Monday, June 7, 2021
Saturday, June 5, 2021
"I cherish my memories of those first few days of freedom in NY [in 1943], especially my sense of liberation from not having to submit to any authority, and knowing that I could go anyplace and do anything at any time. One night I went to Washington Square and got drunk for the first time. I fell asleep on the sidewalk and nobody bothered me. It was ecstasy sleeping on the sidewalk realizing I had no commitment to anything or anyone." -Marlon Brando
Over the last few weeks the police have been clearing Washington Square Park of regular people for doing little more than enjoying the park as it was intended. A few blocks away in the East Village, the privelleged transplants (bros and woo woo girls) can act the drunken loud fool to their hearts' content.
Anyone who grew up in New York City, or is a student of the city's history, knows Washington Square Park has always been a destination, a cultural center, and a hub for activism (way back in 1834 the city's stonecutters rioted in the park in protest of NYU's use of prison labor). It is the people’s park.
Photograph: The Face Of The Village by Weegee, circa 1955
Wednesday, June 2, 2021
"Sometimes fate is like a small sandstorm that keeps changing directions. You change direction but the sandstorm chases you. You turn again, but the storm adjusts. Over and over you play this out, like some ominous dance with death just before dawn. Why? Because this storm isn't something that blew in from far away, something that has nothing to do with you. This storm is you. Something inside of you. So all you can do is give in to it, step right inside the storm, closing your eyes and plugging up your ears so the sand doesn't get in, and walk through it, step by step. There's no sun there, no moon, no direction, no sense of time. Just fine white sand swirling up into the sky like pulverized bones..."
Thursday, May 27, 2021
Monday, May 24, 2021
The first, very intimate live performance of "Abandoned Love," a song so perfect that the birthday boy tossed it aside.
"On a Thursday night in July 1975, I headed out to see Ramblin' Jack Elliott at [The Other End] in New York City. Because I wanted to learn his technique, I got there early enough to get a seat near the front so I could watch him play guitar. After the first set, a P.A. announcement told us we were welcome to stay for the second set if we honored the two-drink minimum. As the lights flashed on and I got up to leave, I glanced around the club and was stunned to see Bob Dylan seated toward the back with Jack, wearing the same striped tee shirt and leather jacket he had on in a photo with Patti Smith on the cover of the then-current Village Voice.
Naturally, I sat right back down. There was absolutely no way I was leaving at that point. Soon, others began to notice him, too, so Jack and Bob left their seats and went backstage. But when the engineer set up another microphone, we knew Bob was going to sit in. The electricity in the room was tangible as the club began filling up with more bodies. Finally, Jack came out and started his set. After a couple of songs, he began "With God on Our Side." After the first few lines, he turned his head toward the back of the stage and said, "Bob, you want to help me out on this?" The place went nuts as Dylan walked onstage. I can still see that shy look on his face as he nervously squinted out into the audience. He was so nervous, in fact, that he didn't notice that the capo on his guitar was crooked and buzzing badly.
Their first song was "Pretty Boy Floyd," with Bob singing harmony and his guitar buzzing right along. Then Jack started "How Long Blues." After the first verse, he looked at Bob in a way that seemed to ask him to sing a verse. Bob simply shook his head and mouthed something inaudible. When the song finished, however, Dylan began strumming his guitar. But since it was still buzzing, he asked Jack to trade instruments with him [this can be heard in the video at . At that moment, everyone in the room was in a trance; it's not every day one gets to hear an impromptu Bob Dylan performance in a tiny club. After a couple of lines, we realized he was performing a new song, with each line getting even better than the last. The song was "Abandoned Love," and it still is the most powerful performance I've ever heard.
Ramblin' Jack started strumming along in the beginning, but he soon realized the rarity of the moment and stopped and stepped to the side. As Bob sang, the nervousness so evident earlier vanished completely. He was so moving. There he was, hitting us with new material, with everyone hanging on his every word. It was an incredible feeling to be in that small club listening to Bob Dylan perform a new song. We all felt we were watching history in the making. After he finished, he returned to his seat near the back of the club and quietly watched the rest of the show. Jack appeared so speechless and overwhelmed by Dylan's performance that he started his next song with Bob's buzzing guitar.
