Face The Strange
2017: Survival of the Grooviest.
We all know it’s been a rough year. There were some astrological curveballs in the mix – most notably The Great American Eclipse™– but Saturn’s shift into Capricorn just before the Solstice is perhaps the most important, and definitely the heaviest. This is where the rubber hits the road (or the shit hits the fan). Luckily I’m a child of Saturn via my Midheaven, so I’m an old hand at rolling with that particular planet’s changes.
I was half-heartedly considering a “best albums” update, but as my pursestrings were kept very tight during the second half of 2017, there’s lots of music out there that I didn’t pick up on. So instead I’ll briefly mention some releases that lifted my spirits this year.
Jane Weaver got lots of attention in 2017 – I’ve not purchased Modern Kosmology yet, but enjoyed her single The Architect. The names of critical darlings like Hawkwind, Can and Stereolab often get dropped around Weaver, yet a deep vein of knob-twiddly dad rock like The Alan Parsons Project and mid-period Mike Oldfield also runs through her work. Back when Jane & I were young, those guys were the antithesis of cool; nowadays, hipster kids clearly eat that sound up like so much kale and quinoa. Props to Weaver – she pulls it off better than most.
Alison Goldfrapp and her eponymous band kicked out the (electronic) jams this year as well. Silver Eye is in the upbeat style of Supernature or Head First, though there are some moody/ethereal bits like Tigerman (which evokes Bryan Ferry’s later solo work beautifully). Sadly the band’s recent videos are blatant Jodorowsky ripoffs, but their May show at Brooklyn Steel was one of my top gigs of 2017.
An old headbanger friend turned me on to Myrkur, and I got a kick out of her latest CD Mareridt. To be honest, willowy blondes overdosing on runes and Scandinavian landscapes is NOT my usual jam. But Amalie Bruun pisses off Black Metal purists and sexist jerks with such glee that I can’t help but cheer her on. Even if she's just having a laugh, and Myrkur isn't everyone's cup of aquavit, surely Metal is all about doing your thing and paying the haters no mind?
The soundtrack to my 1st half of 2017 was Jennifer Crighton’s Hermitess, which conjures up winter chills, deep solitude and the quiet closeness of death. At times the album’s production reminds me of Marble Index-era Nico – stark, minimalist, real. Anyone who knows me knows I couldn’t stop raving about it! Crighton works on various musical & artistic projects, but hopefully another solo album is in the works.
Then in August, things heated right up with Ruby the Hatchet’s Planetary Space Child. The music’s full of heavy grooves, mind-blowing harmonies, choogling organ and blistering guitars…but Jillian Taylor’s vocals move things into another stratosphere entirely. (And she delivers the goods live!) This ain’t no good-time rock ’n’ roll, however; eerie, ominous and intense, it veers between brutal psychedelia and full-on prog, with a touch of NWOBHM to provide some leavening.
While other bands shared space on my stereo this year (Three Days Dark, Here Lies Man, and L.A. Witch), the above artists really wormed their way into my psyche. Their music inspired me to keep going and stay focused despite all the chaos and misery. I thank them (and you) for helping me survive 2017, and giving me the strength to kick serious ass in 2018!
Saturday, 6 May 2017: Belated Beltane, with Books.
Just a quick update to let everyone know I’m still alive and kicking. I didn’t get a chance to properly celebrate Beltane this year — though handling the packing (& unpacking) for a large office move does tie into themes of growth and fertility (with regards to new business). I’ve also started my final bookkeeping class, which will end at the Summer Solstice…yet another example of the Magick inherent in the mundane.
In between studying and moving boxes around, I’ve been checking out some autobiographies: art sex music by Cosey Fanni Tutti, Le Freak by Nile Rodgers and Bowie, Bolan and the Brooklyn Boy by Tony Visconti. While the Rodgers book is a bit superficial for my tastes (and sadly hasn’t been updated to include his dealings with Daft Punk), the other two are meatier and more gripping reads. Once class is finished, I hope to discuss my thoughts about them (as well as the Peter Steele & Lita Ford bios I read a few months back) a bit further.
2016: The Shitshow Recedes.
Well, THAT sucked! So glad 2016 is OVER.
It was ridiculously stressful, full of heavy space weather, and a lot of people died. Also, geopolitics took a major turn for the worse, in ways that directly affect me and those I care about. The photography situation is locked in a dismal holding pattern; basically, I need to break down and get a digital camera (more on this in a later post). I look and feel like I’ve aged five years instead of merely one.
