Wand Brought Their Sweet “Plum” To DC9, And Played The Most Exciting Show In Memory

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , on October 9, 2017 by johnbuckley100

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The D.J. was playing Television’s “Marquis Moon” when Cory Hanson climbed up on DC9’s stage last night and strapped on his Stratocaster.  He played along for a moment, which makes sense when you consider that our early warning on how powerful Wand’s new album Plum would be was when Hanson told Uncut, “I was reading about how Television wrote Marquis Moon and they’d go into their rehearsal space five days a week for four hours a day.  So I decided to go in six days a week for 10 hours a day.  We pushed harder to see what would happen.”

Wand released “Blue Cloud” a few weeks before pushing Plum out the door, putting us on notice that not only was Wand ready to rehearse like Television, they wanted to beat them at their own game.  And from the moment last night that Evan Burrows furiously kicked into “White Cat” and Hanson and new addition Robbie Cody began trading guitar lines like Verlaine and Lloyd, it was clear they had.  As great as Television were (and are), Billy Ficca is no Aynsley Dunbar, and Burrows is unquestionably the greatest drummer playing in a band today.

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We feel like Wand has grown up before our eyes, from their 930 Club debut in 2014 opening for Ty Segall to their stunning show at the Black Cat in 2015.  From the release of Ganglion Reef to Plum, they’ve grown from songs with titles like “Flying Golem” and “Reaper Invert” to becoming surely the only rock band extant to write a poignant song called “Charles De Gaulle.”

On their first two albums, born like Catholic twins maybe 10 months apart, their early roots showed the influence of mentor Ty Segall, with Black Sabbath chords played at speed metal tempi.  But Hanson’s always had a melodic grounding, and any band that could put “Growing Up Boys” on their first album was destined for great things.  With Plum — with shows like the one they put on last night — their destiny has arrived.  We can’t think of a better album released this year, nor a better show than we saw last night.

Since they were here last, Sofia Arrequin was added on keyboards and vocals, and with her arrival Wand’s sound has shifted from synth-heavy support for Hanson’s fluid guitar and pretty voice to a band playing with the fluidity of White Denim, the guitar interplay of the Soft Boys.  They’re a unit built around the core propulsion of a breeder reactor, but could only be riveted tighter if they rolled out of the Boeing factory.

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Cory Hanson has the preppy good looks of a Kennedy, and he came out in similar garb to what he was wearing last year when he and Burrows – for a few months putting Wand aside — toured as part of Ty Segall’s Muggers.  Since then, Hanson’s released a solo album as distant from Wand in it’s delicate sound as fellow Angeleno Shannon Lay’s Living Water is from her punk band Feels (also once produced by Ty Segall).  Taking a vacation from the thunder of Wand’s first two albums, and the ambitious prog-pop of their third outing 1000 Days was clearly good for the band, as were the additions of the two new members.

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Wand is at the height of their powers, but writing that we know they still have plenty of room to grow.  Some strong albums have been released this year by both Ty Segall and West Coast giant John Dwyer, whose Oh Sees made our August.  But among the West Coast’s finest, Wand’s come out on top, the best young band working today.  We stand back in awe at the prospect of what they’re capable of.

New David Bowie Box Comes With A Brilliant Tony Visconti Remix Of “Lodger,” Bowie’s Greatest Album

Posted in Music with tags , , , on September 29, 2017 by johnbuckley100

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Lodger was the third and final album in what became known as Bowie’s Berlin Trilogy, that series of 43cords released between ’77 and the summer of ’79 that he crafted with Brian Eno.  Only Low and parts of Heroes were actually recorded at Berlin’s Hansa Studios, (though Berlin also was the locale of Bowie’s production of Iggy Pop’s The Idiot and Lust For Life.) Whether or not this period is accurately defined by the Cold War Berlin milieu, the three albums are of a piece, as Bowie turned away from cocaine and pop fame — or perhaps, “Fame” — and created his greatest work.

