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Wednesday, September 19, 2007
LOVE AND HAPPINESS
I'm Still In Love With You
Hi : 1972
Readers, we have sad news for you today.
Megan Matthews died this week, of complications following a pulmonary embolism. She was thirty-six years old - infuriatingly brilliant, passionate, and beautiful - and with a nine-year-old daughter.
"I have a very sad story, the kind that makes people feel sorry for you," Megan wrote in April, to a young woman who'd asked her advice about writing, art, and life. "I don't mind telling it, but I don't like how people respond to it." And yet, the letter which follows is honest and inspiring, in ways only Megan could be. Hers was a brave, triumphant life.
"I read a lot of artists' biographies, because I'm hungry to find a story like mine," Megan concluded. "Someone who grew into her talent in some roundabout way, versus someone who abandoned all responsibilities of life to pursue Art. And that's why I didn't find your questions invasive, why I don't mind telling my shit, because it always helps me to hear some of the stranger paths to becoming the human you hope to be. I haven't really done much yet, but I finally think I can. And my daughter's starting off from a much better position than I did, whether she decides to write or to be a 'dog-walker person,' as she currently plans. When I get down, I think of myself as Moses, who survived the sojourn in the desert, but never made it to the promised land. That's a very sad thought for me. But a lot of my ancestors had to content themselves with living for the next generations....even if I Iose hope for myself, there is still a point to all this work."
Needless to say, our hearts go out to Megan's daughter, Renee, to Megan's innumerable friends, and to other family members, near and far. We will miss her terribly.
NB: Megan was working on a book at the time of her death, and that book's disappearance is yet another loss for us. But Moistworks also meant a lot to Megan; it was a way for her to get back into a writing groove, to experiment, and to think and feel about the songs she loved. As you've probably gathered by now, Megan put a great deal of care into her posts, and your replies and comments never failed to delight/anger/confuse and/or move her: She was nothing if not engaged.
The song we've posted today would have kicked off Megan's next post, which she intended for her sister's birthday. (Megan was going to post other songs which nicked from it, but we don't know what they were). In the weeks, months, and years to come, we'll post other songs she loved.
In the meanwhile, please feel free to share your thoughts and memories of Megan in the comments, below. We've also set up a college fund for Renee, in case she changes her mind about the whole dog-walking thing - click below if you'd like to contribute to it.
- James and Alex
posted by Alex
Wednesday, August 22, 2007
While Kip heroically battles the World Zionist Conspiracy (aka capitalism), let's take a trip to jazz age Harlem. Hey, what's that smell?
SENDIN' THE VIPERS
The Mezz Mezzrow Orchestra
Available on: Rhapsodies in Black, Dope & Glory, et al
Say hello to serial convert Mezz Mezzrow. Russian Jew by birth, he converted to black music at 15, which he discovered, of course, in prison. (It "hit me like a millennium would hit a philosopher," said Mezz.) Black music was just a gateway drug. Under its pernicious influence Mezz converted to the demon weed and became a lifelong viper. Here's how he describes the experience:
I began to feel very happy and sure of myself. With my loaded horn I could take all the fist-swinging, evil things in the world and bring them together in perfect harmony, spreading peace and joy and relaxation to all the keyed-up and punchy people everywhere. I began to preach my millenniums on the horn, leading all the sinners to glory.In a rapidly accelerating spiral, Mezz left Chicago (having converted to New York) and moved to Harlem, where he converted to Negroism (see also Norman Mailer.) And that, of course, led him right back to prison, where he famously asked to be confined in the colored cell block. ("I don't think I'd get along in the white blocks," said Mezz.)
Like Woody Allen, Mezz was only an okay clarinetist. He did write a decent song.
REALLY THE BLUES
Sidney Bechet and Tommy Ladnier and His Orchestra
RCA/Bluebird : 1938
Available on: Really the Blues
He leveraged some synergy by using the same name for his autobiography (co-written with Bernard Wolfe.) But basically Mezz was famous for being Louis Armstrong's dealer and such a master stoner that an especially thick marijuana cigarette (aka "fatty") was known in Harlem as a "mezz."
Across the street from Mezz lives Willie the Lion. He grew up in Newark. His business card says Hebrew cantor. Only he's a shvartzer. See?
RELAXIN' (WILLIE'S THEME)
Willie "the Lion" Smith
The Memoirs of Willie the Lion Smith
RCA Victor : 1967
According to the African-American registry, Willie became cantor of the black synagogue in Harlem in the 1940s. I wish I'd known about that place growing up; I had to settle for Adas Israel. Here he goes, rambling on like somebody's grandpa, talking about the good old days, wearing his trademark derby hat, and sporting a jaunty cigar roughly the size of a mezz.
THE CLEF CLUB
Willie "the Lion" Smith
The Memoirs of Willie the Lion Smith
The Clef Club was the Skull and Bones of black Jews, guys like Rabbi Arnold Ford, who became Marcus Garvey's musical director. (He's the guy who wrote the Garvey theme song, the "Universal Ethiopian Anthem.") As Willie tells it, in those days these was no racism, a point he emphasizes by singing, "that's why they call me shine."
Look, there's Langston Hughes, writing Fine Clothes to the Jew. It sure was a crazy, mixed-up world back then. Who knew?
Labels: conversions, jazz, megan
posted by Megan
Wednesday, August 15, 2007
Celia Cruz and Johnny Pacheco
Celia and Johnny
Fania : 1974
Celia Cruz is not Peruvian; she's Cuban. And if you ever need to explain why salsa is salsa, just listen to what she does with this song. Her version was another huge hit. It was sort of a pan-African shout-out: Afro-Cuba flashing the fist to Afro-Peru. In fact, when the first generation revivalists got going in Peru, they filled in missing pieces by borrowing from Cuba and other successful Afro-Latin cultures. A nod from Cuba was like a pat on the back from your big sister.
According to their promotional literature, Peru Negro were the ones to introduce Cuban drums into Afro-Peruvian music. Remember, drums had been banned, they had to come from somewhere. Not that there weren't indigenous options. My favorite instrument is the cajita. It's a box, with a lid you open and close while you hit the box with a stick. It was made from the collection boxes the priests used at church. (Take that, Spaniards!)
Luaka Bop : 20002
Susana Baca is an academic, a serious folklorist. She and her husband traveled to the coastal towns around Lima where black Peruvians lived, places like Chincha, site of a plantation that once housed 30,000 slaves, and El Carmen, the town where Peru Negro formed. They published their research and set up an archive of their findings in Lima, the Instituto Negro Continuo. Baca discovered different versions of "Toro Mata" with different political messages. One version warns of deadly Chileans instead of deadly bulls (there was a war going on); another sings about a deadly Spanish general. Caitro Soto de la Colina, Lucila Campos's lyricist, created his version from his childhood memories.
Baca's version (I don't have her lyrics) starts off with the sound of a quijada de burro, a rattle made from the jawbone of a donkey. I like that. But the overall result seems pale compared with the raucous, choral, dance-til-you-sweat versions. She's refined the song, made it more sophisticated, but she's taken the body back out of the music. This is a bit unfair to Baca, who is a joyous and radiant performer. She has a lovely, sensual vocal delivery; many of her recordings are poems set to music. Still, I find myself dissatisfied. Why is it that "refined" somehow always implies "less black" on the sliding scale of culture? And how did I learn to hear things this way? Is this refined sound a function of Baca's long-time collaboration with the noodly, cerebral Marc Ribot? Is it a concession to her overseas audiences? Or is it because, although she looks eternally young, she's getting older and prefers a quieter set?
Or is the real question this: what on earth do you do with a song that's been done so well already?
You see? It's all so complicated. It was Baca, by the way, who got Dave Byrne interested in Afro-Peru. (Who knows, the writhing, gyrating dancers might have scared him away.) Baca hadn't made a studio recording at all before his intervention, only cassettes she'd hand out at street performances. Now she tours and teaches and studies us: she was doing fieldwork in New Orleans when Katrina hit.
Peru Negro set up a school in Lima too; that's where los Peru Negritos come from. Institutions are funded; culture endures.
A reader writes: "wonderful entry about an incredible tradition of music but the timing is tragically ironic. the earthquake that struck the day this was posted destroyed the city of chincha."
