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Festival International du Film D’Amiens

Tulsa Oklahoma Cinema Retrospective

The short Q&A is over; is there anything else director Sterlin Harjo of Tulsa would like to tell the international audience in Amiens, France, before we watch his acclaimed indie shorts “Goodnight Irene” and “Barking Water?”

“Yes,” Harjo tells us, as his French interpreter, Andy, waits to translate. “My interpreter is single, so if there are any young ladies in the audience tonight…”

The English speakers in the audience laugh, Andy turns as red as a French wine, and he never actually translates it for the French speakers. But the sentiment’s clear enough: Amiens may be a sleepy town showcasing serious works this week at its modest cultural center, but hey, there’s still a role for irreverence here.

This November’s Festival International du Film D’Amiens, in its 33rd year, teeters on that delicate tightrope between provincialism and relevance, shocking visuals and campy wonders. Among the categories in this year’s festival are “Mexico SF,” which brings brave fans of vintage science fiction a cavalcade of black and white aliens and robots that would make Ed Wood blush, all battling it out for the supremacy of the world with masked wrestlers and buxom onesie-wearing women.

But the category of films that is drawing some of the most viewers is “Tulsa Oklahoma Cinéma,” a retrospective festival within the festival that includes everything from depression-era films starring Henry Fonda and Will Rogers to Tom Cruise vehicles directed by Ron Howard and Francis Ford Coppola. And let’s not forget the work of Tulsa’s original bad boy, Larry Clark, represented here with screenings of nearly all his great films, from Kids to Bully to last year’s Marfa Girl.

Of the all the directors being showcased, only Harjo has shown up in person. Has he enjoyed any of the French and international films he’s seen so far?

“Well, the only film I’ve watched so far has been The Outsiders, which was filmed in Tulsa, Oklahoma, ha ha! But I’ve been really inspired by it. I’ve seen it a hundred times, and seeing it on the big screen… you can’t keep your eyes off Matt Dillon. And then they kill him! More than any film, that movie has inspired me, because I saw it at such a young age.”

The populace of Amiens seems to agree. The Outsiders screening he’s referring to was utterly sold out, even though the quality of the print was a little suspect. They even had to pause for ten minutes halfway through to rethread the film, since one reel was spliced in upside down (later in the week, they’ll be displaying The Outsiders: The Complete Novel, a director’s cut that stays truer to author S.E. Hinton’s original vision).

Other films in the series have been equally popular with the populace of Amiens, regardless of theme or style. The under-age sex and violence of Larry Clark’s films sold out quickly. And even a 10 a.m. screening of a 1930’s Will Rogers film, Judge Priest, has a healthy mob of viewers.

Why so much interest in Oklahoma, and particularly Tulsa?

“Tulsa was invited to the film festival through its sister city relationship with Amiens, which was officially signed in 2005 as part of Tulsa Global Alliance and the mayor-to-mayor relationship through Sister Cities International.”

I’m talking with Judy Glenn, Vice President of Tulsa Global Alliance and a fantastic French speaker. She’s here to help coordinate speakers and entertainment for the festival, as well as to help shepherd about a dozen members of Tulsa Global Alliance to the festival and through Amiens itself. The TGA members are here to watch films, sample some local cuisine, and represent the best of Americanism (although some of the older ladies in the group talk rather loudly during a few of the screenings).

“One thing that intrigued us about the festival,” Glenn tells me, “was how they look through our history through French eyes, how they look at the story of Okies going to California, movies from the 30s, the 50s, the Outsiders, Rumble Fish … and the film industry has truly come back to Oklahoma now, through fresh new filmmakers and even the film industry in the soundtracks. The music of Woody Guthrie has inspired a lot of the works that were chosen.”

There are definitely some Dust Bowl films in the line up. But other than the fact that Oklahoma or Oklahoman directors/actors are featured, these films have little thematically or stylistically in common. Maybe that’s part of the appeal, variety versus homogeneity.

“You also have some archival material.” Now I’m talking to Terry Cearley, former education liaison of the Circle Cinema Theater in Tulsa, which has hosted its own French film festivals in recent years.

