Bob Dylan reminds us, “Life isn’t about finding yourself, or finding anything. Life is about creating yourself, and creating things.”
Dylan’s Rolling Thunder movie on the big screen at the Little Theatre was a blast. It was like going to a concert without the sameness that sets in. We saw the rambunctious tour when it stopped at the War Memorial in 1975. Scorcese captured that and so much more of the heady era. With masterful editing we hear just enough of the songs before getting another glimpse of the enigma that is Dylan, our generation’s foremost bard.
Joan Baez is strong enough to wrestle Dylan. Patti Smith, influenced by Dylan is shown influencing Dylan. Scarlett O’Hara is the foundation of this band’s gypsy sound. Joni Mitchell’s guitar rings above all the strumming. Allen Ginsberg cuts above all the cynicism with an optimistic mystic’s summary of what we’ve witnessed reminding us of our duty to create. The long movie felt short. We will watch it again on the small screen.
In our yoga class on Monday Jeffery was telling us that our feet get bigger as we age. I thought it was because we walked the Camino. He also said our ears get bigger. And that reminded me of the video Peggi shot of the Art Ensemble panel discussion at the Big Ears Festival in Knoxville. We are still taking the breadth of that experience in.
Peggi assembled the five video clips she shot and we posted it here. After the discussion I was able to tell Roscoe Mitchell how much of an impact “Les Stances a Sophie” had on me in 1970. Fontella Bass’s vocal on the funky “Theme de Yoyo,” was a direct line from the Motown singles we grew up on and the avant-garde. It made me a lifelong Art Ensemble fan and I feel very lucky to have heard their fiftieth anniversary show.
The lobby at Geva was packed last Sunday. We had tickets to the Son House play and they weren’t letting anyone into the theater. Cleavant Derricks, the lead, had lost his voice. We rescheduled and now that we’ve seen the play we can see how that might have happened. This was a powerful, moving performance. Son House had a raspy voice and Derricks puts all he has into convincing renditions of House’s blues classics.
Who’s that writin’, John the Revelator Tell me who’s that writin’, John the Revelator Who’s that writin’, John the Revelator wrote the book of the seven seals
Son House was a preacher before he was a performer so he had plenty of conflicting right/wrong material to work with. How could the blues, which sounded so good, be the devil’s music? The Seven Seals is a phrase in the Book of Revelation that refers to seven symbolic seals that secure the book that John of Patmos saw in his Revelation of Jesus Christ. John The Revelator, Death Letter Blues, Walking Blues, Preachin’ The Blues, Grinnin’ In Your Face. Son House wrote the book of the blues!
In 1943 Son House gave up music, left the Delta, and settled in Rochester’s Corn Hill neighborhood. He worked on the New York Central Railroad and drank. The production weaves history and and context into the Son House story and it has a terrific four piece band. Billy Thompson, who cowrote the music, is an astonishing blues player. Tad Wadhams is an incredible bass player. The are supported by Daniel Kelly and Rochester’s Fred Vine. I suspect/hope “Revival: The Resurrection of Son House” will hit the road after its run at Geva.
Fred Rogers was also a preacher. He founded a more fruitful ministry than any church by communicating with and advocating for children. I loved “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” I wish the whole world could see it.
We have this Margaret Explosion setlist called “Margo2Weed,” a working list that we add a few songs to each time we have a gig, the ones we thought were the best of the night. And then songs on that list get dumped if they don’t hold up. The ones that we still like after repeated listening get put on the website. I trim up the beginning and end, sometimes take a whole two minute section out of the middle and we call it a song. A few of our cds are songs that were pulled from this list.
Of course they aren’t really songs. There’s no verse/chorus/bridge, chord change pattern. But there is something to hang onto and I thought it would be fun to try to describe what that is.
We improvise but we’re not a jam band. There is no wanking and there are no solos. Not because we have rules but because we have found a way to construct a fabric, a weave that we can lost in. Jack Garner, writing in the D&C said, “The Explosion plays with a single-minded purpose and organic oneness that’s most impressive.” That line really nails it for me. A solo, with the others playing support, only puts all the focus on the solo and wrecks the fabric.
We stumbled on a method that works for us. The drums start with the simplest pulse and before a measure has been played, the bass has rescued the drums, established a key and offered phrasing for the sax or guitar to establish a melody. This is where the real magic happens. Spotting the beauty of the melody and giving it room to grow by playing something that compliments it, strengthens it or does it one better is all that matters, the “single-minded purpose .” The song is so fragile at this point. All energy must be focused on respecting that melody and nourishing it. This only works if the whole group does more listening than playing.
