Friday, July 25, 2014

Should I try blogging again?

I used to write this blog, Humblog. It was something I started when I was exploring the so-called "blogosphere" for a piece with the unwieldy title, Humboldt Blogs: blogs and the blogging bloggers who blog them. It didn't last, only a year and a half, but did I some interesting blogging - some extensive interviews for people like Trey Anastasio, Harry Shearer and Misha Mengelberg, among others, and I posted some videos I shot, ran a series called Who Are You?, (which was also a separate blog) and some writing by others. Lately I've been thinking about reviving my column, The Hum, and I'm trying to figure out how to do it. Would this work as a start? Does anyone still read blogs? Give me some feedback...

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

the left hand column

just a quick observation about another local blog: North Coast Post.

The Postmaster uses a couple of embedded routines in the left hand column to provide Humboldt-related content from around the web. First there a Video collector that actually seems to work. Along with vids of the People Project protest around the corner from my house and one of Arcata's Redwood Park, there's a video I shot on New Year's Even on the Plaza showing one of our fine local samba drum troupes. (See above.) Keyword Arcata?

It's the "Words still matter" section that fails routinely. The key word seems to be Humboldt, which turns out to be a poor choice. More often than not, it doesn't matter, not to HumCo locals anyway. The aggregator apparently pulls up the top four hits on Google news for the word, which in theory seems like you'd get local news. The trouble is, the county's namesake, Alexander Von Humboldt, was a popular guy, and all sorts of stuff is named after him. As noted in Wikipedia: All of the following places are named for Humboldt: So today three of the news hits are about things in Chicago's Humboldt Park: a car crash and a Latin jazz fest, and the other is about the Humboldt in Canada. Sure it might change later this evening, but most often it just doesn't work.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

the white sunglasses band

this photo and accompanying note came today from Peter, who just returned from a Japanese tour with my son, Spencer.

tour was amazing. went very smooth. spencer was received very well and we both made tons of comrades and friends while we were out there. he impressed numerous journalists with his extensive knowledge of japanese music. attached is a photo of our band we pieced together for our finale show in tokyo. the white sunglasses band. 2 bassists, guitar (T from green milk) me and spency.
will send more flicks soon!

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Riffing with Misha

I wasn't sure what to expect when I called Misha Mengelberg, one of the founders of the Instant Composers Pool on the last Saturday morning in March. I'd been told it might not be an easy interview, I figured I'd improvise, and honestly we both had a blast once we got rolling, talking about religion, politics, history, and sometimes music.
We began with confused conversation about when the group was coming to California, and furthermore what day of the week it was (the day before April Fool's Day). Misha was in a hotel in Washington D.C. ICP was set to play at the Library of Congress that night.