For more information about the August 15 earthquake, including some stunning photos, click here.
Labels: afro-latin, megan, world
posted by Megan
Monday, August 13, 2007
Afro-Peruvian Classics: The Soul of Black Peru
Luaka Bop: 1995
Some of you may remember the Tom Tomorrow cartoon where Sting, Paul Simon, and David Byrne, all wearing pith helmets and holding microphones, run into each other in a jungle searching for world music. (Was there a fourth guy? Maybe Ry Cooder or Mickey Hart?) The cartoon probably appeared a few years before The Soul of Black Peru was released, on the Luaka Bop label co-founded by Byrne with his new-wave wealth. Because of the cartoon, I've always been a little sheepish about liking the album. There was some imperialist sell-out anxiety. There was also the fact that Byrne insisted on recording an embarrassingly bad version of one of the most beautiful songs on the album: Susana Baca's "Maria Lando." What was he thinking? Did he think he was good? Did the marketing people make him do it? Was Baca stroking his ego, "Ah, David, you have such a gift for the tradition"?
The album didn't need Byrne and I wish he'd said no. Still, without his celebrity clout and his ethnographic bent, I probably wouldn't have heard this music. The African music revival only broke through to the Peruvian mainstream in the late 60s, one local outgrowth of Black Pride movements around the globe. Until then, most African-derived songs, dances, and instruments weren't considered part of official Peruvian culture. (In Peru, as elsewhere in the Americas, the rituals of enslaved Africans - especially the dances! - had been branded lewd, obscene, and un-Christian. The offending practices were suppressed, without irony, by the same morality police who invented the mestizo and the mulatto. The Spaniards also banned drums and marimbas, hoping to control that demon rhythm.)
The musicians and folklorists of the 50s and 60s recovered, and in some cases recreated, a musical idiom that was on the verge of dying out. And that brings us to "Toro Mata" ("The Bull Kills.")
La Mejor Del Ritmo Negro Peruano
El Virrey: 1973
available on: Afro-Peruvian Classics: The Soul of Black Peru
This song has become the "Say It Loud - I'm Black and I'm Proud" of Peru. But I didn't know that until recently. I grew to love this song because of its tight, springy horns and the cha-cha congas. The vocals are very salsa-influenced, which I would guess is less local style and more dance hit style. It makes me do a sort of stiff-legged merengue mixed with a samba-style shimmy. The way I do it, it's pretty strenuous. The song has Kikongo words in it, which suggests its great-great grandparents may be Angolan. If that's the case, my samba shimmy isn't so far off: A large percentage of Angolans were shipped to other Portuguese-held territories, such as Brazil. And the lando, another dance central to the Afro-Peruvian tradition, is close cousins with both the Brazilian londo and the Angolan londu.
Like the lando, the toro mata is a dance as well as a song. According to Wiki, the toro mata dance "mocks and parodies the stylized waltzes of European Conquistadores." The Wiki entry is also full of mistakes, so I'm not sure I should trust it. However, this bit of information does help explain the strange costumes you can see in this clip, where the Peru Negro junior dancers accompany Eva Ayllon's performance of the song.
And that brings us to Peru Negro.
Sangre de un Don
Times Square : 2000
[Browse Freely and Buy It]
Peru Negro were revivalists who could put on a show. They date from the late 60s, which makes them early adopters of the folk idiom, once its crossover appeal had become evident. Their shows featured not only the songs, but the lost dances of Afro-Peru, and it was the dancing that made Peru Negro famous. Consider how Dan Rosenberg describes the dance called the alcatraz:
This is a couple's dance. Traditionally, the woman has a piece of tissue on her behind while the man dances with a lit candle. If the man can light the woman's fire, she is his.You see where the banning came in? Wait, there's more.
Eventually, one of the dancers succeeds and the "burning dancer" gyrates uncontrollably until finally collapsing and grinding against the floor to put out the flames.For years I had idle visions of browsing a record store in Lima and stumbling across a 1970s Peru Negro release (worn but in good condition). Ah, dreams. I like this version fine, but the Campos still rules my heart. The legato delivery here masks the violence of the song lyrics, which include lines like "Who brought this black man here? / We must kill this black man." Note that both versions use a female lead, which is interesting. Although I can't hear Lucila Campos as a woman, no matter how hard I try. Is it just me?
What I discovered when pulling together this post is that Lucila Campos and Caitro Colina (the lyricist) were both members of Peru Negro in its early years. (I'm also guessing Lucila is related to Peru Negro founder Ronaldo Campos.) The Campos version was so hot, and such a big hit, it brought back to life the whole genre of the Toro Mata, which turns out to have a whole variety of secret meanings. And that means the David Byrne compilation was even more right on than I'd originally thought.
Are you guys over this, already? I have a few more stories and two more versions I could post, including a hot salsera rendition by Celia Cruz. Make yourselves heard.
Labels: afro-latin, megan, world
posted by Megan
Monday, March 12, 2007
BRING IT ON HOME TO ME
One Night Stand: Sam Cooke Live
RCA : 2005
WHAT DID I DO WRONG?
Sansu : 1966
Available on: Lost Soul Queen
[But wait for a legitimate release to BUY IT]
As a mom, trying to raise a daughter in today's challenging world, I'm always thrilled to find quality entertainment that the whole family can enjoy. Today, it's my honor to present the mother's seal of approval to Justin Timberlake's FutureSex/LoveSounds.
Dating has taught me that most men can't meet the needs of a single woman. JT, on the other hand, appeals to the psycho-aesthetics of four females across two generations. My best friend, aka my daughter's other mom, just went through a break up. She rocks out to "What Goes Around Comes Around."
This is the way it's really going down?My 9-year-old, the girl most likely to admire herself, prefers "LoveStoned."
Is this how we say goodbye?
Should've known better when you came around
That you were going to make me cry
She shuts the room downMy daughter's vice-sister (the other mom's oldest) has a pronounced taste for world domination. She prefers the title track.
The way she walks and causes a fuss
The baddest in town
She's flawless like some uncut ice
I hope she's goin' home with me tonight
Tell me which way you like thatAnd we all enjoy the feminist sensibility expressed in "SexyBack."
Do you like it like this?
Do you like it like that?
Tell me which way you like that
Dirty babeWhich puts JT in the tradition of such panty-peeler crooners as Sam Cooke, who have invoked the shackles of love to fine effect.
You see these shackles
Baby I'm your slave
I'll let you whip me if I misbehave
My favorite song is "My Love." I love the beats. I love how JT's wailing like, well, like a pussy
This ring here represents my heartand then T.I. steps in to add some much-needed perspective.
And everything that you've been waiting for
I'm patient, but I ain't gonna tryIt reminds me of a story a co-worker told me, years ago. Jackie had this boyfriend who had some ex-wife that kept coming around, showing up at his house wrapped only in a raincoat, sitting out front waiting for him to get home. The boyfriend told Jackie he hadn't had any dealings with the wife for over a year. But Jackie didn't buy it. She told me, "Ain't no dick in the world that good. He's been hitting it on the side this whole time, and I'm done with him." I love those old masochistic love songs as much as anybody, but do you really want your daughter crawling on the floor like Betty Harris? Less masochism, more pragmatism. Because Jackie's right.
You don't come, I ain't gonna die
In an age of decadent relativism, JT bravely calls for the return of the ethical standards we've left behind.
I'm bringing sexy backI have this conversation with my women friends every weekend. Three cheers for JT for using his public platform to give voice to the voiceless and raise awareness on this critical issue.
Them other boys don't know how to act
Best use of "bitch" in a song lyric: "Damn Girl"
Don't need no MaybellineAnd thanks to James "Disco-Ball" Morris, who persuaded me to listen to this album.
Cause you're a beauty queen
Don't need no L'Oreal
Cause bitch you're bad as hell
Readers, I need to shake off the winter blahs. What's worth listening to these days? I'm pretty tired of rock, but I'm open to most things.