The façade of the Circle Cinema actually appears, briefly, as a location in some of the Coppola films showing this week! But Cearley is more interested in the festival’s documentary footage, film snippets plucked from the more forgotten corners of history. “Some in part may have been generated outside of the state, but the subject matter pertains to Oklahoma history, including materials relating to the black community of Oklahoma and some of the events leading up to the Tulsa Race Riot as well.”

The Tulsa Oklahoma Cinéma category has some of the oldest, rarest footage in the festival, and some of it was presented as a complete surprise. Perhaps as a counterbalance to make the Will Rogers film Judge Priest more palatable to modern eyes (the film co-stars perhaps the most offensive black character actor of all time, Stepin Fetchit himself), viewers of the 10 a.m. screening were first treated to a “short,” a brief reel of some unedited, silent snippets of life in the African American communities around Tulsa in the mid-twenties. Starting with what appeared to be a church group walking to a baptism or wedding, it included scenes of kids in ties and bowler hats filing out of Booker T. Washington High School, the fronts of stores, a shot of Tulsa’s original Greenwood district (before a highway bisected it), and people milling around piles of brick and rubble left over from the Tulsa Race Riot of five years earlier.

Here’s a scene from Booker T. Washington High School, circa 1926. Love the hats! I took this right in the cinema with my camera phone, but only after realizing no one was awake enough yet to care if I whipped out my phone in the theater.

“It’s very much just raw footage,” Terry Cearley explains, “but it’s a part of our history. And it hasn’t always been the most flattering portrayal of our city. But the extraordinary nature of our history, whether it’s our Western heritage, or our racial heritage, or simply the pull of talent that originated from our state—there are a multiplicity of ties here, but they all relate back to our city.”

Are we giving the French the wrong idea about Oklahoma? Can any foreign city, filled with people who don’t know all the nuances of Oklahoma’s historic treatment of African Americans and Native Americans, understand the catharsis in these films as well as the blame and finger-pointing?

Sterlin Harjo questions whether we Tulsans know our history any better than the French do. “One of the ladies from the Tulsa coalition asked me what tribe I was from. And when I said ‘Seminole and Creek,’ she asked me if that was one tribe or two, which I thought was funny, because Tulsa was founded by Muskogee Creek people, and it’s a Muskogee Creek word … at this point, I’m sort of over the Oklahoma thing. I’ve been there, I’ve made films there. But that’s just where I’m from. I don’t get any extra support because I make films there. I get pats on the back and people thank me that I’m there. But whatever, I could be anywhere.”

Will Harjo really leave Tulsa for more cosmopolitan muses, as did Larry Clark, or Todd Lincoln (formerly of the Tulsa Overground Film Festival), or the dozens of other people in film and music and the creative arts who leave for more welcome pastures every year? (Full disclosure: I’m one of them, having left Tulsa for USC in 1995 and remained in Los Angeles ever since.)

Certainly Oklahoma could learn from Harjo’s films, and from the entire collection of films showing in Amiens. This is a great festival, and if you squint just right, you almost feel like these movies belong together, like we have a tradition worth being proud of. If the film loving community of Tulsa could bring some of this energy back home, foment it, and keep it, perhaps someday we might not need to go abroad to appreciate our own film history or to champion it from out of state. Flawed or not, consistent or not, this is our legacy to claim.

D. M. Collins

In 2008, Voxhaul Broadcast called me a “tard” and told me to “suck their dick.” Five years later, they still have no soul.

So, I watch The Walking Dead every week. I know it’s a guilty pleasure, but not every show can be Mad Men. And hey, I’m an ADD-crazed fool constantly drawn to distraction material, which explains how I’ve sat through every season of Sons of Anarchy, Breaking Bad, Dexter, and Battlestar Galactica that can be viewed on Netflix. And I wish I was talking about the 70s Battlestar, but I’m not—I’m talking about Dean Stockwell as a cyborg who fucked his own mother, herself a cyborg with amnesia played by Nan Vernon’s sister who thought she was a human and was saving her husband’s life (okay, the new series is not without its charms) … meanwhile years are going by, and I’ve yet to publish my first book.

Anyway, I’ve been in Austin for SXSW for the past ten days or so, and I just got back to L.A., and tonight I was catching up with my Walking Dead episodes. During a commercial break in the most recent one, there was a brief promo for the Talking Dead panel show, hosted by Chris Hardwick, that follows each new episode of The Walking Dead. In the blurb, Hardwick casually mentioned that one of his guests tonight was Voxhaul Broadcast, and they would be performing their song from the Walking Dead soundtrack.