Tonight you play at the Library of Congress.
That's right. It's next door to where we are now.
What do you think about that?
I think Americans have some regard for our music, and are keeping all that stuff. You'd think they'd want to capitalize on it. I would think it's impossible to capitalize on our way of playing. That's hard I think. I don't think many people would put money on it. (laughs)
Has it been a hard way to earn a living for you?
Sometimes, most of the time...
But you've been at it for a long time.
Yes, but the people in Holland now say that we should skip all the provisions and subsidies for musicians and all that. And we should go and do real work. (laughs)
So there was public support for artists and musicians but it's changing.
Since World War II ended they were supporting the arts. Painting first because we have such famous painters, then music a little bit. There were some Dutch composers in the Middle Ages who did rather well, no financially, but with some fame like Orlande de Lassus and a few others. I could go on for a short while...
Was it church music?
Yes, the church put some money into composers writing masses and things like that.
I suppose you always have to find some way to get paid...
Oh sure, that's an important aspect of everything, even music.
I don't imagine you chose this path because you thought it would be a great way to earn a living.
Oh, no, no, no. Far from that.
You say if the government has its way you'll have to get a real job. What job would that be?
I could start a greengrocer or something. That might be helpful. I won’t do that, but maybe I should.
This may be a dangerous question to ask...
No, no, there are only dangerous answers.
OK, what is an instant composition?
Well, well, if I would know that maybe I would be rich now. And I am not rich. An instant composer seems to be somebody who is just fantasizing that he is a composer or something. It's more fantasy than reality I think.
Is it synonymous with jazz? Whatever that word might mean.
Yes, It's synonymous with freak and idiot, frauds, and maybe a little bit with somebody who makes music and thinks something of it.
What do you think of it?
I don't think. (laughs) I have no opinion. Well, if I have an opinion, it would be challenged immediately by everybody.
Is not thinking part of the idea, that you play without a preconceived idea of what comes next?
Yes. For sure yes. I think that's true. I have no idea what I'm going to do. Very well put.
But on the other hand, doesn't the group use sheet music and notes on the bar?
Sometimes, but the sheets don't help very much.
Maybe just to serve as a roadmap?
Yes, like a map, that's the theory, but you might take your boat to Greece and end up in Capetown or something. That's what musical theory is about. That's my thing, I studied that profession. I am a theorist, but I don't know or understand anything about music.
Do you play the same songs one night after another?
Sometimes we do that. And we play them just as we played them yesterday, but not completely, because somebody did not the labor to write down what he played exactly. And we all have that kind of sickness where we simply forget how we played yesterday. So we play each time something different. We cannot be outed for that because we do not promise anything other than that.
Do you record the shows?
From time to time we do, not everywhere. You are from Knoxville, is that right?
No, from Arcata, Humboldt County, in California. That is the home of Michael Moore.
Yes, Michael's father is there.
Jerry Moore is a professor here.
What does he teach?
What music?
Well, he teaches jazz. I think he may be retired now. But he also led groups that fit no category. He would draw on music from many cultures...
Or animals or whatever...
He might combine something from the classical tradition with jazz...
But do those words mean anything?
That's a good question.
Perhaps I should ask you. Do those words mean anything?
That's a nice question. We'll leave it unanswered.
It's hard to find words for music as unique as what comes from the ICP.
Well thank you. But maybe it's not even music that we play. Sometimes I doubt that. But that won't make a difference. Music is what people call music. That may be a hackneyed way of putting it. You go further with a definition of that type than most others. What I mostly say is that: Music is what people call music.
Some people consider a bird's song to be music.
No, A bird song is a bird song.
To a bird it's just talking.
I had a parrot once, no my wife had a parrot. And he could imitate almost all the fragments I was singing or whistling in the house, in the bathroom or wherever. Most of the time I was whistling or whatever. That bird hated me so, he made a plan first then executed the plan: to imitate all the music that I could make, but not only that, to do it higher, better, snappier, I should think of some other qualities, but that was what he did. I recorded that. It made a very nice set of sounds. He used a Charlie Parker lick and ended with a shriek or something.
Was the parrot a musician?
No of course not, He was a parrot. He was grey red tail and they are well known for their brilliant imitations of things. He could also speak, but of course he did not know what he said.
You could also say the same about certain musicians.
Oh yes. There are a lot of musicians who never give a thought to what they are playing or doing. Of course, but that doesn't matter. It doesn't mean they are dumb, it might have something to say about their quality as technicians, and there is a certain technique involved in what those so-called musicians do, yes.
