Here’s an interview Sean did.
Hey. A little while ago I did some sound-design and audio restoration work on a documentary film out of New Orleans about James Booker. If you’re not super-into N.O.L.A. music and culture, or soul-jazz and funk from the 60s and 70s, it’s a safe bet you don’t know who Booker was.
He was a beautiful maniac who had a monster-sized gift for music. He was a one-eyed drug addict, alcoholic, schizophrenic, he suffered from bipolar disorder. He was more interesting than almost anyone I can think of.
It’s been a long, long road getting the movie in front of people, but now, here it is! You can watch it on itunes.
I live in Spain now. Have I mentioned that here? Yeah. Easter vacation in Europe is a big deal, and it seems like everyone who can travel, does. I can’t tell if there’s an official schedule – some people take like 2 weeks, some a couple of days. I had a 4-day weekend, and I wanted to go somewhere cheap and interesting. This is Chiajna monastery. It’s pretty spooky in person (when we were there, there was a really dramatic sky with lots of black crows circling), and is, I’m not kidding, located in the middle of a giant city dump. The structure, completed sometime around 1790, is a total ruin but is apparently going to be restored by the church. I wish I could have gotten a better look, but there were a lot of guard dogs chained up around the place, a lot of “NO PHOTOS!” signs, and some guys with additional dogs started to roll up on us as soon as we got there. Here’s some stuff from Wikipedia about Chiajna monastery : “Legend says that the church was bombarded by the Turks even before consecration. Reportedly, the Turks believed that the church was a military objective and tried to destroy it. Thus, all the documents within the church were burned, though the building itself remained standing.”
“On the wall on the right from the entrance, in about the middle, a few feet high, detaching plaster formed in the appearance of a lady or angel, and some claim it resembles the Sphinx of Giza or Romanian Sphinx.”
Over the years, many disappearances have been reported in the monastery, especially of neighboring Roma people.” “There were two murders, one before and one after 1990.” It rained non-stop the first 2 days, which so perfectly suited my pre-conceived idea of the city that I actually really enjoyed it. When the sun came out, things seemed more surreal. Here, a Communist-era barber shop. Romanian pickelhaube helmet at the National Military Museum. Usually these helmets have an eagle or other some-such military-looking symbol, and this bull emblem gives the whole uniform a kind of pagan look that I’m partial to. Carturesti Carusel, a really beautiful bookstore in the old town that kind of reminds me of a huge, spare, modernist version of Livraria Lello, which I visited a few months ago.
I met a couple of really cool people in Bucharest, including Andy (in the photo, with the rat on his neck), who is part of a crew of guys who find old pinball machines and return them to working order. These ones here are in a place called Club Underworld, which was described to me as Bucharest’s premiere punk club; I sure didn’t see any punks there, but it’s a decent place, with good tunes playing about half the time. Andy’s band sounds like this.
Ciolan (giant pork knuckle) and a 1-liter beer at Carul cu Bere. This huge, always-packed 1890s restaurant is at the top of every tourist-blog “things to do and places to eat in Bucharest” list, but locals were also emphatic that I should eat here.
A view of the grounds at the Muzeul Militar Naţional, where there are seemingly hundreds of tanks, big guns, armored train cars, radar trucks – I don’t think I’ve ever seen this much war junk gathered in one place.
The statue of the most famous Romanian at Curtea Veche ( the “old princely court”). I was a little surprised that there wasn’t more Dracula stuff around town, but it’s a big country and he’s from a couple hundred miles to the north.
Last day in town. Rock n’ roll, a breeze carrying the smell of sizzling meat, and shots of homemade 100-proof palinca.
You can read about it here, and you can order it here. The set contains exact reproductions of every single LP and 12″ EP released by the band prior to signing with Geffen (sourced from the original tapes, yesindeed) including early unreleased, unheard material from the Gods On Voodoo Moon and Pig Heaven sessions. There’s also a big fat book, packed with all kinds of stuff Sean Yseult and I dug out of our archives, including a lot of eye-catching photos and memorabilia, and even a comprehensive guide to WZ t-shirts. It has literally been years since we started talking about doing this, and there have been a lot of snags along the way, so I’m very, very happy to able to finally talk about it.
