Monday, May 23, 2011

Dropping In Between Chapters and a Lost (and Timely) Sonic Gem.

Been a busy week, revisions almost completed on my first--for now--and moving on to novel number two soon, with a break for a short story or two and some poetry. So, thought I would take a break here and say, Hello, How Are You? and skim through the backlog of reviews and find…

Meira Asher.


She’s a revolutionary of sorts--that word’s come up a lot lately for me via my girlfriend‘s poetic inclinations and interests, which dig deep into what it means to be a caring human being on this planet; a planet in need of changes. Asher calls herself an “interdisciplinary societal artist.” Her career seems intent on bringing to light some of the world’s current atrocities as channeled through her music and presentation, for the sake of getting reactions and opening eyes. She’s got real character and depth and knows what she’s doing.

The review below is for her CD, Spears Into Hooks, released in 1999, but with the subject matter, as you will see below, it’s as pertinent now as before.

Spears Into Hooks (Crammed Discs)

:Shrapnel-laced genre warping assault with powerful female vocals:

On the cover of this CD there is a picture of a shaven-headed woman with a hard, tight-lipped mouth and a tense fragility in her shoulders; she also has the burning eyes of one who has seen too much, a look that says “I will tell you truths you cannot imagine.” Opening with a burst of static, squealing feedback spewing corrosive, caustic, marching percussion and gunpowder larynx interjections, “Shahid 1” pretty much jostles one’s attention. This disc has more honest fury and volatile rage than almost anything I can think of; even when it is not in your face, it has a percolating ambience and fist-clenching sincerity that belies the calmer moments. The music is a hybrid of industrial and noise (see above), often with an almost traditional, Israeli compass (“Tiring Night”), as well as the occasional, strangely brooding, antiquated, synthesizer excursion (“Weekend Away Break”), and even more (there is much variety, not adhering to any specific genre). But what really throws the whole thing into overdrive is Meira’s knife scrapping rust off the hide of humanity vocals, digging into the wound and prying out the bullet, no anesthetics used, just grit and pain via a little distinct enunciation and war-torn inflection; it is powerful and emotional, encapsulating the late 90’s world chaos. At times the vocals have a harsh, Diamanda Galas edge, but not of the octave scouring fashion she incorporates. Meira’s got a flexibility, a malleability, a chameleon-like fluidity, an appropriate tool for the variety of characters portrayed in the lyrics; lyrics that captivate (imprison), even when they are written in Israeli they enthrall by the sheer force of Meira’s presentation (sung in her native tongue, but translated for maximum impact, see “Dissect Me Again” for unrelenting, obstinate anguish in the face of torture--it leaves one drained, mentally exhausted, and it is only the third track on the disc). There’s nothing artificial about this disc: everything seethes, it rants, it unravels in volcanic tides, it is unapoligetic, it showcases an artist whose only guideline is, again, honesty. Through a web of intangible perceptions and concrete experiences, Meira shows us a place (Israel/Palestine--the disc is an audio postcard to the outside world, drenched in blood, sweat and turmoil) most of us could not imagine. Experience for yourself this cathartic, defiant, audacious masterpiece. ~ JC Smith

Here’s the first track from the disc, “Shahid 1.” This is rough stuff. This music doesn’t flinch. Listen to the whole track, it builds, it rages. This is music with a purpose. Wow! Listening again now, simply smoldering, snarling, potent… Phew!


Enjoy!  Or at least pay attention. It's got teeth and isn't afraid to bite, tear...masticate...


Sunday, May 15, 2011

Writing Madness & Type O Negative--Why Not?

Does it really have to make sense? Riffing here again, so busy with revisions it's making me mad, I tell you--Mad! Mad crazy, not mad angry--I love it!  So, blog on the back burner but, then again, there's music journalism to steal from so--why not?  (Hmmm, is "why not?" the theme here?)

My buddy, Fred, has called me twice recently, trying to put together a list of all the concerts he's been to, of which a metric ton (can we weigh them for verification?) (Does it make sense?) (Does it really have to?) (Are you tired of paranthesis?) have been experienced with me. So, I went through some boxes in the back room and found a batch of concert stubs. Perhaps here is where the term "metric ton" would be more appropriate.

The things you remember and don't.  I just found out, astonishingly enough, I have seen David Bowie not twice, but three times! This amazes me, as I remember only two, have distinct recollections of elements from two, but there was a third?  Hmmm...

I'd seen Type O Negative at least 5 times, always a stellar live show, a fun band to see, the late, great Pete Steele's presence and attitude always amusing. Here's a brief concert review I whipped up for Outburn magazine--really, it was done on the fly and out before I had a chance to think on it, just like this post. 