As an instant composer, it must be your job to go beyond that way of thinking. I wonder, do you feel restricted by the fact that you usually must start with the familiar? How do you create something new when you have to use old building blocks?
Oh that's done in history a lot of times. Taking old roads and building churches or something.
I don't think I understand.
Let's say Roman roads -- the Romans made roads through all of Europe. Then at a certain point nobody was asking for roads anymore. They were happy or unhappy where they were and stayed there their whole lives and never traveled.
So they would take up the stones from the roadbed to build churches...
Yes. That's what they did finally. They thought: what do we need with these stupid old roads. Let's make something useful with them. And they did in their way, I think. Of course I think it's a ridiculous idea to build a church at all, but that's not the point here. In the Middle Ages, the question was what shall we do with them?
You originally come from Ukraine, is that right?
I come from Russia, Ukraine, yes, from Kiif.
And when did you migrate to Netherlands?
In 1938. I was three years old.
Did you parents leave for political reasons?
Yes of course, but mainly it was because the Russians wanted them out. They said, well that woman is a German. She can be a spy.
Your mother?
My mother was German, yes, a German Jewish woman. And my mother was afraid that the Germans would come to Russia and she would be one of the first victims, because of her being Jewish. The mother of my mother, my grandmother, was Jewish, so in the female line, I was also a Jew. But that's not how the Germans understood the word Jew. Since I had a non-Jewish father and grandfather, they would not see me as a Jew.
Because they follow patrilineal descent not, matrilineal...
That's right.
Do you think of yourself as being a Jew?
(Laughs) No, no. Maybe half human, half something else. Being Jewish is not on my program.
So you spent almost your whole life in Holland, grew up there.
Yes, I was a little Dutchman. And now I'm an old Dutchman.
How did it happen that you discovered American jazz growing up in Holland?
During the war we had jazz records. We would have been shot perhaps if the German had found out. I had a 78, a little recording from "The Mooche," by the American, Ellington. I was a boy between 5 and 9, and with that music the horror of the German occupation was gone. I wanted to know about that type of music. I found out in 1947. My father (Karel Mengelberg) was a critic, a music critic for a Socialist daily journal, so he went to all kinds of classical concerts and took me with him. He wanted me to learn about Beethoven and Mozart and all that.
Was he also a musician?
My father could play music. He was a conductor and a composer. So he wrote music and conducted.
But he made his living writing about music?
Yes, because nobody wanted to have him as a conductor, and that was because they thought he was a Communist, and they were right. He was a Communist from when he was 12 years old living in Holland, then living in Germany. At first they had no children, then at 34, my father planted me, and my mother went to a new job, because in Europe there were no jobs for her. She played the harp all her life. In Ukraine they had a symphonic orchestra so she went there. Then I came along.
So both your parents were professional musicians.
Yes, that's right. But that was not their plan for me. They said don't do that because you won't earn enough money. You'd better do something else.
What did they have in mind for you?
Not anything really, but I had something in mind, which had not so much to do with music. I wanted at a certain moment, when I was 12 or 13, I wanted to become an architect. And maybe become famous and build some very big projects. Then I would have time to put all my time to music. Because music was the thing that I felt I would be the best in from all the professions. I had a talent for music more than for writing or making signs or whatever.
There's talent, then there's passion.
Yes, but you maybe should not answer those passions. But if they are strong enough, you somehow get lured into it.
You know my son has always had a passion for music, but when he went to college he decided not to study music, instead he chose philosophy.
That's better than music I think. As a philosopher when you have only one original thought in your life, you can bank on that. That's what most philosophers do or have been doing. Spinoza, the Jewish philosopher in Holland, he was an Atheist, but he never dared say that he did not believe n God. Instead, when all others in Holland would say, 'It's in God's hands to do this or that,' he said, 'Well, nature sometimes gives advice on what to do.'
Nature instead of God...
Yes, of course four centuries later, my father told me there is not such a thing as God. He did that because his father also told him that when he was a little boy. And my grandfather's father put him in an asylum thinking he was crazy, and he died there.
His father thought he was crazy because he did not believe in God?
And because he did not want to go to church any more.
That's a bit frightening.
It was for my father as well. So my father gave up religion also when he was six or seven. He told my grandmother, 'I also do not want to got to church on Sundays.' He said he'd prefer to be mad than to go to church every Sunday. He was adamant, and was allowed to become the first Atheist in my family. He taught that to me and to my brother, and not only are we Atheists, we are Anti-theists. We became very anti, anti-church and beliefs and all.