Here in New Orleans, we think of Summer as something to be endured. It’s famously hot (really, it’s the tropics! I can see banana trees out of my window), and this was the second hottest Summer on record, so you can imagine what it was like. (You can’t? Turn your oven to 125° and stick your head inside) Everyone who can leave, leaves, and this time, I stuck it out.
There was that horror movie/celebrity convention at the beginning of August (while there were some fun things that happened there, I was working, and I wouldn’t call it a vacation), and a couple of little day trips (options are limited, living as I do in geographic isolation at the absolute bottom of the country, where the nearest medium-sized cities are 5-6-7 hours away), but for the most part, I stayed put. I had a lot to do, and I guess I was trying to
punish myself prove something to myself, which is that I really don’t want to live here any longer.
Especially with the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, stories about this city – the gentrification, the incompetence, the corruption, and the crime are all over the news. Suffice to say that, for me, the draw, among a few other things, was that it was easy to live here, and you could pretty much do what you wanted and be left alone. The benefits (insanely cheap cost of living, no rules, being surrounded by art and music all the time) used to outweigh the drawbacks.
Now, they’re intent on turning the place into a demented version of Portland, albeit with lots of violent crime and broken social services. I like Portland, but if I wanted to live in Portland, I would, you know?
Anyway, to my point. There were some bright spots, this Summer. I wasn’t here very much, and I was on Instagram quite a bit. A lot has been made about the death of the blog, or how blogs are for old people, and .. no, I just haven’t been in the mood to write, and the web kind of takes the Summer off, doesn’t it? Instagram is a good medium for me. You don’t have to think much.
There’s a very nice church around the corner from where I live, which has a well-funded music program. I have recorded, from time to time, the church’s brilliant and eccentric musical director’s organ recitals, which might feature the pieces you’d expect, by Bach and Purcell, but might also include works by Hendrix, Aerosmith, and Deep Purple. The paint-and-gold-leaf design on the inside cover of the church’s harpsichord took 2 years to complete.
I worked on a film crew as a sound recorder, on a documentary about a New Orleans brass band (It’s part of this group of films, which were made to commemorate the Katrina anniversary, I’ll post the movie itself later, if it becomes available to watch). After a long and very hot shoot in a club in the 7th Ward, I was carrying gear back to the van, walking through tall grass on a neutral ground (in other places, you’d call this a ‘median’), when all of a sudden it felt like someone had poured acid on my foot. I have fire-ant scars now.
I call this one ‘The Bleeding Heart Of Kenny Hill’. Hill was an itinerant bricklayer who settled on a patch of land in Chauvin, LA (way down there in the wetlands, south of Houma, even) and, in the grand tradition of America’s loner eccentric builders (Simon Rodia’s Watts Towers, Edward Leedskalnin’s Coral Castle, Leonard Knight’s Salvation Mountain, Jim Bishop’s Bishop Castle, and the list goes on and on), created a colorful sculpture garden, full of statues of.. himself, in various states of religious torment. Here, he’s dragging a cross behind Jesus. There, he’s being comforted by angels. It’s awesome.
My friends are incredulous that I’m still working on the White Zombie vinyl box set, the idea of which was conceived about two years ago. I’ve spent the last year on it, wrangling audio (I mastered the whole thing) , digging through all of my boxes of WZ stuff for cool artifacts (like, above, this Make Them Die Slowly shirt, which Rob and Sean gave me the first day I met them, and which I wore on my first tour with the band, Summer 1989), writing down everything I can remember (this was from notes I made for the box, and so was this).
We’re on the final step, they tell me, which is editing various interviews (not just with me and Sean and Rob, but Ivan, Tom 5, and various other people who are part of the story) and pulling it all together into something everyone can agree on. I’ve got the test-pressings (5 discs, plus a possible sixth, everything sounds really good), and I’ve seen the mock-up of the hardcover book which will be included (beautiful, packed with high-quality photos). We’ve put a lot of ourselves into this thing, and I hope you get to hear and see it soon.
Here’s the “3D gold with blood splatter” vinyl variant of the soundtrack LP of Starry Eyes, which is a very cool 2014 horror film. The record actually looks like this, but if you hold it up to the light, it turns into something more like blood blobs on a clear microscope slide. When I started this site, I was deep into recording and engineering, and that isn’t the case at all anymore. I haven’t made a record with a band in a couple of years, and I’ve somehow become an audio engineer who prepares recordings for pressing on vinyl.
