There came that point in the mid-'60s when everything was culminating in a great big blur of flowers, sex, drugs, and haphazard Eastern mysticism - and rock music was right there, the preeminent vector of a new pop counterculture. If you couldn't avail yourself of a sitar you at least made your electric guitar sound like one. If your suburban upbringing precluded any established familiarity with Eastern religion, you could overcome that, too, with lyrics which came across as mystical, provocative, or, depending on the listener's patience, frustratingly enigmatic.
The Yardbirds had "Heart Full of Soul," the Rolling Stones had "Paint It Black." The Kinks did it with "See My Friends" and the Beatles, too, did it with "Rain." There wasn't anything authentically Eastern - Indian, Arabic, or otherwise - about this new sound in the pop charts. Nor was that really the point. I believe that most pop musicians generally understood their limitations, and understood, too, that - odd exotic modes and chords and Pentatonic scales aside - heavy amplification and psychedelic Eastern-sounding guitar solos belonged together in some sort of profound, predetermined way. It was kismet, in other words, and if someone somewhere was flashing on the Taj Mahal and blue clouds of hashish smoke, then so much the better.
1. The Off-Set, Xanthia (Lisa) (Jubilee)
The Off-Set were a popular band in mid-'60s Brooklyn, recording their debut 45 as the Jagged Edge before renaming themselves for their second record, the stunning "Xanthia (Lisa)."
A peerless psychedelic dirge that seems to have shared AC current with cross-town compatriots the Velvet Underground, "Xanthia (Lisa)" would also be the Off-Set's last 45. However briefly, though, the Off-Set flourished in the sex chat atmosphere of 1966 pop experimentalism. Vocalist Elliot Ingber breaks into something that sounds like Latin two thirds of the way into the song, and when it came time for a solo, there's the singular sound of a steel Zippo lighter slid against guitar strings. After all, the Byrds had a hit with their 12-string guitar freak-out "Eight Miles High," so why not try the same with Zippo lighters, mysterious communiqués from "the night wind," and a metric tonne of reverberation?
The Off-Set were Drew Georgopulos (rhythm guitar and vocals), Art Steinman (lead guitar and vocals), Kenny Bennett (drums), Elliot Ingber (lead vocals), and Harley Wishner (bass). Check out Mike Dugo's great interview with lead guitarist Art Steinman here (with the story of this recording) , and Steinman's personal history and official site for the band here. Both features were used in writing this post.
Xanthia is a genus of nocturnal moth.
2. 1st Century, Looking Down (Capitol
The 1st Century's exact origins remain unknown. If the involvement of Don Nix (former Mar-Keys saxophonist and future blues songwriter) is any indication, though, "Looking Down" was a Memphis production, the 1st Century themselves likely a one-off group of studio musicians.
"Looking Down," their only recording, features sophisticated lyrics straight from a lost epilogue to The Doors of Perception, and the hypnotic propulsion of an unidentified stringed instrument. Is it an oud? A Greek bouzouki? Whatever it is, the miracle of "Looking Down" is that this instrument had worked its way up the Mississippi and into some corner of a Memphis studio, making producers uneasy for years before that epochal moment in 1968 when, finally, it could be picked up and put to proper use.
Authorship credit here goes to Ray Stinnett, former guitarist for Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs (of "Wooly Bully" fame).
3. The Raves, Mother Nature (Smash
In 1967, it wasn't always enough for just your guitar to sound like a refugee from the Arabian Desert. Sometimes you needed your harmonies, organ, bass, and your guitars all to hang in the air and literally vibrate in sympathetic melisma with the East. And, in the process of doing so, the Raves generated this sublime psychedelic pop classic.
One of innumerable garage combos which released a few fine 45s in the 1960s and which have languished in obscurity since (or, conversely, that have always languished in obscurity), the Raves' blissful harmony sound is reminiscent of the era's West Coast recordings. Their exact whereabouts a free sex cams mystery, the involvement of A&R and production stalwarts Ron Haffkine and Jerry Ross on this 45, however, suggest that New York City was home to the brothers Jimenez.
Rarely did exotica - or the idea of the exotic in all of its post-War American pop music permutations - masquerade as authentic simulacra. That's part of what made exotica exotica. An odd minor key and a flourish of African percussion here. Some warmed-over Arabic melody there. It created an aura of mystery and taboo with only a vague musical relationship to the culture it attempted to evoke.
In the hands of, say, Les Baxter (an all-time favorite artist of mine), the exotic was more likely be a "Congolese-ish orchestral tone-poem" than passed off as anything genuinely Congolese. Other compositions might venture even further from their source of inspiration; exotic in title only, you sort of get the sense they were mostly opportunities for musicians to exorcise some of their darker creative impulses. That's why I love the more obscure strains of exotica (including early psychedelia). Like this week's selections, they maintained a basic degree of air-conditioned comfort for the sedentary daydreamer, but, by leveraging the idea of the exotic, musicians could paint with wilder, weirder strokes than they might have conventionally used.