To turn this conversation back to music, I wonder, what role do you think music plays in society as a whole? What is the purpose of music?
The purpose. Another fantastic question. There is no direct purpose and I don't know what I'm doing. That's what I finally think. I have no special affection for music because all the music that I hear on the radio, in the department store, jingles on TV at 7 o'clock when I want to see the news. All those things I hate.
There's even music on the news to tell you how you should feel about the news you see.
Yes. sure, sure. You have happy music for happy stories and when there are 600 deaths you have the sad music. (laughs)
Something in a minor key in the background.
Yes. A minor key, yes, that creates the right atmosphere, yes. That's how I think about music. It is ridiculous most of the time.
But what you do is a rebellion against that sort of thing.
That's fine. Why not rebellion? Yes. That's a fine word. I have more contact with rebellion than with complacency, seeing what happens without reacting. There's nothing to be complacent about.
So is the idea of instant composition a rebellion against complacency?
When people ask me, why are you doing all those things playing all those notes? I say I really don't know and I don't want to know. That's my reaction to your question.
Tonight you play at the Library of Congress. Do you know what the pool will play?
No, no, no. I never have, so why would I know?
There's no set list?
No set list. Well, maybe we are going to play some certain pieces: they asked us, I have made some Ellington arrangements some years ago. And they want us to play some of those.
Any particular songs?
Yes, I think there is one guy at the library offices, Applebaum, who I think is the specialist on jazz affairs. So he is the author of the request I think. He asked, 'Please could you play some of those arrangements for us?' We do that sometimes, but not on order, that's something we do almost never, but maybe we do it tonight.
After the performance here there is a workshop: Instant Composing for Everyone. I like that idea. I'd like to see the application of instant composition applied to other things beyond music.
That could be the subject of some thought, things that can be done immediately on the spot.
We could all use more spontaneity.
I talk about that, spontaneity. It's a little word, there's fake spontaneity and real spontaneity. What that is, I really don't know anymore. Most of the time what I am doing has to do with some sort of pseudospontaneity. That's what I call it.
Pseudo, in that it's spontaneous and it's not?
You could say that.
I did say that, but is that what you meant?
Yes, that's what I meant to say and what I mean. For myself, I reject spontaneity as such because it gives you no clue in terms of if some empathy might come from it. And sometimes I think there is some value to it.
Are you still learning things yourself?
I am learning every time I think of certain music. What I most do with my time nowadays is not play anything, but only think my music. I could do this or that, would that give maybe an answer to the question of so and so and so? Could I do it? Or is it too difficult so I should I ask a real piano player to play it for me? I have written a piece in 1994 for Frederick Rojowski (sp?). Do you know that name?
I have to admit, I do not.
He's a piano player, a very good one. He is now as old as I am, a little older perhaps. He asked if I would write a piece for him. He said there was a restriction, he said, "I am now an old and lazy player, so don't write something too difficult." He knew very well what was difficult because he was the guy who played Stockhausen's 11 piano pieces, a very mind-breaking and technique-breaking piece written at the end of the '50s. He wanted something easier for an older avant-garde player, Ha ha. Whatever that is. So I started, but something happened that had never happened in my life. Within five bars the piece became very complex and very difficult to play. I thought he would never play it and he never did. We put it on the piano and he tried to play one phrase and said, "It's too difficult, I would make mistake on mistake." I admitted I had not kept my promise, I had to write this stupidly complex and difficult piece.
You had to?
My thoughts compelled me to write what I wrote.
Have you ever found anyone to play it?
Yes, I found a Dutch player, not a bad player. It's called "Left, Right," my piece. The left hand does one thing while the right is doing something else, then the left hand come back, then the right, and so it goes: left, right, left, right. This Dutch player could play about 85 percent of it. A very competent Japanese woman does even better, 89 percent.
What about you?
No. Ha. I am not a piano player.
I suppose it always helps to have skillful players to execute your concepts. Is that one of the reasons for the ICP?
Yes. I sometimes start to play something, and cannot, but I can think it and that's enough for me. That's enough because they can play it. There are always fragments I can take care of. With my piece, "Left, Right," I can hit perhaps 12 percent. I can play something like the far nephew of the piece. That's what I do when I improvise. You may still ask, why, what sense does all that make? And I still don't have any answer for you. Ha ha!
So you can't explain why you do what you do...
Don't ask that. You should know by now what my answer will be. Let's eat a good Indonesian spring roll. That's an answer for the question. Ha!