Labels: megan, pop
posted by Megan
Monday, February 19, 2007
Thinking Fellers Union Local 282
Bob Dinners and Larry Noodles
Communion : 2001
Sony : 1994
The Modern Lovers
The Modern Lovers
Berserkely : 1975
TRY A LITTLE TENDERNESS
Stax : 1967
Available on: The Very Best of Otis Redding
YOU MADE A BELIEVER (OUT OF ME)
Zodiac : 1972
Available on: Just Loving You
MW stands accused of becoming a creative writing class rather than a venue for free mp3s. Unfortunately, this post will do nothing to clear our collective name.
A bad thing happened in our culture when depression became equated with moral clarity. On the one hand, it's heartening to think that hundreds of untreated mental patients found a market niche for themselves as SERIOUS THINKERS. How American is that? On the other, it means that some of our best creative and analytical minds work through the prism of misanthropy and self-loathing. (Leonard Cohen, anyone? Who's written songs like Hallelujah, which I love best in others' versions.)
I was thinking about this as I rediscovered one of the most glorious Internet artifacts of all time, one which, for me, justifies the entire existence of the medium: this riff on Jonathan Franzen's author photo.
I feel bad busting on JF. I haven't read any of his stuff. Then, I wasn't very motivated. It seems perverse to read someone's work just so you can make fun of him in an authoritative manner. Still, I'd checked out How to Be Alone from my local library. I'd leaf through it, reading a line or two of Franzen's plaints about not being read, or not being read correctly, and replacing it on my nightstand. After three renewals, I returned it to the public trust, leaving Franzen the gloomy satisfaction of being validated in his loneliness.
In my youth, I had a weakness for moody boys and manifestos. I was a smart chick, with glasses and everything, and as many other smart women do I cultivated a protective severity. Serious thinkers, i.e. men, like having us around: they need access to women, for purposes of sex, competition, and status display. Becasue we are basically ornamental, we are assumed to be lightweights-inadequately serious, mere creatures of the flesh. Having a sense of humor makes you particularly vulnerable to criticism. This was the case in every realm I inhabited: the musicians, the music geeks, the theory boys, the writers, the politicos. In every case, this jockeying over ideas; in every case, the collecting of women as decorative objects. I saw one guy beam proudly as his normally reserved wife leaped into an intellectual fray, "Now, that's the way!" And aside to his mates, "It takes her a while to get going, but she's got the right ideas." Thank goodness!
So, imagine my amusement at reading this, in a recent article on terrorism:
Perhaps his most unexpected conclusion was that ideology and political grievances played a minimal role during the initial stages of enlistment. "The only significant finding was that the future terrorists felt isolated, lonely, and emotionally alienated."And this:
He has called his model [of terrorism]...the "bunch of guys" theory. The bunch of guys constituted a closed society that provided a sense of meaning that did not exist in the larger world.And this:
Within the "bunch of guys,"...men often became radicalized through a process akin to one-upmanship, in which members try to outdo one another in demonstrations of religious zeal. Am I the only one who sees the family resemblance between this and certain recent debates on MW? Let alone all of graduate school and most of the arts?
I keep thinking about the kinds of knowledge that we value and privilege and wondering what it is we find comforting about ideology. In his memoir Fugitive Days, recovering ideologue Bill Ayers puts it well:
"Ideology became an appealing alternative in so many ways. Practice was uncertain and inexact; ideology cloaked itself in confidence. Practice was slow and ideology a smooth and efficient shortcut. Mostly, ideology was serious-people with ideology meant business. I didn't know yet how domesticating and cruel and stupid ideology could become, or the inevitable dependency it would foster in all of us." Ideology, of one sort or another, keeps us locked up in cliques. The fact is, few people, mainstream or otherwise, know how to interact comfortably with people who are not mostly similar to them. For a long time after I moved to the suburbs, the only people I talked to were service personnel: the lady at the dry cleaners, the barristas at Starbucks, the janitors at the school. Everyone else was frozen into their upper middle class nuclear family world and they failed to perceive my many cultural refinements. My daughter had her first experience of social exclusion in first grade, when a friend of hers, who'd been to our home for play dates, wasn't allowed to invite her to a birthday party. "My mom said she wasn't sure what kind of person your mom was." Because I'm a single parent? Because we lived in a slum apartment? Because I dress like a hoochie? Because my kid was in day care? Even now, I walk into back-to-school nights and see women I've volunteered with on parent committees turn their heads away and fail to greet me. They cluster into mom cliques and fear the unknown.
Enough of high school, already. Lately I feel like the most subversive force in culture is friendliness or the willingness to say, "I don't know about that" and ask a question. When serious thinkers have exhausted themselves with complexity, with much more interesting views of the world, it's these sorts of hokey, simple things they come back to. I guess there is no workaround to the messy business of living.
posted by Megan
Tuesday, February 06, 2007
Philadelphia Int'l : 1975
HE'S MY SON (JUST THE SAME)
Back Beat : 1973
Available on: The Soul of O.V. Wright
MCA : 1992
Sly and the Family Stone
There's a Riot Goin' On
Epic : 1971
"Traditions and rituals can be the glue that holds a family together....Traditions give security to young people, providing a sense of continuity, predictability and identity. Traditions are the way families hand down information, beliefs and customs from one generation to the next. They give participants an opportunity to share important family values together."
-"Encourage Good Health Through Family Traditions," Amy Griswold and Rachel Schwarzendruber
"We asked parents about the family rituals they love best. Here are some of their time-tested favorites:
'Before I had kids, my husband and I planted a tree in our front yard and had our photo taken in front of it. Every year since, we've had a family photo taken in front of the same tree. It's so neat to look at the series of photos and see how much the tree - and our family (we now have a daughter, two dogs, and a bird) - has grown over the years!""
It was time for one of those Matthews family photos. My mom wasn't enthused. "I'm not going. What the hell am I going to go for? Who's going to be in the picture anyway? Your father's not in the picture. I'll bet you half the people don't even show up."
We had one brother missing, disappeared five years ago. We had one sister dead from cancer, a brother living in California. But I was in town for the holidays, which boosted our totals. The picture would be dad's Christmas present.
We met at one of those franchise photo places, out at Prince George's Plaza. Prince George's County was named for Prince George of Denmark. It's where Len Bias's brother Jay and George Wallace got shot. However, there were few Danes at PG Plaza, locally known as Black Flint Mall. (This is White Flint Mall. This is Black Flint Mall.)
Things were disorganized as usual. Siblings spread out with cell phones to meet other siblings at other entrances. A group of us huddled in the discouraging line at the Picture People, filled with members of other families waiting to make memories. My younger sis and I were rolling our eyes and gossiping with our sister-in-law. Our feet started to get tired. It was noisy and hot. I started feeling hostile toward the people in front of us. My daughter was hungry and crabby, so I took her to the food court. A woman from the group in front of us had a young daughter and the same thought; we exchanged wry smiles at the Taco Bell.
Back in line, the woman approached me. "Are you Megan?" I was. "Do you know that man over there?" A guy waved at me. He seemed familiar. "Megan, it's Kevin." Kevin is my half-sister's mother's son. Or my father's first wife's son, not by my dad. The people in front of us were his family, his wife and their five kids. I hadn't seen him in years. We started introducing ourselves and making small talk. Then another woman came over. "Are you here for the Matthews family photo?" She was my brother Adrin's baby momma, there with his daughter Adriana. "Nice to meet you," I said.
I have the picture. I've forgotten the names of Kevin's kids. Three sisters that could have come didn't; only two of five brothers made it. There are twenty-five people in the photo.
We'd lost another sister. Like my sister Renee, she'd died in her 40s from some sort of cancer. My younger sis emailed me about it and neither of us was sure how to spell her name. My sis remembered meeting her; I could only remember a photo. It had sat in a built-in hutch in the hallway of my childhood home, perched in its oval frame on a pile of National Geographics we bought at the AmVets, next to a copy of Mao's Little Red Book.
We'd lost another sister and dad's dementia was getting worse. It was time to take another picture.
My younger sis didn't come. "I'm sick of these family photos." The whole thing was scheduled around my being in town; I didn't feel I had the option to refuse. Plus there was a party and my dad was going to be there.
We met at my sister Marilyn's house, the house where my dad's mother had lived when she first came to the city. That part of DC, Shaw, had been the first stop for black migrants from southern Maryland; it was destroyed and left for dead in the '68 riots. Today, it's all Whole Foods and condos and martini bars. We were posing on the front steps for the photo, with my brother Greg yelling at curious passers-by, "Look! It's a black family, with white people in it" and "That's right, we own this property. We've been here 60 years, how bout you?"
