SFBG Blogs

NOISE: Not that Duchess — Her Grace the Duchess!


Correction time! Apologies go out to Duchess and Her Grace the Duchess. I wrote that Christy Schnabel’s Duchess was playing a Mission Creek Music and Arts Festival show Thursday, May 18. That’s not happening. Perhaps she’ll swing through town soon but she won’t be coming through that day. Instead, check out her new self-titled album on Blackball.

Rather, Her Grace the Duchess is playing that night at 12 Galaxies. A big boo-boo, and likely the last time we get that wrong.

Don’t be a royal jackass and get it straight — that’s Her Grace the Duchess!
Photo courtesy of www.myspace.com/hergracetheduchess.

I heard from the gracious Sarah Reed, who performs with the groovy, ghoulish Husbands — Her Grace the Duchess is her latest SF-based project. And she tells me it’s a nine-piece soul band, which includes a former member of the Fucking Champs. Sexy soul and equally sexy sistahs — sounds like the stuff of champions. Check them out at 12 Galaxies on May 18 and on their My Space page.

Her Grace the Duchess plays with Harold Ray Live in Concert and the Flakes Thursday, May 18, 9 p.m., 12 Galaxies, 2565 Mission St., SF. $8. (415) 970-9777.

NOISE: ArnoCorps want to pump you up


Contributor Dennis Harvey writes in to praise ArnoCorps:


When they said “Ahhhl be baaahhck,” wasn’t that a promise?!? I fear not. It appears May 20’s headlining Café du Nord appearance by ArnoCorps, purportedly Austrian “pioneers of Action-Adventure Hardcore rock ‘n’ roll,” may be their last for the foreseeable future.

They are returning to die Vaterland‹or close, at least, with summer dates in England and Ireland. After that they’ll be taking a potential “End of Days” breather, perhaps fatigued from the sustained climax of recently released CD The Greatest Band of All Time, in which every song encapsulates the plot of an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie. From “Commando”: “Stop screwing around! / Let the girl go! / Throw it away! / Chickenshit gun!” From “Terminator”: “I am the Terminator! / I’ll be back to kill you later!” Advancing years can drain even the hardiest rock warrior, as witness Arnold’s shift from statements in the 1977 film Pumping Iron (“I’m getting the feeling of coming when I pump up. So I’m coming day and night”) to his current sobriety as a respected statesman who just says no to his own past sexual harrassments.

Anyway, sex is good but steroid metal-punk screaming is so much better! The sextet — nothing gay inferred by that term! — will strut their “ballsy assertion” and attention to “ancient lore and mythology” following sets by helmut-headed Christians rawkers Knights of the New Crusade, and Judgement Day.

Saturday, May 20, 8 p.m. Café du Nord, 2170 Market, SF. $10. www.ticketweb.com.

Oh, Marc…


The secret fantasy straight from the deepest, darkest part of every mad shopper’s heart — your favorite designer opens a boutique right down the street from your humble hovel. That came true last week for me and oodles of other Asian American fashionistas from the Richmond when the new Marc by Marc Jacobs boutique threw open its doors at Fillmore and Sacramento on May 3. Guess who’ll get first dibs at the clearance rack? Bliss!

Flag waving and nose thumbing. Photo: Kimberly Chun

The storefront was filled with a vaguely Ralph Lauren-ish red, white, and blue quasi-patriotic motif that nonetheless jabbed boldly at the “worst president in history.” Take that Pac Heights Republicans! Preppies with newscaster hair feigned dismay at the Hillary Clinton T-shirt in the window.

That didn’t stop the richies from wallowing in the conspicuous consumption when I dropped by the former Mike furniture store last weekend to check Jacobs’ sportswear offerings. A massive black Hummer limo was parked in the bus stop out front, and dozens of stylin’ Chinese American ladies were racing around within. Dusky pink, mauve, and denim blue duds were dropped on the floor faster than the smooth, black-haired hipster clerks could scoop them up, and the moneyed matrons dived into bins of bargain T’s.

The decor was somewhat reminiscent of early Esprit warehouse. (How are you supposed to actually see the clothes when they’re so tightly crammed on the rail?) But oh the sales, the sales…. the guys had it good with $5 boxers, $25 cords, and baby soft $10 T-shirts emblazoned with cartoon rats wearing “Marc Who?” shirts. Self-mocking — I like.

Best buys for women: tchotchkes like those cute pink and orange acorn-shaped charm bracelets and hair accessories marked down from $60 or so to …$5! Makes your inner bargain-hunter’s brain explode. Also adorable and highly affordable: candy-colored rubber rat key chains ($1), band-aid dispensers ($1), and brightly hued, fingerless new wave striped gloves ($5). It’s a big tent — go on in.

NOISE: Have another slab of John Vanderslice


Duncan Scott Davidson interviewed Tiny Telephone honcho and Barsuk artist John Vanderslice for a piece in the May 3 issue of the Guardian. Here’s more from his interview with the SF singer-songwriter, who performs tonight, May 12, at the Independent.

Bright lights, big city, and Mr. Vanderslice.

On running Tiny Telephone, during an interview at the studio sometime in January

John Vanderslice: Basically, I keep my rates under market, so [the engineers] are always busy. I kind of use that leverage with them to have them be undermarket, too. So we’re affordable enough for a band. Every band has access to computers now, so you have to be. My whole goal was just to be sold out all the time. My business model was to, without question, have a waitlist every month. You have a client base where, if someone drops a day, it doesn’t matter. We just send out one e-mail to another band that’s on the list, you know what I mean? We’d just rather be generating 30 days of income at a much lower price.

When I started the studio, the reason I did it is that, another studio that we loved that we were working at, Dancing Dog in Oakland, closed. So we toured all the other studios, and they all had these sliding rates. It’s all bullshit. The typical studio business model is retarded. You know what it reminds me of, is the airline kind of model of wildly sliding rates based on the desperation of the client, you know?

[Vanderslice talks about JT Leroy at length before realizing he’s strayed off topic.]

JV: I don’t care if we talk about the studio at all. I mean, this has been central to my life for maybe the past eight and a half years and it’s starting to be an organism. It’s like a child, and all the sudden this kid is like a 12, 13 years old and I can now leave the house and not get a babysitter.

BG: Are you afraid you might come back and find the flowerpot broken, Brady Bunch style?

JV: Or I might come back and the kid’s huffing paint or something? There are things that happen when I’m not paying attention in the studio, but the crew down here…

BG: Do bands get loaded up in here? I mean, not like…in a bad, non-professional, non-rock ‘n’ roll way…

JV: I would say the insight I have into working bands is fascinating. I would say that the more successful the band is, both creatively and financially, the more they’re like an office. There’s laptops, wireless. There’s like organic Columbia Gorge lemonade, and there’s no alcohol. The more it’s like a weekend-warrior project, the more it’s a band that’s frustrated or trying to generate energy like they’re having a career, the more there’s cocaine and pot and alcohol.

BG: Yeah! We’re fuckin’ it up!

JV: “We’re gettin’ it goin’!” Sometimes it’ll be 4 p.m., and they’ll be kind of a little bit out of control. And what you want to say is, “You’re, like, at a construction site right now. You should be really mindful.”

BG: Well, they’re fucking paying $400 a day.

JV: They’re paying $600 dollars a day. Plus the tape.

BG: And if they want to fuck it off, more power to ‘em.

JV: The thing is you want to remind them, “Dude, you’re going to be in here for 12, 14 hours.” Tons of bands come in here and make a record in three or four days. Some bands are so efficient in the studio, it’s like a marvel. I’m not nearly as efficient. I don’t necessarily have to be as efficient, but it is expensive for me to book time in here. Like everybody else, when I book time in here, because it’s sold out all the time, it costs me $400 a day. I pay engineers what they charge. I pay rates to engineers.

What studios try to do is they try to be booked between 10 and 15 days a month, and they try to charge a fucking shitload of money. And what they do is that they have a lot of open days that are those days…because people call all the time, “Hey, are you open tomorrow? Are you open next week?” They’re always the worst clients. The least prepared, they always have a problem. They always have a story. Like, they tried to save money in some other studio, and they went there and it was fucked up.

The kind of clients I like — we’ll get a band that calls us up, like when we did Transatlanticism here, Death Cab called us like seven months before the dates and they’re like, “We want May 1 to June 20.” Those days never moved. It was like, booked. The deposit was in. Then seven months later, they show up, make a record, and leave. And not one day was ever shifted. The bands that are like that, those are the bands you want to have in your studio.

And there’s tons of bands that are not really… they’re making music for themselves or to put on their Myspace page, but they’re just as deliberate and they’re just as farsighted. That’s how this studio runs smoothly. I’ve cleared out a lot of the time for those bands.

BG: Any band that you thought was just totally not getting it and selling millions. Not the fact that they were selling, but that they were lame. Would you not record them?

JV: No. I think that we’re like a hospital. We’re like a responsible hospital with good gear that can only meet the patient in the middle somewhere. Like if you come in here and you’re a meth addict and you’ve been working the street for 15 years, we can only help you up to a point. But if you’re a healthy person and you need a heart operation, well, we have great equipment, right? We have good doctors. They’re not going to cut you open and leave shit in your body. We have sterile equipment. I tell engineers this metaphor and they’re like, “Dude, whatever. You’re overthinking.” But I really do think there’s something here. You know, we can’t save anyone’s life, all we can do is kind of not make mistakes. And also not provide gear that’s either dangerous or is out of date or is poorly maintained, poorly calibrated…

BG: You’re like a halfway house.

JV: Yeah. I’m a halfway house. Or a restaurant. Or a dry cleaners. The things that excite me are when we get things out of genre. When someone comes in and they say, “I’m going to make a 40-minute concept record that’s based on a sea shanty that’s about being on a whaling ship.”

BG: With their bouzouki.

JV: Yeah, with their bouzouki. And they get on ladders, and they have pails of water—I’m not kidding you, they do — and they do a concept album. And there’s no electric guitars, there’s all these weird instruments, it’s very obtuse, and it’s interesting. It’s anti-genre. It’s anti-rock ‘n’ roll. That’s fascinating to me.

Guitars or no guitars?