“Voxhaul Broadcast?” I thought. Voxhaul Broadcast … Voxhaul Broadcast… hmm, why do I know the name Voxhaul Broadcast?

Oh, that’s right…

Voxhaul Broadcast doesn't know the difference between

Yep, Voxhaul Broadcast, the band on Talking Dead last Sunday, once called me a “tard” and told me to suck their dicks.

To explain why an indie rock band with a name like “Voxhaul Broadcast” would feel justified in attacking me with poor grammar and vaguely homophobic insults, let’s rewind back to 2008. At the time I was freelance writing for Losanjealous.com, a fairly strong competitor of LAist. My first assignment was to review an Earlimart show. Voxhaul Broadcast was also on the bill, and while I devoted very few words to them (because it was a review about Earlimart), I did manage to say that Voxhaul Broadcast “kept serving up tunes like indie iceberg lettuce, with no flavor to distinguish one from the next.”

And that was it. Admittedly, I was critical of the band. But as anyone who has read my work knows, I am very skeptical of any music that sounds “indie” as a genre unto itself. You know what I’m talking about: music that has Chris Martin-esque falsetto male vocals, or that has guitar seemingly ripped from U2 via a flavorless Blonde Redhead, paired with a bassist who just plays “dum-dum-dum-dum-dum-dum-dum-dum” quarter-notes all damn song along the chords’ roots. I’m talking about pleasant rock music that won’t interrupt your conversation, with a live drummer who plays muted disco beats even though the music isn’t meant to be danced to, except maybe on the grass of some indie-rock festival while you’re shirtless and wearing a crown of glow sticks. I’m talking about music that takes rock’s gleefully ugly 13-year-old unconscious id, pretends it’s a well-thought-out romantic strategy, and champions it with soaring anthems, not as an anti-hero in a leather jacket, but as a beautiful stoic angel whose every vague dig against the establishment is to be taken as a poignant critique on society.

And I think that’s what struck such a chord with the Voxhaul Broadcast guys. It wasn’t that I said I couldn’t remember their songs, but that I said they were “indie.”

Voxhaul Broadcast didn’t want to be an indie rock band, or so they claimed at the time. Their MySpace page listed their influences as James Brown, Al Green, and Donovan; they wanted to be a soul band with heart. But having a record (or more likely, an MP3) in your collection doesn’t mean your band follows in that tradition. Though they conned a few other blogs into quoting their press release verbatim, the concept that this band was a “soul” band or even soul-infused was just sheer fantasy: I’d challenge them or anyone to show me what part of those rhythms, guitar licks, or lyrics sounds sounded even remotely like “Funky President” or “Love and Happiness,” much less “Catch the Wind” or “Sunshine Superman.” Any claims to soul you might actually locate in Voxhaul Broadcast’s music were (when they remembered to include them) straight from Vampire Weekend, or the Strokes, or any of the other of the umpteen mostly-male bands with guitarists who play on the upstroke with their distortion turned off. It’s not even funky—it’s just that singer David Dennis’ voice has a little more growl than Thom Yorke, and sometimes their songs are a little more lively than Death Cab for Cutie.

And that’s why I compared them to iceberg lettuce and then quickly moved on, with no intention of fucking with their shit. But these guys went completely ballistic, posting comments on Losanjealous about me and then going on this website to accuse me of lying and taking their quotes “out of context,” as though there’s any way to take “suck my dick” out of context. Or that it was somehow “false reporting” to critique them as a talentless drivel band trying desperately to jump the train headed for Sell Out Station.

Anyway, I guess this blog’s Voxhaul Broadcast article stayed in the top of Google’s search for a while, because I kept seeing comments on the thread way after I’d moved on with my own life. Finally, after maybe a couple years, the comments stopped and I put Voxhaul Broadcast’s boorish insults and bland music out of mind. In hindsight, I think I heard about them from time to time appearing on bills with much better bands, e.g. on shows that L.A. RECORD would list. But I hadn’t seen Voxhaul Broadcast live since, and I was surprised to hear their name on Talking Dead.