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Who is Harry Shearer?

The name may not be familiar but I’ll bet you know Harry Shearer’s voice. He is Montgomery Burns, Waylon Smithers, Ned Flanders, Principal Skinner, Kent Brockman and many other on the satiric cartoon show The Simpsons. He’s also an actor (among many roles he was Derek Smalls in This Is Spinal Tap, a satiric mockumentary about a rock band and Mark Shubb in A Mighty Wind, a satiric mockumentary about folk music). He’s a novelist (Not Enough Indians: A Novel, a satiric tale about a Native American casino), a film director/writer (Teddy Bear’s Picnic, a satiric look at a powerful men’s gathering a la Bohemian Grove) and a playwright (J. Edgar, a satiric tale about the FBI director) and he’s the host of a radio show, Le Show, originating from KCRW in Santa Monica, and broadcast locally on KHSU (Mondays at 7:30 p.m.). The local station, currently in the midst of a fund drive, is serving as sponsor for Shearer’s stage show An Evening With Harry Shearer on Friday, March 30, at the Van Duzer.

Good morning and thanks for squeezing me into your busy schedule.
My pleasure.
You’ve been in the recording studio.
Yes, I’m doing a CD.
What is it?
It’s all songs that I’ve written, supposedly funny songs, some of them involved in the show I’m doing there Friday.
What is your stage show?
It starts out with remarks and sort of expands, goes into video and music, so it becomes a tiny but inspiring multimedia extravaganza, all with just one person.
You sing to pre-recorded tracks?
Yes. I don’t travel with a band. I have traveled with bands. I know what’s involved with that.
What is involved?
A lot more time, money and effort.
Debauchery and so on?
That’s known to happen as well, but it’s mainly time and money.
Should we expect a Spinal Tap reunion tour in the wake of The Police and Genesis reuniting?
Um, I don’t know. Spinal Tap is always a serious proposition that involves many more people than it should, and that’s not including the people you’re familiar with.
That sounds mysterious.
It is.
Is there a relationship between your stage show and Le Show?
To a certain extent. I talk about some of the same things I talk about on the radio program. I’m speaking in the same sort of voice I use when I speak as myself on the radio. I don’t do characters on stage, again that involves makeup and wardrobe, stuff I don’t carry with me. It’s really just this person who talk to you at the top of the show.
No makeup and wardrobe, which are not required on radio...
Which are not required on radio, which is one of the reasons I love radio. Nothing against the people in makeup and wardrobe...
Do I understand correctly that you got your start with Jack Benny?
Yes. That was my first broadcast. It wasn’t my first broadcast appearance, I was on a children’s radio show locally in L.A. when I was a kid, but Jack Benny was the first time I was actually paid as an actor.
How did that happen? Did you grow up in a show biz family?
No, not at all. It was a total fluke. I had a piano teacher who changed careers and became an agent.
And she liked your voice.
She liked something about me, I don’t know. It couldn’t have been my devotion to practicing piano, I’ll tell you that.
Do you think you learned something from Jack Benny?
I learned a lot form Jack Benny. As time has gone on I’ve thought a lot about him in the way I approach comedy, for instance the way I approach satirical characters. The flaws in his character and the flaws in the characters I play are all down to humanity, that is to say people are not flawed because they’re not monstrous, it is because they’re human.
Even with people whose politics and wielding of power I may despise, I ascribe their failings not to demonic qualities, but to the very things they share with me and everyone who’s listening: human stupidity. I think that comes from Benny.
A lot of satirists think the people they like are wonderful and those they hate are monsters. That way they become stick figures and kind of predictable in a way. Another thing I learned from Benny is the value of being around a bunch of other funny people. He always loved having people around who laughed. That’s not true of everybody in comedy.
What strikes me, when I listen to you, and listen to Jack Benny, is the use of deadpan, particularly on Le Show, which I assume is you.
It’s a form of me. It’s a kind of me, one of the varieties of me. Yes, I suppose...
Do you read newspapers all day and gather material for the show? Do you have a staff helping you?
No, it’s all me. I’m a voracious consumer of news junk.
Do you read the news on the Internet mostly?
Mostly, but I get the New York Times dead tree edition, but the vast majority I read is on the Internet, and I check in with broadcast media as well, the BBC, not the World Service, but their brilliant domestic talk service, and with Australian news, and satelite TV, like once a week I’ll look at Al Jazeera, all to try to get beyond, or ‘outside the bubble’ as I put it. It is amazing how much people in the rest of the world know about what’s going on that we don’t.
I watch the news on TV, then watch the BBC TV news and wonder, why didn’t they mention that?
As I said on last week’s radio show, just to check myself I went and searched NPR’s site to see if there was any mention of Army Corps of Engineers last week on All Things Considered or Morning Edition. It said, ‘Sorry your search has no results.’ Last week was the week they announced the results of the official investigation by the state of Louisiana, basically holding the Army Corps of Engineers predominantly responsible for the disaster associated with Katrina. You know, you’d think that would be newsworthy.
You live part of the time in New Orleans?
And your house was OK?
We’re fine. Yes.
Obviously that has become a big topic on Le Show.
Yes, both because I am in New Orleans a lot and see what New Orleanians think about the situation, but also because I care about it.
Your show is broadcast in many formats, touching on all ways of delivering radio content.
Yeah, it goes from something as arcane and archaic sounding as short wave radio to something as up-to-date as a podcast.
I’ve been listening to the podcast because I can never seem to remember to tune in to radio shows the way I do TV shows. But I just found out that they cut the music out.
Why do they do that?
Because of all these rights issues.
RIAA business?
Yes. It’s money. In some ways it’s a rerun of what happened when radio first started playing records. What’s sort of reassuring is the the record business has not become dumber. The record business opposed playing records on the radio in the old days, not realizing that that was the greatest promotional device ever invented for the record business. They spent years and years and years fighting it. Now they’re doing the same thing with the Internet and podcasting, again not realizing it’s a great promotional tool and blah, blah, blah.
Are you familiar with Bob Lefsetz?
He’s involved in radio down in L.A. and sends out a newsletter often dealing with that subject, the cluelessness of the record industry.
I think they’re not only clueless, they wouldn’t know a clue if they saw one, and wouldn’t know how to find a clue. They’re clueless as to what a clue might be. It’s an advanced state. It really is remarkable.
Being someone who reads the newspaper and absorbs all this information about what’s going on in the world, do you think that ultimately makes you cynical?
No. It makes you highly skeptical. The people I make fun of are the cynics. They’re the people, whether they are in broadcasting or the government, who think that people are saps, that people have an attention span of four seconds, that people won’t know if they’re telling the truth or not. Those are the true cynics. The skeptic’s job is to expose the cynic.
So you’re a skeptical satirist.
Yeah, well... I guess...
Maybe not?
Well, I was going to say that might be a redundancy, but on second thought, there are partisan satirists who are not skeptical, who basically campaign for one side or the other in an argument and lose their skepticism.
One more thing, should we call you Dr. Shearer now?
You know I did get an honorary doctorate. Yeah, but when you call people that, you set up all sorts of expectations...
What’s your doctorate in?
Oh, that’s such a good question. It’s in the drawer I think.

[addendum: Harry was being cagey regarding the potential for a Spinal Tap reunion. It was announced at the end of April. I learned of it via Punmaster's MusicWire.]

Spinal Tap Reuniting For Live Earth Show

Spinal Tap is back, and this time the band wants to help save the world from global warming. The fictional heavy metal group immortalized in the 1984 mockumentary, "This Is Spinal Tap," will reunite for a performance at Wembley Stadium in London as part of the Live Earth concerts scheduled worldwide for July 7.

The original members of Spinal Tap will be there: guitarist Nigel Tufnel (played by Christopher Guest), singer David St. Hubbins (Michael McKean) and bassist Derek Smalls (Harry Shearer). Rob Reiner, who both directed "This Is Spinal Tap" and played the fake documentarian Marty DeBergi in the film, will also be in attendance.

A new 15-minute film directed by Reiner on the band's reunion will play tonight (April 25) at the opening night of the Tribeca Film Festival in New York. The festival is to open with a showing of several global warming-themed short films produced by the SOS (Save Our Selves) campaign. SOS is also putting on the Live Earth concerts, to be held across seven continents.

"They're not that environmentally conscious, but they've heard of global warming," Reiner says of Spinal Tap's often clueless members. "Nigel thought it was just because he was wearing too much clothing -- that if he just took his jacket off it would be cooler."

Spinal Tap has reunited several times since the film, but hasn't for a number of years. For the band, whose last album was 1992's "Break like the Wind," the occasion warranted a new single: "Warmer Than Hell."

Reiner provided a sneak peek at the lyrics: "The devil went to Devon, it felt like the fourth degree / He said, 'Is it hot in here, or is it only me?'"

The director said the new short film explains what the band has been doing with their lives lately. Nigel has been raising miniature horses to race, but can't find jockeys small enough to ride them; David is now a hip-hop producer who also runs a colonic clinic; and Derek is in rehab for addiction to the Internet.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Trey Anastasio interview Part 2
in which Trey names his next record and discovers that he has a MySpace page...

