“You had three Anglo guys and a Hispanic guy, and we were looking to play at [what] was essentially an all-Black nightclub. But that was the music we were playing.”
Imagine my surprise at learning there was a brief blip of boogie-funk in my hometown. Not that I was hip to anything funky at the age of 5. There’s traces of Isley Brothers and Earth, Wind & Fire to be sure, some stompers that could have been looped by Daft Punk, but also some breezy AOR numbers that bring to mind Ned Doheny. Thanks to the Still Music label for this handy compilation of San Antonio’s Horizon.
“I’ve played in small villages in Western Europe, in Africa. When you go to these small places –especially when you travel with sound– it makes you realize most folk cultures are the same. These people gather up instruments from their environment and try to imitate their environment. These cats are between the earth and the stars trying to figure out this shit.”
Chatted with cornetist-composer-beatmaker-seeker Ben LaMar Gay about “The Alphabet Song,” oxygen flowing through machines, records-as-portals and songs-as-portraits, ducking around the 1, the Brazilian notion of samba de mesa, and having both Igbo and Kinyarwanda on his new album.
“In my first meeting with Matador on Zoom, I said, ‘Thanks for being here. Thanks for working with me. I really want to jump off a building.’ They set me up with a stuntman, Talin Chat, who is seen in The Mandalorian and Chicago Fire, and I had to go train with him and it was hilarious. I was in this YMCA gymnasium and I was the oldest person in there by like 15 years. And I was training with two other people. One was this 11-year-old who was going to be a Chicago Fire person who falls out of a window. The other were these twins that were doing back flips and crazy gymnasts. And I was just this kind of geriatric chick who showed up in boots.
“And yeah, the day of, I fell from this 9-foot rooftop onto a bunch of pads. And it was in March and the weather is so crazy in Chicago in March. It’s gorgeous. It was the first day of sun the whole year, and Mother Nature has really looked out for me on this record campaign, I have to say. It was life-affirming, though, that experience.”
“It can be difficult to talk about making music with people because they conflate ‘making music’ with ‘popular success’ and image and brand and all these other frightening, soul-destroying late-stage-capitalist concerns.”
In July, I began a weeklong email correspondence with Leslie Winer, to chat about her life and When I Hit You – You’ll Feel It, a new compilation of her decades of musical works. Due to personal concerns, it would be the lone interview she gave. I wonder if I should make a ‘zine of that long, winding exchange…but in the interim, here’s the published story.
“September 11 gave people a keyhole…a way to understand Basinski’s music. It was catastrophic beyond imagination, not just physically but to our psyche. It affected everyone’s lives. That opened up possibilities for people to stop and listen.”
Like William Basinski, I too climbed to the rooftop of my home in Williamsburg on September 11th, watching the tragedy just across the river and also struggled with the resultant trauma of what we bore witness to on that fateful day. Some 20 years on, I profiled Basinski for Texas Monthly, exploring trauma, music as a healing force, the scent of orange juice and cigarettes, and the blues.
(Below the jump, I also added a few paragraphs that were ultimately cut due to space, going deeper into Basinski’s childhood and upbringing and early days in NYC.)
(In homage to the passing of Lee Perry, here’s an unpublished essay I originally wrote for the Believer about football, head injuries, MKULTRA, video “hash,” Roger Staubach, MNF, Burroughs, 1200 lb. videotape machines, digital delay, and dub reggae. Fun fact, I wrote parts of it while suffering from a concussion myself.)
Calling the meek and the ‘umble Welcome to Blackboard Jungle So don’t you fumble Just be ‘umble-umble-mble. -Introductory incant to “Black Panta” from the Upsetters’ 14 Dub Blackboard Jungle
Shadowing the past few campaigns of the National Football League like a corner in man-to-man coverage has been the medical revelation of irreparable brain damage caused by merely playing the game. With every post-game recap, there seemed to follow even more news on helmet-to-helmet hits, new scientific studies revealing the depths of such trauma, all of it lingering over the game like post-concussion symptoms. Commentary last year alone ranged from 60 Minutes profiles to Time (deflated pigskin cover on its 2009 story: “The Most Dangerous Game”) to the New Yorker, where Malcolm Gladwell’s article “Offensive Play” discussed the brown tau and beta-amyloid stains that appear on damaged players’ brains from too many head-on collisions. He noted that NFL players suffered a five times higher than average diagnoses of “dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, or other memory-related disease” after their playing years were behind them, adding a lineman’s description of a standard downfield drive: “Every play, collision, collision, collision…literally, these white explosions –boom, boom, boom– lights getting dimmer and brighter, dimmer and brighter.”
“To be enamored with that strangeness, that perpetual smoke screen of his, means getting caught in Scratch’s most profound musical trap. His own music could veer towards the nonsensical and ribald, but his greatest productions were also powerful and prophetic, the sound of a real revolutionary embodying the type of Black empowerment and pride.”
As a teenager in South Texas in the early ’90s (ie, before that Grand Royal issue came out and blew everyone’s minds), I came across a copy of Super Ape, having zero knowledge about what reggae was or who this band the Upsetters even were. But it passed the “King Kong with a Tommy Chong spliff” test so I took it home, unprepared for the heavy roots and nyabinghi thunder that awaited me. Decades on, I feel like I’m still learning about Perry’s tireless discography and profound vision. Perhaps the song I’ve returned to most this summer is Junior Byles’ “Curley Locks,” which is mentioned in my Scratch tribute.
Last Friday, right after the Mayor was on-air, I appeared on The Brian Lehrer Show on WNYC to discuss an album very close to my heart, Alice Coltrane’s Journey in Satchidananda, on the occasion of its 50th anniversary. Ten years ago, few people would have slotted it in canon alongside well-established albums like Joni Mitchell’s Blue and Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On, so perception and recognition of Alice’s genius is slowly growing. As you can imagine, I was honored to be able to discuss this profound piece of music.
“When the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, it paved the way for Czechoslovakia’s Velvet Revolution, which opened the floodgates for Western capitalism. And yet the Havels somehow floated above the influx of new modern sounds, sounding as out of time then as they do now—still and serene in our manic era.”
One of my last reviews for Pitchfork was about a tidy little compilation from Melodies as Truth documenting nearly three decades of Irena and Vojtěch Havlovi’s haunting music. Melodies in the Sand serves as a great introduction to the couple’s bewitching way with the viola da gamba. A new listener myself, I soon realized that a great amount of their discography is also available on Bandcamp. A few months on, I dove into it for a more in-depth primer.