Funny thing is, though, that Voxhaul Broadcast’s story arc has proven them to be the indie-ist of indie sellouts, exactly as I’d described back in 2008. They did continue to play not-soul music. They did try and succeed in embracing Nic Harcourt, and they did scam their way onto the soundtracks of terribly treacle-y films, e.g. The Vow and the Nicolas Sparks vehicle The Lucky One, and the slightly more fun 90210 (what, not good enough for Gossip Girl?). Funny, their website doesn’t really mention their ties to such wonderful, soulful cinematography. Some bands would find a bunch of humor in getting a gig on movies they don’t particularly like, but you get the vibe that Voxhaul Broadcast are worried too much about their image to boast about their appearances, and too worried about pissing off potential date-film directors by openly mocking them.

That said, performing a song on The Walking Dead is something of a coup for these fellas, and honestly, I was watching hoping that it would be good. A lot of bands start off being kind of generic and grow into a wonderful sound of their own, and maturity can improve lyric writing a great deal. I have critiqued a lot of bands who either took my words to heart and changed, or completely dissed me by making the most awesome album ever, gleefully proving me irrelevant through sheer talent, and I’m okay with being wrong if I get some good music out of it. Some bands even became my friends after I criticized them in print, because really, until you start going to my blog and calling me a “tard” liar, I don’t hate you and you don’t hate me—it’s nothing personal, just a critique of music that also at times steps out of your personality and says things you wouldn’t say to someone’s face in polite society.

But change and maturity were not to be had: this performance by Voxhaul Broadcast of “In the Wilderness” is somehow even worse than the weird nu metal Ray Charles blues of Jamie N. Commons from the week before. “In the Wilderness” has just a few strummed acoustic chords, plus a slight little flourish that would almost be good if it wasn’t lifted piecemeal from Kirk Hammett.

And the lyrics—oh man, the very first thing ol’ David sings is that he “Stood at the edge of the valley/looked at the ground below.” He knows that valleys are the low part and that the mountains are the high part, right? It’s hard to see much below you in a valley.

Watch the clip, and listen to the lyrics of this thing, if you can stomach them. He goes on to talk about how there’s a “wolf inside my heart” for some girl, which would be hard to fit in there since she’s already “the wilderness inside me” that may or may not have fueled a fire that “cold desperation” may or may not have let go out—it was a jumble of mixed metaphors, the kind Holland-Dozier-Holland would never have strung together. I haven’t even gotten to the earthquake or how he can’t run forever because he’s hungry and he eats weird metaphorical animals. And if all this talk of “hunger” or “wolves” is making you think it’s a Duran Duran song, well, even a third-bit copy of Duran Duran would at least provide the faint glimmer of nostalgia to get you through.

Look, guys, Voxhaul Broadcast, you were jerks to me once, pretty big jerks, to a little guy who only wanted to write articles about music (most of which you’ve never heard of, but that’s okay). Being a masochist, I would have loved to see you kick my ass a little. But sad to say, in the past five years you haven’t done anything to prove you’re not still talentless, unimaginative hacks barely hanging onto your Nicolas Sparks soundtrack gigs because you’re halfway cute and have a good agent. For a second, a mere split-second, I almost thought you done good with this Walking Dead appearance. But you’re still indie iceberg lettuce, mere filler between zombie attacks and Channing Tatum’s abs.

In the future, if you’re going to put some music in a horror franchise, at least pay heed to your indie rock forefathers and get yourself into a goofy video.

P.S. Oh, and hey guys? For the record, I like sucking dick. I’m still sucking dick. Just not yours.

DUM DUM Issue No. 3 party this Saturday …

… and I am the DJ. Or, at least a DJ (there are a couple DJs, it seems, and 100 bands and 10,000 readers/performers).

You should come party, because if you don’t, it means you hate community and hate literature. It means you wish people would stop reading and start shooting each other with guns. It means you are flippant and vile. It means you’re a bigot. You’re a sad, petty, bourgeois blight upon the world, and the only value you have to anyone is as a dire warning, or maybe as future compost, a chunk of organic offal to insert into the ground to counteract the garbage you strew–though then again the chemicals you fill your mind and body with may very well poison our dwindling water supplies and make some poor crawdad somewhere die.

What a scumbag you are… but it’s not too late to change the course of your life and ATTEND this event!