Low, like Eno’s Another Green World before it, was as notable for instrumentals and song fragments as it was for full-fledged rock songs.  It was, after Station To Station, a sharp left turn, coinciding with the rise of punk without in any way adopting, or even reckoning with it.  It began the process by which Bowie became as much associated with composers like Philip Glass and Steve Reich — and Eno — as he was with pop music.  This was a very controversial repositioning, but looking back on his long and fruitful career, we think this is the moment — the Berlin Trilogy — when Bowie cemented his stature.

Yes, “Heroes” the song, and Heroes the album were hits, and with Robert Fripp joining the party, this was thrilling rock music.  But the first two albums of the Berlin Trilogy were notable, in no small part, for how Bowie went his own way, parallel to punk and what became New Wave, even as, with his ties to and influence over Iggy Pop, he helped shape a reformation of rock that somehow combined avant garde elements of the Velvet Underground, the proto-punk of the Stooges, with the Krautrock of his adopted home.

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When Lodger came out in the summer of ’79, it was, to these ears at least, the culmination of what had come before it.  It had Eno’s trademark synth figures.  Adrian Belew was the poor man’s Robert Fripp, but he was nonetheless a fantastically unconventional guitarist added to the band Bowie had slowly assembled.  And while the Stones, the summer before, had on Some Girls bowed in homage to the punk rock designed to replace them, Bowie’s new record still ignored it, instead presaging World Music which was still really a decade away.  We had only weeks before returned from a post-college, around-the-world trek, and an album-based travelogue with a post card on its cover — and an English rock star depicted as smashed up from his journey; the cover photo, at least, was true to the punk rock ethos — became the perfect soundtrack to our entry to adulthood in a small apartment in Manhattan.

It’s important to note that in ’79, rock’n’roll music was in full ferment, especially in New York.  The CBGB bands were now the new establishment, with Talking Heads putting out Fear of Music, records by bands like Joy Division, Magazine, and Wire’s brilliant 154 washing up on shore, and Manhattan bands like the dBs and Fleshtones coexisting with Eno’s No Wave discoveries and their offshoots like 8 Eyed Spy.  Lodger put Bowie completely in alignment with a wide array of younger artists in New York and Britain, and even as at age 32 — along with Lou Reed and Iggy Pop — he was a revered elder statesman.

We thought Lodger was completely brilliant, and we had been a diehard Bowie fanatic since first hearing The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust in ’72.  Not everyone thought so. Greil Marcus could sniff in Rolling Stone, Lodger might have been an event, if only as a record we would someday look back on as work that mapped the territory between past and future. Instead, it’s just another LP, and one of his weakest at that: scattered, a footnote to Heroes, an act of marking time.”  Freshly minted as a rock critic, our work beginning to be published in New York Rocker, we knew Marcus was a square, not even as hip as the Voice’s Robert Christgau, who seemed uncharacteristically confused when he wrote, “Musically, these fragments of anomie don’t seem felt, and lyrically they don’t seem thought through. But that’s part of their charm–the way they confound categories of sensibility and sophistication is so frustrating it’s satisfying, at least if you have your doubts about the categories. Less satisfying, actually, than the impact of the record as a whole.”  He gave it an A- anyway.

For us, there was just one problem: the album sounded pretty terrible.  Presaging the miseries of ’80s production techniques, in which synthesizers and tinny mastering of the new CD format made the sound of all records suck, Lodger was brittle, claustrophobic. Too many instruments clogged the output.  The album was jarring, but we thought it was supposed to be that way.  We were wrong.

We actually had no idea just how bad Lodger sounded until this morning, when upon the release of the Bowie box celebrating his output between ’77 and ’82, a new Tony Visconti mix of the album came out.  We’ve been smiling ever since.

Listening to the Visconti mix of Lodger is like seeing the Sistine Chapel after 500 years of smoke and grime has been removed from its ceiling.  It breathes.  The instruments are warm, and his voice hangs upon the songs like a comfortable jacket on a cedar hanger in a capacious closet. There is space between instruments, and like wine properly decanted, fruit at room temperature, its bearing is natural, all flavors easily explored by the tongue.  Visconti has taken a 1979 polyester suit and rendered it in natural fibers.

