (their debut) had already eclipsed 1000 Smiling Knuckles in terms of press and sales by the time I left Skin Yard, as their record had been picked up by Roadrunner, a label that had the muscle to push it to more mainstream metal audience. The year after I left Skin Yard, Gruntruck toured with Screaming Trees and Alice in Chains as the opening act. That pretty much tells the story right there.
Another big factor was the fact that I believed that 1000 Smiling Knuckles was the closest we’d ever come to achieving what we set out to create when we went into the studio. I didn’t think we would ever be able to release a better record, and I certainly felt that it was probably the best record that I would ever be part of, so in that regard, it felt like a pretty good time and place to step away.
I still had C/Z Records and on that front, things were blowing up. So while I wasn’t playing music anymore, I was still in the thick of the Seattle music scene releasing records by a bunch of great bands who were creating a lot of glorious noise themselves.
In 1993, I got a call from a band called Pretty Mary Sunshine who had just been signed to A&M Records. They had a show booked, opening for Red House Painters, but their bass player, Joe Bass (aka Joe Skyward) was in Europe with another band he played with –The Posies—and he suggested me as a fill-in. I agreed, and began learning their songs. Anchored by Kurt, their guitar player and songwriter, and his girlfriend Patrice who was their singer, I found a band that seemed largely influenced by Mazzy Star which worked for me, as I was (and still am) a huge fan of theirs.
The band however did not have the discipline of David Roback and Co., and was mired in a haze of relationship drama and was compromised by a lot of pot smoking, and I assumed whatever drugs were available at any given time. The song structures were basic at best. Indeed, on several occasions Kurt would come up with a song on the spot and that was apparently it. The band didn’t seem inclined to spend any time arranging or fine-tuning any of the compositions, so I took that on as a role in the band. Over the course of our rehearsals, I encouraged the band to work on the songs, so that we could take them from seeds of ideas and shape them into more fully fleshed-out works with some added subtlety and nuance. They welcomed the process and recognized that the set improved with a bit of extra time and love thrown in. They asked me to become a permanent member of the band (which would have meant that Joe would be out upon his return from Europe), but I politely passed. The show had gone off well and I loved the energy of playing live again, but knew that I would not be able to deal with the relationship drama and was completely disinterested in trying to write songs with a band who were high more often than not. Not passing judgment, and not assuming anything about any of them 25+ years after the fact, but at that time I knew what I was game for and what I was not. It felt like a preemptive train wreck, and from what I heard through the grapevine, it turned out to be just that. They released one record on A&M, but the band imploded and a second record was never released.
And after that, I never played again.
* * *
Fast-forward to 2019. Twenty six years after the Pretty Mary Sunshine show.
My dear friend Sluggo, his wife Laurian and their two kids Dregen and Blixa who have been coming down here to the desert for Spring break for the previous several years, were planning their trip again, but this time, their visit was going to be a little different: Sluggo had recently started a new musical project – a band out of Oakland called REQ’D, and had released their debut, Fall in Love on Hate Street. Sluggo asked if I might be willing to try to look a show for them during their annual visit. I—of course—said yes, and called my friend Bobby about maybe doing something at his amazing creative space, Furstwurld. Bobby was all in. The show would be on a Wednesday, and since REQ’D was a completely unknown band, our expectations were well managed, meaning that we had none.
A couple of weeks after the date had been secured, Sluggo informed me that their bass player, Dave would not be able to make it down and asked how I felt about filling in on bass. I said okay. Terrified and exhilarated, I began the process of teaching my fingers how to move again, and during the process was amazed at the resiliency of my muscle memory. Some part of me still knew how to play, and the joy of it all came flooding back, but not without a feeling of intense trepidation and uncertainty. The first step was to learn the songs on my own, but what I really needed was proper time rehearsing with the band, which thankfully I got.
* * *
I first met Sluggo in the late ‘80s through his Boston-based band Hullaballoo, who we were band mates with on Toxic Shock Records. I subsequently released a record by Hullabaloo, entitled Lubritorium on my label, C/Z Record. Sales were not good and I didn’t release a follow up. Over time, Sluggo and fell out of touch with each other. He had moved to the west coast somewhere in the ‘90s. It’s where he and Laurian met, and with whom they played together in the band Ain’t. After Ain’t, his band the Grannies recorded and released 9 full-length slabs of raw and raucous punk rock (all produced by Jack Endino) over the course of a jaw-dropping seventeen years , all the while dressed up in geriatric grandma-drag. Punk as Fuck: An interesting resume to say the least. The Grannies ran their course and Sluggo started REQ’D. For the sake of perspective, I describe REQ’D as punky roadhouse country-stained rock. This is why rock critics suck, and is ultimately why I am not one.