ATTEND!

ATTEND! Make a last stand against the wretchedness and the filth that gurgles sick words of childish love to you when you look in the mirror.

ATTEND! Listen to readings by authors, real authors, people souls haven’t left their bodies and swum down the snaky pipe at the base of their own toilets rather than cling to the monster who birthed them.

ATTEND! Soyez présent!

DO IT IN FRENCH IF YOU HAVE TO! Take an Echinacea pill if you have to! For what better cure than a placebo for the world’s biggest lie?

ATTEND! ATTEND ATTEND ATTEND!

And stay until the end so you can dance!

Emily Maya Mills at A Rrose in a Prose

My rejected submission for 33 1/3 Books: The Faust Tapes

A friend mistakenly told me that the deadline for submitting a proposal to 33 1/3 books had passed before it truly was. By the time I figured out that I still had time to submit, I had about four days to do everything.

Worse still, during the first two days, as I crammed through every bit of good source material I could find to help me write my introductory chapter, I realized that my initial concept, Judas Priest’s British Steel, wouldn’t fly–author Neil Daniels had juuuuust written one in 2011 for a similar book series, meaning there would be no need for a new one. 33 1/3 would not be friendly towards publishing a copycat book no matter how good I thought my retelling of its events might be.  

Rather than “scream for vengeance,” I thought frantically about some kind of proposal I could pull off in 48 hours. And then it struck me–what could be more pivotal in the world of weird esoteric rock, the kind beloved of 33 1/3 fans,  than The Faust Tapes, the first album released on Richard Branson’s fledgling Virgin Records in the early seventies, a full album priced at the value of a mere single which marked a turning point (for good or ill) in the careers of German weirdos Faust as well? It doesn’t hurt that I had interviewed Faust last year and had some choice, original quotes that most music nerds might not think to ask of their prospective choices.

Well, apparently the 33 1/3 folk didn’t give a shit about my idea. Today I received a depressingly boilerplate reply from Publishing Director David Barker over at Bloomsbury, saying my proposal “hasn’t made it to the second round.” Maybe they balked at my execution–due to my friend’s mistake, and my own stupid refusal to go with my gut id instinct as I would normally do and and check things out for myself immediately online just for the chance to say “nah-huhh,” my whole proposal looks super rushed.

And yet, and yet … goddam it, is the below really such a shambles? Should I re-run this next year, or move on to a new idea, or rewrite this? Or maybe this is too off-topic for a first chapter in a book about The Faust Tapes? I wrote this and a bunch of other materials literally in less than 48 hours, so I won’t get my feelings hurt if you think this sucks … please, give me the feedback that 33 1/3 was too busy to provide.


AN INTRODUCTION: JAIL AND THE ANGRY VIRGIN

Even considering the strangeness of early 70s Germany, Faust was always the odd man out in the German progressive rock scene. Perhaps that has something to do with the outlandishness of the stories told about them: the nudism, the cultism, the police, the guns in the face, the construction equipment on stage, the smashing of parking gates with cars, or the subsequent nights in jail—added all up, their legend lent them a bratty, petulant public persona, with an immaturity quotient that exceeded all the other screamers and electronic knob-twiddlers of their oeuvre. And just like the band, that gleeful id never quite went away, somehow surviving the ravages of age largely intact into the 21st century. Even now, if somehow you’re able to corner a member of Faust at one the farmhouses and hotels where they’ve been spending their old age, you won’t need to coax him into recounting his youthful hijinks with a proud wink and a nudge.

Yet it was the music that always set Faust apart, a consciously eclectic style prefabricated with more deliberate intent than even the robotic drum machine beats of Kraftwerk, yet which hit the record shelves with more anarchic glee than a shocked music-buying public had ever expected to receive from Teutonic origins. Not even Faust’s own countrymen could abide them, which is why they were one of the first of the “krautrock” bands to head west, towards the sunnier shores (figuratively) of the UK.

With Kraftwerk being the possible exception, there’s a myth about krautrock bands among the casual rock enthusiast, which is that they all sound the same. Even fans who know better often attempt to dispel that myth with the opposite myth, that somehow bands like Can, NEU!, Cluster, and Guru Guru are not even connected, and that there was no scene at all from which such seminal bands sprung. And it is true that each band seemed to originate from a different town, be it Cologne or Düsseldorf or West Berlin.