BG: When you saw the dude’s bouzouki, you said, “Anything but an electric guitar excites me.” You have old guitar amps…

JV: I love guitars.

BG: And you play guitar…

JV: I love guitars.

BG: Was guitar your first instrument?

JV: I love guitar. It’s just that, the thing is, it’s like, when you’re building a house, a guitar is like a hammer. It’s very useful. But if you’re putting in windows, there are other things that need to be there to balance out. There’s some sonic space that is not available when electric guitars are everywhere.

BG: In your own records, the last three, you seem to be going away from guitars.

JV: Yeah, going away from guitars, but the interesting thing is, the other day, I was thinking, “You know what? The next record, I need to make a guitar record.” Maybe it is because I’m collecting all these amps. And I do love guitar, but I think that for me, it’s more likely that I will deconstruct music when I see people stepping back from rock ‘n’ roll, you know, strictures, if guitars are not part of the equation. And they’re forced to build up melodic elements with keyboards, with rhythmic instruments, with strings, horns — things that are outside of the realm. I was listening to Otis Redding on the way over here. There’s some guitar in that. There’s a lot of other things going on in that. There are background voices used as harmonic, you know, shifting agents — things that pull you from key to key, that bring you into the bridge, that provide counterpoint to the vocal melody and the horns.

[JV starts to talk about the tug between digital and analog technology.]

On one side I do think that the Internet is the best thing that’s ever happened. Also, I live on the internet. Like, I’m surfing all the time. This studio was put together by the information I learned on the Internet. Most of my communication is through e-mail. The Web site is a very important part of my creative output. You know there’s like a thousand photos on the site? There’s tons of music that’s never been pressed that’s on the site. Tour diaries. That’s very important to me.

But, on the other side, the craft of making albums: I’m a purist. I’m an old, hard core recording purist. And the standards, and the quality of recording have been in a freefall since… Listen, the good and bad thing about consumer audio is that everyone can afford it and everyone can own it. I think that’s great. I think that’s actually better than the downside. The downside is that the quality of everything goes downhill. I don’t gripe about other people’s recording because I think that, if you’re going to complain, the proof is in the pudding: What the fuck are you doing? Sometimes people come up to me and they’re like, “I like this album, but I don’t like this album.” I don’t say anything, but I want to say, like, “Dude, I don’t care either way. Make your own record.” It doesn’t matter to me whether you like my record or you don’t like my record, and it’s OK either way. But the thing is, you need to make your own shit regardless of whether you like something or don’t like it.

BG: There’s the analog/digital tension, but it seems like you do stuff with analog that’s sort of like a sampling, a deconstruction, like you take a digital technique and analog-ize it.

JV: Absolutely. Well, I have been heavily influenced in the way that certain people make records. The Books. Four Tet. Radiohead is probably the most influential band for me of the past five or six years. I mean, I’m totally obsessed with Radiohead. Everything that they’ve done, really from OK Computer to Hail to the Thief. I think Hail to the Thief is one of my favorite records of all time. It kind of actually flew under the radar, but from an idea point of view: You can hear the process of six smart people in a room thinking about music. It’s fascinating on that level.

All things being equal, A and B, analog sounds so much better to me than digital. And it’s not that I’m just some Luddite in the studio. We have Pro Tools HD in here every other day. We have installed a Pro Tools rig, we have Radar, we have Sonic Solutions, we have every high end converter in here all the time. To me it sounds awful. Still. And I advise people all the time, like, “Listen, we’ll make more money off you if you record digitally. That’s all there is to it. You’ll take longer — even though you think it’s faster. You’ll edit everything, you’ll obsess.

I don’t care about the editing. It’s not the “cheating” thing that bugs me. Scott and I will be recording and flying back tapes on the reel — Scott Solter’s my engineer — and like, we’ll think, “God, if we could only just do this on a hard drive.” We don’t like to do things by hand — it’s just that they sound so much better. It’s like a hand-fashioned piece of furniture versus something that comes out of a machine. We can’t get the detail, the nuance, the taper, the finish right unless we do it by hand.

BG: And the whole digital thing just seems like a cultural, reactionary…you know, “it’s newer, it’s faster, it’s easier.” And I think artists seem to overestimate that. It’s like when microwave ovens came out, and everyone’s like, “You can cook a Thanksgiving dinner in it!” And a year later they were like, “You can heat coffee in it.”

JV: Yeah. Unlike the hospital metaphor, which is like a cart that has one wheel on it, the microwave metaphor’s perfect. It’d be better if I just didn’t tell bands anything. Use whatever format you want. But what I always tell bands is, “Listen. A good analog tape deck, properly calibrated, is like a fucking Viking stove, or a wood oven at Chez Panisse, where they put in the pizzas and the crostini or whatever, and your Pro Tools system—and believe me, I’m telling you this because I own the system. I paid a lot of money for it. People when they buy gear, their ears turn off. Because they don’t want the truth, you know what I mean? It’s like a fucking microwave! That’s all there is to it. It’s faster…

BG: A big, fancy microwave.

JV: Yeah, it’s a really fancy microwave with 50,000 adjustments. “Bread Crustener,” you know what I mean? It’s worthless.

[JV focuses on conspiracy theories and politics.]

JV: The stuff that interests me is Iran-Contra, Total Information Awareness. I’m much more into ground level, you know, stuff that’s happening right now. What did we do in Columbia? You know, what are we doing with the FARC? You know, why are we there?

I’m fascinated by politics. I’m interested in the most mundane things. Like, for instance, we found Saddam Hussein in a foxhole. One of the Marines on that team comes out a couple months later and says, “Listen, we fuckin’ found him in a house. We put him in that thing, covered it, got the film crews there…” That’s where I’m interested in. I’m interested in Guantanamo.

In other words, I’m interested in mainstream stuff. It’s not Area 51.

Later, John Vanderslice meets for another interview at Martha and Bros. on 24th Street.

BG: Do you realize that whatever you say is going to be completely overruled by Enya, or whatever is going on there.

JV: Should we check to make sure it’s not too loud? I can have them turn it down.

D: You’ve got that kind of pull?

JV: Oh yeah. I used to live down the street. I’ve been here, like, 9,000 times.

[JV asks them to turn it down, saying, “I really appreciate it. That’s great. Thank you.” Then he talks about coffee and tea.]

JV: Well, for me, I’m a tea guy. I actually drink coffee every two weeks. For me, the cleanest way to get caffeine is through really thick black tea.

BG: I get stomach aches from that.

JV: I know, you have to get used to it. It’s like hash or pot. It’s just different. You how you’re like, “Well, pot is kind of superior,” you know?

BG: Are you a big pothead?

JV: No. I don’t do any drugs. I barely drink. I mean, I like the idea of doing drugs. I have no moral quandary with drugs whatsoever. It’s impossible… because of singing…

[Coffee grinding noise.]

BG: Can you tell them not to grind any coffee?

JV: Yeah, totally. I’ll just unplug…no, I’ll trip the breaker. Singers get neurotic for a reason. I used to look at other singers and think, “Wow,” you know? Like, you’d read an interview with someone, and they would have these rituals. They’d have like steam machines or all these bizarre contraptions I thought totally unnecessary. But the thing is, the more shows you play, the more volatile your livelihood is. You’re tied to your health and your body. You know, anything that messes with my mojo. Alcohol. Never drink alcohol on tour. Never.

BG: You don’t drink it to “take the edge off” or whatever?

JV: I wish I could. But alcohol for me, it does something to my vocal chords that — I lose a little bit of control. I lose some resonance in my voice. So I never drink alcohol on tour. And then, there are times when you’re at the Mercury in New York and they give you 25 drink tickets and they’re like, “You can have whatever you want.” They’ve got all these single malts. I’m totally into single malt scotch. If they’ve got some weird shit I’ve never heard about, I want to drink it. So yeah, it’s a bummer, definitely.

BG: Do you do it after the set?

JV: I never drink after. It affects my voice the next day. Alcohol dries out your vocal chords. Like, if you put rubbing alcohol on your hand, you’ll immediately feel what it does to your skin.

BG: It dehydrates you.

JV: It dehydrates you, but because you’re passing it over your vocal chords, you’re a little bit more susceptible. Also cigarette smoke. It’s a problem.

Spy vs. spy

BG: What about this domestic spying bit? That sounds like a Vanderslice song.

JV: Yeah, that’s a hard one. I haven’t really felt the need to write about Total Information Awareness, yet.

BG: What’s Total Information Awareness? Is that the NSA’s acronym or something?

JV: That was the program that John Poindexter, from Iran Contra, was in charge of. It was like, basically, “we’re going to data-mine everything.” Of course, all the civil-libertarians on both sides of the fence go crazy when that stuff’s happening. Did you see the paper today? Grover Norquist, the anti-tax guy, basically the guy who spearheaded the repeal of Proposition 13 in California — the anti-tax California guy — is coming out now saying that he’s totally opposed to data mining. This is a hardcore, right wing constituency that Bush has tapped for a long time, and this guy is now coming after him.

BG: Well, now it’s without a warrant.

JV: Yeah. And that presses all their buttons, you know? That, hardcore, right wing, civil libertarian branch, which is fine with me. It’s great.

BG: OK, here it is. This is kind of random. “I’d harbored hope that the intelligence that once inhabited novels or films would ingest rock. I was, perhaps, wrong.” That’s Lou Reed. You seem to have a novelistic…

JV: There’s a lot of great lyricists working in music. I mean, you could look at the new Destroyer record. You could look at The Sunset Tree. You could look the new Silver Jews record. I mean, there are a lot of very literate, very verbally adept and complex albums coming out. I’ve spent a lot of time with those records. I think they’re rich, and interesting, and well-written enough to stand up on their own from a language point of view.

And you get into hip-hop — all the verbal inventions, most of it is in hip-hop. It’s not necessarily in indie rock.

There’s a lot of people operating on different levels. You could say, there’s a lot of arty stuff, purely political — Immortal Technique. He’s the farthest thing from a gangsta that you could get. Or MF Doom. Murs. There’s a lot of these guys that are super arty. Any Def Jux things or Anticon stuff, all that stuff is far away from “thug life.”

BG: Do you listen to a lot of hip-hop?