The night of the show I was nervous but reasonably confident. REQ’D’s lead guitar player, Anthony Pulsipher came down for the show and their drummer Richard Stuverud (Fastbacks, War Babies, Three Fish, RNDM), was interestingly already coming down to Joshua Tree for recording project. We had had two full rehearsals in the living room/kitchen of the house that I had built and moved into just a few months before, and so we were ready to play some rock. Also down for the trip was Jack Endino and his wife Mia with whom he plays in the band MKB Ultra. It had taken some finagling to talk Uncle Jack into coming down, but he did, and they had worked out half a dozen songs as a stripped down duo to open the set. It felt like old times all of use being together and playing a bunch of songs.
The show went well. It was not well attended, but when you have zero expectations, it’s hard to be disappointed. We were solid, and whatever fuck-ups there might have been would have gone by completely unnoticed. But for me, the most important aspect of the entire night was that an old piece of my soul had been revived. It was exhilarating, and since then, I’ve realized that I need to be playing again. I am pretty busy with work and with life, and it’s not easy to find musicians out here who want to play the kind of noise that I envision, but it will happen one way or another, and while it may not be as good to my ears as 1000 Smiling Knuckles was, I know that anything that ends up getting recorded will at a minimum be interesting and perhaps good enough to start a fire.
So REQ’D will be coming down, and this time we have a Saturday booked (at Furstwurld again), so keep your eyes peeled for the invitation, because it’s gonna be good. Also in attendance will be Dave Scott Flores, REQ’D’s bass player, but he’ll be on piano for the set (which he also plays on the REQ’D record), so I’ll be playing bass again! Dave will be opening the show as he’s recently released a solo record of his own, playing most all the instruments himself. It’s really good. I think that his idea is that it will be a stripped down solo set with him on piano, but I’m going to see if I can convince him to flesh out half of the set with a band – or at a minimum a rhythm section. He will be needing a bass player…
It’s hard to convey my thanks to Sluggo enough—for pulling me out of my shell, and re-igniting my passion to make music again. I don’t have the drive that I had in my twenties, but I still have enough hunger to create, and typically once I set my mind on something, I don’t let it go until the “it” gets done.]]>
She became part of our family the very first week of my landing in Los Angeles back in August of 2003. She was only three months old at the time, sweet and clumsy, ears still indecisive and floppy, inquisitive, willful and independent. Her neck was so small that her collar was loose even at the smallest hole.
A little over a year ago, her arthritis began to take hold, and even though she’s been on meds for the entire time, she can only walk some of the time, and when she can it’s difficult. She needs assistance to squat to pee, and falls a lot if left to try to walk on her own. She needs to be fed by hand most of the time and has been spending the majority of her days reclined and stuck in her bed.
I am gutted. I know it will pass in time and that she will always be part of me. I got her name and paw tattooed over my heart last year as I knew this day would come. And here is it. I keep swinging from crushing sadness to numbness and back again. I’ll still be with Teddy, Pippa’s younger brother dog. We will have to help each other during the emotional aftermath of all this.
Everything feels so empty even though I know that it’s not. The simply joy that I experienced just knowing she was is now a big hole of sadness. I know its all about remembering everything that made me smile and laugh and not this feeling of hopelessness and despair, because logically I know these feelings will dissipate. It’s gonna take a while before I find my way back to normal, but I will. I just don’t know how long that will take.
I will miss you forever my sweet baby. Little Shiba puppy who used to catch birds in mid-air, now just barely hobbling with hips and rear legs now made of rickety sticks. I will remember you in the desert, on the beach and in the snow. We will still play chase in my dreams and when I close my eyes to conjure your little fox face. Your special nibble on the tip of my nose and your lightning speed as you dart back and forth in the front yard in Eagle Rock. You will live in my heart for eternity.
Sleep soundly and dream playful dreams of your years before your body began to fail you. My heartdog forever. My most special little furry girl.
Shortly before my tenth birthday, I visiting my mom in Berkeley and was invited by some friends to see The Hellstrom Chronicle, a pseudo-documentary/horror film about insects and their inevitable take-over of the world. My mom, still very stuck in the stranglehold of heroin addiction did not join us. When I got dropped off after the movie, my mom was not home, so I called my grandmother who lived in Walnut Creek to ask if she knew where my mom might be. I was informed that she was at the Hospital and that she had been raped. I knew what this meant, but hardly understood the full depth of the horror of what my mom had endured. I was however, extremely upset and angry, and could grasp the violation of her person and her safety. Hours later, my mom finally returned and I made her tell me what had happened.
She had gone up to Telegraph Ave. to score some dope and on her walk home was attacked by a man hiding inside the bushes. He held a knife to her throat and threatened to kill her if she screamed for help. And then he raped her. My Mom.