All of this can be problematic, of course. Intentional or not, invoking the exotic is also invoking old stereotypes about the "primitive" and a long and shameful history of ethnocentricism. I'm not thinking about that right now, though. Instead, I'm back to the way those conga drums ricocheted around in my speakers. Did you hear that?
1. Jimmie McGriff, Jungle Cat (Part 1) (Jell
With his hit version of Ray Charles' "I Got a Woman," Philadelphia organist Jimmy McGriff was one of the first to achieve broader success in the gospel and R&B; rooted idiom that came to be known as soul jazz. An exotic mood piece from 1964, McGriff's obscure "Jungle Cat" is an anomaly among his generally bluesy work, however.
2. Jimmie McGriff, Jungle Cat (Part 2) (Jell
McGriff is joined on "Jungle Cat" by his longtime guitarist Larry Frazier (with a stunning solo on part 2) as well as his brother Hank (on, naturally, bongos). Together they lurch forward into a thick, fetid gloom of live jasmin studio echo, leaving it to the listener to decide whether they ever emerged again.
McGriff, a legendary, prolific career to his name, is still active today, I'm happy to report.
3. Walter Bolen, Lion Hunt (Part Two.
It was getting progressively harder to find, but, in 1967, exotica was still available in the open market. You just had to ask around a little. You could find it being sold with hopelessly dated titles like "Lion Hunt." It was out there in different formats, too: jazz, easy listening, soundtrack mood pieces, greasy R&B; instrumentals.
"Lion Hunt" managed to be nearly all those things. This selection was also the first release on Pick-A-Hit records, a label run by aspiring Los Angeles R&B producer and impresario Bobby Sanders, and one of many independent labels that - depending on who you asked - either serviced or exploited Los Angeles's fascinating jazz, soul, R&B;, and Latin music scene. Other than writing, arranging, and playing on it (presumably either the saxophone or organ), Walter Bolen remains a total mystery, however.
Part One of "Lion Hunt," is, if you're curious, the same track - just without "roaring lion" sound effects.
4. The Living End, Jumpin' At the Lion's Gate (Bolo)
Like other regions, the Pacific Northwest had its own circumscribed rock 'n' roll scene in the twilight years before the British Invasion. Popular groups like the Kingsmen, Paul Revere & the Raiders, the Wailers, and the Sonics all emerged from this Jasmin live scene, honing their raucous R&B-infused version of rock 'n' roll on the Northwest's legendary club circuit and mixing it up with versatile (and sometimes racially integrated) seven- and eight-piece horn combos.
If this selection's flipside - a tight James Brown-inspired instrumental entitled "Skyride" - is any indication, the Living End were pretty typical of the scene.
Part mod-ish jazz instrumental, part screwball romp through a Go-Go bar floorshow, "Jumpin' At the Lion's Gate," is altogether another story, however. Maybe the Living End didn't set out to be exotic, but this number probably sounded pretty primal after throwing back a few Coffee Grogs fireside at Kona Kove.
The lone record by the Living End, "Jumpin' At the Lion's Gate" was released on Bolo, which, along with sister label Seafair, was one of the Pacific Northwest's great indie labels. (Sharp-eyed readers might remember another Seafair/Bolo 45 from this post.) Being released in 1966, it was also definitely an endnote in the chronology of the Northwest sound.
I was so confident that there once stood a club named "The Lion's Gate" in Seattle. I could find no such references, however - it seems likely it was named for this famous Vancouver landmark, instead.
I created a zine for a show I did for a show in Manila curated by my friend Mariano Ching called Saturday Fun Machine. Here's a couple of recent reviews of the show.
