“The way the Japanese film industry works, you have very little time to do the soundtrack. There’s very little real instrumental music in Japanese films now. Most soundtracks are done by one person on a keyboard. Eiko’s soundtrack is so different that people here overlook it. It doesn’t operate in telling you what your emotions are.”
Congratulation to Drive My Car for its well-deserved Oscar! Two of my early favorites for 2022 come from Japanese singer/ composer/ flautist/ songwriter/ drummer/ noisemaker Eiko Ishibashi. One is her indelible soundtrack for the Oscar-winning Drive My Car, the other an imaginary soundtrack of sorts for Law & Order, entitled For McCoy. I was honored to speak with her and Jim O’Rourke, as well as director Ryusuke Hamaguchi for the story.
“A Pitchfork think piece meditated on albums like Promises, the critically acclaimed collaboration between electronic producer Floating Points and legendary spiritual jazz saxophonist Pharoah Sanders, deeming such “soothing moods and healing frequencies” to be a new genre: “ambient jazz.” Meanwhile, a New Yorker profile on Gendel and Wilkes grappled with the idea of whether they were “not primarily a jazz duo but an electronic-production team, providing listeners with not many notes but a great deal of ambiance.” But rather than hand-wringing over labels, there’s already a handy genre tag familiar to radio programmers, shopping malls and chiropractic waiting rooms nationwide to describe this sound: smooth jazz.”
I spent a good deal of the pandemic taking in spiritual jazz of all stripes, finding strength, solace, and resolve in its fiery shrieks. Now into year two of pandemic life, there has been a slight shift. Two of my most-played albums for 2021, Sam Gendel and Josiah Steinbrick’s Mouthfeel and Bremer & McCoy’s Natten, led me down a path from ambient jazz towards something I can only describe as “smooth jazz.” (Special shout-out to Joseph Shabason’s The Fellowship, which got left out of the final edit.)
Just last year, the prescient Numero Group label put out Nu Leaf, a cheeky compilation excavating ‘70s jazz players like guitarist Calvin Keys and DMV’s own Plunky, who in the Reagen era all turned to MIDI synths to make music for –as the label sticker put it– “a commercial audience held captive in dentist offices and waiting rooms across America.” I bought an 80s jazz album from Jamaaladeen Tacuma for its synth-y textures and cold DX-7 drums, but found myself staying for the ugh pillowy cover of “One More Night.” But you can’t deny the smooth genius of George Shaw’s “6295 SW Fisher.”
It’s rare that I get the chance to write about movies, but I somehow wrote about the great, recently passed Monte Hellman twice over the years. Two Lane Blacktop I’ve seen close to a dozen times and it’s the only film that somehow makes less sense with every viewing.
First time was through the lens of the enigmatic Dennis Wilson, whom Hellman had this observation: “I don’t think I’ve ever worked with an actor who was so unself-conscious. He had no awareness of the fact that there was a camera. Or even that he was acting in a movie. He got so involved in what was going on, not as a character but just as an observer with these other people. He really related to everybody in a completely realistic way. It was the perfect definition of what acting should be. He believed everything that was happening.”
Second was through the lens of his other leading man, Jack Nicholson, and his turn in two very strange westerns Hellman directed: “They were too quiet for westerns. There was not enough action in the scripts.”
[This essay on Jean Seberg originally appeared in the print edition of Stop Smiling Magazine. It’s not in their online archive, it’s one of my favorite pieces from back then, and since there’s now a movie about her life, I dug it up.]
At the end of Played Out, David Richards’s biography of doomed blonde starlet Jean Seberg, he offers an epilogue set at Marshalltown High School, Jean’s Iowa alma mater. Members of the Masque and Dagger drama club are preparing to crown that year’s winner of the Jean Seberg Award, named in honor of the small town’s most renowned citizen, who long since absconded from farm life for the life of a movie star in Paris. Both finalists, Patty Tiffany and Kris Hoelscher, are visibly nervous about the impending honor, yet neither –when prompted– can conjure the name of a Jean Seberg movie. It is September of 1980, but eight months on from when Seberg’s body was found in the back seat of a Renault on a Parisian side street, wrapped and bloated beside emptied bottles of barbiturates and mineral water, and yet she is already a distant memory in her home, all but forgotten in America.
My favorite Deadspin piece was no doubt “Big In Jamaica: Why Reggae Fans Mysteriously Love Air Supply,” which explored why the pillow-soft Aussies were revered throughout the Caribbean and plastered on reggae festival posters in my old neighborhood of Crown Heights. The piece touched on the likes of FKA twigs, the Clash, Bread, and Marty Robbins, none of the above sports figures per se, but it was fun and enlightening to cover non-sports for a site that’s getting shittier by the day.
Earlier this year, I fulfilled a decades-long dream to chat with Ms. Grace Jones, reaching her in the countryside of Jamaica on the occasion of the release of Bloodlight and Bami, an interview that ran over at Rolling Stone.
Below is the full transcript of our chat, which goes a bit more into her grandchild, family dynamic, and her love of dancehall:
“Perhaps it’s a no-brainer to cast Jagger as a reclusive rock star, especially one able to mesmerize the moment an audience’s gaze falls upon him, but it was inspired casting to see that beneath the sleek veneer, the Thin White Duke could easily be an alien.”
“I will have spent my life trying to understand the function of remembering, which is not the opposite of forgetting, but rather its lining. We do not remember, we re-write memory much as history is re-written.” Rings within rings, indeterminancy and a gaze the length of a film frame, the wonder of Chris Marker.