[Music] Throbbing Gristle – Adrenaline / RIP Genesis P-Orridge

In 1987, I bought two albums which did a number on me.  I remember purchasing CD1 and came across this seven-inch which opened a doorway into how wonderfully weird experimental music could be.  It hit me so hard that, in the folly of youth, I ended up having the Throbbing Gristle logo tattooed on my right arm.

This was the first properly “Industrial” song that caught my attention, and following Genesis P-Orridge’s musical and personal development, not always a pleasant thing to see, was nevertheless fascinating.  He has gone to meet his maker.  May he rest in peace.

You can read an obituary here, courtesy of the Los Angeles Times, or find one in your favorite indie magazine.

[Music] RIP Jon Christensen — Avant Music News

Thanks to Mike Borella at Avant Music News who posted this just now. A big loss for all ECM and jazz fans…

Sad news as drummer Jon Christensen, who performed on many ECM recordings, has passed away. In the late 1960s Christensen played alongside Jan Garbarek on several recordings by the composer George Russell. He also was a central participant in the Jazz band, Masqualero, with Arild Andersen, and they reappeared in 2003 for his 60th anniversary. He appears on many recordings on […]

via RIP Jon Christensen — Avant Music News

[Music] Ric Ocasek found dead today — PowerPop… An Eclectic Collection of Pop Culture

Sad news from New York tonight. Ric Ocasek was found dead in his Manhattan apartment on Sunday, law enforcement confirmed. Some reports say he was 75 and some say he was 70. Ric wrote some of the best pop hits of the late seventies and eighties for the Cars. The Cars were a big part […]

via Ric Ocasek found dead today — PowerPop… An Eclectic Collection of Pop Culture

[Music] “A-cute-cute in a stupid-ass way”

The last paragraph shows how devolved society has become if you can’t play a wonderful song by one of the most intriguing artists of his generation. So be it. Still, much respect to Ben Zimmer for the read of the day – commenting on the rendering of “stupid-ass,” which seems so non-offensive now, but which must have caused headaches for the censors back in the day.

Strong Language

With the passing of Scott Walker, who found pop-music fame as a member of the Walker Brothers before setting out on an inimitable solo career, the singer’s best-known work has been making the rounds online. One particularly memorable song from Walker was his first solo single, “Jackie,” released in December 1967. “Jackie” was an English-language rendering of Jacque Brel’s “La chanson de Jacky,” translated from French by Mort Shuman (a Brill Building songwriter who would go on to co-create the musical revue Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris). Both the French and English lyrics were quite racy for the time. The English chorus, as unforgettably delivered by Walker, goes:

If I could be for only an hour
If I could be for an hour every day
If I could be for just one little hour
A-cute-cute in a stupid-ass way

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[Music] Some Thoughts On The Mark Hollis LP

I have a good friend whom I’ve known since about 1993 who was devastated by the death of David Bowie.  I felt awful hearing about that, but his passing didn’t quite hit me as hard as it did my friend.  It may have been because there is about a ten-year difference in age.  The experiences you have with certain musicians at a certain age end up becoming emblazoned onto your heart, and when that creator is taken from this world, the sting is truly painful.

Last night, I felt something terribly similar.  The death of Mark Hollis at the age of 64 felt like a sucker-punch, especially after enjoying such a fine week with friends and students.  I was a teenager when Mark started becoming famous, as his former band, Talk Talk, were not much to write home about.  They had made a few great new wave albums, but were tainted with a name that probably reminded fans of even bigger groups like Duran Duran.  Then something happened.  By around 1986, they simply blossomed into something that I still can’t quite fathom, categorize or comprehend.  The band released the album The Colour Of Spring.  It was something more expressive than progressive rock, infinitely more challenging than new wave, and it had elements of jazz and ambient music, which I was just getting into at the time.  They would out-do this effort by releasing The Spirit of Eden.  I’ve heard a few friends say that this may be the foundation of post-rock.  I can see why.  Pure experimentation, but still structured enough to make the music pleasant.