As she related this to me, she was sobbing inconsolably, not as much for the rape itself, but more for how the police had focused on what she was wearing and how it might have been the “cause” for her rape. Because men cannot control themselves when a woman is dressed “too provocatively,” is that the idea? This is the very essence of Rape Culture and it is at the core of everything you ever hear about the disrespectful ways women are objectified, demeaned and victimized in everyday life.
Welcome to the Patriarchy.
It seems like the doors were finally blown open a couple of years ago with the wave of charges of rape against Bill Cosby. Since then we’ve had an admitted sexual predator who continued his run for the presidency even after an entire nation knew about it; the fact that there were enough people in America who accepted Trumps attitudes and actions against women enough to still vote him into office is beyond my comprehension.
We’ve had Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly from Fox News. After the initial righteous indignation and the adamant denials, Ailes was given a golden parachute worth $40 MILLION upon his departure, and O’Reilly settled for $32 Million against one of his accusers and then had his contract renewed by Fox before he was finally let go.
More recently, Harvey Weinstein’s decades of sexual harassment have come to light, and in its wake, I’ve been spending a fair bit of time thinking about the endless barrage of unwelcomed advances that I’m sure every women I’ve ever known has undoubtedly had to endure for literally DECADES.
Lupita Nyong’o penned a remarkable piece describing the “conspiracy of silence that has allowed [Weinstein] to prowl for so many years.” and I cannot help but to consider the fact that sexual harassment —and by extension rape—is a cultural norm.
The #MeToo hashtag has been an eye-opener for many, and I’m happy that so many women have jumped on board to share their experiences. The sheer volume of those accounts on social media surely includes all the woman I have ever known regardless of whether they chimed in on Twitter or Facebook or not. I’ve always known that this was the case for women everywhere, and feel certain that they deal with this bullshit every day. What pisses me off the most is the fact that in our society, these behaviors and attacks are accepted and allowed, apologized for, excused and invariably questioned when accusations are leveled by women against their (male) aggressors.
More recently, the disappointing actions of Louis C.K. have come to light, as have the heinous predatory history of Alabama Senatorial candidate, the disgusting Roy Moore.
I mention these two because of the stark difference I see between the general responses from the reputedly liberally-minded Hollywood vs. the misogynist alliance of the Republican Party whose war-on-women is on display like never before. Do you remember any of the following statements made by misogynist members of the GOP?
“Some girls rape easy.” – Rep. Roger Rivard (R-Wi)
“If a woman has (the right to an abortion), why shouldn’t a man be free to use his superior strength to force himself on a woman? At least the rapist’s pursuit of sexual freedom doesn’t (in most cases) result in anyone’s death.”
– Lawrence Lockman (R-Me)
“I would hope that when a woman goes into a physician, with a rape issue, that that physician will indeed ask her about perhaps her marriage, was this pregnancy caused by normal relations in a marriage, or was it truly caused by a rape.”
– Chuck Winder (R-Id)
“What did they expect? …“Rape victims should make the best of a bad situation.”
– Rick Santorum (Referring to women who are raped in the military)
“I’ve struggled with it myself for a long time, but I came to realize that life is that gift from God. And even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape; that it is something that God intended to happen.”
– Indiana Senate candidate Richard Mourdock
“Concern for rape victims is a red herring because conceptions from rape occur with approximately the same frequency as snowfall in Miami.”
– Judge James Leon Holmes, Bush appointee
Staggering. If this is their attitude regarding the most horrendous of crimes against women, just think about how it is reflected in their broader attitudes towards women on the whole. The recent “if the allegations prove to be true” caveat from the Republican establishment regarding Roy Moore finally crumbled after the heat got too hot and public pressure mounted, forcing them to finally distance themselves from the peedophile DA from Alabama, but the simple fact is that if any of them felt they could weather the political storm (as they successfully managed with the current child in the White House), they certainly would have maintained their “proof” narrative. Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that these issues are reserved solely for our Republican brethren; I understand that misogyny, sexual harassment and predatory behavior exists with men everywhere. I just think that the Republican mindset provides a much more open home that welcomes men (and shockingly many women as well) who believe that the degradation of women is okay, and that perhaps it’s how Jesus would have wanted it. It is—of course—wrong and despicable.
1 in 3 women worldwide will experience physical or sexual violence in their lifetime. Over half of the rapes that occur never even get reported.
I am guessing that there are women with whom I share some history who have an old memory of me as somebody who have made them feel sexually uncomfortable or uneasy in their past. I sincerely hope that I have evolved well past any of my uninformed and oblivious perspectives that I may have embodied when I was a young man. If there are any old friends who remember me in that sort of light, I would like to extend an apology to you. If you have ever been made to feel unsafe or uncomfortable due to anything I’ve said or done, I am sorry. Sincerely.