JV: Yeah. Like tons. The other thing is, you can even see people like 50 Cent or the Game on a different level. I think that when you understand that there’s a coded humor that’s going on in hip-hop. Like when 50 Cent says, “We drive around town with guns the size of Lil’ Bow Wow,” now, is that a threat, or is that a joke? I’m sorry, I laugh when I hear that. There’s so much humor in 50 Cent. C’mon, he lives in a $20 million dollar mansion in Connecticut. There’s a comedy side of the stuff.

And then there’s other mainstream people like Nas. Incredible lyricist, very complicated. He’s like a sentimentalist. I wouldn’t even say he’s a thug. He’s just always writing about memory. He’s so sentimental.

[I hip JV to Andre Nickatina.]

BG: The latest album [Pixel Revolt] is more straightforward. Before, you’ve done cut and paste stuff. It’s more linear. I mean, if you’re talking about hip-hop, there’s sampling. What do you think about that?

JV: Well, it’s hard for me. At some moments I would agree with you that the record is more linear. I mean, you’re saying that the new album is more linear, maybe orchesterally more simple, and more placid, more patient. But we’re doing remixes right now — Scott Solter is remixing the records. And we’re going in and listening to individual tracks.

It doesn’t seem that way to me, for better or for worse. It seems like there’s a lot of textures and a lot of very understated stuff that’s more complicated than on other records. There’s a brute force element that’s missing from that record on purpose. A couple weeks ago, before we started doing the remixes, I would’ve agreed with you, but now when I go back and I hear all these individual tracks, and I hear the textures that are underneath the vocals and some of the main harmonic instruments, to me there’s a lot of cross-rhythms. There’s a lot of harmonic shifts. There’s a lot of dissonance. It’s maybe more varied. It’s more of a relief. Like, Cellar Door has a lot of distortion, has a lot of compression, it’s all forward. Those impulses I have to over-orchestrate, and to, you know, over overdub, have been buried, but they’re still there.

BG: Why the remixes? You did a remix of Cellar Door.

JV: Yeah, called MGM Endings. One reason is that I put it out myself. I can sell them and make money off of them.

BG: You would love Nickatina. Basically, his big underground album that you can’t find is Cocaine Raps Vol. I. There’s this big thing about comparing selling tapes out of the trunk to selling coke.

[Talk turns to Tom Waits, recording at Prairie Sun, and then vocal chord damage and those who have used it in their music.]

BG: Being drawn to that Radiohead thing: You don’t use effects on your voice. Your sound guy doesn’t flip a lot of…

JV: And on records, I have these militant rules about what we can and can’t do as far as using effects. My rule for a long time has been, if we want an effect on an instrument, we have to record it that way. It’s all analog, we don’t use digital recording whatsoever.

[Death Cab for Cutie’s Grammy nomination is discussed and JV mentions that he was part of the committee that chose nominees for Best Engineered Album.]

JV: I was part of a group of people that met in the Bay Area. There were four of us that met at the Plant, and we voted on, for the National Committee, who we thought should be moved into the five spots, right? Then you can vote, as a Grammy member, you can vote on the next round. So basically we were like, pre-voting for the pool of five albums.

It’s interesting, because you have a lot of good albums that are in the pool. The pool is pretty huge. I mean that year there was some very good classical stuff, some really good jazz stuff, Elvis Costello…

BG: That’s apples and oranges.

JV: It’s retarded. What is this, a race? I did it because, when I got invited, I was kind of like, “Wow.” I was honored to be even — to even sit in a room with engineers that I really liked and get to talk about albums was fantastic for me. But, after the process, I thought, this is polluted.

BG: The engineering standards, or what you’re going for, your aesthetics, are totally different.

JV: And people in the room are pretty savvy. They have mixed feelings about the process. So they weren’t all gung ho, pro-Grammy, but I think that they felt that if they weren’t involved, then there would be decisions made… They wanted to be part of the decisions made to push good-sounding records up to the next level.

Tweaking in the studio

BG: Okay, so you’re interested in fucking around with your voice, as long as it fits into the rules of doing it live.

JV: I like using the analog instruments of the studio, meaning analog compressors and mic pre’s and effects as instruments. The great thing for me is, when you start combining all these things — the keyboard into some mic pre you found in a pawn shop into some weird compressor into delay. You get some almost unknowable reaction between these pieces of gear that were made in different decades, for different reasons, for different specs, for the BBC or for an airline company. And chasing down that kind of shit is fascinating for me. That’s part of the reason why I got into the craft of recording.

BG: Back to the studio—you’re annoying people, plugging in all these different things…

JV: It goes beyond that. To me, there is no sacredness to me of someone’s performance. People come in and spend a day recording something and then we erase it immediately. With them right there, like, “none of this is working, we’re going to erase it and move on.” I do it to myself all the time. I erase my own performances all the time. It’s not a feel-good session. You have to have a flamethrower mentality when you’re making records.

BG: So with Spoon and Mountain Goats’ John Darnielle…

JV: Well, those are different. You have to be more conservative working with other bands. It’s not appropriate. John’s singing a song about avoiding family trauma by playing his stereo loud and listening to dance music. It’s a beautiful narrative; it’s a wonderful song. It’s not necessary that you play a vibraphone through an old Federal military tape rack.

BG: The Spoon album’s sort of a deconstructed album.

JV: I would say that they’re more appropriate…

BG: Everyone’s recorded at Tiny Telephone, but you’ve only recorded a couple of people yourself. Like for instance, Steve Albini, another analog master, sought after everywhere. Everyone goes to him to get the “Albini sound” — they want it recorded like that, in that studio, sounding like that. And then, half the time, people come away with, “Well, he’s a dogmatic asshole. That’s not how we wanted it to sound.” But they did want it to sound like that.

JV: Well, the engineer in the equation is Scott Solter. He’s the guy I always work with. I mean, Albini’s a recordist. Albini is not there to become editorially involved with production decisions or with performance decisions. He is there simply as a recordist. In many ways, he’s an old school engineer. And once you understand that philosophy, you shouldn’t have any beefs with it, or you’re in the wrong place. You should understand that he’s going to set up microphones that he likes and understands, in a room that he likes and understands, and use gear that he thinks accurately describes what’s happening from a sonic perspective, and that’s it. That’s his end of the bargain.

BG: Well, there’s always the “the drums are too loud; the vocals are too low.” I love his records…

JV: I think he’s a total genius. I think you could listen to Rallying the Dominoes, the Danielson Family record, and well, you couldn’t necessarily say anything about the balance of that record compared to like, Jesus Lizard. It’s a totally different recording. He may perceive that, you know, the drums are loud in the Jesus Lizard, so they should be placed loudly in the mix. Because that’s what’s happening to them when you play in a room, you know?

But the thing is, Scott and I work tag team. Tiny Telephone is very separate from us working as a team in production and engineering, because the only people that I’ve ever worked with has been Spoon, and I was relatively a small part of that new Spoon record. Like basically, I recorded with them for eight days. They probably spent 60 days on that record. So I would imagine that they had a lot of other decision makers, you know, Mike McCarthy. Jim Eno, the drummer, is a great engineer in his own right. The Darnielle stuff is different because I feel that I understand where he’s coming from and where he wants to go in the studio and I can translate his narratives into a different setting from him sitting in front of his Sony boombox, you know, six inches away.

BG: Going back to the whole thing about rock as literature. I think Cellar Door sort of plays itself out like that, even though they’re not necessarily the same characters. It’s very novelistic. Most rock bands are very first person. Do you get a lot of misunderstanding on that?

JV: Oh, yeah. Someone asked me about my two sons the other day. I mean, yes, people either infer that I’m almost unglued psychologically or they infer that I’ve had a family history and a romantic history that’s really dangerous and fucked up.

BG: John Darnielle has a lot of that stuff, right? But he still does a lot of fictional stuff.

JV: He does a lot of fictional stuff. I think he does more fictional stuff that people realize. He lives in a nice house. He has a wonderful wife. Now, that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have demons the size of Detroit in his brain.

BG: I think he does. “I dreamt of a house / Haunted by all you tweakers with your hands out.” I love that line.

JV: Dude, I played with the Mountain Goats. I did a West Coast and an East Coast tour, and I sang that song with John every night. That’s probably one of my top three songs of all time.

BG: With your stuff, though, how much of it is…? I might be totally wrong on this, but you can tell with a song like “Speed Lab.”

JV: But “Speed Lab” is a metaphor for starting a band or starting a studio, and having those things implode. So “Speed Lab” is, while it’s not about a speed lab, a meth lab…

First off, I have a great sympathy toward a lot of different people. I have sympathy for people who work in methamphetamine labs. I’m sure there’s a lot of people who work in meth labs, they might have been backed into it, it might be a family business. Who knows? And, to me, you know…[sings] “Recording Studio, brr nanna nanna…” You know what I mean? Speed lab…let’s put a finer point on it. What’s interesting about writing about stuff is that you sharpen the blade, that you exaggerate, that you explode personal experience. And become so super egocentric that every slight becomes this great, damning. Listen, if you really write down Morrissey’s gripes on a piece of paper. OK: “Lonely, sad…”

BG: “Horny.”

JV: Yeah, “horny.” Maybe, yeah—“would die in a car wreck.” That’s not the beauty of writing. Like “Up Above the Sea” on Cellar Door. That song, I mean, do I really have a bluebird that haunts me? But is it about depression? Maybe. Is it about Saddam Hussein? Maybe.

BG: Do you think that you’re constantly looking to metaphor-ize your own experience?

JV: Yeah, definitely. Because, part of it is that it’s an allegory. I feel saner. I feel more human and I feel more normal and more cope with stuff if I write music. So evidently, this is very important that I translate something that’s going on up here onto the page. But my own aesthetics dictate that narrative is interesting or it’s egregious.

BG: Some people are naturally diarists. Andre Gide, Jim Carroll…that’s what they’re known for. Do you think that there’s something in you that’s naturally, in music writing? That’s a fictionalist?

JV: Yeah. Absolutely. I would’ve been comfortable if I’d had the skills to be a novelist. And I would’ve been comfortable if I’d had the connections and the wherewithal to do it all again, to be in movies. What I’d really like to do is make movies. I mean, I would never do it. I think people who switch crafts, I mean — good luck. It would take me 20 years to figure out cameras. I would like to be a cinematographer.