Lead lines carry us through the tune but they aren’t solos. It is an “organic oneness” with rhythms shifting and poking in and out. There are just enough focal points to get lost in. And if all goes well we back out of the song as quickly as we got into it, like we know what we’re doing, and then we start all over again.
I wish our batting average was higher but there are always a few pieces of magic in each performance. This song is from a gig a few weeks back and there are plenty more on the Margaret Explosion site. We’ll try to make it happen Wednesday night at the Little. Hope you can stop out.
The day after Chuck Cuminale died we opened a forum on the Refrigerator website. Social media did not yet exist so the forum served as a community billboard, a place where people who knew Chuck, or were influenced by him and his music, could share memories and post tributes. The tributes poured in.
I’ve been slowly dismantling the Refrigerator website, moving some of the content to this site and letting the rest die as I pull the plug. I rescued the “Chuck Cuminale Remembered” forum today and put it all on one page, a page that tests the limits of endless scrolling. It is a real testament to the impact Chuck made on peoples’ lives.
Chuck not a late bloomer. He was a beatnik in high school. He was in my sister’s class but he was best friends with my brother. I loved arguing with Chuck. It could be over music or just about anything. He was opinionated and passionate. Riding in a car with him down to NYC, maybe to see Charlie Coco the conversation never stopped. He was curious about everything. Last time I saw him he was raving about Lester Bowie’s Brass Fantasy.
Listen to “Copernicus,” recorded live at Rising Place, Gary Bennet’s place, long before Chuck formed the Colorblind James Experience. My brother was there and is credited with “Background inspiration.”
Last year on this date, 4/5, we had a 45 party. Maybe it was the year before. Everybody brought a few records and we whooped it up. I wanted to do it again but we have an art opening to attend so I made plans to talk about the new Real Angel Corpus Christi record. Lindsey Hutton writes the liner notes and I should probably just reprint those but here goes.
The package is stunning, like a giant 45, a European one on the front and and an American one on the flip side. We have two Angel Corpus Christi 7 inches and three of those four sides are included here. The record is chocked full of singles.
The accordion is exactly the right instrument for Angel’s International pop sound. Pull Girl is a smash. The low end quiver on Dream Baby Dream rattles the dishes in our cupboard. The ultimate Suicide song features Alan Vega himself on backups. Angel’s Barbarians cover, a perfect choice for her, sounds like it’s being performed live in a teen club, maybe a converted bowling alley, the way bands sounded in the Panorama Bowl when I was sixteen. Dean and Britta join Angel on an a dreamy, instrumental version of Femme Fatale, maybe my favorite cut. I would die to hear that played on the street in SF the way she used to.
Sadder is Peggi’s favorite! If only Lou Reed had taken the advice Angel offers on Lou Reed’s Hair. MX80’s Bruce Anderson plays guitar on Face in the Crowd and the lp finishes with a brilliant mash-up of Walk on the Wild Side and Henry Mancini’s Elephant Walk.
We weren’t sure what to expect, which is always a good thing. We gathered in an art room at the downtown galley and were told to turn our devices off. They warned us that we could not leave the room for forty five minutes. Bill Frisell was to play a tone and we were told there would be ten minutes of silence after that. Then Bill played his guitar for fifteen (without any boxes) and then there was another ten minutes of silence before Bill struck the final tone. A morning meditation and a perfect start to the day.
We had seen Mary Halvorson on the street but hadn’t heard any of the configurations she was playing in until Columbia Icefield. They were loud and rambunctious. Kristín Anna Valtýsdóttir went for emotion, Icelandic style, accompanying herself on piano. What a contrast, walking into Wadada Leo Smith’s solo trumpet performance. Not just a warm tone but a deep, soulful, bluesy tribute to Monk.
Over to the Knoxville Art Museum for Nate Wooley, someone who is supposed to make us question our fundamental understanding of what a trumpet sounds like. His opening piece was so quiet I had a hard time chewing my peanut noodle and pickled cabbage dish without making too much noise. Long, meditative notes that got so long they required circular breathing.
Carla Bley played a very pretty set at the Tennessee Theater with her partner, Steve Sallow and a saxophonist. Amirtha Kidambi‘s Elder Ones at the church sounded like a middle eastern Art Bears or maybe Screaming Gypsy Bandits. Jack DeJohnette with Ravi Coltrane and Jimmy Garrison’s son was surprising. Garrison, on six string electric bass, comes across as the lead instrument in this all star trio. And did ourselves in with Abstract Black in the Old City, a solo sax with effects.