The label I do this for most often is Waxwork, issuer of horror-movie soundtracks and scores. Not only do I work on music from movies from the recent spate of fresh, inventive, and quite scary films, like Starry Eyes and Babadook, but on many of the classics I grew up with: C.H.U.D., Friday The 13th, Rosemary’s Baby, Creepshow. Often, the music from these motion pictures was originally released in a highly edited form, or not at all, and I get to go back to the original tapes and pull something new together. It’s pretty cool.
Des Allemands, LA. Drive-through daiquiri shop, with a blue gorilla in front. What can I tell you about this? Whenever I spot one of these old-time (late 50s-early 60s, America was covered with concrete dinosaurs, alligators, gorillas – enticing motorists to pull over, take photos, and buy stuff) roadside cement creatures, I turn around and check it out. It’s always fun.
The drive-through liquor store has a long and convoluted history in the deep south. Here’s the current loophole that allows you to purchase a big slushy cup of high-fructose corn sweetener, chemical dye, everclear or 4 different kinds of cheap rum to be consumed in your car : the lid of the cup has a straw in it, and the top of the straw has a torn-off part of the straw’s wrapper on it. Thus, the drink is ‘sealed’, and you’re, of course, committing a grave crime if you remove the wrapper.
By the time I was a senior in high school, I’d managed to finagle a schedule that was nearly all art and writing classes. First period was ‘graphic arts’, which was a vocational class where I got to use a printing press, silk-screen t-shirts, and develop photos in a darkroom. My friend Dread Scott (back then, a kid from my neighborhood, now a famous artist), was a photography student at the Art Institute of Chicago, and was able to check out fancy, professional large format cameras – which he shot punk shows with. I didn’t have a camera of my own, so Scott graciously lent me his negatives so that I could learn to print. I was recently going through boxes of teenage stuff and I came across two prints I made of Samhain, from their gig at Smart Bar, Chicago, December 2nd, 1984 (one of 2 times I saw the band).
Es el final del verano. Gracias a dios.
DDR sugar packet. I put this in my pocket during White Zombie’s first European tour, when we were heading to Berlin, Christmas 1989. This is how I found myself at the Brandenburg Gate on my 23rd birthday, four days after that part of the Berlin Wall had been opened, watching East Germans stream through to party with their Western counterparts.
Barfield lived south of Plains, Georgia, the hometown of Jimmy Carter. The nation’s attention was fixed on Plains in the election year of 1976, as Carter’s campaign portrayed the area as a bastion of racial harmony in the South. Mitchell remembers it differently: “We were recording Cecil in this tiny sharecropper’s shack in some guy’s plantation. And in the middle of the session, the plantation owner’s son came down and told us ‘You can’t be in this house.’ So I went up to the plantation house to explain the situation to the owner, and this guy was just beside himself. ‘This is not the way we do things in Plains, Georgia. White people are not in niggers’ houses.’ I tried to tell him we were with the Bureau doing field work and he just said, ‘Listen buddy, I have called the sheriff, and you’re gonna be in jail if you’re not out of there fast.’ So, that was Plains in 1976.”
In fear of endangering the welfare checks he relied on for income, Barfield refused to let his real name be used on any of the Mitchell recordings issued in his lifetime; instead, the Barfield recordings issued on labels like Flyright and Southland were done so under the pseudonym William Robertson. This was not the only area in which Barfield was cautious. He refused to let Mitchell use a photo of him on the album cover, for fear that someone could curse him by using his image. He sprinkled powders around his door, and carried his own water with him, even when he traveled a few miles to Columbus. Despite Mitchell’s protestations, Barfield would always spend his checks on root doctors for his health problems.
After Mitchell retired from field recording, the folklorist Art Rosenbaum recorded and interviewed Cecil. When Rosenbaum asked him how he thought up a song, Cecil replied: “Your heart feels a certain way, then your mind follows, then your hands follow that.”
