Wait, don’t turn off the road… Leica M8, Noctilux f/1 (the last batch).
Archive for August, 2011
“The Game You Play Is In Your Head, Pts. 1, 2, & 3,” which Elephant 6 Collective founding papas The Olivia Tremor Control gave birth to today, contains in its 5:15 a history in miniature of what we’d presumed was a late and lamented band (at least in the studio.) Sure, they’ve played gigs over the last few years when others of their ilk — from Neutral Milk Hotel to The Gerbils — have, well, collected themselves. But a new recording? One thinks of the great line by John Dunsmore when asked what it would take to get him to perform under the band name The Doors, and he said, “Well, if Jim Morrison returned…” We don’t know what led to this happy iTunes posting, but here’s the essential info: it sounds exactly like the band that recorded Dusk At The Cubist Castle — you know, the Beatles and The Stones take a break from recording “We Love You” to all get high on nitrous oxide, while Eno, or is it Owsley? keeps the magnetic tapes running. No, it doesn’t rock exactly as much as “The Opera House” or something, but in at least the loping opening movement, when the drums kick in, it has the power of a pachyderm on thorazine, and then turns into a hummingbird orchestra all playing kazoos! And it’s only after that that that the real fun begins… And the album to follow? Watch this space…
Next week, Tinariwen, North Africa’s greatest blues band, will release its exquisite new album, Tassili, which we have been fortunate to listen to thanks to the NPR iPad app. The timing couldn’t be better. You may think this is a reference to the true story that, in its earliest incarnation, Tinariwen was actually supported by Muammar Gaddafi (they sang camp songs for rebel forces that, in this case, the Colonel financed.) It’s not. The reference instead is to the publication last week of Charles C. Mann’s pretty incredible follow up to his bestselling book 1491, with the new one, 1493, delving deep into the Columbian Exchange, wherein seeds and spores from Africa and the Americas floated in both directions once Columbus plowed his prow into the shores of the New World.
Tinariwen play trance-like ragas that would be recognizable to Son House and Robert Johnson, long loping blues lines on multiple guitars. The choruses (at least on previous albums) tend to be sung by village elders leading ululating women and young ‘uns as they dance around the campfire. Actually, on the new album, the choruses sound like they’re being sung by fighters waiting to rush into Tripoli and liberate a desert country from its oppressive dictator… The point is that Tinariwen sounds like a band perched on top of a dune in the Sahara, capturing whatever music the wind carries in — from the Mississippi Delta, from India, from sub-Saharan Africa — and the result is a cross cultural revelation, gorgeous songs that synthesize a global rhythm. It is the musical equivalent of carrying tomatoes back from the New World to Italy, of bringing sugarcane to Jamaica. With the Columbian Exchange — the biological cross currents suturing Gondwanaland back together, at least from an ecological standpoint — the world became one again. And so it seems when you listen to Tinariwen, and wonder how a guitar band from North Africa can sound like Stevie Ray Vaughan pickin’ tunes around the picnic table in the Texas Hill Country.
On the brilliant Tassili, Nels Cline of Wilco joins to raise a background squall on the very first song — a scirocco created by an American rocker of Danish extraction playing with his Tuareg blues brothers. Members of TV On The Radio sing in universal harmony. New Orleans’ Dirty Dozen Brass Band amazingly mix their horns in with licks from their North African cousins. Who, truly, could rail against globalism when this is the result?
On Thursday, former Utah governor and current long-shot GOP presidential candidate Jon Huntsman tweeted the following: “I wonder if a tweet where I admit how much I like Captain Beefheart will make the followers skyrocket even more!”
So do we believe Huntsman is a Beefheart fan? Not really. And it’s not simply because he throws the late Captain’s name out there as potential link bait. We suspect instead that he has a very clever press secretary. While the son of a Utah billionaire and the late Don Van Vliet were geographically connected by the Mojave Desert, the distance between them seems just too great to have been crossed.
Some years back, when Republican Massachusetts governor William Weld served up Between The Buttons as his favorite Stones album, it had the immensely charming virtue not only of alluding to a quirky, semi-obscure record, but also of seeming authenticity. Weld was a genuinely eclectic politician — a liberal Republican relative of Theodore Roosevelt, charmingly idiosyncratic in an upbeat preppy manner, a novelist who clearly wrote his own damn book. You can see him listening to Keith Richards’ harmonies on “Connection,” on the last good Stones album before they hit their streak of genius, which began 18 months later with Beggars Banquet.
But the wan, former Obama appointee who is now trying to concoct a rationale as the sensible Republican in the race — eminently admirable for that, for sure, but nonetheless done with an air of contrivance — could be invoking Mr. Beefheart as a quirky touchstone. So, to Mr. Huntsman, we pose the following quiz:
1. What notable figure from rock’n’roll history went to high school with Don Van Vliet?
2. In what canyon was Trout Mask Replica rehearsed?
3. In which bands did Roy Estrada play before joining The Magic Band?
4. What is the real name of Zoot Horn Rollo?
5. What is your favorite Beefheart album, and why? (If you name Clear Spot as your favorite, please indicate whether you believe Ice Cream For Crow was a sufficient final opus, or should he have just stopped releasing albums after Doc At The Radar Station?)
6. Was Don Van Vliet a better singer or painter?
If Jon Huntsman — or even his press secretary — can answer those questions, Tulip Frenzy will endorse him for president. Several can be answered by going to the Wikipedia. But a few involve subjective decisions, and we think we will be able to discern whether the Beefheartian positioning is real, or a ploy to look more interesting than we suspect he is.