Later, as we began filing out into the night onto Bleecker Street, we could see Bobby Dylan through the outside windows, leaning over his table and deep in conversation with someone, the candle in front of him highlighting his face. It's a moment I'll never forget."
Story of the performance by Joe Kivak
Tuesday, May 4, 2021
"To approach a city, or even a city neighborhood, as if it were a larger architectural problem, capable of being given order by converting it into a disciplined work of art, is to make the mistake of attempting to substitute art for life. The results of such profound confusion between art and life are neither life nor art. They are taxidermy. In its place, taxidermy can be a useful and decent craft. However, it goes too far when the specimens put on display are exhibitions of dead, stuffed cities."
Wednesday, April 14, 2021
Friday, April 9, 2021
Tuesday, April 6, 2021
Two bands that are totally polarizing: the Grateful Dead and Steely Dan, both of which I've loved both since I was a little kid, and through all the stages of my life. I do understand why people don't dig 'em though: with Steely Dan the slickness is usually the turn-off, but the songs, playing, and especially the lyrics transcend the overly-polished production for me. In fact, the gloss of the recordings doesn't bother me in the least. With the Dead it's usually the fans and their often awkward dancing, extended jamming*, and a lot of false perceptions: lyrically the Dead are not really a "peace and love" band — tell me "Black Peter," "Wharf Rat" or "China Doll" isn't some seriously dark shit? (I do think a lot of people get off on saying that they hate the Dead without giving them a deep listen).
In my early DJing days I'd often spin "Cream Puff War" and without fail some garage-punk acolyte would eagerly ask me who it was. Their face inevitably changed to horror when I informed them.
* It baffles me when someone tells me that don't like the Dead due to the jamming, yet they're big jazz fans (particularly Coltrane or Miles Davis, both of whom happened to be a big influence on the Dead's vision of how far out music could be taken).
Saturday, March 27, 2021
Wednesday, March 24, 2021
Tuesday, March 23, 2021
Sunday, March 21, 2021
I'm very selective when it comes to free jazz — having a homebody roommate in the '90s who played Peter Brötzmann on what felt like a constant loop dimmed my appreciation — but I recently discovered this stunning D.I.Y. private press release* from 1969 and am truly blown away. There's a real balance between chaos and melody, played with passion by what sounds like a full group not a trio. And despite it being instrumental there's a real lyricism in the grooves.
The album was reissued in 2020, with a recent repress by Gotta Groove.
Saturday, March 20, 2021
"The state can only be what it is, the defender of privilege and the exploitation of the masses, the creator of new classes and monopolies. Whoever does not know the role of the state does not grasp the essence of the current social order and is incapable of showing humanity the new horizons of its evolution."
Words: Rudolf Rocker, 1921
Tuesday, March 16, 2021
Monday, March 15, 2021
Empty white sheets and a propped pillow.
Black underwear and fallen golden hair.
Tomorrow is hope
I love you like nothing I've ever known"
Thursday, March 11, 2021
I don't know that there's a single invention that had more of an impact on my life and the directions it took than the cassette tape. And that's no exaggeration. My love for tapes started in the early '80s with live Dead shows passed on to me by older cats from uptown and my own recordings of DJ Red Alert and Marley Marl's weekend radio shows (as well as my endless quest to capture a complete "Hey Hey What Can I Do" off of WNEW), and the game-changing homemade hardcore and punk mixes that seemingly travelled across the five boroughs in increasingly lower quality. Then came the bootleg hip hop tapes I'd cop in Times Square, and most importantly the mixed tapes I made for friends, pen-pals, and of course, my crushes (I miss the long afternoons in front of the stereo, dropping the needle and hitting record at just the right time, naively thinking about how the songs I chose would change my life ). In the '90s my love of a good mixed-tape was still going strong, with the international punk-rock and 1960s rarities mixes I'd eagerly wait for, obsessively checking the mail. Thanks you Mr. Ottens for your life-changing invention.