BG: Do you ever write?

JV: I stopped. I did a couple of interviews for DIW, I interviewed Grandaddy, I did a Radiohead Hail to the Thief review, I did an article about Pro Tools, and that was it. I was like, “Man, it takes so much. Writing is hard.” It took me forever to edit myself, to finish a piece. I’m very wary of anything that takes me away from writing music. It really is hard enough. Touring is, like, you put walls up.

BG: Do you do a lot of in-stores and stuff like that?

JV: I came up with this idea that on the day Pixel Revolt came out, that I was going to play a bunch of free shows around the country. And that it was all going to be non-transactional, all ages. Doesn’t matter where it was. Acoustic guitar and voice, that’s all it was going to be. And it could be anywhere. So I played in, like, a bake sale. I played tons of record stores. I played an art gallery. A house party. I played a backyard. I played tons of on-airs. Between the shows, I probably played 35 times that month. And they were all open free shows.

I was able to rent a car, drive from place to place, and just show up with a guitar and play. We would have contests. Like I played at Amoeba in LA, and I invited everyone at the show to bowling that night. We had enough people for seven lanes of bowling. So then we have this contest: Whatever lane had the highest score would get into my next show for free.

Anything that’s like, getting out of a dark club with a bunch of graffiti. That’s fine, but when you do that every fucking night. It’s like, anything to get you away from that is great.

Wine Rave Cancelled!


I can’t believe it — Napa’s long-anticipated 3-hour “Wine Rave” has been cancelled! I wrote so movingly about the anticipation here.

“We apologize for any inconvenience. Due to a scheduling conflict, COPIA’s May 13th Wine Rave has been postponed until further notice.” These are words that broke my heart. What could the possible scheduling conflict be? Is Robert Goulet making a surprise Copia concert appearance? He’s a raver, isn’t he? Isn’t he? This sucks.


On the “Con” with cartoonist Daniel Clowes


It was so much fun talking to Eightball cartoonist and Ghost World and now Art School Confidential writer Daniel Clowes –- and so much conversation was left on the cutting room floor that I thought I’d resurrect a few choice tidbits here.

Max Minghella (left) sports a mean beret in Art School Confidential.

Bay Guardian: How did you get into the minds of teenage girls with Ghost World?

Daniel Clowes: I don’t know. I remember one day I did an interview with [Hate cartoonist] Peter Bagge, and they transcribed it word for word. Usually they’ll fix up our syntax and everything, but really it was like two teenage girls talking. It was really gossipy, “And then I went and she goes,” you know. I said to him, “We really sound like two teenage girls,” and he said, “Yeah, haven’t you ever noticed that that’s how we are.” And I thought, “Hmmm, ching-ching! Maybe I can make a fortune!”

BG: Maybe the differences aren’t that stark between teenage girls and older men?

DC: I think men have the maturity of a teenage girl when they’re about 30. I think that’s sadly true.

BG: And before then they have the maturity of…?

DC: A fetus. Yeah. To me, I had a revelation of those girls in high school, that’s why that girl cried at that time! You think back and think, now I get why they were like that! Now I’m at a 25-year-old maybe. At a certain point, women slow down and men get overly mature and turn into little old men. I think I’ve gone past that stage. [Laughs]

BG: On the other hand, the Steve Buscemi character in Ghost World seems like a character straight out of Terry Zwigoff’s Crumb.

DC: We thought of Steve Buscemi and just we kept expanding the character. There are a lot of great scenes that Terry wrote that we didn’t use that I wish we’d filmed. Just pointless scenes that had funny moments from his life, like we had one at an antique collectors’ faire. It was pre-eBay. Enid was like, “There’s a place where you’re going to meet a girl!” And it’s 600 overweight men, and this one woman, and she’s like this grotesque ‘20s flapper. I was reading it recently and laughing my head off, thinking, oh I wish to god we had filmed this. Totally inappropriate for the movie.

[We talk about how the movie might be scary for Clowes’ 2-year-old son, Charlie, and films that frightened Clowes like The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T]

BG: Do you cherish those movies like 5,000 Fingers, which scarred you?

DC: I was traumatized yet couldn’t wait to see it again. I was talking to some of my friends about this recently. Nowadays any movie you hear about. You just get it on Netflicks or rent it, or whatever. Soon it will be a computer click away. When we were kids, Night of the Living Dead or something was on, we’d hear about it and we’d scour the TV guide, and there it is, it’s at 2 in the morning on Thursday, and we’d have to sneak downstairs and not let our parents know and watch it really close to the screen so you could hear the sound. You were all alone but you had this weird communal feeling, like my friends are across town doing the same thing. And it was so much more exciting and it was charged with something. Its gone for me totally now. Now I’ll just Tivo it, and watch it whenever. I remember staying up late to watch the Wolfman or something. Literally, like, holding my eyelids open — so tired! “Gotta get through it! Gotta tell my friends that I saw the ending!” I don’t know, it’s gone.

BG: Whatever happened to Ghost World’s Thora Birch?

DC: She was a child actress, and did stuff from the time was a 2 or 3 years old, and it’s so much money. She didn’t seem that gung-ho about doing all that stuff. She’s like, “I can live without it.” She always said, “I never get scripts like Ghost World.”

BG: You ruined her for other movies.

DC: That’s our goal. Trying to destroy as many young talents as we can.

BG: Max Minghella in Art School Confidential is also great.

DC: We were friends with producer of Bee Season — Terry has known him for years. It was that old story you always hear and you never believe: We looked at a hundred actors and we literally looked at every single actor you’ve heard of or never heard of under 20. It’s just post-child actor, pre-adult actor. So it’s this very iffy area. It’s this awkward age because they change and they’re not who they were.

This producer said there’s this guy Max – he’s really good. and we met him and it just hit us right away, there he is. There’s Jerome. He was finally the guy we felt right about. Bee Season was first film he had ever done, and we gave him a lead in a feature, second time out. He’s a great guy — most kids that age are really arrogant and obnoxious and he’s just the sweetest, nicest, most modest guy. He was exactly 18 also. We always hit these guys at the right age.

BG: Young and impressionable!

DC: Yeah so we can mold them to our own devious ends! We were desperate to find somebody who was innocent and had sort of a charming quality but take it in this dark direction and not let the darkness kind of dominate him. It’s a very tough part – it’s all about who you really are.

BG: What about the other parts in Art School?

DC: John Malkovich produced Ghost World, and he said, “Next time give me a part.” “Oh we didn’t know you wanted one.” That’s the only part I ever wrote with an actor in mind.

Jim Broadbent was Terry’s idea. At first I thought that’s a very weird idea, but then actually it was pure genius. In the script it was supposed to be a very American guy, a Jerry Van Dyke or something. Someone who you know as being a real friendly, avuncular guy, but is seething with anger underneath. I once saw Jerry Van Dyke get really pissed off in a restaurant in LA — his hair was pure white and his face turned all red. That’s what gave me the idea.

BG: Speaking of your son, do you have an urge to do a children’s film or comic?

DC: No, I really don’t at all. I did a thing once, Art Speigelman did a thing once called Little Lit, kids’ stories, and I did a thing for it that was just not something I felt good about. It was not my way of thinking at all. I can’t censor what I’m doing. I just can’t think in terms of this is inappropriate for an 8 year old, so I better change it.

I do drawings for my son all the time but it’s not something I ever want to publish. People always say, “Oh, I wanna do a children’s book,” and I always thought, “Why? Why would you want to do that? Don’t you want adults to read your work.” [Laughs]


Longer discussions with the two artists who contributed paintings to Art School Confidential: his old friend Charles Schneider, who painted the serial killer’s workers, and Oakland painter and SF Art Institute instructor Caitlin Mitchell-Dayton, who made the protagonist Jerome’s pieces.

NOISE: Coachella cracked open?


Guardian intern Jonathan Knapp checked out Coachella last week and lived to tell the tale:

Jose Luis Pardo of Los Amigos Invisibles
holds forth Sunday at Coachella.
Photo: Mirissa Neff.

As someone who has lost his once-vigorous passion for indie rock and large music festivals, I approached my trip to Coachella with caution and confusion. Why the hell was I driving 500 miles to spend two days in the brutally hot desert sun to see a bunch of bands that I had, at best, an intermittent interest in? All right, my girlfriend really wanted me to, and our companion — a good friend and a guitarist from local post-hardcore outfit And a Few to Break — was the perfect guide: He’d been before and has been largely responsible for turning me on to the little new music that excites me.

It’s not as if I now hate indie rock — I’ve just become preoccupied with the music of the past. I’d much rather, for instance, discover nearly forgotten gems like O.V. Wright’s “You’re Gonna Make Me Cry” and Wanda Jackson’s “Fujiyama Mama” than be the first to herald the Bloc Party or Clap Your Hands. There were definitely some newer bands at Coachella that had already easily won me over — Animal Collective, TV on the Radio — and some holdovers from my indie rock youth: Sleater-Kinney, Cat Power. Additionally, Madonna was playing; though I wouldn’t have admitted it at the height of my Drag City- and Merge-fuelled ecstasy, this was unquestionably exciting.

To a relatively recent East Coast transplant, Coachella’s setting is nothing short of alien. Set aside the heat (which is consuming and oppressive) and what remains is a beautiful, if stark and bleak, atmosphere: palm trees, miles of flat, bush-littered sand, and — when the Los Angeles smog recedes — snow-capped mountains. This year’s fest brought a mostly predictable mix of inappropriately black-clad SF/LA hipsters, shirtless/bikini-topped OC trust-funders/frat types, Arizona college hippies, and — given that this was Tool’s first show in five years — metalheadz. Though people-watching is certainly fruitful and entertaining, Coachella does not provide as much craziness as one might expect — but it certainly does exist.

The festival, held over Saturday and Sunday, April 29 and 30, on the incongruously green and groomed Empire Polo Fields, is a whirlwind of simultaneous activity and overstimulation. If you’re really only there to see one act (like Depeche Mode), it’s no problem. But for those whose interests are a bit more catholic, the prospect of navigating five separate stages that feature virtually nonstop, and eclectic, music from noon till midnight is daunting.