A guy came up to me. He looked about my age. He said, "Hi Aunty. You remember me?" What could I say? "Of course I do." I gave him an especially warm hug, my mind racing. Aunty? Whose kid was he? I figured he had to be my dead sister's son. He was definitely one of us; he looked just like my oldest brother Michael. He introduced me to his 12-year-old son, who was being chased flirtatiously by my 9-year-old daughter. "You know, I felt weird about coming today, having been away so long. But then I told myself, that's your family, man. Even if they don't know you, they love you, because that's what family is all about."
I smiled idiotically. He said, "I had a lot of time to think about what's important in life while I was away." I suddenly understood that he'd been in prison. "I missed a lot of my son's life. I've got to set that right." And then, "My mother talked a lot about you. She was always proud of you. I have her memory book, where she wrote her thoughts while she was dying, and she wrote a lot about you. You really meant a lot to her."
As soon as we were done talking, I asked one of my brothers to tell me his name. He smiled. "It took me a while to figure it out. That's Anthony, Demetrice's son. Doesn't he look just like Michael?" He and his baby momma and his son are in the photo, right next to my dad.
Labels: megan, memoir
posted by Megan
Monday, January 22, 2007
An Open Letter to the People of Moistworks:
The moistworkers convened recently for a grueling criticism/self-criticism session. Once we'd gotten the group sex out of the way, we began our thought correction.
"Moistworks sucks," said Alex. "Fix it."
In accordance with the wishes of the Supreme Commander, we're changing our format a little. Fewer, better posts. Mon, Wed, Fri. Regular installments of Joanna. Brian on Mondays. The return of former City Paper graphic designer James Morris, shown backstage at Vanilla Ice on Ice, here.
And Alex will start writing again, instead of complaining about his deadlines.
Now, onto the music.
DER GLATER BULGAR
Available on: Hallelujah, Anyway
Tzadik : 1999
Mulatta : 2004
Tail of Moonlight Stone
GOK : 2003
Respect : 2001
Soul Flower Mononoke Summit
Levelers Ching Dong
Respect : 1997
Klezmer again? New year, new moistworks, but mama's got the same old bag. People, one wearies of the fetish for novelty that rules the capitalist universe. Which was exactly my reaction upon discovering Japanese klezmer. Must we do EVERYTHING? Does the world really need Tuvan bossa nova or Inuit-Cossack rap? All this relentless hybridity: fresh! new! polymorphous! So much buzzing of postmodern mosquitos for so much feverish monotony.
Only in this case, the story proved to be more interesting.
Klezmer travels to Japan via the whole downtown NYC, avant-jazz scene. "Der Glater Bulgar" and "Himatsuri" are both fine examples of this Knitting Factory genre of klezmer. The first is actually a cover of a Dave Tarras number. The second has this slinky tango beat that reminds me of the Lounge Lizards, or at least the Marc Ribot portion thereof. The klezmer-jazz transference is perfectly logical. It's musician's music, filled with wild improvs and odd time signatures. American klezmer flirted with jazz, leading to the birth of Yiddish swing. (Incidentally, Dave Tarras was marketed, without irony, as the "Jewish Benny Goodman.") And so, Japanese jazz musicians looking for a challenge adopted the klezmer idiom, much like the young Don Byron, only without so much soul-searching and ethnic upheaval.
Komatcha Klezmer is a small ensemble that grew out of Betsuni Nanmo Klezmer, an 18-piece orchestra whose recordings (Omedeto, Waruzu, and Ahiru) are now out of print. Clarinetist Kazutoki Umezu is the anchor of both groups, whose members include assorted luminaries of Japanese free jazz: what Michael Parker calls "an abridged who's who of Tokyo's bohemian prankster avant-garde" in this review. I tried and tried to track down BNK stuff and in the end shelled out many yen for the Komatcha Klezmer. It's ok. Parker's review raves about BNK's amazing bizarro Yiddish vocals, which are not in evidence on this KK release. "Cigany Himnusz" is actually a traditional gypsy song, here given a rowdy klezmer treatment. See what you think.
And then there's Cicala Mvta (shikala moota), from the Osaka noise underground that produced Shonen Knife, John Zorn faves the Boredoms, the Ichi-Bang Boshi Crew, and the Soul Flower Union. The band name is Italian for "mute cicada" and comes from the epitaph of Japanese street singer and songwriter Soeda Azembo: CICALA-MVTA CHE CANTAVA E LA SVA MOGLIE CHE L' AMAVA (The mute cicada that sang and his wife who loved him). Azembo wrote catchy comic satires and protest songs that spread across Japan without the benefit of radio play; in the 20s, his songs were banned and he was repeatedly imprisoned (hence, the muting). This genre of street music, called chin(g)don, features drums, saxophones and clarinets, and face-painting. With the drum in the lead, musicians would march around the streets playing popular music, advertisements, and folk songs. Mass media killed off the tradition, which was revived in the late 80s by Japanese punk rockers tired of Western-derivative rock.
Chindon revivalists were attracted to klezmer because of its affinities with chindon: both non-military band music (as opposed to the military brass bands) made by anarchic, itinerant musicians, both hybrid forms that plundered any and all available sounds. Cicala Mvta draws not only from klezmer, but also from Nepalese wedding music, Turkish folk songs, and Albert Ayler. Results are mixed; pardon the pun. I think I liked Deko-Boko (Inside-Out) better than the earlier album, Ching-don: The Return of Japanese Street Music, but both have some hits and misses. Fans of noise jazz will be happier than I. "Bessarabian Hora" isn't the best track, but it's the most recognizably klezmer, and those of you who read my earlier klezmer epic will have some basis for comparison. (Those of you who didn't, just follow our incredible new(TM) labels feature to find it.)
The leader of Cicala Mvta is freaked-out clarinetist Wataru Okuma. He started off playing in the punk rock Soul Flower Union (see Osaka, above). They in turn spawned the Soul Flower Mononoke Summit, whose klezmerish version of the socialist anthem The Internationale was one of the happiest finds of 2006. You can hear the chindon drum and if those wild yips don't move you, you're a stone. I do see the klezmer analogy, but I have to wonder if that's a serious description of the music or a handy label for overseas listeners. ("If you like klezmer, you'll love Cicala Mvta!") Well, it worked on me. And now I know some things I didn't know before. Win-wins all around.
Labels: klezmer, megan, world
posted by Megan
Monday, January 08, 2007
GOD WILL DRY MY WEEPING EYES
Good God! A Gospel Funk Hymnal
Numero : 2006
Matrix: The Perception Sessions
Castle : 2000
The Ogyatanaa Show Band
Ghana Soundz vol 2
Soundway : 2004
Ethiopiques v. 9
Buda : 2001
FIGHT THE POWER (PART 1)
The Isley Brothers
Available on: Black Power
Shout Factory : 2004
You know what? I spent a chunk of the morning finishing a learned treatise for the edification of the moistworks masses (thank you, corporate subsidy), only to realize that it was not where my head was at. Learned treatise next week. Today, it's just funky shit, some of which was featured at Megan's belated birthday bash last weekend.
Welcome to '07, people!
Labels: funk, megan
posted by Megan
Tuesday, December 19, 2006
HORA F# MINOR
Kalman Balogh and the Gypsy Cimbalom Band
Rounder : 1999
Maramaros: The Lost Jewish Music of Transylvania
Hannibal : 1993
Naive : 2006
Trans Balkan Express
Essay : 2004
[This is part 3 of a series. Read parts one and two.]
This weekend I was at a holiday concert, listening to a children's choir sing songs like "Hanukkah Nagilah":
light the menorahThe hora is one of those dances that everybody has and calls by a different name, the way you can buy Greek Delight or Israeli falafel. The harpsichordean tones you hear come from the cimbalom, a kind of hammered dulcimer common to both Roma and Jewish music. (It's related to the Persian santour and the Greek santouri.) The Roma play with the standup version, which is sort of like a piano stuffed in a rectangle. Klezmorim often used an economy-sized cimbalom called the tsimbl, which hung from the shoulders.
dance the hora
We'll let the gypsies take it away, while I tell you a story.