But a look through the recording schedule at Conny Plank studios proves this second myth to be just as false, as do the shared band members/collaborations/Eno associations that trickled through the krautrock world consistently from the start of the movement until its dissipation in the late 70s. Krautrock was a fake term but a real musician’s clubhouse, and only a few bands bucked the trend of working with Plank and the extended diaspora of his professional friends. The most famous of these was Faust.

“We didn’t have any contact whatsoever with other German bands from this time,” drummer Werner “Zappi” Diermaier recounts adamantly from the present day. “We met Brian Eno once, but that’s the end of the story.” And at least stylistically, Faust thrived in isolation, first in the small town of Wümme, and then after their subsequent expatriotism to England, where the bright eyed optimism of Virgin Records was there to take care of them. If only they hadn’t complained so much about the lack of a German cook.

———————–

In the end, it was a room service tab that finished off the band.

It was 1975, and Faust, long after moving to England, and having more recently concluded an oddball tour that saw the band hemorrhaging original members, decided to reshuffle the tarot deck of their misfortune by going back to the fatherland: Munich, and Giorgio Moroder’s Musicland studios. There, without any tacit thumbs up from their label, Virgin Records, they’d started laying down session recordings they intended eventually to package as their fifth album—their fourth hadn’t gone over so well, and now their combo had been whittled down to just bassist Jean-Hervé Péron, guitarist Rudolph Sosna, and organist Hans Joachim Irmler.

Broke, but technically still under contract with Virgin, the trio and their compatriots in Munich spent the majority of their nights and most of their days at a nearby hotel that also owned the studio—and that meant they could tell the staff to put virtually everything “on Virgin’s tab.” Emulating the rock stars they occasionally hobnobbed with (they’d famously partied with the Rolling Stones, who also recorded in Munich) the band spent a good portion of their time eating in, ordering bottles of wine, and indulging in the kind of extravagant hospitality that they’d seen their more successful rock and roll party pals afford on a consistent basis.

But it was too large an IOU for a second-tier German prog rock band to float for long. When the hotel management put its foot down, roughly demanding immediate compensation for the studio time, its beds, and its room service tab, the band discovered that their expenditures had come out to 30,000 Deutschmarche-by comparison, that’s about $12,000 in mid-seventies dollars, or $60,000 today. Faust swiftly called long distance to London and to the Virgin Records office.

But Virgin Records had grown sick of it, and wasn’t about to pay for the overseas extravagances of a bunch of ingrates whose best-selling album had only sold as a gimmick, and whose most recent album hadn’t sold at all. Virgin wouldn’t even pay for the new Munich recordings the band claimed to be doing. There would be no fifth album, at least not with Virgin.

—————–

This was not something they’d expected from Virgin. The decision to abandon Faust to their fate was an admission of failure that went all the way to the top. Just two years before, Faust had been a flagship band for the fledgling label. “They were our very, very first signing,”[i] Richard Branson recalls today. But despite an ambition that reached literally to the stars, the young blonde-locked visionary at the helm of Virgin had not been able to fuel the fire that might have propelled rocketship Faust into popularity the same way he did with esoteric albums such as Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells. Since Faust had found a home in England and with Virgin, they had succeeded only at two things: recording chaotic, visceral music interspersed with humble contemplation, and partying with an excess that was less self-destructive than it was cost-ineffective. Sadly, only the latter had involved large quantities of money, and that had flowed in the wrong direction.

“We can’t blame Richard Branson for dropping us,” admits Jean-Hervé Péron, Faust’s bassist, who still plays with Zappi in an iteration of Faust to this day. “I remember him being a very pleasant, very nice person. We took advantage of their kindness, I think. We were always having orgies and throwing parties, and we always left the bill with Virgin.”

From Virgin’s perspective, all that partying, with lack of concern for the bottom line, had gone too far, beyond even the significantly widened boundaries that 70s labels allowed for. And Virgin’s boundaries (and, according to band members, Virgin’s secretaries) were the “loosest.” Branson and Virgin may have had some meddling “suggestions” for Faust regarding their material, but by the standards of most record labels, they’d supported Faust from start to finish, even after the last supporters in Faust’s inner circle had called it a day.