I’m reading this very entertaining book in an attempt to understand why my interactions with French people are almost always overwhelmingly negative. The slightly haughty Frenchman, the openly contemptuous Frenchman, the Frenchman who is straight-up ENRAGED at my very existence – I’ve dealt with the entire range. I know, too, that it’s not me ( hey, I LIKE French stuff! ), and that it’s not because I’m an American, because this has come up in conversation with Peruvians, Swedes .. even Australians, the jolliest, friendliest people on Earth, will usually have a story about a disagreeable Gallic encounter.
Chapters include “The French are uncommonly rude”, “Paris is the European Capitol of canine excreta, The French are uniquely tolerant of Adultery”, and of course, “The archetypical Frenchman wears a beret and striped shirt and rides a bicycle festooned with onions”.
In Trieste, there is nothing between the Alps and the Mediterranean, and even the local news and gossip reflect this extraordinary Contiguity. On a street two minutes’ walk from the center of town, an old lady adopted a sweet little puppy looking in the garbage for food, and not until several months later did she realize it was a wolf. A young goat, having come too far off the mountain, had no other escape route but to throw himself into the sea, right there in the heart of the city, and several times the papers have run stories about Slovenian bears that have come to the edge of town to snack in local chicken coops. In Trieste, the industrial area backs up to a wilderness canyon called Rosandra, with sixth-degree cliffs, and that gorge takes you to the border in a half hour’s walk. That’s where the no-man’s-land is marked by my inn with the iron bar; a place typical of the Cold War, still intact, where thirty years ago soldiers from the now defunct Yugoslavia used to stop in for couple of rounds of unauthorized drinking with the Italian tax police.
Once, during the Jewish feast of Purim, in which getting drunk is a licit activity, a Jerusalemite rabbi whose family was originally from my area gave me the best definition of my Heimat (home). “When a Triestian sits at the head of a dock and looks out at the sunset with a good bottle of wine in hand, well, that is prayer, great and blessed prayer.” And if you pay close attention in those moments, he added, “the sea bristles with pleasure, the brass on the Karst turns to velvet, and women look at you with bursting desire. And the master of the universe, caressing his beard, says to you with satisfaction, and just a pinch of envy, ‘my lads, you’ve got the better of me yet again.'” In other words, the magnificence of the place resides in its unique contiguity with antithetical situations. Seeing is believing. The distance between a mooring berth and the opera house is fifty yards, between your boat and a tavern less than thirty.
I am proudly attached to this shoreline of mine, where I have dreamed up all my departures. There are nights, especially autumn nights, where the breeze kicks up, the air turns to glass, and the ferries to Istanbul weigh their anchors to pass in front of the freshly snowcapped Alps, when I really do have the sensation that God envies us mixed-blood bastards perched between worlds on this fabulous precipice. Standing at the head of a pier, without moving an inch, we can see Europe and Turkey, imagine the islands of Ulysses and the beer halls of Prague, where Bohumil Hrabal looked for his passengers; make out, among the ribbing of the surrounding hills, the front of the Great War, which intertwines with the Iron Curtain; sniff the warehouses of Serene Venice, packed full of goods from the East, and at the same time the wild smells of the wild steppes beyond the Danube. In the mid-1980s, when a Bavarian Chancellor landed with his helicopter on one of these piers, he said, “Unglaublich” (incredible), because such was the synthesis of the different worlds.
“This is the last tour we’re doing in America. We simply cannot afford it any more. It’s not getting better. The dollar’s not worth anything. Ticketmaster is eating it up all. Next year this is all gonna be Clear Channel. So, what the hell? We’re not going on tour here no more.”
– Blixa Bargeld
“STUPID, STUPID. Americans are stupid. America is stupid. A stupid, stupid country made stupid by stupid, stupid people.” I particularly remember that because of the nine stupids. It was said over a dinner table by a professional woman, a clever, clever, clever woman. Hardback educated, bespokely traveled, liberally humane, worked in the arts. I can’t remember Specifically why she said it, what evidence of New World idiocy triggered the trope. Nor do I remember what the reaction was, but I don’t need to remember. It would have been a nodded and muttered agreement. Even from me. I’ve heard this cock crow so often I don’t even feel guilt for not wringing its neck.
