Sunday, January 6, 2019
On this night, Joy on Fire were:
John Paul Carillo (El Jefe, guitars & side kick)
Anna Meadors (saxophones)
Zach Herchen (saxophones)
Chris Olsen (drums, percussion)
Dan Gutstein (words, vocals)
Live at Moose Lab Workspace, Brooklyn, DUMBO
Friday, December 14, 2018
& full of late-day sunlight.
(Especially in the rain-darkness.)
Underneath the secrecy underneath the bridge. . .
S for Stout.
"Classic noir. (We mean, the color of the beer.)"
"Concise dialogue. Right to the point. (Of no return.)"
--The Atlantic (Ocean)
"A morality tale for the ages. Just what ages? What tale? What morality?"
--GQ & A
Friday, December 7, 2018
Somewhere in the (recent) tumultuous moments of my life — ". . . waiting for / the catastrophe of my personality / to seem beautiful again. . ." (Frank O'Hara) — I received an embassy from John Paul Carillo. May you be so fortunate as to receive an embassy from John Paul Carillo. He came calling as a representative of his band, Joy on Fire.
Scant weeks earlier, I had witnessed Joy on Fire batter two buildings to pulp: An die Musik and The Crown, both in Baltimore. I have written about this experience. What else can I say but when you hear the thing you've always wanted to hear, two outcomes are possible. The first is: nothing further transpires (but you have the memories!) The second is: you're invited to write lyrics — and deliver them.
Meet You at the Jazz Corner of the World is a two-volume live album recorded by the Jazz Messengers and their leader, Art Blakey, in 1960. The sets are phat, and this version of the Messengers that graced the New York jazz club Birdland — Blakey, Morgan, Shorter, Timmons, Merritt — was perhaps the finest in that band's storied history. I love the title of those volumes.
And Joy on Fire would describe themselves, in part, as jazz. Noisy, counter-punching, and full of late-day sunlight, the band is also punk, metal, and alternative. In comparison to a musician like Wayne Shorter, Anna Meadors has thoroughly established her tone on the bari and alto saxophones. Chris Olsen, drums and percussion, rattles the buildings across the street. And John shreds his bass guitar strings — bass guitar — as if he were Duane Eddy playing the Sex Pistols songbook.
In the song, "Fizzy," Sleaford Mods front-man Jason Williamson howls, "I fuckin' hate rockers / Fuck your rocker shit / Fuck your progressive side, sleeve of tattoos / Oompa Loompa blow me down with a feather / Cloak and dagger bollocks!" I think I can speak for the others when I say that we admire those blokes and that sentiment.
I say "we" because together, we are recording works that will become an album (hopefully albums) and I will be appearing with the gang on a mini-tour that begins December 14th at Mooselab in DUMBO, Brooklyn. On December 21st, we'll be at Champ's in Trenton, and on December 22nd, we'll be at Rhizome in D.C.
Therefore, I will see you at the Joy on Fire Corner of the World. Come join us.
Suddenly, the future is Jazz Punk. Hoy hoy!
"Mayakovsky" by Frank O'Hara, from his collection Meditations in an Emergency (Grove / Atlantic 1957).
Meet You at the Jazz Corner of the World, Vols. 1 and 2 by Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers (Blue Note, 1960).
"Fizzy" by Sleaford Mods off their album Austerity Dogs (Harbinger Sound, 2013).
Sunday, October 28, 2018
THE AFRICAN AMERICAN ORIGINS OF SQUARE DANCE CALLS CAN TEACH ALL AMERICANS A FEW THINGS ABOUT THE TRADITIONS WE SHARE.
A square dance in Minnesota (MNopedia)
“No one will believe that I like country music,” writes James Alan McPherson, in the first sentence of his Pulitzer-winning short story collection, Elbow Room. Who is ‘no one?’ we might wonder. The speaker’s wife, Gloria, can endorse blues and bebop but not “hillbilly stuff.” The speaker, an African American man, establishes his fondness for the stringed sounds of banjos and fiddles. “But most of all,” he reveals, “(I) like square dancing — the interplay between fiddle and caller, the stomping, the swishing of dresses, the strutting, the proud turnings, the laughter.” The title of the story, “Why I Like Country Music,” prepares the reader for a defense, a quiet rebuke ostensibly aimed at the speaker’s wife.