Imagine your dilemma: you're a Polish aristocrat in the 1800s. You're throwing a party and you want some lively gypsy music to entertain your guests. But gypsies are scary. They drink too much and rape Polish women. What should you do? You ask a Jew instead. They play the same music, but they are less drunk and they don't like goy women.
Minstrelsy begins at home. And what the Jews did for the gypsies, later they'd do for the blacks.
The gypsies were used to these sorts of slights. They were slaves in Romania until 1864. (Blacks in the U.S. were allegedly freed in 1863.) But Jews and gypsies both did their share of shucking and jiving to get by. For extra entertainment value, tsimbl players performed with a chained bear. When bears were hard to come by, audiences opted for a Jew in a bear costume. The point, really, was to humiliate the Jew. But a musician doesn't turn down work. Every so often a Jewish song would catch on among the goyish public, who imagined it expressed the very essence of this strange people. The sabbath song "Ma Yofis" was one of these early Jewish hits. Its melody was taken from a popular Polish song; maybe that explains its crossover appeal. This song was so widely requested during these minstrel-show performances of Jewishness, that it dropped out of the Jewish repertoire entirely. "Mayofisnik" became an insult, roughly translated as "goy-pandering sell-out." Like calling a black man an Uncle Tom. In today's world, mayofisnik might translate as "Jewface."
Of course one man's sell-out is another man's Borat. Or vice versa.
Things were different after the Holocaust. In Hungary, Jews were slaughtered so effectively that only a handful of gypsies who'd played with klezmer bands were left to remember the music. (I don't know if Jews returned the favor elsewhere in Europe.) With the help of Roma consultants, the Hungarian band Muzsikas recreated some of these Hungarian Jewish songs on their album Maramaros. It was largely this sense of a lost tradition that fuelled the klezmer revival to begin with. So many local forces drove this phenomenon: interest in folk music, Holocaust tourism, discomfort over Zionism and religious orthodoxy among secular Jews, Holocaust guilt among Europeans. Mark Slobin calls this movement a "nostalgic diasporism," which substitutes a carefully preserved, static past for a living culture grounded in social practice. And through the proliferation of graduate programs, arts festivals, historic tours, and audio recordings, some version of these once-vibrant traditions is kept alive.
Based on the comments to the first installment of this series, many of us agree that culture is not static and, as one reader put it, miscegenation is inevitable (even desirable, I might add). But when does culture become kitsch instead? Is it when Oprah gets involved? Is it when folk goes electric? Is it when things get too hip for their own good? Or is it just when we lose too much of what made it all meaningful to begin with?
It's been a long journey these past two weeks. I'll stop here and rest for a while. Thanks for your company.
Labels: klezmer, megan, world
posted by Megan
Monday, December 18, 2006
OLD MOLDAVIAN KLEZMER SUITE IN E: OLD BULGAR
European Klezmer Music
Smithsonian Folkways : 2000
SZOL A KAKAS MAR
Rhythm Media : 2000
NAFTULE SHPILT FAR DEM REBN
Recorded in 1923
Available on: Yikhes
Trikont : 1995
Golden Horn : 2004
DER TERKISHE YALE VE VOLE
Amsterdam Klezmer Band and Galata Gypsy Band
Kalan : 2002
Dave Tarras and The Musiker Brothers
Columbia : 1955
To read the prequel to this post, click here. You won't be sorry.
The first klezmer album I bought was The Klezmorim: First Recordings. (I included a track from this album in the prequel.) I was dating an angsty Israeli guy who was concerned about my (lack of) Jewish credentials. "According to religious law, you are not really a Jew. Maybe if you convert?" One day he asked me, "Do you even know about klezmer music?" I didn't convert, but I did buy the CD. I don't remember why I picked that one; maybe it was the Robert Crumb cover.
The Klezmorim play kooky, slapstick kind of klezmer: Greek, Turkish, and classic klezmer tunes, with a heavy early jazz influence (they sound a lot like Naftule Brandwein's 1920s recordings). Apparently, when the klezmer revival was starting up in the 1970s, they were criticized for their eclecticism, for not identifying themselves specifically with Jewish music. The more I learn about the history of klezmer, the more ridiculous this seems. Here's an excerpt from the liner notes for Brandwein's "Natfule Shpilt far dem Rebn":
[This piece] is in the so-called "terkish" rhythm, which may have entered the klezmer repertoire from Asia Minor via Moldo-Wallachia. Like other New York klezmorim, Brandwein probably performed such pieces when he played for the Greek communities of New York.And no further comment. Oh, of course, this Jewish guy is playing Turkish music for Greeks. (Does he not play them for Jews? Do the Greeks know?)
Around the same time the Klezmorim were getting started, Zev Feldman of Khevrisa and Dave Tarras protege Andy Statman were playing in a rebetika band. One night, they followed their set of Greek and Armenian songs with some old klezmer numbers they'd pulled off of 78s. According to Feldman, "the Greek audience went wild, with a standing ovation. So the Greeks we worked with asked us if we knew more Jewish tunes."
America, the melting pot? No, the melting pot was Eastern Europe. The three main sources for the klezmer sound were European folk dances, Hasidic prayer songs, and Greco-Turkish dance music. These were mixed in various combinations. As one example, "Szol a Kakas Mar" was a Hungarian folk tune that was repurposed as the melody for a Hasidic prayer song. Romania was a main site in developing this syncretic music: the regions of Moldavia, Wallachia, and Bessarabia, which eventually formed present-day Romania and Moldova, were former Ottoman territories. Wandering Jews traveled with Rom musicians from Odessa to Istanbul, picking up Turkish and Greek melodies. According to Yale Strom,
The new music they composed -- with its Turkish modalities, its different tuning and playing styles -- influenced the klezmer style and repertoire to such a degree that it is now some of the most popular klezmer performed. (The Book of Klezmer, 25-26).Even back in the old country, the Greeks were a main market for this Near Eastern-influenced Jewish music. Naftule Brandwein, one of the biggest names in klezmer, was especially partial to the "Oriental" sound. He was a character: a skirt-chasing drunk, a favorite of Jewish mobsters. His dad had 14 children and 4 wives, so I feel a bond with him. Naftule liked Turkish-style syncopated tunes; I've included a few examples of these terkishers, which were part of the Romanian repertoire. These songs were often played on a violin using a special "ciftetelli" tuning, common in Greek and Turkish music, which allowed the violinist to play double-stringed octaves. (Ciftetelli is also a dance rhythm; I'm not sure how it's related to the terkisher form rhythmically.)
Dave Tarras is the other biggest name in klezmer. He was smoother, more reliable, and less drunk than Brandwein. He was more successful, too, and adopted more of a swing sound. Yet he also favored the Bessarabian repertoire, and helped make that sound definitive of New World klezmer. His favorite form was the bulgar, a sprightly dance common in Bessarabia and the Ukraine.
So much, and so much more. Tomorrow, I'll talk about the importance of dancing bears in klezmer culture, what makes a klezmer an Uncle Tom, and why the Rom, not the Jews, are the blacks of Europe.
I'm heavily indebted to Yale Strom's The Book of Klezmer. Any unattributed quotes are from his book. And you should [buy it]
Labels: klezmer, megan, world
posted by Megan
Monday, December 11, 2006
Trans Balkan Express
Essay : 2004
You've noticed this post-Soviet thing happening in our culture, right?
New Yorkers will likely know Gogol Bordello, whom I caught at a world music festival in Chicago, back in 2000. (I'll not digress here to gripe about how world music might as well be called IMMIGRANT STUFF, the way it's used in the States.) They played after Fanfare Ciocarlia, which was nuts: these round, ancient Romanians who played like the devil and spoke no English whatsoever, on stage at an Irish bar on Chicago's west side, in front of a granola-ish audience of twenty-somethings. And here comes Gogol Bordello, with Eugene Hutz hanging cruciform off the mike stand, and striped cabaret girls banging on drums. Five years later I saw Gary Shteyngart and Jeffrey Eugenides do a panel at the same venue. You don't get more post-Soviet than Gary Shteyngart. The event was sponsored by Nextbook, one of the many outfits that promotes Jewish culture to the young and hip. So they do Shteyngart and Israeli reggae and Hasidic rap and all this klezmer, which leads us back to Eastern Europe again.