Virgin even outlasted Uwe Nettelbeck, who quit long before Munich. The manager and unsung first member of the band (unsung except for within the band, the press, and in historical documents like this one), Nettelbeck was a former radical leftist who had manufactured Faust at the behest of Polydor Germany, Monkees style: he’d hustled members from two different bands into a studio built from an old schoolhouse outside Hamburg and merged them into one entity, which went on to do two albums for Polydor. Again in 1973, when the deal with Polydor had gone sour, Nettelbeck had shown incredibly shrewd business acumen for a  communist sympathizer: he was the impetus behind the Virgin deal that allowed for Branson to transition the band smoothly from Polydor to his own label with minimal costs on both sides.

But now Faust were on their third strike, and Nettelbeck had abandoned them to Branson. And with Nettelbeck went engineer Kurt Graupner, shortly followed by founding band member Arnulf Meifert. The shrinking band had been playing England with borrowed help from members of Gong and Slapp Happy, but now in Germany, even Zappi had left, and they had no one to turn to.

So perhaps they felt cornered, or maybe the tinge of revolution still hung in the air. After all, Faust had at one point harbored members of the infamous Baader-Meinhof gang in their schoolhouse years before, and they’d eluded the police then. In a fit of criminal inspiration, after grabbing their gear and recordings from Musicland studios, Faust piled into cars and literally smashed their way out of the hotel parking lot.

“We had to leave like thieves!” claims Péron. “I remember driving away, smashing through a post that blocked our way. Joachim and Rudolf got caught and jailed, and their parents had to bail them out—we are still in debt with them!”[ii]

It was a humiliating finale, both a bang and a whimper. How had these stars in the Virgin pantheon sunk so low as to need a bailout from mom?

—————

Only two years before, Faust had pulled a similar trick, leaving Polydor with practically stolen goods in the virtual dead of night as they absconded for new shores. But in 1973 it had worked. Their piracy allowed them to snatched victory from the jaws of defeat successfully, and they’d arrived in England as avant-garde kings, and even helped launch one of the wealthiest personal fortunes in history. The album that got Virgin Records in the press, the one that became “the social phenomenon of 1973”[iii] as Julian Cope famously said, was The Faust Tapes.

For many bands, their earliest work is the most memorable, or there’s a latter-day masterpiece that uses all the lessons they’ve learned and puts it into one great opus, but few bands hit one out of the park on their third try, right in the middle of their greatest era.

But The Faust Tapes were not normal. Like Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music, there was the sense that this was a put-on, or a dare. Like an unfinished work by Kafka, or a lost work by Petronius, there was a sense that this work was a reference to something bigger outside itself, something that was forever lost.  And of course, there was the fact that it was a marketing gimmick, sold cheaply, at the price of a mere single, in order to boost the name of Faust to an unsuspecting public. But then again, that had been the plan for Faust all along, ever since Nettelbeck had assembled them in the late 60s to take advantage of an upcoming revolution. Which revolution he’d intended is still up anyone’s guess.


[i] Washington Post, September 12, 2011

[ii] “Having a Smashing Time,” Andy Gill, Mojo, April 1997

[iii] Krautrocksampler, Julian Cope, 1995

“Sleeves Where Legs Should Go”

Today I did a reading at The Last Bookstore, along with some other talented folks: Justin Maurer from the Clorox Girls, Gabriel Hart from Jail Weddings, Kenneth Sonny Donato of A Poet’s Guide to the Bars, Jean-Paul Garnier of Loopool, Gitane Demone from Christian Death, James Carman from Images, Marianne Stewart from White Murder, and Zache Davis from being just an awesome punk rocker with awesome bike ridin’ LEGS!

For my own turn at bat, I read an album review of Johnny O’Donnell’s band, and also an original poem that I just came up with, entitled “Sleeves Where Legs Should Go.” I never thought the poem would be received so well, but people seemed to really love it, so I’m feeling confident enough to post it here. It’s a naked poem, and I hope to revisit it in the future, but here’s what I read.