The story travels to the South Carolina of the unnamed fellow’s childhood, an infatuation with “a pretty, chocolate brown” fourth-grader named Gweneth Lawson. Even as his rival, Leon Pugh, threatens to monopolize Gweneth’s attention, the speaker triumphs by dancing with the girl at the best moment, at a school-wide square dance in celebration of spring. Yet the ‘no one’ might include a larger swath of skeptics. Surely, square dancing must be the province of Appalachian whites. Upon witnessing the celebration by the black schoolchildren, the fictional superintendent of schools states, “Lord, y’all square dance so good it makes me plumb ashamed us white folks ain’t takin’ better care of our art stuff.”
That statement may not signal an attempt, by the superintendent, to gerrymander the estimable history of the square dance. To the contrary, it implies that both groups—blacks and whites alike—had been performing the dance for quite some time. According to scholar Philip Jamison, enslaved black fiddlers played music at white dances in the late 1600s, and throughout the tens of decades of their servitude. In an article published in The Journal of Appalachian Studies, Jamison describes the arrival of European dances and dance figures—allemande, quadrille, dos-a-dos, cotillion, promenade, and others—in the early years of the fledgling republic. Enslaved people not only served as musicians for these dances, but began to dance these steps themselves, alongside their own traditions. Jamison writes that cotillions, quadrilles, the Virginia Reel, and African dances “co-existed at plantation ‘frolics’ during the first half of the nineteenth century.” Many were performed in “squares.”
The Bog Trotters Band, photographed in Galax, Virginia in 1937 (Unknown
photographer, courtesy of Lomax Collection at the U.S. Library of Congress).
The Mississippi slave narrative of Isaac Stier not only chronicled that men on his plantation “clogged and pigeoned,” but called the dances as well. Stier recalled that “I use to call out de figgers: ‘Ladies, sasshay, Gents to de lef’, now all swing.’ Ever’body lak my calls an’ de dancers sho’ moved smooth an’ pretty. Long after de war was over de white folks would ‘gage me to come ‘roun’ wid de band an’ call de figgers at all de big dances. Dey always paid me well.” Referring to the callers of square dances, Jamison, in his article, asserts that the first callers were African American and that dance calling was common in black culture before it was adopted by whites and became an integral part of the Appalachian dance tradition. Perhaps it followed naturally from the call-and-response convention of African drum music, with the response, in this case, being the dance steps themselves.
According to a variety of sources, including Jamison, JStor Daily, and Smithsonian.com, the standard imagery of white farmers engaging in country or “contra” dances, reels, and other social jamborees, doesn’t often credit African American and even Native American musicians, who, collectively, played banjo, fiddle, bass, and bugle, and struck the tambourine with “terrible energy” while “crying out the figures.” Numerous historical accounts situate African American slaves as well as free African American musicians calling or “prompting” square dances in the pre-war south and southern Appalachian regions, yet other accounts situate similar events in the Great Lakes, New England, Canada, and England. Eventually, white musicians adopted square dance calling, which included instructions to the dancers and an element of improvisation. The “caller,” once a fiddler himself, eventually became an emcee without instrumental duties, one who would explain the movements to the dancers.
Even as recording technology developed in the early twentieth century, few traditional African American square dance callers dedicated versions of their craft to cylinder or vinyl. Some recorded examples of square dance calls, however, can be found. Father and son duo, Andrew and Jim Baxter, recorded “Georgia Stomp” on the Victor label in 1929. Andrew (father, fiddle) and Jim (son, guitar, vocals) notably performed with a white band, The Yellow Hammers, in 1927, which represents one of the first examples of integrated recordings in Georgia. Another musician, Henry Thomas—featuring “voice, whistle, and guitar”—recorded “The Fox and the Hounds” on Vocalion in 1927. Samuel Jones, also known as Stove Pipe No. 1, and billed as “one man band with singing,” recorded “Turkey in the Straw,” on the Columbia label in 1924. Pete Harris, one of the so-called “Black Texicans,” recorded “Square Dance Calls (Little Liza Jane)” in 1934, a tune that was collected by folklorist John Lomax. [Nota bene: There’s America’s favorite poor gal, Liza Jane, once again.]
“Ho didy ho / Your baby just come from Kokomo.”