The upholstery in the Ford Focus was all cracked. That’s the first thing I noticed and once our Uber pickup was confirmed the driver played “Only the Good Die Young” through the tiny speaker in his phone. I hate that song. He must have called up Pandora’s Billy Joel station because before we arrived downtown “Still Rock n Roll To Me” was playing “through a cheap pair of speakers.” We were in Knoxville for the Big Ears Festival.
We started with a few short films by Beatrice Gibson. We sat on the floor in the UT Art Gallery and marveled at the sound system. It might be time to upgrade our home system before we loose our hearing. We had a salad in a bistro near the gallery and spotted Bill Frisell and Thomas Morgan walking by. Frisell is playing all four nights in a different configuration each night. In Saint John’s Cathedral we heard the cellist, Peter Gregson, play lush reinterpretations of Bach concertos. We stuck our heads in the Mill & Mine to hear someone who has apparently played on every Animal Collective album. Mercury Rev is playing here tonight and Spiritualized tomorrow. This is a very walkable city.
Joan La Barbara started with something she called “a real time composition.” She made a sound with her voice and followed it. She did a composition of hers that was used in the movie, Arrival, and told us she is working on an opera based on the life of Virginia Woolf and Joseph Cornell. She reimagined what Woolf’s voice would be like in setting based on Cornell’s journals.
Artifacts Trio, cello, flute and drums, have steeped themselves in the AACM, ancient to the future, tradition. This trio played so well together and covered so much rich musical terrain, they are going to be hard to top.
Amidst an extraordinary confluence of natural phenomena Margaret Explosion will perform two sets of original music at the Little Theater Café this evening. The atmosphere will be conducive to creativity. Join Steve Piper and Scott Regan (and the band) who are regularly seen sketching while we play. Oscar was there, on a school night, and drew this picture of Ken as an octopus playing bass.
Looks like this will be our twenty-first year as a band. It still seems brand new but here’s the proof, this Bug Jar ad for the “Loosest Happy Hour on Earth.” That’s probably Bug Jar Bob’s copywriting. I can still see Steve Brown behind the bar in his white shirt, wanting to talk about investing during our break while Casey did all the work.
Twenty one years and we still haven’t had a practice. That would spoil the whole thing. That’s why I got such a kick out of Frank De Blase’s article in City, “Too Much Practice Is Bad For You.” “If you see a band on stage smiling all of a sudden, then you probably just witnessed a mistake that was handled quickly, with the intuition left intact and unsoiled by too much rehearsal.” I would add, If you see a band with their eyes closed they are probably all listening to one another wondering where the song is gonna go because they have never played it before.
Margaret Explosion plays the Little Theatre Café Wednesday 7-9. Here’s a song from twenty years ago.
Many years ago we found a book of matches from Lucia’s Supper Club, a restaurant in Olean, New York. I don’t remember where we found them but they made an impression. We wrote a song about Lucia’s as we imagined it. If it was a supper club, there surely was more to it than the food, so we came up with a fictional band that took the stage after dinner. We recorded a song, “Lucia’s Supper Club,” for the album “It’s Different Out There” I did a drawing for the cover of the lp picturing what we imagined Lucia’s Supper Club looked like .
In 2002, on my birthday, we decided to track the place down. We weren’t even sure where Olean was but thought it was closer to Rochester than it turned out to be. The restaurant was still in business but but it was not as glamorous as we had pictured it. We had dinner there and when the waitress pronounced the name of the place she said “Loo-chia’s” instead of “Loo-cha’s”. Oh well, too late for that detail. I posted a piece about our visit in the Refrigerator and Lucia’s granddaughter spotted it and sent us this note.
“Hi, I was browsing the Internet this week and came across your info on the web. What prompted me to write to you is that I am Lucia Bardenett’s great-granddaughter. She was the “Lucia” of Lucia’s Supper Club in Olean. Oddly, this weekend we are celebrating my grandfather’s (Lucia’a son) 87th birthday. Nonna (as we called her) died in 1986, so my grandfather is really the last of the restaurant’s founding immediate family. My grandfather was her only child. He had 6 children who gave him 15 grandchildren and 2 of those have given him 3 great-grandchildren. I am the oldest of the 15.