This 'zine style book quickly grabs your attention with an attractive wrap around cover design and overall sense of packaging that I just loved. Having consumed as much pop culture as I have in the form of comics, books, magazines, movies, music, and fine art over the years, it's rare for me to find something I've never seen before. Brown's introductory text summarizing his early years is an example of an original and clever trick that I appreciated. Thunder Island is a little slow to get going, but enjoyable once it does. Brown begins discussing the background of the namesake of his school, notes about his first grade teacher and a slightly humorous anecdote, a fight with his mortal enemy Ernie (which is a good lesson in never appeasing an aggressor - that's "standing up to a bully" in kid speak), and has very funny and on point observations about the difference between boys and girls bathrooms as an explanation for social behavior. The boy's bathroom, with its "institutional style," means it would be a "foaming pants situation before I ever took a dump in there." He proceeds with my favorite part of the book, in discussing the "ladies of the second grade," including Carmen Dresch, who grows up to be a promiscuous sorority type, aka: "sor-whore." There's mention of other memorable teachers like "fuck Jeanie fucking Harrison," which made me chuckle at the pure genuine emotion on display. He ends with the exotic flair of Joy Jordan and a very interesting observation that informed early on the archetype of what he looks for in women today. Brown is able to perfectly capture the electricity of that youthful "crazy tingling sensation" that seems to course through your entire body when you kiss, as well as the fleeting allure of chasing that feeling throughout life. Brown's figures are serviceable enough, but the real conversation starter here is the style of the text, since it comprises at least 80% of the book by my estimation. The handwritten text is sometimes difficult to read, on rare occasions it degenerates into chicken scratch and the characters are near impossible to parse. It's not riddled by any means, but there are occasional misspellings and sentence fragments to be found as well. By the end though, I was having such a good time with this writer's authorial voice that I was willing to overlook the small errors and focus on the larger accomplishment. Tim Brown is certainly a creator to watch. Grade B+.
and from Optical Sloth.
The problem with all the whiny autobio comics about love and missed opportunities in the lives of artists is that it usually focuses on the same period, roughly from high school to some point in their 20's. Tim decided to get an early start on all that with this comic and detail the early loves of his life from the first through third grade. Actually, it's a little iffy to even call this a comic, as the sampled image below is as much of an illustration as you're going to get on any given page. Many of them have no illustrations at all. So does that make this a zine, technically? Ah, definitions like that give me a headache. He sent this to me for potential review, I run a site about small press comic books, so this is a comic. It's easy when I can change the rules when it suits me. One other technical note: as this is primarily text, it would have been nice if he had proofread a bit more, as words are inserted or crossed off fairly regularly. At least he kept the spelling errors to a minimum. There's also some confusion right off the bat when he says on the third page that he had no interest in girls, then spends the rest of the comic talking about how he had crushes from an early age and how most of his memories from that period involve girls and not his guy friends. Anyway, there are some funny moments of discovery about himself, some surprisingly detailed memories of various people and events of that time, and a hilarious way to deal with bullies that want to confront you in the bathroom. The only trouble with this is that, as it was written by an adult, there are times when it feels like Tim has the confidence of adult Tim. It's a minor thing though, as his detailed memories of most of the things about this time of his life (there are some gaps, as is natural) makes this a fairly compelling read. No price listed, but going with the "fancy cover" rule I'll say it's $4.
The Listening Post at Lawndale Art Center, Houston
I opened my first solo show "The Listening Post," at the Lawndale on March 13th. Please check it out if you haven't already- it runs until April 18th in Houston.
The show involved a three-cubicle installation, one large painting of 200 portraits, a grid of sixteen log book sketches I had drawn as I spoke to Houstonians on the phone, and recordings of some of the phone calls I had taken over the two month period.
Here's the show statement:
As with everything, this show started small. There I sat , in Austin, summer of 2003, hunched over a cubicle at a dead-end call center job, drawing pictures of tombstones on Post-it Notes while I talked with people about cancer. I was miserable.
Then I took a call from a woman in Dallas. A Talker. A gum-smacking Talker who would not shut up. I'm a extremely patient listener, but this woman was driving me up the wall. I picked up a pen and drew a woman with a big mouth, then I drew another woman with a bigger mouth, then a bigger mouth. The more she talked, the more I drew, and the bigger her damn mouth became. It made me happy, like I was controlling the exchange somehow. We ended the call, and I had a drawing.
My next day off, I bought a sketchbook and a couple of black felt tip pens. I drew a grid of eight rectangles on the page, and whenever I had a chance during one of the 35 or more calls I took a day, I drew what I thought the caller looked like on the other side of the line and noted the city from which they called. When I finally quit my job six months later, I had two hundred and fifty portraits. The large painting here is the culmination of that sketchbook series.
At some point, I realized that talking to strangers wasn't the reason I was miserable at my call center job. I was miserable because my job dictated what I had to talk about, and that meant not being myself. What if I removed all of the "jobbiness" of taking calls from the public and just interacted with strangers with my own rules? Nothing to sell, nothing to say, no agenda, no answers, no questions, no needs, and no rules. What would that feel like?
The Listening Post was born. For the last two months, I've advertised a toll free number with a variety of messages in the Houston Press and on Craigslist. I've gotten quite a few calls, and have drawn portraits of the callers and taken notes during our interactions. For about a month now, I have recorded our conversations (with their consent) and I've realized that The Listening Post isn't just an intake process- it's also a performance.
People like to think that they need an expert to figure things out for them. I do- that's why I listen to Fresh Air and watch Judge Judy and pay for someone to do my taxes. But after having talked through a lot of problems with people these last two months, I think all we really need is to have someone listening.