Do you choose Kanye West or My Morning Jacket? Wolf Parade or Jamie Lidell? In my case, both these choices proved easy, if not fully satisfying. For the former: With tickets on Kanye’s late-2005 tour being at least $45, the relatively reasonable one-day Coachella pass of $85 (about $190 for both days, including service charges) makes it
the best opportunity to see him.

West’s set was entertaining, if not transcendent. Mindful of the temperature (he played a still-blistering 6 p.m. slot), West substituted the angel-winged getup he’s favored recently for a white Miles Davis T-shirt and jeans. Backed by live drums, turntables, backup singers, and a string section, he offered a respectable but awkward approximation of his increasingly ornate recordings (no Jon Brion in sight). The highlight: West inexplicably announced his DJ would play a few of his biggest influences, moving from Al Green and Off the Wall-era Michael Jackson to a-ha’s “Take on Me,” dancing around the stage with a goofiness that, though obviously calculated, seemed charmingly unselfconscious.

Following West on the main stage, Sigur Ros created one of the festival’s moments of impossible beauty, bringing their ethereal noise to day one’s lofty sunset slot (7:00-7:50 p.m.). Admittedly, I’ve been a bit hesitant to embrace the beloved Icelandic group. Though I’ve enjoyed much of their work, I’ve been turned off by what I’ve interpreted as delusions of grandeur: a made-up language (there’s already one Magma), bullshit declarations of “creating a new type of music,” and the hushed reverence with which they’re frequently discussed. However, I can’t think of a better band to accompany a desert dusk, or a better setting for the band — apart from a glacier, perhaps. Backed by a mini-string section, they played a set that, at that time and in that place, was astonishing. My gratitude goes to the man and woman who danced behind the netting just immediately off stage right: Their undulating silhouettes would have brought me to tears, had dehydration and hours of standing not already beaten them to it.

My other day one highlight was Animal Collective, a band whose aesthetic of psych-pop, tribalism, and general weirdness was perfectly suited to the surreal setting. Though I’ve adored many of their recordings (they’re one of the few current bands that I’m genuinely excited to watch evolve), I’d heard that their propensity for wandering and wanking can be their downfall live. I found that they kept this mostly in check, grounding their less accessible and more abrasive experimentations with hypnotic rhythms and a convincing feeling that this was, in fact, going somewhere. Much of the crowd didn’t seem to know what to make of it. Too bad: To my ears, few artists approach their inventiveness, live or recorded.

That day I also caught some of Deerhoof (appropriately erratic, with some fantastic moments), Cat Power (as expected, the Memphis Rhythm Band has given her a new sense of confidence and composure, and they sound fucking great), Wolfmother (energetic, but dull), White Rose Movement (I’ll stick to my Pulp records, thank you), the New Amsterdams (nothing new about them), and the Walkmen (solid).

After returning to the grounds Sunday (we fortunately camped at the much-less-populated Salton Sea, about 20 minutes away), we immediately went to catch Mates of State (adorable and infectious), who closed with a decent version of Nico’s “Time of the Season,” and Ted Leo, who was reliably engaging. To try to get close for Wolf Parade, we headed to the medium-sized tent (there were three) and watched Metric. I’d been intrigued by their Broken Social Scene connections, but their set of dancey agit-pop left me cold and bored (my companions disagreed).

I separated from my friends to stand in the back for Wolf Parade, so I could head to the main stage for Sleater-Kinney. After starting late, Wolf Parade apologized for technical issues (“Everything’s fucked”) and began a set that, from my perch hundreds of feet away, sounded slight and thin. Disappointed, I left after three songs. I’ve been told that the experience up-front, however, was quite different, and among the best of the festival.

I fell in love with the women of Sleater-Kinney about a decade ago when I was 16. I’ve tried to see them a number of times over the years, but something always fell through: sold-out, unbreakable engagements, etc. I usually don’t think about them, except when they release a new album and, maybe once or twice a year, when I put on Call the Doctor or Dig Me Out — briefly reminding myself why they once meant so much to me.

Clearly, this has been a huge mistake: Focusing mostly on songs from the past couple albums, the trio played a fierce, powerful set that all the years of hearing about their live show hadn’t prepared me for. At a festival that celebrated scenes that I’ve mostly abandoned, this became my essential moment. Mses. Corin Tucker, Carrie Brownstein, and Janet Weiss reminded me not only why I loved them, but why I loved going to shows in the first place — for the sheer raw, sweaty energy. These women deserve to fill stadiums.

After watching a bit of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, who impressed me more than I expected, I headed to the dance tent, joining an apparent majority of festivalgoers in an attempt to see Madonna. Unable to get anywhere near the stage, we settled for a spot outside it, where our view was of a large screen and, when we were lucky enough to be able to peek through the massive throng at a distant stage.

Several minutes before the set (which unsurprisingly started late), a line of people carrying parasols and decked out in lingerie bondage gear made their way through the crowd on stilts. Managing the seemingly impossible feat of reaching the front of the stage, they were easily the festival’s smartest and most inventive attendees.

When Madonna finally took the stage, all hell broke loose — an appropriate response, perhaps, but not one that the performance itself warranted. Predictable and short, Madonna’s set started with the superb “Hung Up,” then moved on to “Ray of Light” and four more songs, most of them newer material. Most surprising was her guitar playing (or at least the appearance of it) and the rock-like arrangements of all the tunes. She occasionally provoked the audience (“Don’t throw water on my stage, motherfuckers,” “Do you want me to take my pants off?”), but nothing here was shocking. That said, the woman looks fantastic and commands a stage in a way that few could. After six songs, she left abruptly. It was anticlimactic, yet still somehow thrilling. It was, after all, fucking Madonna.

Immediately after, we ran into Andy Dick, who stood talking to a pair of starstruck 13-year-old girls. Far more behaved than the blogs have reported he later would be, Dick seemed as amused with the girls as they were with him. Though he claimed to have to go meet his “girlfriend,” he talked to them for several minutes: “Oh, I love Madonna too. Hey — how are you even here? Aren’t people, like, drinking? Where are your parents?”

After catching a fantastic, fun set from the Go! Team (who had Mike Watt guesting on bass), we attempted to see Tool. Unable to get anywhere close to the stage (this seemed by far to be the most crowded show, though Madonna was close), we sat down, expecting to watch the band on the giant screens on either side of the stage. While the band played, however, their videos (you know: internal organs and jittery, alien-looking people doing painful things) were projected on the screens. Bored and wary of the inevitable hours of traffic that we’d hit if we stayed for the set, we bid Coachella adieu.

Acts I wished I had caught, but couldn’t for various reasons: Lady Sovereign, Jamie Lidell, Gnarls Barkley, Seu Jorge, My Morning Jacket, Phoenix, Mogwai, Depeche Mode, Coldcut, and TV on the Radio. Biggest regret (by far): missing Daft Punk. Word of their closing Saturday night set hovered all day Sunday, discussed in whispered, but rhapsodic tones.

I left the festival exhausted, anxious to return to San Francisco, and — most importantly — reminded why I devoted so many years to indie rock. Will I stop seeking out New Orleans R&B, rockabilly, and Southern soul? No, but that doesn’t mean I have to ignore this wave of postpunk, does it? That said, I’ll take Gang of Four, Wire, and Pere Ubu over Bloc Party and Franz Ferdinand any day.

But, right now, I just want to listen to Sleater-Kinney.

Festival decompress


The last few days of the San Francisco International Film Festival usually have a calmer quality, perhaps even more so this year, in the wake of a second weekend “Super Saturday” that bounced from big events such as talks with Jean-Claude Carriere and Tilda Swinton to the wild ’round-midnight screening of the cave-expedition-gone-horribly-wrong nightmare The Descent. (Scariest movie I’ve seen in years, and the characterizations, such as Natalie Mendoza’s Juno, are evocative.)


Yet early on Monday the SFIFF intensity level was high, as The Bridge screened to a packed house at the Kabuki. While I haven’t sorted out the intense emotions and serious ethical issues triggered by Eric Steel’s controversial movie – aspects of the post-screening discussion and some of his decisions as a filmmaker really troubled me, for a start – I can say that there is no film quite like it. Jenni Olson’s The Joy of Life has other roots in relation to the subject, but a recent song on Sleater-Kinney’s The Woods, much of the revived interest in the art and life of Golden Gate suicide Weldon Kees, and now Steel’s documentary all attest to the lingering potency of Tad Friend’s late 2003 New Yorker piece “Jumpers.”


Those with unmatched pain thresholds could have followed up an early Monday Bridge viewing with the second Descent screening. I saw A Short Film About the Indio Nacional (or The Prolonged Sorrow of Filipinos) and was struck by the film’s daring and often exquisite shifts in tone, as well as a very particular approach to late 19th century Filipino history. An early diegetic sound scene brings across the experience of insomnia like no movie I’ve seen, before young director Raya Martin makes a sudden jump into a wholly different (or is it?) realm of black-and-white silent pictorial storytelling. I’m hoping to interview Martin here later this week.

Other SFIFF quick hits or misses…“I hated it!” was one local filmmaker’s immediate response to Deerhoof’s live score for Harry Smith’s Heaven and Earth Magic. But a few days later, a different SF moviemaker testified their eternal love for the band when that program was mentioned. I fell between those two responses, sometimes enjoying the band’s approach but just as often wondering if the sound was trapped in mannerism rather than the alchemical realm Smith deserves. As for Werner Herzog in interview the night previous, truer words about Anna Nicole and the “mainstream” have never been spoken.

Sign language


This just in: whoremongering club kid, Polaroid artist, and dear, dear friend Darwin Bell is part of a Cinco de Mayo art show at Artist Xchange in the Mission on May 5, 7 p.m. -10 p.m. His Polaroid art, which consists of pictures of words he finds in the course of his street adventures pulled together into slyly poignant punditry, has really taken off of late. All the cool kids want a piece. Since I’m so used to finding Darwin just this side of passing out at the club, it’s nice to see him expressing himself through pictures. (Just kidding, baby!). Stop in on Friday to take in all the fuss.


Pop goes the rock ‘n’ roll weasel


Tonight, what to do? Mission Impossible: 3 is screening! And after that why not…La Rocca?