Other black recording artists carried notable square dance recordings into the mid-twentieth century. Look for Long John Hunter’s “Old Rattler” on Yucca (1961) or Magic Sam’s “Square Dance Rock, Part 2” on Chief (1960). Above, you can listen to Buddy Lucas’ “Ho Didy Ho,” which appeared on Savoy in 1956. Lucas played tenor saxophone and harmonica throughout his career. In addition to leading some memorable sessions of his own, he turns up as sideman on quite a few stellar tracks and albums: Little Willie John’s “Fever” (1956), Nina Simone Sings the Blues (1967), Albert Ayler’s New Grass (1968), The Blue Yusef Lateef (1968), and Count Basie’s Afrique (1971).
Many years before McPherson published his story, “Why I Like Country Music,” the great Ray Charles released his crossover album, Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music (1962). Charles, a celebrated African American pianist and singer, reinvented twelve tunes typically associated with country artists, including “Hey Good Lookin’” by Hank Williams. By then, perhaps, Charles had taken hold of a style that had been influenced by both African American and white communities, maybe more than once. It’s worth remembering that much American folklore and mythology is precisely that—American, with far-ranging influences drawn from numerous quarters. In an era when America is noteworthy for its divisions, we ought to remember that call and response has influenced hillbilly tunes, and so forth. In “Why I Like Country Music,” the schoolteacher, Mrs. Boswell, attempts to deconstruct the aversion that the speaker initially professes, with respect to square dancing. “The worse you are at dancing,” she says, “the better you can square dance.” Representatives from each culture will blame the other for this sentiment. Either way, the record player croons, “When you get to your partner pass her by / And pick up the next girl on the sly.”
Howard University students square dancing in 1949 (Smithsonian Institution)
SOURCES OF INFORMATION
Articles and Books
Erin Blakemore. “The Slave Roots of Square Dancing.” JStor Daily. June 16, 2107.
Kat Eschner. “Square Dancing Is Uniquely American.” Smithsonian.com. November 29, 2017.
Alan B. Govenar. Texas Blues: The Rise of a Contemporary Sound. Texas A&M University Press (2008).
Philip Jamison. Hoedowns, Reels, and Frolics: Roots and Branches of Southern Appalachian Dance. University of Illinois Press (2015).
Philip Jamison. “Square Dance Calling: The African American Connection.” Journal of Appalachian Studies 9:2 (Fall 2003).
James Alan McPherson. “Why I Love Country Music.” From Elbow Room. Little, Brown (1977).
Clarence Page. “Cultural Appropriation? Try Cultural Sharing.” Chicago Tribune. April 11, 2017.
Isaac Stier. Slave Narrative
Pete Harris “Square Dance Calls (Little Liza Jane)” (1934)
Long John Hunter “Old Rattler” (1961)
Magic Sam “Square Dance Rock, Part 2” (1960)
Stovepipe No. 1, aka Samuel Jones, “Turkey in the Straw” (1924)
Henry Thomas “The Fox and the Hounds” (1927)
Monday, October 15, 2018
—Hey, Right-Wing Alexa.
—What is the state of Capitalism right now?
—By whom, Rusty. Bernie Sanders.
—Not Hillary Clinton?
—No. She’ll be imprisoned soon.
—Not Cory Booker?
—Hey, Right-Wing Alexa.
—Please calculate my number of friends.
—Sure. You have eighteen friends.
—How many of them are minorities?
—We’ve been through this before, Rusty.
—Would you like to know the number of French?
—Last week, I had twenty friends, didn’t I?
—Hey, Right-Wing Alexa.
—How many strips of bacon can I eat?
—May I eat, Rusty. Theoretically?
—There is no upper limit.
—Would you like bacon?
—Great. I’m dialing Applebbee’s.
—Hi, Right-Wing Alexa.
—Are you decent?
—Good. So am I.
—Hello! I am Right-Wing Sergei.
—I am graveyard shift.
—It’s not time for the graveyard shift.
—Da. In Smolensk Oblast, it is.
—Hey, Right-Wing Alexa?
—Do Democrat voters arise from the dead?
—Cadavers are an important part of the Democrat base.
—Why are cadavers so liberal?
—Can you assist me with an underwear purchase?
— No. I cannot be debriefed on boxers.