Yet some incredibly positive things also happened in 2016. I traveled to California in March and caught up with one of my favorite people. Another friend of mine received some much-deserved recognition for her writing and storytelling skills. I started a certificate course in bookkeeping: while I’m rather broke and highly sleep-deprived in the short term, it’s a Grade-A investment in my future (literally – I’ve earned straight As so far, with one class left to go!). I’m still employed, and even got a raise back in the spring. And the ankle’s getting better!
Tons of brilliant music and fantastic gigs happened last year – indie labels like Beyond Beyond is Beyond and Riding Easy Records consistently delivered the goods, and bands from near (MOTHER FEATHER, Ruby the Hatchet), far (Purson, Blues Pills) and all areas in between (White Mystery, Black Mountain) kicked major ass. Check out Old Time Religion Radio Hour’s final BBOX Radio episode for an aural sampling of the goods 2016 had to offer. Note: it’s a four-hour show! If you’re pressed for time, scroll down a bit and click on some of those sweet, sweet band links. Otherwise open a bottle of whatever, kick back and let the music flow.
I even managed to check out a couple of exhibitions (such as Julian Rosefeldt’s MANIFESTO starring Cate Blanchett) and read quite a few biographies (Peter Steele and Bernie Sanders being the highlights – Brooklyn represent!) in between all the studying and number-crunching. In fact, I’m still plowing through the humongous used book haul acquired during my Cali trip; there’s translations of the Upanishads and the Homeric Hymns to sink my teeth into this year.
Finally, the Second Avenue Subway is open for business (up to 96th Street, at least). Any Native New Yorker will tell you that the Second Avenue Subway has always been a fantastical notion that got lots of money thrown its way but would never, EVER, happen in anyone’s lifetime, yet here it is. While technically the Q train starts running up 2nd Avenue in 2017, The MTA threw a big party on 30 December that coincided with a good friend’s birthday. After a festive meal at Heidelberg, we checked out the gleaming steel, the sparkling tile, the stunning artwork (Chuck Close is featured on the 86th Street stop), the bright blue subway cars and the London Underground-style escalator that seemed to go on forever. There was swag: I scored a classy black tote bag while the birthday gal snagged a baseball cap, and we both got Metrocard holders. While obviously this is another step down the hypergentrification trail, we were in awe of the fact that…it’s real. The Second Avenue Subway is no longer a shared joke among locals, but actually a thing that exists.
So while the macrocosm was horrendous, dangerous, and perfidious on various levels in 2016, my personal microcosm showed some serious improvement from previous years. Life’s been hard, but it’s also been good. I intend to keep that upward trajectory going as best I can in 2017, and hope that things get better, easier and safer for all of you in the coming year.
Tuesday, 2 February 2016: Milestones.
Today (2nd February) is Imbolc, or Candlemas; it’s also the first anniversary of my having steady, gainful employment after a long period of zero income. It’s easy to nitpick about one’s job, to fuss over what could be better or would seem more comfortable, but in this day and age, I'm more into dealing with reality. I’m lucky; it’s still an incredibly rough market out there and so many skilled, talented people continue to fall by the wayside. I’m hanging tough.
Many of you checked in with me to see how things were going after Winter Storm Jonas: We had about 3 feet of snow ‘round my neck of the woods, and it took lots of shoveling, but everyone on my block chipped in and we pulled through. I made some serious headway against the snow that Saturday, with some (im)moral support from the Old Time Religion Radio Hour’s Lemmy tribute, but my ankle gave out on the Sunday. I did the right thing and rested, and I’ve got a couple more awesome milestones to celebrate:
– I’ve started wearing regular shoes (as opposed to the one pair of good sneakers or the other pair of snow boots) this week, and there’s no soreness, swelling or pain.
– I took my first subway ride into Brooklyn since my accident on Friday the 29th of January, to check out Mother Feather at the Knitting Factory. There was some definite trepidation, as stairs are still not my strong point! But I made it there and back thanks to strong coffee (and Thin Lizzy on the cafe stereo!), good friends, old haunts and some blistering Rock ’n’ Roll. Shot 4 rolls of hi-speed film, we’ll see what comes of it.
Monday, 20 April 2015:
All She Had Was The Blood On Her Hand.
I have ideas for longer blog posts percolating in my head, and accompanying photos quietly chilling in my Pixelmator folder, but sadly no time to sit down and get writing and coding. So here instead is a brief post to celebrate a friend’s good fortune.