So in all of this, my (rhetorical) question is how do we, as men, raise our male children to grow up viewing the world through a lens of respect and dignity towards their mothers, sisters, girlfriends, wives and daughters? I don’t ever want my son to think that it’s appropriate to abuse, demean, intimidate or harass women or girls, no matter how subtle that behavior might manifest. I presume that he is mindful and conscious with his interactions and I hope that he thinks of himself as a feminist. If you consider the notion of being male and being feminist as an offensive idea, then you are perhaps a part of the problem.
It’s now been a little over a month now since we moved out during the scorching peak of summer, and it feels to me like many more than that. On the last day of July, after having just made the big U-Haul move, I got a ride from the desert back to L.A. to retrieve my car and the last remnants of the stuff that did not make it into the U-Haul. As always seems to be the case, everything took twice as long as I had anticipated, but by late afternoon, I had driven back and the car was unpacked. I could breathe if only for a moment, and begin my new life as a resident of the high desert. I’ve wanted this change for a long time and now it’s finally become a reality.
Pretty much immediately, and every day for over three weeks, I was at Moonage Daydream (our interim place until work on the JT house gets done) getting things ready to move in. It’s been intense but incredibly productive.
I worked with and watched Nicholas Holmes and his crew as they created two grey water systems, one a direct line from the shower to two trees and a laundry-to-landscape system that will feed a drought-tolerant landscaped area next to the house. I designed and completed my first-ever (and likely my last) art-tile floor. The contractors finally got everything done on their end, and we were finally ready to begin unpacking and hanging art.
I applied and interviewed for a job at the Mojave Desert Land Trust, and organization whose work I genuinely applaud and respect. I did not get the job, and was admittedly disappointed; I have little doubt however that they hired somebody who was particularly qualified for the gig.
Tomorrow the painters begin painting the exterior of the house. I need a nap.
It’s been nine years—perhaps even longer—since Patty and I first visited Joshua Tree and the surrounding communities. An old friend had been visiting from Canada, and was going to stay with a mutual former friend/acquaintance from the old music Seattle days in the late ‘80s, when I playing loud thick music and releasing other music by many of my friends via C/Z Records. Since then we’ve been coming steadily and regularly and in 2014, we bought and fixed up our first place out in the apparent netherworld of Wonder Valley, a special place out here with its own flavor of desert magic. Some people from JT seem aghast at the thought of driving such a long drive away, but I can only compare the mileage from our old neighborhood to Santa Monica—approximately the same distance—with a drive that can take three times as long. JT to Wonder Valley seems like a quick run by my standards – Distances in the desert seem to fold space.
This was just one of a hundred reasons why we decided to join the Angelino ex-pats that have been swarming this area for the last 5+ years. Time and space take on a different quality in the desert and the ability to genuinely relax is something that I do not think I could have ever fully realized staying in L.A.
My life has consisted of several chapters of redefinition, almost always with intent and in direct response to my internal dialogue about where I find myself during particular points in my life. Ultimately, it’s a matter of trying to focus my life in directions that feel in alignment with a sense of purpose and growth, and if I’m doing things right, with a sense of creativity as well.
Only time will unpack what this new life will look like, but outside of the time it takes to build real community, I feel like this is where I’m supposed to be. I feel energized and have a sense of contentment that is remarkable in how complete it feels.
Let’s hope my writing becomes a more frequent practice.]]>
I am spending a lot of time introspecting, reflecting and unearthing old memories of an old friend with whom I once shared part in a strange cultural phenomenon which later came to be known as Grunge.
I remember the first time I saw Soundgarden. I believe it was late 1984 or early 1985. A bunch of us were going to see the debut show from a new band that featured members of the Shemps, a fun band that played mostly covers that I hadn’t been overly impressed by, but with whom I was friends with. The show was at a venue called Top of the Court. It was a weird little place on West Queen Anne that none of us had ever heard of before. I think the place was a part time gallery and probably booked punk rock gigs to help pay the rent. I don’t remember it being around for long. Back then, venues would pop up and disappear with pretty reliable frequency.
It was a small scene back then; we pretty much all knew each other and attended each other’s shows. I had been in a band around the same time as the Shemps called FEEdbACK and had played a gig together with them (at Morningtown Pizza if my memory serves). By the time Soundgarden played at Top of the Court, feedback was already a thing of the past and I had started a new band with the drummer of feedback—Matt Cameron—and a guitarist named Jack Endino. We didn’t have a singer or a name yet, but would eventually call ourselves Skin Yard.