We have always thought Lodger was Bowie’s greatest album.  Eighteen months after his death, the remix by his longstanding friend and producer Tony Visconti finally proves it. The Bowie estate surely understands what it has here as the only way you can access it is by purchasing the whole box set.  We hate moves like this, but is handing over the dough worth it?  Unquestionably, the answer is yes.

 

The Found Abstract Art Of Yellowstone

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on September 28, 2017 by johnbuckley100

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All images Leica SL and Vario-Elmarit-SL 24-90 ASPH

If you visit Yellowstone National Park and drive up the eastern side of its crazy-eight loop, the world is precise, rectilinear, even as it is, of course, wildly gorgeous and gorgeously wild.  A gorge in fact, the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, shows how the park got its name, and if you are a photographer, you are drawn to take certain pictures, year after year, each time reveling in the precision and sharpness of your lens capturing every facet of the rock faces in the plummet to the water.

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Ah, but after you’ve spent time crossing Dunraven Pass and seeing the movement of the animals in the Lamar Valley, when after a day or so it is time to head back down the west side of the park, things get weirder.  This is the land of the fumarole, of the geyser, a steaming, smoking remnant of the volcano underneath your feet. You leave the world where the sharpness of your lens is what matters and enter a place where the art that’s thrust before you everywhere you turn has become unmoored from familiar geometry.

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Once you’re in the Norris Geyser Basin, you are in a completely unfamiliar place, mystical in many ways.  And before you know it, you’re surrounded by pure abstraction and found art.

Yellowstone AbstractYellowstone is sublime, an environment worthy of Rilke.  As you work your way further down its western road, it becomes nothing short of magical.  The herds of bison you’ve seen earlier in the day seem as far away as the grid pattern of Manhattan. Things get very strange.  And found art, nature’s Jackson Pollacks, is everywhere you look.

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Fountain Paint Pot, a perennial stop on our visits there, is different every time, the bacteria pools a completely different color then when last you were there.  Which makes sense, since they’re piping hot and exist in a fierce environment.

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You begin to wonder how the surface of the Earth would look as a giant photograph hung on a large living room wall.

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By the time you get to Grand Prismatic Spring, you know that no human could possibly compete with the caldera of Yellowstone in creating non-representational beauty.

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The Earth is a beautiful place, but the Lower Geyser Basin is more than simply beautiful.  It is, in its own way, terrifying, even as you marvel at it, jaw agape.

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Lurking behind the question of how nature determined its design is, of course, the world’s greatest mystery.  Where did this come from? How did it happen to be here?  Answer that and millions will follow your words down the centuries.

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And when you leave, and head back to your safe existence, you do so determined to come back to this repository of glorious natural art.  And you do so, year after year, like visiting the Louvre, or in this case, Nature’s MOMA.

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For more images of Greater Yellowstone in color, go here.  And if you’d prefer black and white, go here.

On “Orc,” Thee Oh Sees’ 19th Album, John Dwyer Makes A Statement

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , on August 30, 2017 by johnbuckley100

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Orc is, if you can believe it, Thee Oh Sees’ 19th album.  Though it’s their first album under the name “Oh Sees.”  Whatever this is, however you count it or categorize it, John Dwyer has by now built such a confounding, amazing, gorgeous, pulverizing body of work there should be a monument to him just outside the Temple of Real Rock’n’Roll.

Less than four years ago Santa put a lumpa coal in our Christmas stocking with the news that Thee Oh Sees were breaking up.  It was particularly disheartening because the gang at Tulip Frenzy had just voted Floating Coffin the #2 album on that year’s Top Ten List (c). Lo those many years ago, we wrote, “You have no idea what Thee Oh Sees are going to come out with next!  A No Wave rock opera.  Speed-metal yodeling.  Eddy Cochran backed by zithers. We are completely serious: this is a band that through sheer dint of trying proves every mother’s maxim that if only little Johnny puts his mind to it, he can do anything.  If little Johnny is John Dwyer, the answer is yes, yes he can.  And you would be well advised to catch up.”  Have to say it, that was good advice then, and now.

If John Dwyer had thrown in the towel then, he would have assumed his rightful place in history; that here we are, four years and five albums later, and his replacement unit from the Oh Sees classic of the early part of this decade has now fused into nothing less than a machine and you can see why we are so thrilled that Orc has joined the party.