When you do writing like this it's called, "rolling with it."  Or not?  Why not? 

Maritime Hall, San Francisco, CA. October 14, 1999

After guest list confusion (wrong list, I paid, later informed of the right list, much to my dismay; at least it was not as bad as the raving Clan Of Xymox "Do you think I would have their fucking tattoo if I was not their…" wife/relative/something mess--hell, if I would have had a plus one I would have dragged her in just to curb her skyrocketing stress), I climbed the stairs, straight into the electro goth of Clan Of Xymox, quality stuff out of the Sisters Of Mercy mold; followed by the musically out of place Puya: Korn as conceived by Santana stuff done well, the energetic vocalist looking like Zack from RATM; after too long (again--just get the equipment off the friggin stage!), Fu Manchu sludge through their stoner haze excuse to riff away and…finally! Type O Negative hit the debris strewn stage (garbage cans, automobile grill…), sound clarity amongst the best one could ask for in a concert setting (hey, it's not just a white noise tsunami, each instrument has sonic distinction--it sounds like Type O!), opening with a bit of Pink Floyd before getting "My Girlfriend's Girlfriend" out of the way, then really hitting their stride. Showcasing the latest disc ("Everyone I Know Is Dead," "World Coming Down," and a searing, bombastic "White Slavery" being particular highlights) while not forgetting the core material from the previous two CDs ("Wolf Moon," "Christian Woman," a riveting "Black # 1," and a raucous "Kill All The White People" being the standouts), adding a massive dose of cover songs (Sabbath's "N.I.B." a punked out CCR "Bad Moon Rising," the Beatles "Back In The U.S.S.R.," and snippets of Zeppelin, Nirvana, and more), all with panache and Pete Steele's amusing stage demeanor ("We've reached the halfway point…it doesn't get any better…"; while holding up the devil's horns flaunted at so many metal shows, "What's this? Fuck You two times?!"), Type O's showmanship and talent shone throughout their expansive show. An enduring night (in more ways than one), but worth the wait for the green-tinted, goth inflected, metallic finale. --JC Smith

Aaaaand, here's a clip for your listening pleasure!

Monday, May 9, 2011

Revisions: Part of the Process.

I haven’t written a blog in a week or so. You think I’m lazy, think again. Heavy duty revisions on a novel I thought completed about five years ago will do that to ya.

I’ve heard many a writer complain about editors or feedback that suggests something needs to be done to a piece of fiction the writer thought was done and ready to go. “What do you mean it’s not perfect?” Riiiiiight. What’s that quote from Leonardo da Vinci?

“Art is never finished, only abandoned.”

Yeah, writing being my art, and me not afraid of constructive criticism, as long as the person constructively criticizing understands the work. Sure, my first response to an agent I’m working with on my first novel, The Corner of His Mind, suggested I lose this and that and tone this down, amp this up, was “but…but…” But then I took hold of her words as she got the novel, got what it was really about (the second novel as well--more work on that one soon) and lo and behold, hmmmm, look how that thrusts the story along at a better pace and, hey, now that I’m into the process, I’m seeing ways to make a very good story even better, cutting this, expanding that--Wow!

And here I thought it was...perfect.


(I don't believe I've ever used that word before.  Should I revise the brow-furrowing exclamation or...)

So, the morale of this brief blog, as I must get back to Corner…? Lose the ego and listen up, don’t get your head wrapped around the idea that what you wrote is perfect if you have aspirations towards anything more than selling copies to family and friends; not being rude, being honest, though ebook uprisings might alter a lot of that kind of thinking, of course (it already has, but that's a blog for another day). Stay true to the soul of the work, but when somebody in a position to help the work makes valid suggestions because, again, they get it, well, listen up, don’t be afraid, try it out, discard it if it doesn’t please you, but understand, it’s a part of the process that doesn’t always have to elicit dread.

When done right, it can make a story sing.

Now, let me get back to Medianoche, where devious deeds are about to play out…

Monday, May 2, 2011

Joy Division: The Eternal Aftermath

I’ve written a wealth of music journalism, some of it quite worthy (well, I think so!), such as the following piece. I wrote this retrospective on Joy Division for Outburn magazine in 2000, issue #12; the title of the piece is the title of this blog post. Though I’d trim and shape it a little different, this is pretty much what appeared in the magazine. Of note, I did trim an ellipsis. Apparently, I’ve always been in love with “…”  