The first thing that struck me about Soundgarden was that they didn’t have a front man. They were a three-piece, Kim on Guitar, Hiro on Bass and Chris on Drums and vocals – ala Hüsker Dü. Soundgarden however was nothing like the Shemps. Like at all. This was something new. Their music was urgent and menacing. They played an incendiary set of songs that while still rough, was imbued with an exciting angst and an undeniable ferocity.
In fairly short order, SG found a new drummer with Scott Sundquist and Chris moved to front the band. That decision was what was needed – it transformed them into an entirely different animal. No longer being tethered by a drum kit, Chris could fully unleash his voice. And oh shit, what a voice. Comparisons to Robert Plant were commonplace and well deserved, and while many meant it as a slight, I couldn’t think of a more complimentary comparison to make. That however was just one piece of the package. Chris was a veritable Adonis, something that men and woman all were in agreement on. He was also charming, funny and down to earth. That was the thing about Chris – he was all of those things, and I don’t think that ever changed. That was who he was, on stage and off. Genuine and warm, Chris was also a fairly private person, keeping to himself a lot of the time. These were qualities I’ve always understood and ultimately appreciated.
On June 5th, 1985, we (Skin Yard) played our first show opening for U-Men. From there we began getting a lot of gigs. The following month, July 30, Soundgarden and Skin Yard played our first show together at the Rainbow. There were many shared bills together after that. Soundgarden was beginning to get a lot of high profile opening spots. We were getting a lot of good opening spots too, but SG were invariably the first ask, however they were always smart and mindful about not playing out too much.
In early 1986, Deep Six was released on C/Z in a limited vinyl release of 1,000. While it contains the only Skin Yard recordings that (still) make me cringe, it was our first release, and I imagine our history would have been quite different had it not been for our inclusion on that record. It was also the first release of Soundgarden. The other Seattle bands on that compilation were U-Men, Green River, Melvins and Malfunkshun. I still consider this ground zero for our scene that was going to metastasize in the years to come. The Deep Six two-night release show took place on March 21 & 22, 1986. Both nights were glorious and are certainly etched into the memories of those who attended.
Skin Yard released our first self-titled record early in 1987 on C/Z. It wasn’t long after that, that Matt quit Skin Yard. That was tough. Then he joined Soundgarden. That was totally understandable.
Melvins released Gluey Porch Treatments. Green River released Dry as a Bone in June. Soundgarden’s Screaming Life EP was released in October. Matt was on those recordings. That EP record was cold sweat pressed on vinyl, the promise of everything one would hope that Soundgarden would deliver on record. This was a big deal. Something was in the air and it was electric.
After Soundgarden released the follow-up Fopp EP on Sup-Pop, they made the jump to SST. That was a clear marker that things were gaining a momentum. Ultramega OK was released in 1988, but sadly, sounded flat and was poorly produced. At around the same time we released our second record, Hallowed Ground. By this point our two bands were often considered as sister bands as we had shared a drummer, had shared the bill on a number of occasions and were playing with similar musical ideas. The big difference of course, is that Soundgarden was going to be part of the grand narrative of the International Seattle explosion that would transform the global musical landscape. We would garner a decent following, and enough acclaim to tour nationally several times before calling it quits, but we never broke through as many of our brothers did.
The following year (1989), Soundgarden released their major label debut, Louder than Love on A&M. They were the first band from our scene to get signed to a major. I’ve always thought of this as the match that got the fire started. Louder than Love fulfilled the promise that Ultramega OK failed to deliver on. That same year Nirvana released Bleach, Mudhoney releasedtheir self-titled Mudhoney and TAD released God’s Balls – ALL stunning and crushing debut records. Sub Pop (where I had started working the year before) was cemented as the label representing this new “Seattle sound” that was beginning to get notice around the country. It seemed like something was in the water.
After Louder was released, the Seattle P-I published two side-by-side reviews of the A&M record on the front page of their entertainment section. One could not find the words to praise the record highly enough, while the other was about as awful as a bad review could be. I know at that moment that they were going to be huge. No mediocrity: Visceral responses on both ends of the spectrum. I think that everyone sensed the same thing.
From that point, Soundgarden started to become part of the major-label machine. They were becoming rock-stars and would find themselves being surrounded by a whole new team of people. Soundgarden was becoming an industry, and for many of us, casually hanging out with our old friends would become an increasingly infrequent thing. This is not intended as a slight to any of the guys in the band; this is simply what happens with celebrity and stardom. The band gets hurled into an entirely new world and is surrounded by a virtual organization whose purpose is to keep the machine well oiled and always moving forward. And as their fame gets bigger and bigger, fandom becomes obsession and everyone wants a piece of you. Your mega-fans think that they know you, because they “understand you through your music.” Their understanding is -of course- unique. I completely get the need to isolate and seek refuge in your family and with the very closest of friends. It must feel overwhelming. I do not speak from experience, but instead from observation. It’s the burden of fame.