The LA-by-way-of-Dublin unit serve up “sketches of a 20-something life,” while touring with French scruffsters Phoenix. Tonight, 8 p.m., Bimbo’s 365 Club, 1025 Columbus, SF. $16. (415) 474-0365.

Now they’ll just have to do something about their V-neck sweaters. Details, details.

Also tonight, hypemeisters: White Rose Movement from the UK gets the push, push, right in the rose over at Slim’s. 8 p.m. 333 11th St., SF. $13. (415) 522-0333.


Otherwise, get ready for Cat Power, at last with her Memphis soul unit — after her concerts fell through a while back. She loves us, she loves us not, she loves us… May 3-4 at Palace of Fine Arts. www.livenation.com

Spangled tongues


O’zog, kenstu sehn, wen bagin licht dervacht,
Vos mir hoben bagrist in farnachtigen glihen?
Die shtreifen un shtern, durch shreklicher nacht,
Oif festung zich hoiben galant un zich tsein?
Yeder blitz fun rocket, yeder knal fun kanon,
Hot bawizen durch nacht: az mir halten die Fohn!
O, zog, tzi der “Star Spangled Banner” flatert in roim,
Ueber land fun die freie, fun brave die heim!

Forget Spanish, it’s the national anthem in Yiddish, as translated by Dr. Abraham Asen in 1943, in commemoration of the centenary of Francis Scott Key’s death. Honey, ya just gotta love it.

Sorta corny Copia


So this weekend Hunky Beau and I hitched it up to Napa to dine with the ‘rents at Copia, the giant food-wine-museum-garden “experience” launched by Robert Mondavi (with some star power oof from Julia Child) a few years ago. It’s an awfully Wine Country thing to do, all bourgeous mauves, flowing linen skirts, and bipolar smiles. The ghost of Cesar Chavez hovered.

There are edible gardens with patches like “Sauvignon Blanc” and “Petite Syrah” planted with the fruits, herbs and trees associated with each individual wine’s flavor (grapefruit, rasperries, vanilla, tobacco, etc.) That was pretty cool, as were some of the displays in the food museum, which is actually a reliquary of antique name-brands. (I now know the entire back story of Kool-Aid.) We dined in a “lunch program” that took place on what looked like a television cooking show set, and were treated to carcass-heavy details about the lamb being served, followed up, for some reason, with an a capella version of “Georgia On My Mind” from our really gay presenter, a baritone. Luckily, copious amounts of wine were served throughout.


Copia also offers frequent seminars led by super-friendly, slightly crazed blondes who gush about “marketing to millenials,” “emerging alternative wine packaging,” “biodynamics: moving beyond organics” and “the rebirth of pink!” Considering the retired-looking crowd, however, all this marketspeak probably only served to make wine more intimidating, which in turn, as happens with wine, probably made it all the more fascinating. The best thing, though, was when we were cheerily yet firmly urged to come back on May 13 for the “Wine Rave,” which artfully combines wine tasting with a DJ in an effort to “market to the millenials” (ages 11-24) on a “level they can relate to.” The rave is from 9 p.m. to midnite. I’m so going.

NOISE: Too much, too soon? Do Takk.


No, no, no — we’re not talking about United 93. I’m just wringing my hands about neglecting ye olde blogging duties. I left my brain, if not heart, in Reykjavik.


Speaking of which, wannabe Icelanders will want to “floe” on up to the Marin Center in San Rafael tonight? The waifish ethereal men from the land of fire and ice are up there, touring in support of their September 2005
release, **Takk.**

The band’s string accompanists, Amiina, open. 8 p.m., Marin Center, Avenue of the Flags, San Rafael. $50. For tickets, visit www.bgp.com



First off, what the frig’s up with Schwarzenegger’s hair? It’s like all day-glo puke-brown and shit. It looks like someone yodelled beef stew on his coif. Just sayin’.… Secondly, the Alternative Press Expo may have come and gone, but curator-cartoonist Justin Hall’s double whammy of gallery shows, featuring classic queer cartoonists at one and hot-hot Bay Area doodlers at the other, are still going strong — and you should really check ‘em out.

Cool stuff from Lark Pien, at “APE$#!T”

No Straight Lines” is at the Cartoon Art Museum, and it’s a mad dash through all the wacky, wonderful gay comics we wymynhandled when we were younger. Alison Bechdel of Dykes To Watch Out For and Howard Cruse of Wendel get a spotlight, and there’s even a vitrine full of the complete Gay Comix series. We’re finally under glass — eek The whole thing’s a wayback freakout for those of us who huddled under the blankets with such things, and actually brought a tear to my one good eye about how actually great (and, alas, perhaps, topical) the stuff still looks. The show benefits the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund.

APE$#!T” is Hall’s collaboration with Bay wunderkind Jesse Reklaw, at Space 743 in S.F., and features some of my ultrafaves – Lark Pien, Paul Madonna, Mats!?, Hsaio-chen Tsai, and others, as well as Hall and Reklaw themselves. Hall’s gotten pretty famous for his “True Travel Tales” and “Glamazonia” comics (I wrote about him last year here) and my bf has a yummy Reklaw hanging in his bedroom, so please buy more of his stuff so the value goes up. Mama needs some rent, baby. Just kidding.

Hey Culturatti


Welcome to the Guardian’s new Pixel Vision blog — our day-to-day guide to the Bay’s best film, art. theatre, food, fashion, cultural, and goodness-knows-what-all happenings. If you’re a bleeding heart liberal like us, you’ll want to check back here often for the most organic, free range, fair trade, meatless news and views about our fair City’s goings-ons. But hey, we can’t tell you what to do — we’re not the government… yet. We just want to get the word out that you don’t have to waste much blood-for-oil fossil fuel or tap Big Pharma to get a healthy dose of culture — it’s all right here under your unbobbed nose. Cheers!


Lesley’s turn to talk


Lesley Gore is in town this weekend, singing at Brava Theater Center. I recently had the chance to call the ‘60s teen queen who is forever linked to classic pop hits such as “It’s My Party” and the proto-feminist “You Don’t Own Me.” Today, the richness of Gore’s voice is a bit duskier, as evidenced by the new CD Ever Since. Whether reminiscing about a certain mega-producer or discussing fictional movie imitations of herself, this lesbian icon – a heroine to queer zine-maker and artist G.B. Jones, amongst others – is refreshingly honest.

Bay Guardian: Can you tell me a bit about meeting and working with Quincy Jones?

Lesley Gore: It’s extraordinary that a man of his distinction – even at that point in his career he was well accomplished – could put himself in the shoes of a 16-year-old kid. That is his art in a way, knowing how to make people comfortable and get the best from them. There may have been a 14-year difference between us, but he never talked down to me.

Quincy not only thought it was important to do well in the studio, he thought it was important to perform well onstage. He’d often call me on a Friday and say, “Lil’ Bits, meet me at Basin Street [in New York] at 8.” We’d go see Peggy or Ella or Dinah Washington. He’d say, “Listen to this opening number – this is what an opening number should do.” He took mentoring seriously. He wanted me to understand.

The bar was set high for me. I worked with some great producers, such as Quincy and Bob Crewe [the astrology-obsessed mastermind behind the Four Seasons, Music to Watch Girls By, Disco Tex and His Sex-o-Lettes, and Labelle’s “Lady Marmalade”].

BG: One little-known Quincy production that I love is The Amazing Timi Yuro.

LG: Timi Yuro was on the very first tour I did in England — Timi and Trini Lopez and Brooke Benton and Dion [DiMucci] without the Belmonts. I fell madly in love with “What’s a Matter Baby.”

BG: Joan Jett and others have covered “You Don’t Own Me.” Are there any particular versions you enjoy?

LG: I rather liked Joan’s interpretation. Dusty [Springfield] covered that record almost minutes after it came out.

We could put a song in the key of G and it would be comfortable, but if Quincy didn’t see the veins popping in my neck he wouldn’t be happy. He’d raise it to the key of A so I’d sound younger. That’s why my [early] recordings are so poppy and bop-y.

This [new] album [Ever Since] is letting my voice do what it does without forcing into a range where I have to bleat all the time. That’s how the combination of old and new can make wonderful sense.

BG: Did you feel a kinship with or especially admire any other singers from the era of your biggest hits? I’m a Dusty Springfield fan.

LG: Who wouldn’t be? I did actually come to know Dusty when I was living in LA during the ‘70s. She did a song of mine called “Love Me By Name.” But she didn’t just do a song – she annihilated it. She invited me to the [recording] session; Joe Sample was the piano player.

They are doing a musical [Dusty] of Dusty’s life. Vicki Wickham, who was Dusty’s manager, is a dear friend of mine, and they consulted her.

BG: A favorite song of mine by you from that era that hints at what you do now is “What Am I Gonna Do With You.” Would you agree with that?

LG: Isn’t that a great song? That was co-written by Russ Titelman, who worked with [Eric] Clapton. When I get to expand my show, songs like that, and “All of My Life,” and “The Old Crowd” – which was written for me by Carole King and Gerry Goffin – are the songs that I’m looking at including within it.

We’ve stripped the songs in the show down to rhythm section and voice, and it’s clear what holds up and what doesn’t. It’s fascinating. “Judy’s Turn to Cry” has completely erupted for me as a new song after taking out those strings and horns and bop-y things. Without horns, “Maybe I Know” has a groove. It’s like re-singing them [the older songs] all over again.

BG: How did the writing of “Out Here on My Own” [sung by Irene Cara on the Fame soundtrack] come about?

LG: When my brother [Michael] started working on Fame he asked me for lyric writers. Much to my shame right now, I didn’t consider myself one. I was friendly with Peter Allen, and through that, Dean Pitchford and Michael got together. My brother was living in Manhattan and one afternoon I was up at his apartment and he played me the melody to “Out Here” and described the scene. When he first played it for me I knew what the title was. I was at my friends Carole Hall’s and Leonard Majzlin’s flat — I stayed indoors for 48 hours and knocked out the lyrics and became part of the Fame family. It was a very liberating step. It means a lot to me in that sense.