Sleeves Where Legs Should Go

Sleeves where legs should go.
Albums stacked, strewn around the coffee table.
Surface stained. Wine red. Bottle rings. Scotch in my glass.
Room stuffed with sounds stuffed into sleeves.
Slides out like worried breath in, hhhhhHHHHH.
Egyptian Lover.
UH-ch-DE-n-NEE…
Sound where people should go, person once was.
Phil Spector, Brian Wilson, Stiv Bators:
Real people.
Not to make tea for, rub the back of.
To giggle like an 8 year old, sometimes like a mule. Hiiighn hiiighn!
Breaking her hand on the back of my head.
9 a.m. wake up, crust-nosed, half-asleep trip to the pound for what? Lhasa-apso mix.
Saved its life. Classes at the Rose Bowl. I taught it, him, to jump, lie down, shake my hand.
Hugging buddy at 3 a.m.
Now in Portland.
“My son calls another man ‘daddy.’”
Pressed tight between Bobby Bare and Tammy Wynette.
“It’s ain’t love, but it ain’t bad.”
Ani DiFranco said that.
Wiltern 1997.
NO SHAME.

Sitting, kitchen.
Daytime, dark.
Thick curtains block That Lucky Old Sun.
(Rapist.)
Bottle caps cluttered around the recycling bag.
Meal, not mine, smeared across the counter top.
Bukowski would be proud, though probably listening to Schubert. Not “Freak-A-Holic.”
Living room impossible.
Ikea right angles, rectangular prisms bristly with spines.
Slight grey cobweb above the wall heater, shaking gently like a grandmother’s arm.
Spinster at the mixing board.
Jerry Lee Lewis’s Old Tyme Country Music.
Younger than he is now.
Alone at the board.
Albums make no sound on their own.
Nothing.
Herzog native, Bible against his ear to hear the word of God. “It doesn’t speak!”
Nothing, just a man in a room.
Flotsam. Jetsam.
Line worker at Bama Pie, 1972, liked the song she heard on the Flip Wilson show. Twenty years under baseball bats in the garage, then estate sale, then a plastic sleeve, sticker saying forty dollars.
Now under 90’s Jabberjaw collection and Gnip Gnop.
Thousands of stories. Stories sticking, skipping, silent.
4 minutes, 33 seconds.
Super-saturated. New foot every two weeks.
Infinity plus 1 foot still infinity.
The void.
Liner notes on their backs—poetry.
10 thousand poems.
100 thousand songs.
Every turn of phrase.
Metronomes,
Gyorgi Ligeti’s hundred.
Clack. Clack-clack-clack, clack clack.
Arrhythmic.
Like shook flint rocks.
In a jar.
No spark.
No purpose.
Nothing.

The sun rolled around heaven wrong.
Rain.
Time was I’d sit out in the yard. Beneath the gazebo when the rain comes.
Now it’s not for me. Cuz…
Lester Bangs: “I’m a ghoul.”
No, whats-his-name in Almost Famous.
Cough syrup and a hermit crab.
Redhead as grey as the sky, scowling, jaw clenched, tight as the living room.
Sighing like a metal chair pulled along a cement floor.
Tight as time.
Wasted.
Permanent silence.
Packaged silence.
Infinite silence.
A black hole in a black hole.

But this record.
Save for a Rainy Day.
Mr. Dean Torrence.
Poor man’s Pet Sounds.
Very poor man.
First song, shitty cover.
Yellow Balloon.
Only I would have this.
A gift from someone who knows me best.
On the couch, the sounds of the record thunder, but gently.
“Like a Summer Rain.”

Live Review: Jail Weddings

My review of Jail Weddings at Harvard & Stone is up at L.A. RECORD.

POST SXSW: DAN KROHA, GAY BI GAY GAY, KING TUFF, DEAD SHIPS, CRACK PIPES, UGLY BEATS, FOREVER CHANGES

My long-overdue chronicle of the day after SXSW, including Gay Bi Gay Gay, Dan Kroha, King Tuff, and seeing John Cameron Mitchell, is up on L.A. RECORD.

EARL SCRUGGS R.I.P.

Banjo picker and bluegrass pioneer Earl Scruggs passed away today in Nashville.

Scruggs’ son Gary said his father passed away Wednesday morning at a Nashville, Tenn., hospital. Gary Scruggs said his father died of natural causes.

He was a titan in his field, an innovator, and it was a supreme pleasure to interview Mr. Scruggs and his son Gary many years ago, as one of my first assignments for L.A. RECORD. He will be missed.