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Here’s all you need to really know, if you are not someone whose large ganglia have twitched to Dwyer’s yips and the propulsive drumming of his 100-horsepower twin tyros lashed to the back of his guitar work.  The big question about punk rock was always what it would turn into when the primitives learned to play.  You know, not every band could be the Clash and by Sandinista be playing Mose Allison covers and pushing at the forefront of what was then called rap.  But at least three recs ago, Dwyer showed he could play guitar like Jimi Hendrix.  That he could compose complex rock songs with a power and beauty that rivaled anyone who’s ever admitted to participating in the genre.  That he seriously could, on the same album, mix punk, prog rock, garage, psychedelia, and pop.

Last year, on the matched pair albums of An Odd Entrances and A Weird Exits we really could see adding jazz and Krautrock to that list. He is the magpie’s magpie, but that implies a lack of originality and in fact he’s the opposite.  A guy who as recently as 2011 was playing punk rock at high speeds is now capable of anything.  Here’s an example: on Orc‘s “Keys To The Castle,” we start out on a light jog, John Dwyer singing harmony with (we hope) once + future Oh Sees singer Brigid Dawson, and ‘fore ya know it we’re traversing a steeper pitch with some classic punk chords as the song intensifies.  And there there is a pause… and we come back at slow mo’ speed with cello and organ and synth, in a lovely electric piano chordal half-walk, the sounds of space wrapping your face, and for the next four minutes, you are in a dream.

We’d say he does that on every song, but in fact, “Keys To The Castle” is both a standout and also, if you’ve been paying attention, just exactly what we’ve come to expect from the impossible-to-pin-down Mr. Dwyer and his morphing set of musicians and band names.

For the past six or seven years, we have lived in a Golden Age of Rock’n’Roll due to the presence of John Dwyer, Ty Segall, and White Fence’s Tim Presley.  If the advance word on Wand’s new rec is right, add Cory Hanson to the list of West Coast genies making life worth living.  John Dwyer’s band(s) have pushed forward a 60+-year old genre in part by reconciling all its best pieces.  On Orc, he makes a statement.

And did we mention that just yesterday came word that Thee Oh Sees’ 20th album will be released in… November.  It is said to be coming out under the band’s original name, OCS, and will be “pretty, pastoral, folky, with string arrangements by Heather Locke and brass arrangements by Mikal Cronin.”  We cannot fucking wait.

On Trying To Capture An Iconic Image

Posted in photography with tags , , , , , on August 26, 2017 by johnbuckley100

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Leica SL, Vario-Elmarit-SL 24-90mm

The other night, my family and I were driving to the north end of Grand Teton National Park for dinner when the sky put on a show. “Jesus light,” my son called it, those cathedral shafts of heavenly luminance sweeping the ground below it.  Better than 15 years after first spending time in Jackson Hole in the summer, I seldom stop at the Snake River Overlook to take a picture — you know the spot because you’ve seen Ansel Adams’ iconic image of it 1000 times — but this time I did, because the light promised it would be worth it.

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Leica SL, Vario-Elmarit-SL 24-90mm

And it was worth it, stopping and taking a picture captured a million times or more by every photographer worth his salt who comes to this spot, slightly higher than where Adams set up his tripod back in the 1940s.  In fact, the very first image ever posted on this site was the above view, only taken on a freezing cold morning in 2008, when the bright sun highlighted the snow that had fallen on the Tetons.

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Last night, when processing my most recent picture of the Snake River Overlook, even referencing the iconic Ansel Adams photo for inspiration and comparison, my son saw what I was doing and, as only a 19-year old can do, laughed at his old man.  He’s reading White Noise by Don DeLillo, and he quickly found the riff about how we all take pictures of things that have been immortalized in photographs which, over time and multiple exposures, no longer are seen in their own right, but are viewed as “photographs.”  We take pictures of pictures, DeLillo says.  Which is true enough, when it comes to iconic images that we are drawn to photograph over and over again: the Half Dome in Yosemite, the Moulton Barn in Jackson Hole.