Sunday, September 2, 2018
I love poets, because they’ll phone me from a TJ Maxx dressing room—the muggy lighting, yes, the discarded sundresses, the sheer, sheer hosiery—only to imply that my leftist politics nevertheless don’t equal their own tilted-beret Marxism. I love poets, because they’re always crashing at my apartment, stealing turns in the shower, and pooping out odd little evergreens into my toilet, but never acknowledging our friendship after they return to their academic jobs, or their NYC jobs, or their mysterious positions grooming information for dubious conglomerates. They are gymnasts, these poets, they leap onto dangerous ledges, their frigid synapses medicated against the pervasive societal forces that would otherwise embrace them gently or roughly as the case may be. They are beautiful and handsome alike, they copulate in ways that mimic the backstroke or sidestroke or how people ride a two person (or three person) bicycle.
I love poets, because they equate anti-Trump Facebook postings to “taking a stand” even as this passive behavior contributes to the “white noise” that obscures Trump’s gateway fascism. Nobody is more qualified than poets when it comes to judging—arbitrating—the truth of a flawed system, and I love them, the poets, because we need them (finally, definitively) to scold us, to scald us with the righteousness we cannot perceive via our own faculties. They are poets, they compose poetry after all, it has rhyme and abstraction and non sequitur and metrical brilliance (at least what they dictate into a smartphone does), and after an appropriate interval, presses bind these poems into sheathes. Reluctantly, they read from these sheathes, they chant from these sheathes in a doldrums known as ‘iambics’, but don’t mistake their casual modesty at first, no, the poets aspire to give us readings, they are libraries unto themselves, they whip us with their oratory.
I love poets, because they’re the culprits behind a pattern of larcenies: the tip jar money, the vintage jacket, the autographed Tina Brooks album on Blue Note. They weep, the poets, while seated within the expanse of musty leather armchairs, the armchairs are endowed, they are named for other poets who wept in other armchairs, they wept, did the forebears, and they weep, do the contemporaries, for themselves, for their minimalist, pointillist dramaturgy, they weep until they are comforted by an administrator. There’s nothing like a repentant poet, simply put, since there are no repentant poets, only the word repentance, the sound of which approaches, curiously enough, the sound of the word “serpents.” I love poets, though, notwithstanding their record-setting selfishness, but because no other group of people can emerge from the cellars of isolation, after thirty minutes of exertion, wielding the high voltage of impregnable verse, and if I’m lucky, I should like to become just one such impossible person, a poet.
This Posts Is Part of New Home California Day. Also See:
West Coast beard
Of all the alleged disparities between the two seashores—East Coast stout, West Coast stout—East Coast political outrage, West Coast political outrage—East Coast romantic suspense, West Coast romantic suspense—East Coast brooding, West Coast brooding—East Coast potato dish, West Coast potato dish—and so forth, I am here to report that my beard, modest as it may be, appears to be growing according to universal patterns of bearded development. This is noteworthy, since I have grown a beard, modest as it may be, both on the East Coast, where I formerly resided, and on the West Coast, where I currently reside.
The corner turret
If you care to know, I am situated most often at longitude 40 degrees, 52 minutes, 14 seconds North, latitude 124 degrees, 5 minutes, 11 seconds West, in the corner turret. Currently, me and my beard are looking out the corner turret at 88 degrees East toward the Arcata Community Forest. Currently, me and my beard are drinking a West Coast stout, Deschutes Obsidian Stout, oh yes, we heartily recommend this fine brew, do me and my beard. Afterwards, technically, we are both “beered” as the kids say. East Coast puns, West Coast puns: they’re all pretty dreadful in the end. But the forest is not dreadful. The forest is tall, quiet, cathedral, sage, vigilant.
East Coast beard
I am assimilating among the peoples of the West Coast, which is all to say that I am engaging in comparisons (as you can tell). If you live on the East Coast, then we must traverse great distances in order to keep company, but we shall, traverse great distances and keep company, you and I. If you reside on the West Coast, then the distances to traverse aren’t so great, and let us traverse them, you and I, for my abode might house you if you might need housing, and my abode might feed you, if you need nourishment, and my abode might uncork the wonders of song and drink, if you need merriment, and you do. The door is always open, friend.
This Posts Is Part of New Home California Day. Also See: