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.
In honor of what would have been Larry Levan’s 67th birthday, I’m posting an article that originally ran at Pitchfork about Levan’s lasting influence, which emanated far beyond the parking garage walls of the Paradise Garage to the wastelands of suburbia.
The Larry Levan Bump: How the Legendary Paradise Garage DJ Ignited Some of the ‘80s Biggest Hits
Before songs like Talking Heads’ “Once in a Lifetime” and Pat Benatar’s “Love Is a Battlefield” became era-defining hits, they were favorites at Larry Levan’s Paradise Garage. By Andy Beta.
In March 2013, followers of the Paradise Garage Bot were baffled. The Twitter account, which sends out links to singles that sainted DJ Larry Levan once spun at the hallowed New York City club, had just posted Rick Astley’s infamous “Never Gonna Give You Up”, which hit #1 in the U.S. in March 1988—six months after the Paradise Garage closed its doors in September 1987. Was this automatic bot Rickrolling its followers all of a sudden?
“Lots of artists embraced gurus and spiritual garments during the 1960s and 70s, but few actually embodied it completely like Alice Coltrane did. When I visited her ashram in 2014, it was disarming to see the portrait of a woman I knew from all of her albums, now presented in the beatific soft light of a religious leader and guru. There’s a sense of conflict inherent in her music, beauty and chaos entwined, jazz tradition and the unknowable are all there at once. The original Turiya Sings tapped into that liminal space. These are ancient Indian hymns swaddled in the new-fangled synthesizer technology of the time. It’s a speedball of sound, both mystical and dinky.”
I’ve written a fewtimes about Alice Coltrane and was honored to write about how perception of her has shifted since the 1970s to where she is now as revered as her husband, John Coltrane. When a reissue of Turiya Sings was announced earlier this year, it had many fans excited at finally owning this grail of an album. But what ultimately came out though is far different, so the story became a questioning as to who gets to decide on the artist’s vision. It’s something Alice herself grappled with in releasing her late husband’s albums with additional strings and whatnot. And now, her own musical choices are brought into question with this release.
The Coltrane Legacy is heavy indeed and with two spiritual masters and negotiating their earthly messages is a heavy task indeed. There are many debates to be had about why a more “pure” version was selected for release, but the excuses as to why the original wasn’t part of it is odd. I do know that it’s misleading to say that the master tapes for Turiya Sings don’t exist (they do and they have been remastered), but that’s beside the point. Suffice to say, it’s a real missed opportunity to properly present some of her finest work to the world. And here’s hoping that we won’t have to wait decades for a proper reissue of Turiya Sings.
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.
(Some iteration of this girl from Future Sound of London visuals adorned our living room wall in the middle of Texas far from any chill out room in the mid-90s.)
“It takes you away to another place, like reading a great sci-fi book. It’s mysterious and futuristic, you can escape from whatever is going on in your life. The music makes you dream.” Got to do a deep dive into a sound that’s very near and dear and nostalgic to me, ’90s ambient electronic music.
Emahoy Tsegué-Maryam Guèbrou creates some of the most profound music I’ve ever encountered. I had the occasion to write about her last year for the excellent and deep In Sheeps Clothing site. And plain forgot to post it here. For those who think they are unfamiliar:
You no doubt have encountered in some public space one of the 16 compositions she recorded (out of the hundreds she’s written), as Guèbrou’s music seems to be part of the ether. It’s employed as background music for a novelist or artist deep in concentration or as a mood-setter at a low-key get-together. It comes up in the YouTube algorithm. Norah Jones overheard it at someone’s house, instantly resonating with “one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever heard: part Duke Ellington, part modal scales, part blues, part church music.” Director Kelly Reichardt lamented to Pitchfork: “It was a secret and now it’s in every sandwich shop you walk into … like, ‘Oh my god, the nun record’s here, too.’”
Daddy’s has been closed for a few years now. I couldn’t even say when it was, but I was deep in new fatherhood when they shuttered, so I never got to say my farewells or get the chance to spin one last set there. But I DJ’d there every month for a few years and a few patrons used to tell me I was the first person to ever go in there and play disco music, a decided break from being in there on a Saturday night and having bearded dudes playing great downers like Skip Spence and Fred Neil. Last time I was in the bar, someone dropped Toto’s “Africa” to complete rapture. Perhaps me playing Toto’s “Georgy Porgy” there led to such a sad state of affairs?
(Just learned that the Twin Cities’ alt-weekly City Pages is no longer. It was one of the first outlets I wrote for, so it held a special place in my heart. This piece on electronic music pioneer Tod Dockstader touches on cow toys, digitized frogs, a childhood spent soaked with boric acid, andGerald McBoingBoing. It was impossible to find in the archives, so it’s reprinted here.)
An old Coke bottle, a nail, marble, some deflated balloons, a few rolls of adhesive tape. In the hands of Minnesotan Tod Dockstader, these trivial items and certified junk all conspired to create masterworks of electronic music in the early 1960s, during the hazy, pricey dawn of the genre. His scant half-decade of work revealed a world where sound itself became the organizing force, rather than melodic logic or linear progressions. His loops, jump cuts, and juxtapositions anticipated the next 40 years of synthesizers and sampling culture.