Spending time in Jackson Hole is both rewarding and frustrating for a photographer, because as a friend of ours once said, it’s hard not to take a good picture here.  But at the same time, with so many thousands of wonderful photographers having come before you, it’s hard to take an original photo, and harder still to take an iconic image.

There is a photographer named Ed Riddell whose work I urge readers to check out, because to me, his lovely photography of the Tetons comes closest to being truly iconic.  So much so that, like a lemming following DeLillo’s playbook, I found myself earlier this summer trying to imitate one of his best-known images, which you can see if you click on the link to his site.

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Leica SL, Vario-Elmarit-SL 24-90mm

I certainly found out where he’d taken the image from, which had always been a mystery.  And I came close (though no cigar) to recreating his angle of view.  His image is, of course, better, because of that wild kismet of his having found the right angle, the right lens to use, and because there were both rain clouds and bright sunshine to illuminate the shot. He was in the right place at the right time, with the skill to get the image — something to which photographers as disparate as Joel Sternfeld and Henri Cartier-Bresson can attest.

Still, going out in search of where he’d taken the image from, and yes, trying to imitate it, is as valuable an exercise as something I know writers other than me have tried doing: typing a paragraph or a sentence from a favorite novel, just to feel what it is like to have written, “Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed.”  When you do that, you aren’t Joyce — I’m neither Joyce nor Ed Riddell — but I am a better writer and photographer because I have reached for the greatness they inspired.

It dawned on me recently that — and I say this with the modesty of someone who has taken thousands of pictures in this valley, among which a handful have merit — I have taken an image or two that could be added to the Jackson Hole iconography.  Two years ago, I was in the Elk Refuge on a night when the clouds rolled in and the sun was shining, and I took this image:

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Leica Monochrom, Typ-246, and Vario-Elmarit-R 70-180

In my humble opinion, this is an image that, were it to have enough exposure, could help define the Sleeping Indian that sits across the valley from the Tetons as being at least the equal to the Grand Teton as an object of photographic interest.  The picture is original, which is to say, I don’t know others who had the same luck to be where I was, with the right tools in hand, and clouds behaving just as they did, the light so perfect.

But let’s go back to the other night as we were driving to dinner, and by chance, the Tetons were illuminated wondrously while I had a camera in the car and a patient driver (my wife), who let me exclaim, “Pull over here!” understanding that the light — and the opportunity — were special.

We first took the image that is at the top of this post, which I quite like.  But over the next few minutes we also took this:

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To us, this is as good an image as we rightly ever can expect to take here.  We can see it printed on a large scale, can visualize it on a wall.  It is our picture.  We didn’t take it in imitation of Ansel Adams or Ed Riddell.  We were blessed to have been in the right place at the right time with the right tool and opportunity.  It is a picture of a thing: the Tetons bathed in “Jesus light.” It is not a picture of a picture.  We humbly add it to our own roster, our own portfolio.

The search for an iconic image — a picture that defines something well known, but in a unique way — is a goal that can motivate a photographer surrounded by a multitude of photographers.  (Though if we are being honest, the first ingredient in making an iconic image is simply showing up, camera in hand, when something wondrous unfolds before you.  Garry Winogrand famously said that he liked taking pictures to see what things looked like as a picture; getting out of the house and going to where a good picture might be taken is at least equal in importance to having the skill to capture the image when you see it.) It is a pursuit that allows us to move forward even as we look at Instagram and, on a daily basis, have our breath taken away by the brilliance of so many others.

If you would like to see other such images of Jackson Hole in monochrome, here is a link to our black and white portfolio.  And if you would like to see our approach to color photography in the Tetons, perhaps you will go here.

 

 

 

The Center Of The Line Of Totality

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on August 21, 2017 by johnbuckley100

Eclipse T Frenzy-11All images Leica SL and Various-Elmarit-SL 24-90 ASPH

We’d started planning on being in Jackson Hole, Wyoming for the total solar eclipse more  than two years ago.  The Path of Totality was to take a diagonal line from Portland, Oregon to Charleston, South Carolina, but its path across the Tetons made this most beautiful of Western destinations pure catnip, and we knew we had to be there.  As the day approached, and with expectations in Jackson — a town of 10,000 — for Woodstock-like crowds, there was anxiety about where to be, and how to get there.  With the first contact beginning at 10:16 AM, and the Totality — that minute or so when the Moon completely blocks the Sun from our sight — expected at 11:34 AM, we left our house at 6:30 AM for what ordinarily would be a 15-minute drive across the valley.  We wanted to be as close to the center line as we could get, and of course we weren’t alone.