The band would disintegrate, and each would go on to do interesting things, but I was working at a record shop in Los Angeles, the late, lamented Aron’s Records, when I came across the album which would change my listening forever.  Mark Hollis had released his first solo album in 1998.  I remember taking it upstairs and playing it on the CD player our boss had generously given the buyers (it was a habit of the ten different buyers we had in those days to torture each other with music, and it was a great place to develop a great musical foundation outside of my own safe listening space).  I’m particularly indebted to Tomas Palermo, Ted Plank, Tony Ruck, the Salvadorian crew of hip-hop guys, Jun and John Liu for flinging vinyl and CDs around.  They were far better teachers than they realized.

Back to the album.  From the first piano chord, I was hooked.  I had never heard anything to fragile before, musically.  Everything was so sparse.  The instrumentation was as stripped as it got, Mark’s voice as lonesome as it could be, but every word of the first song was imbued with a heat I had never felt before in any music outside of Joy Division’s swan song, Closer.

A sample of “The Colour Of Spring”:

Forget our fate
The peddler sings
Set up to sell my soul
I’ve lived a life for wealth to bring

And yet I’ll gaze
The colour of spring
Immerse in that one moment
Left in love with everything

Soar the bridges
That I burnt before
One song among us all

It is not a pop song by any stretch of the imagination, but a masterpiece of pop songwriting nonetheless.

The album reminded me of mellow jazz albums done by a fan of Karlheinz Stockhausen or Pierre Henry, very experimental, yet somehow, Mark was able to glue everything together just enough that the wings of this album didn’t collapse mid-flight.

The centerpiece of the album, A Life (1895 – 1915), was the first time I had heard an avant-garde memoir. From the Wikipedia article:

“A Life (1895 – 1915)”, which has been referred to as “the album’s epic centrepiece” refers to Roland Leighton (1895–1915),[12] a British soldier and poet who was the fiancé of Vera Brittain at the time of his death in World War I.  Hollis has stated about the song, “That was someone born before the turn of the century…and dying within one year of the First World War at a young age. It was based on Vera Brittain’s boyfriend. It’s the expectation that must have been in existence at the turn of the century, the patriotism that must’ve existed at the start of the war and the disillusionment that must’ve come immediately afterwards. It’s the very severe mood swings that fascinated me.” The song correspondingly contains a variety of styles, tempi, and instrumentations.

The whole album has been posted as a series of Youtube links.  If your country blocks it, let me know, and we’ll find a work-around.  It’s worth your time hearing, especially if you have some free hours in the late evening, with a vodka and lime and a pipe in hand.

Rest in peace, Mark, and thank you for providing the soundtrack to my third decade.

Lou Reed, R.I.P.

It came as a shock to find out that Lou Reed, a fixture throughout the whole of my musical life, had passed away due to complications from liver failure today. Ben Ratliff of the New York Times wrote a fine obituary today, so in terms of a retrospective, it’s best to leave it to the professionals. However, there’s also a personal component.

I’m not quite sure who made the quote (it’s always attributed to Brian Eno when I try to source it), and it is surely apocryphal, but here it is:

The Velvet Underground’s first album only sold a few thousand copies, but everyone who bought one formed a band.

I’m one of those guys. Now, my ‘band’ did nothing but practice, and it was a real pleasure at the time, but for all those bands who heard that first Velvet Underground album, it compelled the listener to go do something. You became an active participant rather than a mere listener.

Though I spent my formative years in Los Angeles, I loathed The Doors and most of the bands from San Francisco (Love was the only one I cared for deeply who were from the West Coast). My heart and mind, musically, at least when it came to Americn music, was firmly planted in New York, with all the debauchery that city was famous for. The Velvets were gritty and hard, unlike their bloated, pretentious, and frankly mediocre fellow musicians out west. We got bands like Blind Melon thanks to The Doors. We ended up with Cabaret Voltaire, Joy Division, The Cure, and scores of other substantial bands thanks to Lou, John Cale, and the troupe.

May Lou rest well, and our condolences go to his wife, the composer Laurie Anderson, herself one of the great sages of radical American music.

Sunday mornings won’t quite be the same, will they?