It was twenty years ago, May 18, 1980, when Ian Curtis, vocalist/lyricist for Joy Division, decided to end his life with a make-shift noose in the kitchen of his home. Though reports from friends indicate that he was not outwardly depressed, the turmoil of his life (a crumbling marriage, an affair, epilepsy, side-effects of medication, et cetera) finally caught up with Ian, a mere few days before Joy Division were to embark on their first US tour. It was a decision that froze everything, if just for a moment (“just for one moment…”), implications and legacy as yet unformed; but just as swiftly defined. Joy Division ceased immediately, the remaining members continuing in another vein as New Order, whose first musical ventures moved unsteadily away from the omnipresent shroud of Joy Division. But the Joy Division mystique remains and prospers to this day, untarnished by time because the music they created, awash in dark nuances previously unheard and, more prominently, the world that Ian explored, dealt with timeless notions. Something we all can relate too, if we have the courage…

Ian’s worldview was somber, honest to the point of painful: a contemplative, revelatory examination of the human condition. Whether his lyrics were dutifully expounding on the travesties of history (‘Dead Souls,” Wilderness”), or slyly winking at his literary influences (“The Atrocity Exhibition” = J.G. Ballard, “Interzone” = William S. Burroughs), they always packed an emotional, visceral power and razor-honed beauty that seemed beyond the grasp of most lyricists. But it was his striking observations of the failings and frailties of self and relationships (with others, as well as the world around him) where he most clearly flourished. He refused to stoop to cliché, and approached the subject matter with eyes wide open, no matter the resulting inner turmoil. Despair has often been used as the definition of what Ian wrote about, but despair was only the tip. With flashlight in hand, Ian traversed the bleak corridors and dark recesses of the mind with a curious, unwavering eye dissecting all that we wish to keep hidden. An existence of such excruciatingly lucid thoughts and sensations often denied, was now brought to crystal clarity. It was not despair that drove Ian. His lyrics transcended despair, veering into a realm of solemn realization, and willingly allowing these visions to burn into his corneas. With notepad in hand, Ian’s observations were gleaned from the blinding glare, lyrics scribbled in a frenzy of unwavering veracity.

A few choice selections, reflections from the shattered glass mirror of the soul: “Instincts that can still betray us/A journey that leads to the sun/Soulless and bent on destruction/A struggle between right and wrong/You take my place in the showdown/I’ll observe with a pitiful eye/I’d humbly ask for forgiveness/A request well beyond you and I…" from “Heart And Soul.” “You cry out in your sleep/All my failings exposed/And there’s a taste in my mouth/As desperation takes hold/Just that something so good just can’t function no more…” from “Love Will Tear Us Apart.” “This is a crisis I knew had to come/Destroying the balance I’d kept/doubting, unsettling and turning around/Wondering what will come next/Is this the role that you wanted to live?/I was foolish to ask for so much/Without the protection and infancy’s guard/It all falls apart at first touch…” from “Passover.” “Existence well what does it matter?/I exist on the best terms I can/The past is now part of my future/The present is well out of hand/The present is well out of hand…” from “Heart And Soul,” again…(in retrospect, expressing a poignancy that is almost palpable).

The music was captivating, as driven by Peter Hook’s sinuous, mercurial lead bass guitar, Bernard Sumner’s broken glass plucked with brittle bone guitars, Stephen Morris’ robotic, locomotive, precision drums, and synths that scurry from the shadows, sometimes hulking and ponderous, sometimes feigning joy amidst sorrow. Martin Hannett’s charcoal hued, imaginative production helped accentuate the Joy Division sound: the sound of the tightly wound ‘everything,’ teetering on the brink of falling apart (even during the abundant moments of perfection), as witness by the tendency for the songs to abruptly cut off or slip into entropy meltdown. But these instruments and disparate sounds ascended out of the post-punk clamor at diametrically opposed trajectories, swinging back down like the aching branches of a weeping willow, an arching despondence that hovered over Ian Curtis’ haunting, compact, direct vocals. Vocals that conveyed the conflict within via juxtaposing calm, almost monotone recitations with the occasional eruption of fiery passion (especially in the live environment). Ian, always the focal point, held elusive control, even when his control was sifting like sand through his fingers, sand that pours, eternally, through the hourglass of infinity...

From the pre-dawn rumble and strangulation caress of Unknown Pleasures to the resigned, chiseled in iron poetry of the masterful Closer, to the singles (taut snippets—pages ripped from the notepad, fully formed and demanding attention) and various collections, the Joy Division mystique flourishes even now (Still), twenty years later. Because rarely has the human condition been exposed and cataloged with such minute detail, with such uninhibited abandon and unnerving accuracy.


Maybe soon I’ll have to post a blog dealing with my strange love of ellipsis, eh?

Cover artwork for the brilliant, Closer. 
The photograph is from Bernard Pierre Wolff and is of the Appiani family tomb in the Cimitero Monumentale di Staglieno in Genoa, Italy, by Demetrio Paernio.