As a trend, as a demographic shift, as a local manifestation of global capital: whatever its causality may be, I'm enjoying the results. It's not all good, but for every Alexander Perchov, there's something like OMFO, Our Man from Odessa. This is not an earth-shaking discovery, I realize; that's why I don't write for Pitchfork. "Money Boney" is featured prominently in Borat, one of the only movies I've bothered to see all year. OMFO's label, Essay Recordings, is also home to Balkan Beat Box and Boom Pam, bands I've written about, and De Amsterdam Klezmer Band, which I'll write about next week. But I still didn't figure it out until I saw a post about OMFO on my new favorite blog, undomondo. Could there be a more perfect song? It's goofy and tinkly and makes me laugh. It's obsessive with a sense of humor, and that's catnip for me.
In recent weeks, I've devoted a lot of my own high-quality obsessivating to unraveling the lineage of klezmer music. You will reap what I've sown next week. Because I'm a syncretist, I'm most interested in klezmer's cross-pollination with adjacent cultures: with gypsy music, with local Balkan styles, with Turkish rhythms and modes. How could one begin to make separations between them? Take these two songs:
CRAZY SERBIAN BUTCHER'S DANCE
Rounder : 1987
First Recordings: 1976-78
Arhoolie : 1993
Brave Combo is a polka band from Texas; did they not know the Serbian Butcher's Dance was really a hasaposerviko? Or did the Klezmorim not know they were playing Greek music? But it's all of these things. Hasaposerviko means hasapiko, or fast butcher's dance, Serbian-style. The name is derived from the Turkish word for butcher. I know the hasapiko as a Greek dance, related to the sirtaki. And if you look at OMFO's playlist, he's playing the sirtaki too. Except his is called "Sirtaki on Mars." Opaa! Hasaposerviko for everyone.
And that's just a start. Like klezmer, gypsy music has become an established market niche. Witness the New York Gypsy Fest, another Gogol Bordello-induced phenomenon, or Asphalt Tango. A snooty New York friend of mine turns up his nose at nouveau gypsy groups. "Megan, they aren't REAL gypsies." But then, it's hard to be a real gypsy after World War II and Ceausescu, isn't it? Ceaucescu had intended to breed gypsies (more properly, Roma) as a "robot work force" to serve the pure Dacian people of Romania. (Under the Roman Empire, present-day Romania was a province called Dacia. That should give you an idea of how far the clock needed to be turned back.) So the wall fell, and Ceausescu was shot, and then there was Tony Gatlif's film Latcho Drom, which helped put the Roma on the world music map. But in Romania, Roma music had been government regulated since 1944, creating an alternate tradition of fakelore - state-sanctioned, "pure Romanian" music. The aforementioned Fanfare Ciocarlia, comprised of authentic Roma musicians, was a touring group assembled by a German promoter. He's the one who came up with the name. (See how tricky this authenticity thing can be?) And yes, they're on the Borat soundtrack, too.
Next week, I'll be trying to tease some of this out into a coherent and entertaining format, while also delivering some quality tunes. Don't think it's easy.
Labels: megan, world
posted by Megan
Monday, December 04, 2006
Okeh : 1941
Available on: Laughing in Rhythm
Proper : 2003
Stanley Adams and Sid Wayne
Jewish Music Group : 2006
A little known fact about me: I am a turtle-owner. It was a misguided attempt at satisfying my daughter's craving for a pet. The turtle lost its charm within a week of the birthday it was meant to celebrate and now, a year later, it's become a chore, a duty, like a senile great-aunt living in the back room.
But it's winter in the midwest: first snow, cars frozen shut, temps in the teens. Even before the cold snap I'd started burrowing. Most weekends I spend indoors wrapped in a blanket, curled up in my reading chair next to an electric heater. I can't get warm enough; I can't sleep too much. I eat little and talk less. In short, I've become a turtle.
My daughter complains, "Mom, it's like you're not even there." I know. I feel the same way. I try not to shell up when she's around, but I can't help it. It's a reflex. We were playing a board game the other night and I felt the metamorphosis come on. My mouth got heavier, my thoughts moved elsewhere; I suffered silently through the game and my daughter suffered through my puzzling silence.
Holidays don't help. It's too frantic. Winter doesn't help. It's too cold. And also, I have spent way too much time surfing for mp3s lately, getting ready for the moistworks Hanukkah klezmer special. I was going to start it today, but I went turtle.
These songs have nothing to do with turtles. Maybe they are anti-turtle songs. There's a lot of holiday in December, a lot of heritage: Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa. Oh yeah, and my birthday, erev Kwanzaa or thereabouts. Turtles, let the festivations begin.
Labels: holidays, megan
posted by Megan
Monday, November 27, 2006
MI YIDDISHE MAMA
Naxos World : 2002
I called my parents on Thanksgiving. They had had a quiet holiday dinner at home.
"Yeah, your father's watching TV and I'm here on the couch resting." My mom is nearly 70. She works two jobs: deli cashier and department store clerk. She's on her feet 18 hours a day, 6 days a week.
"Ma, you didn't go anywhere today?"
"I haven't heard from any of these people. Well, that's okay. I don't need anybody to entertain me on the holidays. Hell, I'm just glad to have the day off."
"These people" were my father's other children, all 8-10 of them. (My mom disputes the paternity of certain siblings.) Technically, I was one of "these people"; my mom is actually my stepmother. Usually, though, I bat for my mom's team.
My mom continued. "I know Johnny was having something cause he asked your sister what her plans were. Well, I didn't want to go. I'm tired. I could have gone to Marilyn's, she called here, but I wasn't doing that. I cooked a turkey. It'll probably get dried up cause who's going to eat it?"
Mom says "your sister" meaning her daughter, the only sibling younger than me and the only other one who's half-white. In unkinder times, we were called "the mongrel children" by the older kids. (Johnny and Marilyn are "these people.")
"Ma, did anybody come by?"
"I invited Carolyn over. She brought macaroni and cheese for like 20 people. I mean, it's good macaroni and cheese, but who can eat all this food?"
Carolyn is my oldest sister. She raised a lot of the kids when my dad was between alliances -- I'd say wives, but we don't really do marriage. Every few months Carolyn and my mom stop speaking to each other. Apparently, they have negotiated a holiday detente.
I hear the doorbell ring on my mom's end of the phone.
"Hold on. Who is this ringing the bell this time of night?"
My dad opens the door. It's some guy asking for money. He says his car is broken down at the end of the block and he's got two kids to get home.
My dad has dementia. He's 82. I'm 600 miles away from my parents, listening on the other end of the phone.
Then the guy is gone. My dad gave him the money.
My mom says, "John, how can you open the door for some guy you don't know, late at night like this?"
"I've been knowing that guy 40 years."
"You don't know that guy. That guy is a bum, a scam artist."
"Everyone's a bum to you. That's that white supremacy in you."
"You know him? So what's his name then? And why is the car parked down the street? You walk down the street and see if there's a car."
"Why don't you walk down the street with me?"
"I'm not walking cause there's no goddam car and no kids neither."
The door slams.
"Look at this! He's gone out and locked me in here. Now if this bum comes sneaking in through the back door my ass is trapped in here."
"Well, Ma, if that happens, go upstairs and lock yourself in the bedroom and call the cops."
"I'm not doing that. I'll take the key out of my coat pocket and get the hell out of here."
Mom is a problem-solver, in her way.
"You see this? What kind of shit is this? If this was a stickup guy, he could push his way in here and I could get killed in the process. It just takes a guy to reach in his pocket, pull out a gun, shoot you in the stomach, and force his way in the house. He could be here waiting for me to come home from work, with the house ransacked, and then the two of us dead up in here. Right?"
Who could deny it? Then my mom surprised me. "I know who that guy is! That's the guy from the roof."
I'm all ears.
"This is about 4 months ago, in the summer. I must not have worked that night. I'm coming home myself, your father's out walking the streets. All of a sudden, here's this guy putting a ladder up to the roof. I'm thinking, what the fuck is this? I say to him, Excuse me? What are you doing? He says, There's an old man who lives here. I saw him walking down the street this morning and he told me he needs his gutters cleaned. I said, These gutters don't need to be cleaned. You get down off that roof. I mean, what am I going to do if this bum falls off the roof? And it's on my property?"