BG: What did you think of the movie Grace of My Heart, and of the character played by Bridget Fonda [a Gore facsimile]? Did they wholly miss the mark? Did they have the right spirit?

LG: Actually, nothing rang absolutely true in that movie. I think they were trying to exploit my character. The actual history is that I didn’t know I was gay until after college. So whatever they put in the movie was more of a projected scenario than a reality. Certainly, the [Fonda character’s] affair with the PR person is their own storyline.

They asked me to write a song [for the movie], and it wasn’t a completely pleasant experience, to be totally honest. I realized they asked me to do it so they could exploit my name. They sent me a track that had pretty much already been written. I felt the need to doctor it, and the changes made it better. Then they had the lack of decency to pretty much not invite to the [movie’s] opening.

I love musical movies and I’d like to see more of them made. But it took a lot of people’s lives and distorted them. They glued together scenarios — I think the lead [male] character is supposed to be Brian Wilson? Still, I’d rather have a bad version of a movie musical than no movie musical. And I think the idea of pairing different people [in the story] could have been a good one.

BG: Any hints about what you have in store for San Francisco?

LG: I’ll hit the stage with the band that helped me create the new album. You’re gonna get a show we’ve been doing steadily for 4 or 5 months – it’s grown in dimension, and everyone is going to have a great time. I expect they’ll go from laughter to tears as well. People may have to turn their hearing aids up — but that’s what friends are for.

BG: As someone once wrote –

LG: [Laughs] Exactly.

Coming very soon


Coming very soon

Coming very soon


Coming very soon

Oaklandish pride, Leela, Lila, and torn, torn, torn


Ever wish you were everywhere at once? Don’t. Be in this body now.

So this body got down to the Parkway Theater last night to catch an eyeful of Oakland pride at the “Celebrate Original Oakland Charm” party thrown by Oaklandish . We beheld a montage of invaluable historical footage including clips of Sun Ra touching down in O-town proper; the bit-too-long, but ultrainformative “Rebels of Oakland,” a TV-ish doc on the A’s and the Raiders; snippets of Too Short, the Hell’s Angels, Black Panthers, The SLA, Remembrance of the Hills Fire & Earthquake, etc. Missed the Bruce Lee. Dang! EEEEE-ya! Also caught the premiere episodes of “It’s Crazy Time”, the local punk-rock sketch comedy show put together by the multitalented Dan Aaberg of the Cuts and friends. Funny stuff–Count Tabascula is a soon-to-be classic.

Leela James works it out. But what is she wearing?

Tonight I’m torn, torn, torn between catching Tinariwen at Yoshi’s, Dinosaur Jr and Comets on Fire at Great American, and Leela James (above) at Fillmore. The sleeper nouveau soul diva makes a stand in the Fillmo’ at 8 p.m.

Later this week at the ‘Mo, Lila Downs brings out her bold new disc, Entre Copa y Copa. The disc shows off both the smooth and strong sides of the Frieda lookalike. She performs April 20, 8 p.m., at the Fillmore, 1805 Geary, SF. $25. (415) 346-6000.

Whew. Now off to finally see Brick.

Reid up


It takes real rock ‘n’ roll godhead to turn down the chance to be a “golden god” — but Terry Reid did it. The man who passed on the chance to be the vocalist of the New Yardbirds (ne Led Zeppelin) is back. And perfect timing too: His song, “Seed of Memory,” stood out, soulful and startling, amid the more predictable Southern rock of last year’s gore revivalist flick The Devil’s Rejects.


I’m digging this Water live recording (above), released in 2004. Not a starting point, say longtime followers, but it does feature David Lindley.

Terry Reid performs with Parchman Farm and the Cuts April 2, 9 p.m., at Mezzanine, SF. $10 advance. www.ticketweb.com

Faggots everywhere!


So I was falling out at promoter Scott Brown’s fave queer monthly Faggot at the former Daddy’s, now 440 Castro, last week (somebody slipped me a half-ate Payday bar, and I was using it to terrorize gaybots on their way to Bar on Castro down the street — needless to say the nutty goo got stuck in an overwrought fauxhawk and sashayed doe-like away) when doorboy of the moment Jacob Laurent lassoed me into a mutual admiration session with Jon Ginoli of Pansy Division. No sex, just love.

Payday means “faggot” in French, har har.


Jon’s and my affection from afar has blossomed ever since homocore kicked ass in the early ‘90s, though I lost touch a bit when P.D. went through their Green Day phase — oversize frat house fauxpunk fame makes my amour awfully itchy. Fortunately, the Pansy asses just released a 30-song retrospective that serves to remind me of the good, actually superb, ol’ days. But now that our teenaged dreams of circuit-music death and gym bunny submission to the power of rock ‘n roll (or at least electroclash) have been realized, does that mean old skool homocore is THE MAN IT MUST BE STUCK TO?

I’ll let you know when they stop putting fucking Madonna on the cover of Odyssey Magazine.

Meanwhile, Felecia Fellatio took the stage and did a rousing tribute version of “He Whipped My Ass at Tennis (So I Fucked His Ass in Bed).” Considering she could have cashed in on the current Boreback-Willie-Nelson-meets-iTunes-stoked fever for “Cowboys Are Frequently Secretly Fond of Each Other,” I thought it was mighty ballsy of her. But then anyone who’s seen Felecia in a tennis skirt knows she’s pretty ballsy already…

(doozy of a photo by Guillermo Torres)

The politically correct term is “Caucasian debris”


Album review: Toby Keith, White Trash With Money (Show Dog Nashville)

Country star Toby Keith came to mainstream attention after his musical response to 9/11, “Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue (The Angry American).” The tune, which spawned a public feud with those pinko Dixie Chicks, pleased fist-pumping patriots from sea to shining sea with its jingoistic lyrics: “You’ll be sorry that you messed with the U.S. of A./Cause we’ll put a boot in your ass, it’s the American way.”

Weirdly enough, Keith later admitted he was a Democrat, albeit a conservative one who may or may not have voted for George W. Bush’s re-election. At any rate, there’s no doubt that he supports the troops (exhibit A: the liner notes of his new CD, White Trash With Money), though he hasn’t lately sounded off on other political issues. Most of the tracks on White Trash concern women (good, bad, and mocked-for-being-overweight, as in the boorish “Runnin’ Block”), workin’ hard, and drinkin’, plus a song that muses — in the grand tradition of country-music wordplay — “There ain’t no right way to do the wrong thing.”

Clearly, Keith spends most of his waking hours writing new material; he’s released over a dozen, mostly hit-spawning albums since his 1993 debut. VH-1 Country had scarcely pulled the video for “I Ain’t As Good As I Once Was” (from 2005’s Honkytonk University, his final release on DreamWorks Nashville before the launch of his own label, Show Dog Nashville) from heavy rotation before his latest good-time clip, “Get Drunk and Be Somebody,” made its first appearance. (My favorite Keith video remains his “Beer for My Horses” duet with Willie Nelson, which plays out like CSI: Urban Cowboy).

So how’s the new album? Does it even matter? Isn’t Keith critic-proof by now? On White Trash, he basically operates on three speeds: raucous rocker (“Get Drunk,” “Grain of Salt”); reflective, mid-tempo crooner (“A Little Too Late,” “Can’t Buy You Money”); and earnest balladeer (“Crash Here Tonight,” “Too Far This Time”). Still, despite his assorted shortcomings, I’ll take this bar-brawlin’ Keith over country’s other Keith — the paralyzingly dull, Nicole Kidman-betrothed Keith Urban — any time.

Daniel in the lion’s den


The first time I heard Daniel Johnston’s music, I’d ordered a tape from K Records, having little idea what to expect. What arrived in the mail was something very different from Let’s Kiss and Let’s Together and other happy home- and handmade cassettes distributed by the label. Yip/Jump Music presented a more tortured brand of raw expression.

daniel2 -- small.jpg

Over the years Johnston has played solo and with bands, and recorded for a major label as well as several indies. He’s inspired an excellent tribute album (Dead Dog’s Eyeball, on Bar None) by Kathy McCarty, and now, Jeff Feuerzeig’s documentary The Devil and Daniel Johnston, a winner of the 2005 Director’s Award at the Sundance Film Festival. As Feuerzeig’s movie begins a local run at the Lumiere Theatre, producer Henry S. Rosenthal – who some may also know as the drummer of Crime — agreed to talk about it.

Bay Guardian: The Devil and Daniel Johnston begins with some uncanny self-recorded footage of Johnston from 1985, in which he introduces himself as “the ghost” of Daniel Johnston and refers to “the other world.” How did you and [director] Jeff Feuerzeig get that footage?

Henry S. Rosenthal: Part of Daniel’s mania is his obsession with self-documentation, and as you can tell from his early Super-8 films he’s funny and creative. He loves comic books — that’s his world. As for the footage, it’s as if Daniel was creating this voluminous archive knowing that someday someone would put it all together. Clearly that task is beyond him, but creating the source material is something he’s devoted much of his life to. Was he doing it consciously? Certainly — but it’s part and parcel with his illness.
Daniel has a sense of posterity that is uncanny. He recorded all of his phone conversations with Radio Shack equipment. All of that was there for us to go through.
We didn’t understand the magnitude of the archive until we went to the house and found Hefty bags filled with hundreds of tapes. He’s kept a cassette recorder going for every second he was awake for 15 years.

BG: I was surprised at the wealth of early footage of Johnston – his home movies are a hoot. Did Feuerzeig do anything to treat or restore that footage? Also, is Johnston still as interested in self-documentation today as he was while growing up?

HR: All of the texture that you see in the early films — the snowflakes as we call them – stems from mold eating the films. When we found the films they were in a shoebox in a closet being eaten by mold. We sent them to the same restoration facility that Martin Scorsese sends things to. We transferred them twice over two years, and when we went back to watch the footage, the snowflakes or mold had advanced considerably. Those films will eventually be consumed. The fact we could preserve [some of] them means they’ll exist in the future.
Daniel no longer walks around with a cassette recorder. That was part of his manic phase, and he isn’t theoretically having manic phases anymore — he is under the influence of psychotropic medication. Now he puts that manic energy into his music and his art.

BG: His devotion to recording is very Warhol-like.