Your new record is on your new label, Rubber Jungle. Is that independent?
We have a distributor, but Rubber Jungle has just two employees: just me and Patrick Jordan. We’re distributed by Red (?garbled?)
When we spoke in 1993, Rift was just out and you were starting your experience working with Elektra. You had already been burned by another record label (Absolute A-Go-Go/Rough Trade). I asked if you thought the relationship with a major was going to work for Phish. Do you think that old model is gone at this point?
I tried it another time. When the Elektra contract ran out we did one record with Columbia. That was a big thrill because Columbia has such a history, Bob Dylan and Duke Ellington, but it was the same kind of problem: basically the fit between myself and the major label system. I think this is pretty much it now. It’s such a relief and sort of a dream to do this. I already have another record that will come out after this one, an instrumental record, no singing. It’s hard to explain, but it’s a 10-piece band with horns where the horns are layered. It’s out there. You know if this was on a major label, I’d have to explain it. Now I don’t have to explain it to anybody except Patrick Jordan my one employee.
Does it have a name?
Patrick Jordan?
No, the record.
The record, right now, is either going to be called The Horseshoe Curve or Cook Drive. I kind of like Cook Drive because most of the times I’ve listened to it I’ve either been cooking or driving. But I don’t know.
Cook/Drive? Or Cook Drive like an address?
Oh, Cook Drive... I like that. You just named it for me. That’s better than The Horseshoe Curve. You like Cook Drive? Thanks for naming it. That’s due to come out in March so it’s already done, mastered. That’s another thing. Major labels aren’t really set up to have something like Shine come out and then a month later having somebody standing in their office saying, ‘Can you put this one out?’ They’re like, ‘I don’t understand.’
Because they want to finish marketing the first one and fear that the second might interfere or whatever...
I think you’ll see more of that sort of thing.
And you have to take into account the state of the music industry in general, with the ongoing transition to the digital era. It seems like everything’s up in the air at this point. At least that’s what I hear.
I’ve been hearing a lot of that. Just this morning I was on the phone talking with someone about the whole song concept.
The song concept?
Well, I guess the album is becoming less important than the song. It’s because kids, like my 6th grade daughter, she’s never been in a record store. She gets all her stuff online. And when you buy online, you pretty much just buy a song, so the idea of an album disappears. I guess there are record deals being cut now where people will sign to do a song or three songs instead of three albums. That’s the wave of the future, so a lot of people are kind of saddened by the fact that you’re not going to get another Dark Side of the Moon that way.
The form will change to meet the new medium. You know when Duke Ellington was writing songs he wrote them to fit on one side of a 78.
Exactly. And I’m thinking, what if you kind of embrace that idea. Now that we have this vehicle, the Internet, where you can put something out very fast, you can be boom, boom, boom, done -- mastered on the Internet, available for download. That means you can maybe inject the time concept. You could put out a song, and then another song would come out on the heels of that song that refers back to the previous song. You know people have bought one song; they’ve heard the lyric and the melody. Now, two weeks late, I’m going to put out another song that follows it.
You know when Dickens was writing Great Expectations he put it out in serial form.
Interesting. Then eventually it would come out as a full book. You could do something like that on the Internet.
Right, after he put it out there one chapter at a time, he published it as a full novel. Similarly, you could release an album one track at a time.
And you could leave it up to people, explain that you mean for these songs to go together. When I put out Bar 17, it came out with this other album Baby Steps. A guy stopped me on the street a couple of days ago and told me he thought that four or five songs on Bar 17 really clearly refer to things on Baby Steps. He took four songs from Bar 17 and three from the other and made his own record with the quieter songs.
With something like iTunes your sequencing of an album can be thrown out the window.
And that’s kind of cool.
What exactly is “Bar 17”? Is it a particular point in that song?
It was that came to me when I was walking down the street one day. I thought if you had a really long intro...
So you have a 16 bar intro, then the real song starts...
Then the story starts...
And I guess that’s where you’re at right now: The intro is done and now it’s time fro the rest of your life...
That’s exactly what I meant. You’re the first person who kind of took it that way. That’s what I was thinking -- and it was a really long intro. (laughs)
Louise the publicist cuts in again: Guys, we need to wrap it up.
Okay, we’re being told we can’t talk any more.
You’re not going to believe this but it’s true. I remember your voice. I think I remember that interview from 1993.
You told me it was a different kind of interview that you were used to. We got into some deeper issues, partly because I don’t always adhere to the normal interview style. We were talking about growing up in Princeton and the Rhombus. Do you ever go back the Rhombus?
I have not been back to the Rhombus in quite some time, but I think it’s still there. I still talk with Tom [Tom Marshall, his childhood friend and songwriting partner].
I went to your MySpace page today...
I don’t have a MySpace page...
Believe me, you have a MySpace page. Posted on it today was a photo of you and Tom on stage playing together. Tom posted it.
On my MySpace? How does that work? I’m so sorry. I don’t have a MySpace page (he laughs).
There’s a page with your name on it. Maybe this person who’s listening in on the phone knows about it. Do you know about it? Are you still there?
Louise: Did someone ask for me?
Yes. Do you take care of Trey’s MySpace page?
Unfortunately I do not.
Does KSA? (the publicity company?)
Louise: No, it’s probably Patrick.
Trey: Yeah, Patrick, my employee in Rubber Jungle probably does it.
You partner in crime, well, not crime exactly.
My partner in putting out new exciting records...
Well, I know you have this set of new toys in the studio and you probably want to go play with.
I do. I’m standing in front of them right now.
I’m looking forward to this show coming up. I hate to admit it, but I haven’t seen you play since 1993.
You’re going to like this. It’s a really killer horn section, a great drummer, great bass player...
From New Orleans right?
Right, Tony Hall. You ever hear that song “The Maker” by Daniel Lanois. That’s him, he’s the money.
I have a couple more questions, but we’ll save them for another day. Good talking with you again after all these years.
Thank you.
Have fun with the new toys. Make some more great music...
Talk to you soon...
Louise: Bye. Thank you.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Richard Thompson Arcata 12/1/06

This note came in today from my friend Gus Mozart, a very serious Richard Thompson fan (and a KHSU deejay among other things).
The photo came from concert photographer John Chapman (who sat right behind me at the
show) via CenterArts.