Fast forward to 1991. The fuse had been burning for a couple of years, and the bomb finally went off – Seattle became the musical story around the globe. Nirvana releases Nevermind, Pearl Jam releases Ten and Soundgarden releases Badmotorfinger. Alice in Chains hits the scene and releases their debut, Screaming Trees releases their major label debut, Uncle Anesthesia and Temple of the Dog is released on A&M. This was the same year that Skin Yard released 1000 Smiling Knuckles, easily the bands best record. It was fertile, and things were getting really nuts.
I played my last show on Feb 21, 1991, essentially a release show for Knuckles. Bad timing I suppose, but it was time for me anyway. The band made a final run after that, but broke up for good in 1992, releasing one last record posthumously, in 1993. I focused on the running of C/Z Records, and released records until 2001.
And here we are. 2017. I’ve kept in touch with many of my friends from those old days. It’s been great to see Soundgarden regroup these last few years. King Animal was a stellar release. I’ve seen them perform twice. They still shred. We go back over 30 years, but Chris and I have not seen much of each other much for the last couple of decades. I’ve seen Kim and Matt on a few occasions, but our lives rarely intersect. I live in L.A. and they’re still up in Seattle. I’ll be seeing them both in a couple of days for Chris’s funeral, the saddest of occasions.
Over this last week, I’ve been talking with a lot of old friends. It’s made me fully take stock in the fact that our friends and our love for each other is really the most important thing that any of us have. Once you strip all the trappings and bullshit away, all we have is love and each other. I sincerely hope that the next time we all see each other next, it will just be to spend time and reminisce, and not to mourn the passing of another friend from our shared history.
Love to you all – my friends, my friend’s friends, and to the extended family of Soundgarden and most of all, to you Chris.
Peace to you and yours.]]>
And apparently, suicide. The worst, because with that, there’s the added sense that somebody surely could have done something. But maybe nobody ever knew he was depressed, at least not to the edge where the ultimate act was something to be considered. Depression is a dark and overpowering force that can overtake all logic and completely overshadow everything that there is to be joyous about in life. I speak from experience. I know that half of my friends also understand. It’s one of those things that is near impossible to explain to people who have the good fortune to have never experienced debilitating depression. It’s an ugly horrible dark passenger that almost never fully goes away.
I don’t really have any point here. I am still shell-shocked. I am still in that invariable sense of denial that always hits first before the waves of deep sorrow crash in. Chris never seemed like a depressive to me. I can’t believe that he’s gone. I cannot believe that somewhere in his soul, he felt such a deep sense of desperation that this seemed like the only option that he had left. From the outside, his life appeared perfect, but from his inside, apparently, that’s not how it felt to him. I am just typing my feelings, not bothering to edit, just let it spill out. Damnit. This is so senseless.
I can still remember the very first time I saw Soundgarden. They were a three-piece and Chris was the drummer. He was also the singer, but the band had no front-man to speak of. A definite nod to Hüsker Dü, but even then in those very early days, they were a band that you knew had something special going on. Skin Yard was still a few months before we would play our first show, but even then, we shared some of the same ideas musically, and in time we played a slew of shows together, often being referred to as a sister band with them. Indeed, after our first drummer left us, Matt ended up in SG, where he has been pretty much ever since.
I can’t even imagine what Matt, Kim and Ben must be going through, much less his wife and kids. I know what many of the rest of us are going through and it’s not easy.
Chris was one of the most unique voices to emerge from the Seattle scene, absolutely one of the best two singers from that era and arguably one of the most immediately recognizable and iconic singer in hard rock. This one is really hard to fathom. I am so sad. I am glad that I got to see him late in 2015 for one last time. Thanks Karen, for taking me to that show.
Maybe this time really will be the last time. Be good to yourself; be good to the ones you love.
Chris’s wife has released a statement that she believes that his death may have been related to having taken too much Ativan, a drug that’s prescribed for anxiety. Side effects of Ativan (especially when taken in excess) can include paranoid or suicidal thoughts and slurred speech. “Vicky Cornell noted her husband’s slurred speech following the Detroit concert and stated that he told her that he ‘may have taken an extra Ativan or two.'”