HR: It reminds me of Warhol’s filing system with the boxes. Warhol just kept those empty cardboard boxes that he’d put anything in. Then they’d be taped up, numbered, and sent to storage. Later, they found so many important documents mixed in with his junk mail. I can’t say it’s effective, but it’s good for posterity. At least you know things are chronological.

BG: Feuerzeig’s rock docs – both this and Half Japanese: The Band That Would Be King – allow the parents of the “rock stars” to have their say. Is that something you like about his approach? Obviously in Johnston’s case it’s necessary to have his mom in the film since she plays such a major role in his early recordings.

HR: The Mabel of the movie is a mellowed Mabel. She’s not the Mabel of Daniel’s youth. She’s also not the Mabel of today because she’s unfortunately deteriorated considerably. She’s blind and has had hip replacements and has trouble walking. She’s in frail condition.
The parents are great. Both Jeff and I like old people. There aren’t enough old people on the screen in general. In Jeff’s films, the parents play a key role in the lives of the artists. Jad and David [Fair, of Half Japanese] lived at home during their early creative years. There’s that great scene in The Band That Would Be King where the parents talk about Half Japanese’s first record negotiations at the family home, and about Jad going downstairs and getting Coke – the drink, not the drug.
These people lived at home and the parents are a big part of the story. In Daniel’s case, they’re an even bigger part in terms of decisions they’ve made for him.
Different people view [Daniel’s parents in the movie] differently. We showed the film to an audience of psychologists, and many saw the parents as heroic for choosing not to institutionalize Daniel. Many others saw them as making a big mistake.

BG: The movie talks about aspects of Johnston’s art, such as the eyeball imagery that dominates his drawings. I’m wondering about his early identification with Joe Louis and also the recurrent references to Casper the Friendly Ghost in his lyrics. Has he said much about any of that?

HR: Casper’s always occupied a central role in Daniel’s life. You may recall the sequence [in the film] where Daniel is sent to Texas to live with his brother and he turns his brother’s weight bench into a recording studio. Sitting right next to that “recording studio” was a Casper glass. In one of Daniel’s audio letters he talked about how lonely he was in Texas and that his only friend in the world was his Casper glass.
We found an identical glass on eBay; [Daniel] helped us art direct many of the recreations in the film.
I liked Casper as a kid, but I never thought about it until Daniel asked — “How did Casper die?”

BG: Can you tell me a bit about the decision to not have Johnston interviewed in the movie? It seems as if others talk about him, but he rarely directly addresses the viewer.

HR: We filmed hours and hours of interviews with Daniel, and the sad fact is this: Daniel is not able to host his own film. He’s sick and he can’t tell these stories. He doesn’t remember them, and when he does, he doesn’t tell them right. You can’t draw Daniel out. He says what he wants to say when he wants to say it. He can’t host the movie like R. Crumb hosts Crumb.
When journalists travel all the way to Texas to interview Daniel, they are shocked and frustrated to discover that he’s a mental patient. People want to believe that it’s an act, or that he’s putting people on.
If we had relied on Daniel’s interviews to drive the film, there would be no film. It wasn’t until we unearthed the archive that we realized that Daniel narrated the film, but in real time, as it happened. We don’t have to have Daniel reminisce – [because of his self-documentation] we can be there during his manic phases and see him babbling to Gibby Haynes, or swimming in the creek while talking about baptizing people.

BG: How and when did you become a Daniel Johnston fan? Do you have a favorite song or album? I know you’ve referred to this movie as a 6-year labor of sorts, so could you also give me a bit of background in terms of its creation?

HR: I think I came to Daniel through Half Japanese, whom I met through my friendship with Bruce Conner. Bruce was on Jad [Fair]’s mailing list. Jad would send Bruce packages of records — when you get something from Jad, it’s mail art. Then Bruce had a party in the late ‘70s and brought them [Half Japanese] out and I met them.
My favorite album of Daniel’s is the Jad Fair-Daniel collaboration, which has been reissued under the name It’s Spooky [originally on 50 Skidillion Watts records; now available on Jagjaguwar]. It just doesn’t get better.
Jeff and I met in Berlin [at the Berlin Film Festival] in 1993, when he was there with his film about Half Japanese. I felt like he had made that film just for me. I knew I was the only person in the room who knew who the band was. Everyone was convinced this was Spinal Tap. We talked about our love of Daniel and how there should be a Daniel Johnston film. It seemed impossible. He [Daniel] was dormant at the time. It wasn’t until 2000 that he began emerging again. That’s when we seized the moment.

BG: You are producing Bruce Conner’s sole feature-length film, a years-in-the-making documentary about the Soul Stirrers. Can you tell me a bit about that movie, and about your other involvements with Bruce via the film and his Mabuhay Gardens photos of your band Crime?

HR: We met during the punk rock years and became friends then. Bruce asked me if I could produce a reunion concert of the original Soul Stirrers. I knew nothing about filmmaking at that time. We decided the event was so important it should be documented. We looked for people to film, and that’s kind of how I got tricked into being a movie producer. Twenty years later, that movie is still the albatross around my neck. We are making slow progress on it, believe it or not. It’s not dormant and it’ll emerge one day.
It’s priceless archive footage that we’ve shot, because all of our protagonists are dead.
Bruce definitely got me started in this profession – though I hesitate to call it that, I don’t know what it is – and as I sharpen my skills with other filmmakers on other projects we’ve continued to collaborate.

BG: Do you see any links between Devil and Daniel Johnston and documentaries such as Tarnation and Be Here to Love Me: A Film About Townes Van Zandt?

HR: The movies that most often get mentioned in relation to ours are Capturing the Friedmans and Crumb. Those are either stylistic or content pairings that people are making. There’s validity to all of them.
Tarnation I enjoyed, though I didn’t think it was a great film. It bogged down, but it was interesting. The high point of the movie for me was the early footage where he [Jonathan Caouette] was impersonating his mother — that’s what stands out in my mind. When Tarnation came out, we were done with this film, so Tarnation exerted no influence. We were curious to track it because it relied heavily on a person’s obsessive self-documentation. But I think that the materials are handled with a completely different sensibility.
Crumb deals with an artist who you could say has interesting personality disorders. I’m not going to say Crumb is mentally ill — he’s nowhere near where Daniel is. But like Devil and Daniel Johnston, Crumb is a monograph about an artist.
Capturing the Friedmans will forever remain the most astounding archive of found footage ever stumbled across.

BG: A review of Devil and Daniel Johnston in Film Comment claims the movie makes a virtue of Johnston’s “self-defeating” eccentricity, and asserts that the movie fuels “mad genius” myths while ignoring Johnston’s influences. What do you think of that kind of criticism?
HR: I completely disagree. Daniel’s influences are discussed throughout the film. They’re all over the walls of his garage – comic books, Marilyn, the Beatles, he’s a sponge of pop culture and everything else. He has art books devoted to da Vinci and Van Gogh. He sucks from everything and it gets spewed out through his filter. He doesn’t assign value to things – to him, everything’s the greatest. He has the biggest collection of Beatles bootlegs I’ve ever seen. To Daniel, Ringo’s solo albums are as great as Sgt. Pepper’s. Wings albums are as great as Beatles albums.
He listens to Journey, Rush – whatever garbage, he processes it. And yet when you engage Daniel on a topic when he’s conversant and catch him in a lucid moment you can have the most erudite discussion. He can critique every panel Jack Kirby ever drew.
There’s that shot [in the film] when you’re in a basement and seeing his work materials, and you’re seeing Warhol’s Marilyns. I wonder how many other teenagers in Westchester at the time were cutting out Warhols – probably none. Daniel’s always been plugged in and sought out the most interesting things going on.

BG: What does Daniel think of the movie?

HR: You can imagine what this movie would mean to a narcissist of Daniel’s proportion. Of course, he likes the film — but he’s very funny. He told Jeff when he saw it that he liked the colors.
We did take the time to shoot 16mm film and we took hours to light and compose shots.
The aesthetic of the film is a huge part of it. If we had this movie with a camcorder it wouldn’t have given the subject the weight it deserved. That’s why this movie cost a million dollars.

Throwing the books, Pitney passes, Jew know what I mean?


Give a brother a book, won’t you? Xiu Xiu‘s Jamie Stewart performs solo and Guardian contributor Devin Hoff brings his Platform (his catchall name for solo projects) to a benefit for the Prisoners Literature Project. Hoff tells me he has friends who work at the project who say they’re in dire need of cash, and as luck would have it, his sometime collaborator Stewart also volunteers there when he’s in town.

Tuesday, April 11, 8 p.m., at the AK Press warehouse, 674-A 23rd St., Oakl., between MLK and San Pablo. It’s $8 or $7 if you bring a book in good condition. All proceeds go to PLP.

It’s all about words and action with Xiu Xiu.


Crooner Gene Pitney was a kind of Roy Orbison, only with more tears and more of that insurance-salesman style.


reports that Pitney died Wednesday, April 5, of natural causes:

An autopsy on singer Gene Pitney, who was found dead in a hotel room in the Welsh capital Cardiff on Wednesday morning, showed he died of natural causes, police said.

Pitney, 65, who shot to fame in the 1960s with hits including “Town Without Pity” and “Only Love Can Break a Heart,” died after having given a concert the previous night that had won him a standing ovation.

“The post mortem results show Gene Pitney died of natural causes and there will not be a police investigation,” a spokesperson for South Wales police said. He added the body of the singer had been released to relatives and will be flown to the United States.

Pitney was in the middle of a 23-show tour of Britain when he died.


Rob Tannenbaum wields an iron editorial hand at Blender but apparently he’s been spending his off hours productively, waxing wittily as part of the musical comedy duo What I Like About Jew. Tannenbaum and Sean Altman have been dubbed “the Bart Simpsons of the Yeshiva” by Time Out New York and hyped with a cover story on “The New Super Jews.” Astonishingly, this CD, chock full of ethnic humor [sample song titles: “Hot Jewish Chicks,” “They Tried to Kill Us (We Survived, Let’s Eat),” “JDate”], is actually funny.


They play two HEEB Magazine-sponsored shows at 7:30 and 10 p.m., Tuesday, April 18, at Cafe Du Nord, 2170 Market, SF. $15. (415) 861-5016.