Among the educated, enlightened, expensive middle classes of Europe, this is a received wisdom. A given. Stronger in some countries, like France, less so somewhere like Germany, but overall the Old World patronizes America for being a big, dumb, fat, belligerent child. The intellectuals, the movers and the makers and the creators, the dinner-party establishments of people who count, are united in the belief – no, the knowledge – that Americans are stupid, crass, ignorant, soulless, naive oafs without attention, irony, or intellect. These same people will use every comforting, clever, ingenious American invention, will demand America’s medicine, wear its clothes, eat its food, drink its drink, go to its cinema, love its music, thank God for its expertise in a hundred disciplines, and will all adore New York. More than that, more shaming and hypocritical than that, these are people who collectively owe their nations’ and their personal freedom to American intervention and protection in wars, both hot and cold. Who, whether they credit it or not, also owe their concepts of freedom, equality, and civil rights in no small part to America. Of course, they will also sign collective letters accusing America of being a fascist, totalitarian, racist state.
Enough. Enough, enough, enough of this convivial rant, this collectively confirming bigotry. The nasty laugh of little togetherness, or Euro-liberal insecurity. It’s embarrassing, infectious, and belittling. Look at that European snapshot of America. It is so unlike the country I have known for 30 years. Not just a caricature, but a travesty, an invention. Even on the most cursory observation, the intellectual European view of the New World is a homemade, Old World effigy that suits some internal purpose. The belittling, the discounting, the mocking of Americans is not about them at all. It’s about us, back here on the ancient, classical, civilized continent. Well, how stupid can America actually be? On the international list of the world’s best universities, 14 of the top 20 are American. Four are British. Of the top 100, only 4 are French, and Heidelberg is one of 4 that creeps in for the Germans. America has won 338 Nobel Prizes. The U.K., 119. France, 59. America has more Nobel Prizes than Britain, France, Germany, Japan, and Russia combined. Of course, Nobel Prizes aren’t everything, and America’s aren’t all for inventing Prozac or refining oil. It has 22 Peace Prizes, 12 for literature. (T. S. Eliot is shared with the Brits.)
And are Americans emotionally dim, naive, irony-free? Do you imagine the society that produced Dorothy Parker and Lenny Bruce doesn’t understand irony? It was an American who said that political satire died when they awarded the Nobel Peace Prize to Henry Kissinger. It’s not irony that America lacks; it’s cynicism. In Europe, that arid sneer out of which nothing is grown or made is often mistaken for the creative scalpel of irony. And what about vulgarity? Americans are innately, sniggeringly vulgar. What, vulgar like Henry James or Eleanor Roosevelt or Cole Porter, or the Mormons? Again, it’s a question of definitions. What Americans value and strive for is straight talking, plain saying. They don’t go in for ambiguity or dissembling, the etiquette of hidden meaning, the skill of the socially polite lie. The French in particular confuse unadorned direct language with a lack of culture or intellectual elegance. It was Camus who sniffily said that only in America could you be a novelist without being an intellectual. There is a belief that America has no cultural depth or critical seriousness. Well, you only have to walk into an American bookshop to realize that is wildly wrong and willfully blind. What about Mark Twain, or jazz, or Abstract Expressionism?
What is so contrary about Europe’s liberal antipathy to America is that any visiting Venusian anthropologist would see with the merest cursory glance that America and Europe are far more similar than they are different. The threads of the Old World are woven into the New. America is Europe’s greatest invention. That’s not to exclude the contribution to America that has come from around the globe, but it is built out of Europe’s ideas, Europe’s understanding, aesthetic, morality, assumptions, and laws. From the way it sets a table to the chairs it sits on, to the rhythms of its poetry and the scales of its music, the meter of its aspirations and its laws, its markets, its prejudices and neuroses. The conventions and the breadth of America’s reason are European.
This isn’t a claim for ownership, or for credit. But America didn’t arrive by chance. It wasn’t a ship that lost its way. It wasn’t coincidence or happenstance. America grew tall out of the cramping ache of old Europe. – A.A.Gill
I started a Tumblr, something I resisted for years. It’s here.
I’m in Izmir, which is on the coast of the Aegean Sea and is the third-largest city in Turkey. One of the things I did today was drink tea at a hole-in-the-wall sidewalk joint, where the owner DJed crackly old Turkish 45s.
For the dorks, that’s a German-made Perpetuum-Ebner Musical 5V from the 1950s, which happens to be the same model Elvis used when he was in the army.