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Traffic came to a complete stop heading north from town, and since the one thing we dreaded most was being stuck on the highway during the eclipse, we contemplated turning around. After all, the sky is big and we had a perfect view from home across the Snake River.  But it was a temporary stoppage, and we were soon walking toward a bluff above the Gros Ventre River from where we would take it all in.

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People were already setting up along the ridge line by 7:15 AM, three hours before first contact.  While the sky to the West was clear, there were clouds around the sun as it rose to the East.

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Cars stretched back for a mile or more from the bluff where we set down our gear and seating, and enough food to last a day.  We often find our way on a summer’s evening to precisely this stretch of road, as along the river, there’s often an assemblage of male moose, and on  a warm night, as the Moon comes up over the Sleeping Indian — one of Jackson Hole’s visual landmark’s, a rock formation more properly called Sheep Mountain, resembling an Indian chief in headdress reclining — it’s as pretty a place to be as there is in the West.  But it was odd to be here in the morning, and in a crowd.

Eclipse T Frenzy-14Our assembled team was ready, and we willed away the clouds that might have obscured our view.

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At 10:16, with Eclipse glasses on, we could just begin to see the Moon cover up a portion of the upper right side of the Sun.  Within twenty minutes, as the Sun rose higher in the sky and the Earth rotated, the Moon could be seen as an object clearly closer to us than the Sun, creating the visceral sense that the Moon was somehow pressing itself between the Sun and us.  If you think about the odds of the moon being precisely the size that it could blot out the sun from our view, the miracle of what was to occur, the transcendence of the event, loomed large.

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It began getting chillier as the Moon covered up more of the Sun.  The light got flatter — we’d expected something like the ordinary course of the Golden Hour occurring, but in some ways it was the opposite, as color — and light — was bleached from the sky, not intensified as it normally is before sunset.  The Solar Eclipse app we’d downloaded let us know that the Eclipse was now just 15 minutes away and we braced to notice the changes to our visual environment as the disk of the Moon ultimately completely blotted out the Sun.

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The light took on what only can be described as an unearthly glow.  I have never seen light with that hue or quality.

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It began getting darker fast.  I turned around and now could see above me the Moon completely centered on the face of the Sun.  The Eclipse glasses were no longer needed.

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It was now not quite nighttime, but very dark all around us.  I decided it was dark enough that I could take a picture of the Totality above.

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It is a camera’s job to inject as much light as possible into an image, and the shot above has been further lightened a bit to showcase the effect of the Eclipse on the Wyoming landscape.  Time was now moving very fast, and the promised two minutes of Totality seemed to be going by in an instant.  Between trying to take pictures, viewing the Totality without the glasses, having to put the glasses on when the Sun’s light shot out from the right side of the Moon as it now began moving away from its position covering the Sun’s face, everything seemed to be moving very fast.  And still we we were able to stare right at the Totality, and take in an event that live is so much more powerful than a photograph can convey.

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Within moments, the day had begun all over again, and there was a second sunrise.  Or at least the Tetons were once more glowing from the return of the Sun.

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Very soon, it began getting fully light again.  The temperature having dropped precipitously as the Sun was being halved by the Moon, it once again began to get warm. Giddy from the experience, we circled one another in fellowship, in shared experience, immediately regretful we’d not been able to fully absorb what was happening in the all-too-brief time in which it was happening.  Experience again became familiar.  We were exultant, and because we’re human, regretful: why had this experience, so fast upon us after years’ anticipation, gone again so quickly?

We will spend the rest of our life remembering what it looked like during that brief moment, when by naked eye, we saw the Moon fully within the circle of the Sun behind it. We wish we could say time stood still, but it doesn’t, it roars on by, leaving us changed, and with memories.