Chris never seemed like a depressive to me, and so this explanation makes better sense in my mind. Not that it will bring him back. Thinking about his family and Matt, Kim & Ben.]]>
In 2015-16, we had the #OscarsSoWhite controversy, and the Academy did indeed respond by adding many people of color to their ranks, and also apparently by nominating several “black” films worthy of their attention as well. My guess however is that La La Land will win the top honor and while I’ve not seen it (and have no desire to see it, even though I tend to really like Emma Stone and loved Whiplash), it sure looks and appears like an #OscarsSoWhite film with a supporting roll from John Legend just to attempt to keep things “real.”
My favorite films from what I managed to see this year:
#1 – 20th Century Women
This film struck the perfect chord with me and resonated 100% perhaps because it takes place in 1979 California – the year and place where and when I graduated high school. The story is an exploration of the changing relationship between a boy in high school, Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann) and his single mom, Dorothea (Annette Benning) in roles that felt completely honest and real. The pace and flow of the film is fluid and is ultimately more a set of intertwined character studies than it is a rigid narrative.
At its core, 20th Century Women is a coming of age film with Jaime surrounded by his mom and a couple of younger women who Dorothea tries to enlist to help her to bring her son up right. Greta Gerwig plays one of the women, and her performance is wonderful. While not on par with Benning’s remarkable performance, Gerwig’s character feels genuine and visceral as well.
The film is filled with terrific music from the time, which ultimately is no surprise. Mike Mills, a filmmaker who I know primarily for his work as a music video director made the perfect choices to constructing the time and feel. Talking Heads, The Raincoats, Buzzcocks, Siouxsie and The Banshees and loads more is woven throughout and brought me back to the best things that I liked about a time in my own life that similarly felt equally conflicted and uncertain.
#2 – Moonlight
Moonlight is a visually breathtaking spectacle that follows the main character “Chiron,” from boyhood through to young adulthood. The remarkable success of the film is the almost seamless shift between the three distinct chapters of the film where Chiron is played by three different actors during each period in his life. The film is a complex and understated character study that delves into an often painful life filled with doubt, as the young character endures the abuse, ridicule and rejection of bullies and sometimes from those closest to him. Chiron’s mother is a crack addict, but Chiron finds nurturing from a drug dealer names Juan (played by Mahershala Ali who I was most familiar with from his work in House of Cards) and his girlfriend played by Janelle Monáe (who is also one of the actors in Hidden Figures). At only 37 years of age, Barry Jenkins has delivered a remarkably powerful and mature film, this being only his second of his career (his first one being eight years prior).
#3 – Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
Simply put, Rogue One blew me away. It is a stand-alone film that takes place immediately before the first Star Wars movie (Episode IV) from 1977. The story is epic; the characters fantastic; the production design everything you would expect from a film in the Star Wars franchise, and is—as it should be—a film written for adults first and kids second. I have no idea how they convinced Peter Cushing to wake from the dead to reprise his role, but there he is. I don’t need to say any more. If you haven’t seen it, you should, unless of course Star Wars just isn’t your thing. Maybe this would be just the film to change your mind.
#4 – Captain Fantastic
First the disclaimer: I HATE this trailer – it is completely misleading and depicts a cloying, smarmy film that has nothing to do with the actual film itself. In fact, Captain Fantastic is a wonderfully spirited film that takes place in the woods of Oregon and follows an off-grid, out-of-school family of six kids whose ages range from 7 to 18, and their intense idealistic father played by a Viggo Mortensen who teaches them everything they need to know about fending for themselves in the wild while teaching them about Marxism and Noam Chomsky.
Eventually circumstance forces the family out of the woods and into civilization where lifestyles and ideals collide. The kids grandparents eventually interject, insisting that the kids need to integrate into society, attend school and leave the arguably selfish isolation that their father has forced upon them.
Having spent several years of my own life living without electricity, the contradiction of these two worlds and the pull of societal norms presented as a conflict made perfect sense. Captain Fantastic delivers a fantastic portrayal of a fairly lofty set of ideas and great performances from a genuinely delightful cast of actors.
#5 – Doctor Strange
I grew up on Marvel, and from a very young age held Dr. Strange as my favorite character, specifically the original created and drawn by the inimitable Steve Ditko. I’ve always known that this would prove to be one of the more difficult characters to do justice to, and as a result have always presumed that it would be one of the later Marvel comics to finally get a treatment on the screen. So when it was finally announced that there was going to be a Doctor Strange movie, I was both excited and nervous. It would be such a disappointment that see this particular property done wrong (as I felt was done with the original Spiderman movie), but when I saw that Benedict Cumberbatch was going to be playing the part, I felt hopeful. Now, there’s no way that my childhood view on the original Dr. Strange comic could ever be reasonably reproduced, but that said, this character was well realized, and it seemed obvious to me that both the writers and director cared deeply about doing Dr. Strange justice. I know I’ve really said nothing about the film. Just see it – it’s awesome, and if you’re a fan of A) Comic movies, B) Spectacular CGI and/or C) mysticism/psychedelia, then I would be surprised if you didn’t love this as much as I did.