So there’s a little info for you. I didn’t want to go on and on, but anyone who would be so intrigued by a pack of matches to write a song, design an album cover, and make a trip to Olean would probably be interested.
I am forwarding the link to your website to all of my family members (as you can tell from the above is quite a few). Could you tell me how to get a copy of that song? The mp3 version on your site won’t work for me. If you have a chance, could you even send me a copy of the lyrics. We’d be interested to see what you imagined about our family’s old restaurant.
By the way, I can guarantee Nonna would have gotten a kick out of your album cover; she was such a character!”
-Marie Rakus, Olean, NY
Here’s a ratty live version of Personal Effects “Lucia’s Supper Club” from Idol’s in Rochester, New York. Bob Martin plays guitar, Paul Dodd plays percussion, Peggi Fournier sings and plays keyboard, Robin Goldblatt Mills plays bass.
Does anyone remember that gag gift store on Clinton Avenue, right next door to Jay’s Record Ranch? Probably not. They used to sell things like garlic gum and fake puke. Record Archive sells all that stuff today in addition to records. Thank god. I found some cool 45s over there yesterday, KC, Get Down Tonight, Elton John, Bennie & the Jets, Peggy Lee, Fever, a couple bucks each all while sipping The Kind from 3 Heads. We also caught a couple of bands.
Morgxn, that’s how he spells what sounds like Morgan, did a special afternoon in-store at Record Archive in conjunction with 94.1. All we knew about him was what Spevak wrote and that he was on the same label as Rochester’s Joywave. We assumed he would sing to backing tracks but he performed with only a keyboardist and minimal electronic drums. To our ears he sounded better than anything we heard on the Grammys. After his show Alayna told the crowd that “Morgxn is about to explode.”
Frank De Blase, performing with the Busted Valentines has a very different “idea of what a man is for the twenty first century.” – to quote Spevak. But then Frank wears so many different hats. Music reviewer, non-pareil, for City, pulp-noir author of several books featuring Frankie Valentine, pin-up photographer, the chief Frantic Flattop and puts all this together masterfully when he performs live with Busted Valentines.
Back on our living room couch we cued up Chasing Trane, the next item in our Netflix queue. Coltrane sounds so good he could fix all that is wrong with this world.
FFThe only bobblehead doll we have is Barry Bonds, back from before the controversy, when he was chasing Hank Aaron’s homer record. I’m not counting the plastic, solar-powered, Trump bobblehead that someone gave us for Christmas. I plan to throw that away. I was thinking about bobbleheads long before the article in Sunday’s paper on the bobblehead museum in Milwaukee. Amy Rigby’s “Bobblehead Doll,” from Eric and Amy’s 2009 double A side single, has been stuck in my head for weeks. The 45 has been on heavy rotation our house.
I still visit “So Many Records, So Little Time,” even though it is not getting the attention it deserves – from its owner. Kevin called around New Year’s and Peggi helped him reclaim the domain name after it had expired. The website is still a goldmine. If there is nothing new on the front page I just scroll down the long list of artists in the right hand column, like I did this morning, and get lost in Kevin’s spin on Bootsy, Alan Vega and Heart.
I’ve been cleaning house myself and am in the process of moving the Margaret Explosion site to PopWars where all the content now flows from the database. I’m re-building the virtual 45 page with live tracks from our performances. In honor of Peggi’s birthday here is a song from those vaults. That’s a photo of Peggi on the cover.
I put this video up last night and then reconsidered it. It was too easy.
We walked Horseshoe Road in Durand Eastman with the camera on. I stuck the video, with no edits, on a song that we played last year at the Little. The song was slightly longer than the walk so I slowed the video down and they end together. It was far from a steady cam so I stabilized it 100%, a move similar to going overboard with auto tune.
I remember riding in our family car when my dad drove this road. It is still just as magical but it’s been closed to car traffic for over forty years now. There are so many weeds growing up through the pavement that the park workers mow it. And there aren’t many park workers left.
I took the song down and even though it is all one take I put some splices in and added color filters to the various sections. The beginning and end are still as they were. I jacked up the transition time as far as it would let me go. I’m happy with it now.
These elements just fell together, a dreamy, hypnotic Margaret Explosion song from a performance at the Little Theatre Café last year and some blurry photos I took a few years apart on train rides from New York to Rochester.
Peggi Fournier plays soprano sax, Ken Frank plays bass, Phil Marshall plays guitar and I play drums.