Gus (aka Russ) writes:

> I posted this to the RT discussion list, and thought y'all might like to read it. If you were there, you know of what I speak! If you missed it...... sorry!

> best, russneversleeps
"A holiday, a holiday..."

Mr. Thompson has certainly earned one.

His touring schedule for 2006 ended Friday evening with a truly phenomenal performance at the Van Duzer Theater at Humboldt State University. I've seen Richard close to 50 times, beginning in 1985, and this was easily one of the finest solo shows I've seen him do.

Obviously rested from the Hawaii trip, and in prime condition after the 3 night run at Montalvo, he didn't coast for one second of his 2 hour set. He opened and closed the show with new songs, both of them worthy additions to his prodigious songbook. In the last dozen years ago, he has started almost every show I've attended with new material. I've always been struck by the audaciousness of this move - generally, an artist wants to pull the listener in with something "up", and preferably instantly recognizable. Yet Richard doesn't play that game. Whether it's because he is simply being true to himself as an artist, believing as he does in the strength of his work, or just being playfully obstinate, either way, it's ballsy!

I might be disappointed by this habit, except that every time I hear these new tunes, I'm always bowled over. "Poppy Red" was gorgeous, and a perfect way to begin an exquisite evening of song by one of the best singer-songwriters on the face of the earth.

"Crawl Back" was riveting. He did a long guitar solo in the middle, very different than anything I'd heard him do on this song -- It was jagged, prickly, even a little odd, and I loved it. Then, at the end, when he repeats "crawl back", his voice built in intensity until he was roaring. It was an absolutely thrilling moment. A co-worker of mine, who'd never heard a note of Richard's music, was in tears.
"Oh my god, he's incredible!" she said at the end of it. Yep.

The second new one, "'Dad's Gonna Kill Me" was as great as I'd heard. A moving depiction of a soldiers' experience... stuck in a place he doesn't want to be, and can't get out of. This song, along with Tom Waits' recent "Road To Peace", are two examples of a new breed of songs inspired by the conflict in Iraq. Sad that war has to be the source of such inspiration, but perhaps when people hear these tales sung, more hearts and minds will be opened to the futility of this stupid military mess.

And what did he follow that with? A witty ditty like "Hots For The Smarts". I'd heard this once before, and only thought it okay, but RT was on a roll. He delivered verse after verse with comic timing, and the audience was thoroughly charmed. A broken string brought a singalong with "Sam Hall". "Persuasion" was lovely. "Vincent".... He does this virtually EVERY NIGHT, and it's STILL amazing. How he manages to make it sound fresh each time, I don't know. It's a tribute to his excellence as a performer.

I hadn't heard that he'd started doing "Matty Groves" recently, so I was
pretty surprised when he actually did it. Another epic story, expertly presented. Classic Fairport from the man himself, when you thought you'd never, ever hear him play it.

Then, the "1,000 Years portion of the set: "Shenandoah" was sung with such wrenching emotion. Breath taking. "Oops!" absolutely rocked, and he did the Britney-hand-movements around his eyes at it's close, which was hilarious. Pardon me if I don't relay a more detailed accounting of the set, and encores, because I'll run out of superlatives. Suffice to say that everything was superb.

Except I have to mention "Sunset Song". I'd read a few things posted on the discussion list about this song, but I was not prepared for how stunning it was. Wow. A beautiful melody,shifting timbre in unexpected ways. A lilting, heart breaking guitar figure that propels that melody. And lyrics that convey a wistful,longing, sadness, that, while melancholy, leave you with a warmth, and an ache, at the fragile and fleeting beauty of life.

The next album is going to be a real keeper!


> Poppy Red
> Walking On A Wire
> Crawl Back
> Down Where The Drunkards Roll
> 'Dad's Gonna Kill Me
> Hots for the Smarts
> I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight
> (broken string) jokes / Sam Hall
> How Will I Ever Be Simple Again?
> Cooksferry Queen
> Persuasion
> Vincent
> Matty Groves
> So Ben Mi Ca Bon Tempo
> Shenandoah
> Oops!
> I Feel So Good
> Cold Kisses
> Valerie
> (encore 1)
> 1 Door Opens
> Dimming of the Day
> (encore 2)
> Wall of Death
> Sunset Song
> (pre-show soundcheck)
> Goin' Back
> Withered and Died
> Drinking Wine Spodie-Odie
best, gm