Wednesday, March 10, 2021
Wonderful 1973 cover of the Small Faces soaring mod classic. The album the single was pulled from was produced by Alice Cooper producer Bob Ezrin, in time for Flo & Eddie's opening slot on Cooper's Billion Dollar Babies world tour. (The album also features a beautiful cover of the Kinks' "Days.")
Sunday, March 7, 2021
Saturday, March 6, 2021
Friday, March 5, 2021
"I think our overriding message is one of hope even in the darkest of times, which we all suffer from at times. An amazing amount of people have told me over the years how our music has helped them through really difficult times." -Mark Wilson, The Mob
During the pandemic I discovered a handful of blogs that were compiling and posting their own albums for download, with music culled from across the spectrum of genres and ranging from singles collections to rumored "lost albums." Thus inspired I decided to create a few collections myself (under the Create To Exist moniker*), starting with a band that surely wouldn't mind their old sounds being shared**, The Mob (UK). To my ears, their music is the perfect soundtrack for a global pandemic and shutdown.
The Mob formed in 1977 and within a few years were part of England's anarcho-punk/peace-punk movement of the early '80s, but their sound was slower and drew from darker post-punk sources. Despite not sounding like the bands they often shared stages with (Crass, Conflict, Rudimentary Peni, Dirt), they still embraced radical politics, played loads of benefits, and in a proper D.I.Y. vein released all but two of their own records via their All The Madman label.
This collection, which I dubbed No Doves Fly Here (named for most famous song), includes all of their singles in chronological order, including their remarkable comeback from 2013. The singles are followed by two alternate versions, most notably the original stunning take of the aforementioned "No Doves Fly Here," an apocalyptic classic in the vein of Bonnie Dobson's "Morning Dew." The collection is completed with their primal Ching cassette from 1981, which features a clutch of songs not heard elsewhere.
Wednesday, March 3, 2021
Monday, March 1, 2021
Friday, February 26, 2021
It's agreed upon by those in the know that Bob Seger's output with the System and The Last Heard is uniformly great, but this 1971 single should also be considered a classic. The swirling '60s keyboards matched with anti-authority lyrics sung with that voice which oozes attitude, all makes for a true gem of a song.
Wednesday, February 24, 2021
The world is a beautiful place
to be born into
if you don’t mind happiness
not always being
so very much fun
if you don’t mind a touch of hell
now and then
just when everything is fine
because even in heaven
they don’t sing
all the time
Poem by Lawrence Ferlinghetti, 1955
Tuesday, February 23, 2021
As of February 22nd, the United States reached the horrific milestone of over 500,000 dead from Coronavirus. That's 500,000+ sisters, brothers, children, parents, grandparents, uncles, cousins, best friends, co-workers, and on and on. It's impossible to wrap your head around that much loss.
Illustration by Joe McKendry, from Visualizing 500,000 (National Geographic)
Monday, February 22, 2021
Judas And The Black Messiah is an important film, especially in light of the recent news of the complicity of the FBI and NYPD in Malcom X's murder. That said, the movie is flawed, mostly due to making William O'Neal too sympathetic of a character at the expense of the depth Fred Hampton’s character deserves. (Hampton's political awakening and activism started at a young age, and he was only 21 when he was assassinated.) There's a powerful scene with Hampton talking about his time in jail, yet it doesn't have the impact it should. There's also a rather glaring historical omission, but I'll avoid pointing it out as it would act as a spoiler. Still, the acting is superb all around, it's well filmed, the soundtrack is perfect, and again, the story is an important and sadly timeless one.
Sunday, February 21, 2021
Wednesday, February 17, 2021
Barbara Dane is an artist I've been championing for years, though folk is a hard sell to a lot of my friends. Her album with The Chamber Brothers (from before they recorded on their own) and her own uncompromising I Hate The Capitalist System LP are favorites, and her work behind the scenes releasing music of struggle and resistance worldwide is truly inspiring (as is her own lifelong personal commitment to fighting for change). I am thrilled to learn that she's been working on her memoir via this excellent recent profile on her in the New York Times.