#6 – Fences
A fantastic adaptation of the August Wilson play, this film has Oscar written all over it. Whether or not Denzel Washington wins for either best actor or best director, he again shines as one of the strongest actors we have today, and shows his equal prowess as a director. Washington plays Troy, a complicated, conflicted individual whose relationship with his son, Cory is demeaning and harsh. Troy cannot allow Cory the pursuit of his dreams, seemingly due to the fact that his own dreams as a professional ballplayer fell short when he was a younger man himself.
Viola Davis, who will most certainly with the Oscar for Best (Supporting?) actress for her performance, provides Cory with some sense of humanity, but when she tries to give him what she can see is best for her son, Troy steamrolls both of them, claiming his dominance as the breadwinner and the man of the house.
Denzel Washington and Viola Davis both won Tony Awards for their performances of Fences on Broadway, and their comfort and ease of chemistry is reflected on the screen. While the film maintains the feeling of it being a stage adaptation, the relationships feel organic and authentic. The mood gets bleak at times, but that’s intended as it’s a big part of what drives Cory to break away from his father and move forward his own life.
#7 – 13th
Ava DuVernay is perhaps best known as the director of Selma and the snub the film was given by the Academy two years ago when she was overlooked for consideration as Best Director that year. That was the snub that arguably spawned the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag mentioned above in the first place. Her new documentary film 13th (available to steam on Netflix) is a scathing indictment of the prolonging of a new form of slavery in America in which the extensive Prison for Profit industrial complex which has targeted people of color in America since the passing of the 13th amendment in 1865 immediately after the close of the civil war. The Amendment had a loophole in the language which allowed the exploitation and targeting of black people in America who could now be imprisoned and effectively branded for life. The film is full of powerful interviews and examples which clearly show a bias and continued pattern of targeted incarceration as well as the staggering growth of the industrial prison complex and the degree to which the cards are systemically stacked against black people in America.
The documentary category is one area where #OscarsSoWhite will be partially vindicated. 13th should definitely be among the contenders, but I expect that both O.J.: Made in America and I Am Not Your Negro have an equal shot at taking the Oscar in this category.
#8 – Zero Days
In a relatively short window of time, Alex Gibney has proven himself to be one of the most important investigative documentarians of our time. His 2015 film Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room was what first grabbed my attention. Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God from 2012 exposed the Catholic Church’s systematic abuse of power in covering up known sexual abuses, and his 2015 HBO film Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief, is without a doubt one of the most damning exposés of how the Church of Scientology abuses and attacks their detractors. Zero Days, is a documentary that unravels like a thriller. It explores cyber-warfare and specifically, the Stuxnet virus, one of the most sophisticated and insidious pieces of Malware ever created. The twist comes when it’s revealed that the code was co-created by the U.S. and Israeli governments in order to launch an attack against Iranian Nuclear Facilities. Like Pandora’s Box, however, it appears that Stuxnet managed to get out of its controlled environment, and could be used by others around the globe. The film is a sobering and chilling look at the clandestine operations of governments and ultimately asks the question: how much can any of us really trust our governments?
#9 – Hunt for the Wilderpeople
A totally unexpected, surprising and delightful film from New Zealand director Taika Waititi whose 2014 What We Do In the Shadows took me equally by surprise. The story follows a 12 year old foster kid from the city, Ricky who’s been leading a very troubled existence and gets shipped off to the country where he meets his new foster parents in the very rural countryside of New Zealand. The Wife is adoring and the husband (played by Sam Neill) want as little to do with young Ricky. It becomes clear that their relationship is to become the core of the film, and when the two of them become fugitives from the law together, the real meat of the film begins to unfold. Wilderpeople strikes the perfect balance between humor and pathos.
#10 – Hell or High Water
With their family property to be foreclosed, two very different brothers decide to go on a rampage robbing banks to raise money before the looming date hits home. A Texas Ranger (played by Jeff Bridges) always seems tow steps shy of catching up with them. Hell or High Water is a classic anti-hero Western hero set in modern times, civilians-turned-criminals forced to make tough decisions due to the innate unfairness of the system, always looking to keep the hardworking man down while filling the pockets of the wealthy that much more. It’s a classic David and Goliath story with socio-political underpinnings that reflect the financial frustration of the last ten years in America. In many ways the pace and feel of the film feels reminiscent the last great heyday of American film-making of the 1970s. I expected very little and was very pleasantly surprised by how much I loved this film.
Honorable mentions go to Arrival, Hidden Figures and Author: The JT LeRoy Story. All films also worth seeing.]]>