I played drums with both of the bands on the poster above. I made this poster for a gig at Scorgie’s. I’m not sure how it works today but in the early eighties bands were given the door and if the club owner didn’t make enough over the bar you were not asked back to play. So bands made posters, had them copied or printed, and then plastered them all over town. You had to watch out for cops and it was sort of a nasty job, wrestling with tape in the freezing cold, but a good poster paid off.
It wasn’t always like that. When New Math started playing in the late seventies we were booked through management companies. I remember someone named Jim Armstrong who got us into the Orange Monkey and the Penny Arcade and some gig at a college. There was someone named Howie who booked us into a club on the river. He went on to manage Poison in LA. Somehow we got into the Electric Circus and Big Daddy’s. But the music scene was changing. And so were the clubs. Everything, even the song writing, was DIY.
I wish I had a copy of every poster I made in those days. I tried to keep a copy of each. The Hi-Techs came together at the very end of the seventies and we broke up in the middle of 1981 so it was a short ride. Three of us went on to form Personal Effects and we played gigs from ’81 to ’86 before falling apart and then getting back together for the Planetarium gigs and a few reunions. We took cell phone shots of the posters we have and Bob sent us scans of the ones he has.
Working with Duane Sherwood in 1984, Personal Effects started planning a multi-media show for the Community Playhouse on South Avenue where Swillburger is now. We had seen Emmy Lou Harris perform there and a few other shows and the small playhouse with the big deep stage was perfect for back-projecting on a scrim. From up in the balcony to way back behind the stage Duane worked both sides of the band with dramatic lights, psychedelic liquid light and projections, silhouettes thrown on the scrim from the front and the back where Jeanne Taylor was dancing behind the scrim. There is a photo of Jeanne on this 80’s Polaroids page. As creative and production manager, Duane had a brilliant idea for every song even dropping an overstuffed man from the ceiling for our song “Big Man.” Don Scorgie brought his bar to the lobby. Russ Lunn videoed the show and Duane took Polaroid stills of the video. We used them on the back cover of the album we recorded later that year titled “This Is It.”
Which brings me to the behind the scenes documentary of Michael Jackson’s rehearsals for what was to be his last tour. We watched “This Is It” last night with the sound jacked up. The band, an orchestra, sounded incredible. The production of this thing is mind-blowing and you get to see quite a bit of that along with the performances. Where other performers hire dancers to make them look good, Michael Jackson hired the best dancers and still danced better than all of them. You can’t take your eyes off him. Still transitioning at the end, he appeared to be in great shape. “This Is It” is exhilarating and sad.
Fall is still out there but it was rudely interrupted with this snow.
Speaking of interruptions, We just learned of Mike Kaplan‘s circumstances. I didn’t know him, he was a good friend of our bass player’s and we were asked to play at his memorial this afternoon. We did it as a three piece and played incidental music at four points in the service. The sound in the room was just perfect and we were able to push our minimal sound to the furthest extremes, somewhere close to pristine emptiness. It was an honor to play for his family friends.
It seems a little cruel that these decorative squash are called “Lunch Ladies.” I don’t make the rules, I just look at the signs.
Peggi made a couple of cherry pies the other day and brought one down to our neighbor, Sue, who just celebrated a big birthday. Today Sue brought a beautiful bouquet of flowers, all from her garden, up to us. We will never be even.
I swallowed an olive pit. I usually have a few olives with a boiled egg, toast and olive oil in the morning and I wasn’t quite awake. It felt like it was stuck in my esophagus but that may have just been the sensation. I’m hoping it doesn’t get stuck in some crevice of my intestines colon.
I bummed that we missed the one night premiere of the Joan Jett movie. We were playing in the cafe that night. Here is a song recorded at that gig.
Lee Friedlander called Henry Wessel the “Photo Buddha.” Wessel died recently and in addition to his body of work he left us this beautiful quote. “The process of photographing is a pleasure: eyes open, receptive, sensing, and at some point, connecting. It’s thrilling to be outside of your mind, your eyes far ahead of your thoughts.”
Our yoga teacher talks through the entire class. I like this but he told us one of his former students complained about it. He mostly talks about the pose and I find it helps me to work toward the proper position. Otherwise I would be daydreaming. Sometimes he goes off on a tangent. Last night he told us about a book he was reading on telomeres, the caps at the end of each strand of DNA. He described them as the plastic wraps on the end of shoelaces. His manner of talking is part of the meditation and the class flies by.
Pete LaBonne joins Margaret Explosion on the grand piano Wednesday night. This will be our last performance until November. Here is Transfigure by Margaret Explosion.