I’m fairly gutted by the passing of Jon Hassell. And yet even when I first met him in LA, he mentioned his “plastic parts” and lifted up his white linen shirt just enough to reveal tubes that ran below his waistline, the result of a recent cancer treatment. Seven years would pass and two new studio albums would ultimately emerge, but it was a shadow of mortality that he would never quite get out from under.
I’m grateful to have spent a sweltering, muggy afternoon in his backyard in LA (which as I recall seemed intentionally flooded always bringing to mind the surreal rice fields of Aka / Darbari / Java – Magic Realism) and to have exchanged emails over the years. In our discussions, it became clear that he never quite got over the slight of My Life in Bush of Ghosts, nor did he understand how the likes of certain celebrated composers achieved success while his music and vision seemed to languish in the landscape. How wrong Hassell was, as in the days since his passing, I could turn almost anywhere and hear his sound taking root in a new generation of artists. Hassell was a through line from Terry Riley to La Monte to Eno, but let’s not forget he also dropped tabs with Can when they were studying with Stockhausen. (I once mentioned Luc Ferrari and Jon went: “oh the French guy? Yeah, we once had a menage a quartre with him and his wife.”)
At the time, I even tried to get his long-threatened treatise The North and South of You published, though soon learned that being drawn into Hassell’s fourth world orbit entailed a certain amount of frustration and scratched plans. Which no doubt reflected his pursuit of the fairer sex. Outside of John Fahey, I don’t think I ever encountered a musical idol who was as smitten with ladies as he was. When my chat with Hassell ran at SPIN, the comments were aghast that he had left his wife for a younger (and darker-skinned) woman. Even in email exchanges, the mention of Italy soon pivoted to his telling of a brief love affair with an Italian actress. It’s not hard to hear how his fantasy about distant lands moved in close proximity to his fantasies about the women from that land. “Sex was a powerful experience,” as he reminded me. “The message for me was that this is religion, too. It’s not all about closing your eyes and tuning out to a drone someplace.”
I was honored to try and do your visionary music some justice in this world. Travel far and wide as you pass, Jon.
Fourth World in the 21st Century for Resident Advisor
Dream Theory in Malaya: Fourth World Volume Two for Pitchfork
Seeing Through Sound (Pentimento Volume Two) for Pitchfork