"He came to the house with a ladder? Did he have a truck?"
"No, he didn't have a truck. He told me that day he walked 20 blocks with the ladder."
I'm relieved. The guy doesn't seem very organized.
"He's what you call street slime. He doesn't think I recognize him. These type of people, that do this kind of shit, they think they're smarter than you are. But I'm facially very good with recognizing people."
I tell my mom to go make a police report and call me back. She does. My dad has come home and he's pissed.
"That man is no goddamn stranger to me. I used to do business with him."
My dad was a bookie for decades. He was a badass in his day. He's used to people asking him for money, especially his kids.
"You don't know that guy! Your father thinks he knows everybody. He walks up to people in the grocery store and starts talking to them. They don't know who he is."
"You don't know what the fuck you're talking about, you damn fool."
My mom talks over him, laughing. "He's telling me I can move out tonight. Hey, who's gonna pay the mortgage? I'm not moving out of my house. It's a lot of nerve here, a person tells me to move out of my own house."
The door slams. My dad's locked himself in the bedroom.
"Your sister doesn't even tolerate him any more, except just to be nice. I don't blame her. She says, I don't know why you stayed with him. She's probably mad at me about it. She probably has a klupp about it."
My mom is the queen of made-up Yiddish. I haven't heard this one before.
"Ma, what's a klupp?"
"It's a, it's just a thing. It's like something that's bothering you."
I ask her for the police report number. The desk sergeant didn't give her one. She promises she'll call the precinct and ask for the beat cop tomorrow, make sure the report's been taken.
I tell her goodnight. For the rest of the night, there's a klupp in my throat.
Labels: megan, memoir
posted by Megan
Friday, November 17, 2006
LET ME TOUCH
Essay : 2006
JUDAS GOAT (TERROR REMIX)
Soot : 2006
I've been waiting for this Boom Pam album for about a year. They're an Israeli band that I discovered via their guest appearance on last year's Balkan Beat Box album. The song they played on, "Gross," was prominently featured on Megan's Passover party mix: it's a fantastic Greek-style, get-drunk get-down circle dance. (I have a deep affinity for circle dancing.) But I must say, I'm a little disappointed. I get the sense from this first release that Boom Pam is still finding their way and maybe groping in the dark a bit.
Because our mp3s are posted for instructional value, I've chosen a couple of exemplary failures. I actually do like quite a few of their songs, but with all this mouthing off in the comments box lately, I guess I need an outlet for my aggression.
"Let Me Touch" is a freaking train wreck of a song. First, the creepy vocals
don't be afraidand then these overbearing discordant strings! They seem like they're saying something portentous, then they turn into cheesy Bollywood-style exclamation points (POW!). I'm guessing they're going for a klezmer-type comic feel, and, with a tuba in the band, they're halfway there. But this song just doesn't work for me, except at the bridge, where you have a glimpse of what these guys are all about.
I will not hurt you
just a little touch
and then I do you
"Dalida" starts off, and I'm feeling like, "Hey now, hey now, don't dream it's over." Then it goes off into this cool Middle Eastern groove, with the crazy surf guitars chiming in. But then, around 1:20, it goes into prog-rock freak-out. (I'm not a prog kind of girl, du tout.) See, you want to love a band that lists Dick Dale AND Umm Kulthum as influences, but the mix can be a little hard to pull off. When it works, it's wonderful. "Otto Chiconi" might be my favorite song on the album and you can't go wrong with "Hashish," available on their myspace page, here.
Let's consider Boom Pam a work in progress. I'll bet they're a great live show. Useless trivia: one of the lead guys is named Uzi Feinerman (he's the mastermind of that "Let Me Touch" song). There was also a Knesset member named Uzi Feinerman and for some reason I find this amusing.
Speaking of Israel, I discovered this Filastine track on the fantastic Aussie blog fat planet. (As of Tuesday, they've got some truly ill Palestinian hip-hop/electronica posted. Definitely check that.) Filastine, however, is an indigenous product: well, he lives in planet Seattle, anyway. He's a founder of the Infernal Noise Brigade, an anarchist marching band, and he does "guerilla audio interventions" and "counter-hegemonic brown sound." That is, he's a mixmaster, on the global political tip. Check him out, here. And note the Butthole Surfers sample in "Judas Goat."
Here in the States, we're all about equal time for opposing points of view. We'll sell you a t-shirt, no matter what your politics are. You a Palestinian sympathizer? Order here. You down with Israel? Order here. You a self-loathing Jew? Order here. Supporters of the two-state solution have to buy two shirts. There's justice in that.
Moistworks sez: Let's all wear our shirts and live together and be free.
Labels: megan, world
posted by Megan
Friday, November 03, 2006
Everything I Play Is Funky
Blue Note : 1969
Bernard "Pretty" Purdie
Date : 1968
Available on: Master Drummers, v.1
Luv N Haight : 1995
Ike Turner & the Kings of Rhythm
A Black Man's Soul
Pompeii : 1969
The Laughing Stock of Indie Rock
Arena Rock : 2004
RIDE DAT DONKEY
Bomb Hip Hop : 1999
MY DONKEY WANT WATER
Macbeth the Great
Calypso After Midnight
recorded New York, 1946
Rounder : 1999
SO LONG DONKEY
Desco : 2000
I'm mulatto, so I have a special relationship with the donkey. The mule and her dad are working overtime in the West, where they carry a lot of cultural weight: think Balaam and Jesus and Muhammad. Jerusalem. Peasants. Slaves. Deep South cotton fields. Andalusia. Nazarin and Don Quixote, Platero and Balthazar.
You'd think the donkey would be kind of a dud, with the long hours he works: a good guy, good values, but a little square. Instead, the donkey is the funkiest of all creatures. He can kick it downlow-funky-style, which seems to be his native habitat. If he gets drunk enough, he can catch a groove and shake his ass very credibly. He can tango horizontal and his stamina is pleasantly surprising. But he's got a sense of humor and he's good with your kids too. He rides a bike and flies kites and does goofy shit with hula hoops. He's fucking perfect.
The donkey gets the job done. Respect is due.
And respect is due: thanks to Funky16Corners for the inspiration.
For some background on the concert recorded on Calypso After Midnight, see this. Tell me, people, am I the only one who hears lewd subtext on "My Donkey Want Water" (aka "Hold Em Joe")?
My donkey want water"Hold Em Joe" is a calypso standard that has been covered by many greats, including the famous calypso singer Louis Farrakhan. Moistworks was outbid by David Geffen in our effort to acquire Calypso Too Hot to Handle, which includes some of Minister Louis's 1950s releases (in those days he was known as "The Charmer.") I shit you not, people. And since calypso is a topical medium, The Charmer wasn't afraid to take on the issues of the day. Here's Louis chronicling the sex-change of Christine Jorgenson in "Is She Is, or Is She Ain't" [mp3].
Better hold your daughter
Oh when me donkey want water
My donkey is bad
It's a Farrakhan original. Pretty forward-looking for 1955, eh? Sort of? I couldn't play them on my antique mac, but there are more of Farrakhan's calypso tunes available online. Check em out here.
Labels: funk, megan
posted by Megan
Monday, October 30, 2006
Frank's Wild Years
Island : 1987
CROSS BONES STYLE
Matador : 1998
It's Halloween time, so I've unearthed my eeriest music. Hark, is that the howling of the damned?
IN THE PINES
Folkways : 1948
Available on: Smithsonian Folkways
Graham Central Station
Graham Central Station
Warner : 1973
Lead Belly's here, not just because his intro reminds me of the theme song to the "The Addams Family." (Check it out here, see what you think.) This song evokes primal terrors: the dark forest, loss, abandonment, and sudden, terrible death.
My husband was a hard-working manCities have their own primal terrors. Think of Kafka's Prague. Or the ghettos closer to home.
Killed a mile and a half from here
(What happened to him?)
His head was found in a driver wheel
And his body ever never be found
In the spare time I don't have, I'm writing a ghetto fairy tale about post-riot Washington DC, chock full of dark visitations and relatives dying in back rooms. It's very much a horror story.