The Summer’s Best Record Is A Compilation of Velvet Underground Covers

Posted in Lou Reed, Music with tags , , , , , on August 15, 2017 by johnbuckley100

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Over an embarrassingly long span of time, we’ve made dozens of Velvet Underground playlists.  On cassettes, Mini Disks, and various i-devices, we’ve carried an encyclopedia of music all tied to a single band.  These playlists haven’t just been collections of songs by the Velvets, or covers of Velvets songs, but also that more ethereal if no less important sub-genre of music: songs by bands that would never have existed had the Velvet Underground not summoned them from dank basements and moody bedrooms.

In fact, a little over 10 years ago in this very space, we wrote about the concept of Velvet Underground music as notional, a category that actually exists more through bands they influenced than the four-album entity that broke up in the early ’70s.  That band, the real Velvet Underground of Lou Reed, John Cale, Sterling Morrison, Maureen Tucker and, what the Hell, Doug Yule, surely existed.  They were captured on the four original albums, the wildly variable official and unofficial live albums,  plus — and crucially — 1985’s posthumous compilation album, VU, which released so many great songs heretofore only heard as covers by other bands.  But like a truffle dog in pursuit of pungent underground treasures, our life has been enriched by the search for those great bands that, long after the real Velvets were gone, channeled them, brought them to enhanced life, and in so doing created the music we most adore.

If the main highways of rock’n’roll lead back to the Beatles, Stones, and Dylan, to Motown, the blues, and Elvis, to the San Francisco bands and early metal, our favorite potholed city streets go directly to the Velvet Underground via Spiritualized and Galaxie 500, Per Ubu and the Brian Jonestown Massacre, the Black Ryder, Mazzy Star, and Jesus and Mary Chain.  The Velvets existed, but their progeny did so much more, and no, we won’t repeat Brian Eno’s hoary invocation of The Velvet Underground and Nico as the record that launched 1000 bands.

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C) Joel Meyerowitz 1968

The Brazilian blog and record company, The Blog That Celebrates Itself, commissions bands from around the globe to participate in compilation homages to fave bands, from Echo and the Bunnymen to Spiritualized.  It was just a matter of time before they would get to the Velvet Underground.  Brace yourself.

After Hours, Velvets In Another View, which you can download from Bandcamp, has just come out and is, by some margin, the Album of the Summer.  Hearing favorite bands like Flavor Crystals play that most gorgeous of Velvets songs, “Ocean,” brings tears to the eye.  But everyone steps up, and as is the case with compilation albums, we immediately learn about bands we’d never heard of.  Thank you, The Other Kingdom, for your version of “What Goes On” — we will immediately become your biggest fan. The Tamborines’ version of “Heard Her Call My Name” will forever be on our Velvets playlists, Volume 63-102. Each of the songs here sound bright, as if the bands had money to play with.  And while Iceland’s Singapore Sling are veterans of the studio, as is proved by the pulsating version of “Sister Ray” that kicks off the album, we don’t know enough about Robsongs and Psychedelic Trips To Death and Magic Shoppe to grok whether the ace versions here of “Oh! Sweet Nothing,” “Run Run Run,” and “Heroin,” respectively, are par for their particular course, or just showcase bands getting their shot and going for it.

Maybe the only thing that really needs to be said about the grip the Velvet Underground has had on my life is that, in the final record he made with the band, Lou Reed wrote a song with these lyrics:

Jenny said, when she was just five years old
There was nothin’ happening at all
Every time she puts on the radio
There was nothin’ goin’ down at all, not at all
Then, one fine mornin’, she puts on a New York station
You know, she couldn’t believe what she heard at all
She started shakin’ to that fine, fine music
You know, her life was saved by rock’n’roll

Growing up in ear shot of NY AM radio, this was the story of our life.  While most reference to the Velvets focus on heroin, decadence, noise and squalor, to us they always were a band of uplift, of Sunday mornings and pale blue eyes. Of intelligent questions, like what goes on in other people’s minds.  Of wisdom and revelation, when you’re beginning to see the light.  And of beauty, and peace, like the drone of the cosmos in the sound of ocean waves.

The Velvets contained multitudes. After Hours, Velvets In Another View is the summer’s revelation.

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