MARCH TO THE WITCH'S CASTLE
Westbound : 1973
Later funk is truly terrifying, the perfect soundtrack for horror. Working on this over the summer, I listened to Cosmic Slop so intensively I nearly induced a psychotic break. Much like what happened to Sly Stone, who degenerated into incomprehensible rambles and repetitive loops as the junkie brain took over.
In the 70s, they opened a methadone clinic* two blocks from my grandma's house. She'd pass through lines of junkies on her way to church. The clinic was a block away from the heroin lot. I'd be sitting by the window, waiting for my father to come home, and suddenly, hundreds of people would come out of the alleys, silent and quick, like in "The Birds." Also waiting.
Oh, come childMost members of my family claim to see spirits; I have one sister who was subjected to private audiences with the devil in her bedroom late at night. My younger sister and I have both had dreams of infinitely evil creatures who perched on our beds to suck the life out of us. We would wake up gasping for breath. At these times, one wonders, what is real?
Come, rescue me
Cause you have seen some unbelievable things
And the devil sang...Bernie Worrell says of "Cosmic Slop," which he co-wrote: "The melody is like a spiritual hymn. If you take away the words and just hum it, it sounds like down on the plantation. I get chills still when I hear it."
He's right. The voices haunt you for a long time after.
*Wikipedia on methadone:
Methadone has traditionally been provided to the addiction population in a highly regulated methadone clinic, generally associated with an outpatient department of a hospital. Clinics such as these stem from programs set up during the Nixon administration to combat heroin use, first in Washington, D.C., then nationwide.
Labels: holidays, megan
posted by Megan
Tuesday, October 24, 2006
Doublemoon : 2005
[Preview and Buy It]
Most of what I know about Turkish culture I learned from my Greek friends. I am endlessly fascinated by the uneasy fit between culture and political boundaries, and people's stubborn determination to fill those boundaries with coherent, self-adhesive stuff.
Orhan Osman, who was born in Greece and now lives in Turkey, seems a good vehicle for my weighty thoughts. I'm not a huge fan, but I love this song, a remake of an old rembetika tune. I have a version recorded in the 1920s by the great Roza Eskenazi, a Sephardic Jew born in Istanbul who sang in Greek, Turkish, Armenian, Ladino, and even Yiddish, I think. Rembetika music is all about getting high, getting into fights, and getting laid, which is why it's called the Greek blues. (Ime Prezakias means "I'm a junkie.") Mostly, the drug songs are about hash, but some of them sing about smack and cocaine too. Like this one:
EGO THELO PRIGIPESSA
Rembetika: Greek Music from the Underworld (v.1)
JSP : 2006
He's singing how this Moroccan princess has fallen in love with him. (Why a Moroccan princess would be hanging out in Piraeus, he doesn't say.) She says she'll make him a king in Arabia and give him wagonloads (camel-loads?) of hash and cocaine. And there'll be lots and lots of hookahs.
Rembetika is Greek music, but very Turkish, especially in the 1920s and 30s. For example, Ime Prezakias is a tsifte telli, or, in the Turkish way, cifte telli: a Turkish dance rhythm that's particularly friendly to belly-dancing. More fundamentally, the whole culture of rembetika reflects life in the multicultural Ottoman cities of Constantinople/Istanbul and Smyrna/Izmir. In 1923, in an attempt to make national boundaries make sense, ethnic Greeks were expelled from the newly formed Turkish Republic and vice versa. Many of the Greek rembetes and rembetisses emigrated to the homeland they'd never seen then, bringing their decadent Ottoman ways with them. The refugees weren't especially welcome in Greece. They settled in port cities like Piraeus and Thessaloniki and became manges, outlaw types who scorned conventional society, especially jobs and cops. In Greece, rembetika was played mainly in jails, hash dens, and brothels. Early rembetika is sometimes sung in Turkish; there are songs like "The Dervish's Broad"; and it has a distinctly Middle Eastern sound to it. More musically literate folk than I could explain why, but you can hear what I mean.
TAKE ME INTO YOUR EMBRACE
Available on: Women of Rembetica
Rounder : 2000
Marika Kanaropoulou, who was born in Bursa, was also known as Tourkalitsa, little Turkish girl. And now, some notes from two of my favorite diasporas.
HICAZ DOLOP ROM
Hasam Yarim Dunya
Available on: Latcho Drom (soundtrack)
Mercator : 1994
USKUDAR TAXIM/TERK IN AMERIKE
Rhythm Media : 2000
Migrations, expulsions, exile: they keep culture moving. If you've ever seen the magnificent Latcho Drom, you know exactly what I mean. "Hicaz Dolop Rom" is from a Turkish gypsy ensemble featured in the film. I don't know much about Turkish gypsies, but, on the whole, gypsies don't seem to do well in other people's countries. Which means all of them. And then, there's the Jews. Uskudar is a suburb of Istanbul today, but was originally a town near the old Jewish district of Kuzguncuk. A taxim, or taqsim, is a highly formalized kind of improv, and if I had the Naftule Brandwein version of "Terk in Amerike" you'd be hearing clarinet magic. But I have to buy food for my kid, so I can't buy so many CDs. And Metropolitan Klezmer isn't bad, as new klezmer goes.
People of the world, my apologies: Blogger doesn't let us do accents or diacritics.
Labels: megan, world
posted by Megan
Monday, October 23, 2006
Warner : 1982
Ba Da Bing : 2006
BAYM REBNS SUDE
First Recordings 1976-78
Arhoolie : 1993
BUTUN KIZLAR TOPLANDIK
Trikont : 2006
Double Moon : 2005
[Preview and Buy]
I have a Turkish friend who, when he's not complaining about other things, complains that the only ideas Yanks have about Turkey are 1) that it's in the Middle East and 2) that there may or may not be camels there. (There are. See?*) But a country is so much more than its livestock, isn't it? Turkey has a Nobel Laureate, so apparently it has some sort of civilization. And with Pope Ratzinger having public flashbacks of the Crusades, it seems like a good time to do a little Turkish-conscious-raising among my fellow Americans.
Despite Europe's god-given victory at the Battle of Tours, most of the continental periphery has been tarred with the Islamic brush. The Ottomans, like the Byzantines before them, ruled most of Eastern Europe; they were also, if indirectly, responsible for the world domination of the brass band. The Ottoman Janissaries, elite troops recruited by a slave tax of nubile Christian youths, brought their own theme music with them to dazzle their enemies: military bands that marched ahead of the troops. The colonized Balkans translated this into their local idiom, the brass band, which eventually spread from Eastern Europe to New Orleans and points beyond. But that's a whole other post.
I guess, from a certain point of view, "Bratislava" isn't authentic; it's the work of this 19-year-old New Mexico wunderkind and a couple of his indie-rock pals. I don't care about that. I fell in love with Beirut over the summer and this song is Balkan brass beautifully done. And "Baym Rebns Sude" ("Dinner with the Rabbi") is brass done klezmer style, based on the Russian army versions of the Janissary bands. My daughter and I used to play this tune in the car on the way to school every day, at her request. Marching music is good for mornings, gets the day started right. She also likes the Nil Karaibrahimgil cut. If I spoke Turkish, I'd probably be too snotty to listen to the song; it seems, well, poppy. Linguistic barriers are sometimes freeing, no? Me, I'm really digging Baba Zula, or BaBa ZuLa, as they seem to call themselves. I guess a bunch of songs on Duble Oryantal (like "I Think I'm Pregnant") were banned from Turkish Radio and Television. Which makes me kind of wish I knew what they were talking about.** Go to Calabash and check out their stuff; highly recommended.
Listen, people: I know not everyone has my tolerance for wild baglama solos and minor mode melisma so I've tried to keep it lively today. Tomorrow I'll get a little folkier as we view Turkey through the eyes of various despised minorities.
*Careful readers will note that the camels Salon describes are actually imported from Iran. Camels are not native to Turkey, but are available to tourists seeking picturesque Oriental excursions.
**A reader from Istanbul writes: "The song [BaBa ZuLa's "Children of Istanbul"] is a celebration of Istanbul's ethnic and religious diversity. He names most of the groups living there, and calls the city a rainbow of peoples, condemning a history of violence against minorities."
Labels: megan, world
posted by Megan