Earlier this month Wapshott Press released Storylandia 15; the featured author this time around is the phantasmagorically fabulous Julie Travis, with five tales of atmospheric, vibrant and thought-provoking slipstream horror. Her work is terrific, in that it’s both well-crafted and inspires absolute terror. She’s been included in in various anthologies, and she’s done some self-publishing, but as far as I know this is the first literary journal issue specifically dedicated to her work...and I’m seriously fucking proud of her. Rock on, Julie!
Sunday, 22 February 2015:
Back on the Boat.
To quote the much-missed Gary Moore, sometimes I feel like I’m back on the streets again. Or, in my particular case, back on the boat. I started a new job earlier this month, which means I once again join the commuter class in the daily Manhattan to-and-fro.
Things are slightly different this time around. First off, my workday starts at 8AM; this means I have to get up and out of the house while it’s still dark. It’s taken me roughly two weeks to adjust to the new schedule, but so far it’s working out. I’m making the transit connections I need to make and getting in on time, and there’s the nice perk of watching the sun rise as I ride the ferry boat each morning.
Secondly, NYC has been having a vicious cold spell that started with Winter Storm Juno (she blew through town during my second interview) and has persisted all month with temperatures in the single digits and constant inches of snow to shovel. Once I found out I got the job, I bought myself a pair of snow boots; a good chunk of my first paycheck was quickly spent on warm sweaters and thermal layers, to keep hypothermia at bay.
Note to conspiracy theorists: the coldest days of the week have consistently been Mondays and Fridays, except for last week – Monday was a holiday, so Tuesday was colder than a witch’s tit instead. Veteran of the Psychic Wars, indeed! And this past Friday was so damn chilly that there were huge chunks of ice floating in the East River; they kept clogging up the ferry boat’s motor, nearly leaving us stranded by the Statue of Liberty.
But I persevere. I keep leaving my house each day, walking down the hill to catch the bus, riding the ferry as the sun rises, running up Whitehall Street to Bowling Green and taking the train uptown. It’s worth it. I enjoy my job, I’m doing what I want to do and I’m earning good pay. Besides, Spring will come soon enough.
Sunday, 21 December 2014:
A Bookish Yule.
I was hoping to send out my usual holiday cards this month – handmade, with a photo taken during the year gracing the front. Sadly, my beloved inkjet printer of nearly 10 years died earlier this month (logic board failure) and I can’t purchase a new one until 2015. So I’ll satisfy the curiosity of my loyal readers and post some photos here instead.
About five months ago a good friend of mine read Colin Wilson’s The Occult, and found it quite a rewarding experience. I had read a blogpost on Wilson written earlier by another acquaintance, and remembered that I had a hardcover copy of my own lying about the house. Funnily enough, I purchased it at a yard sale back in the ‘80s for $6 – a fucking STEAL. (Also picked up a mint-condition copy of Buckingham Nicks that same day for $4! Good times, good times.)
I decided to give The Occult a re-read, and found that even after 4 decades it was still enjoyable and illuminating (yet refreshingly lacking in “woo”). I promised Julie a photo of the dust jacket, but never got around to sending it until now. Here ’tis, along with three other esoteric hardcovers from my personal library:
Robert Graves’ The White Goddess is somewhat notorious, but I consider that reputation unfounded. The book is about poetry, NOT Witchcraft; it’s idiotic to blame Graves if some NeoPagans gave his flights of fancy new wings back in the ‘60s and ’70s. Yet many current polytheists (and historians) get very bitchy about TWG, and it’s out of favor these days. Your loss, kids! I bought this copy from Herman Slater at Magickal Childe (19th Street between 5th & 6th Aves) back around 1986-7.
Kurt Seligmann returned to the forefront of my attention this past Summer (around the same time that Julie & I were discussing Wilson, in fact) via a lecture on 20th Century esotericism featuring Pam Grossman and Christina Oakley Harrington. Seligmann is better known as an artist than a writer; he was part of André Breton’s Surrealist group. Magic, Supernaturalism and Religion (previously The Mirror of Magic) was his only book. Got this copy at Weiser Books (24th Street and Lexington Ave) during its closing sale…early ‘90s, if I recall correctly?
Finally, Papus’ Tarot of the Bohemians was part of a haul from a secondhand bookstore in Albany, NY during a brief (and difficult) stay in 1991. For about $20 I scored this hardcover, a book on the Etruscan language, the Wilhelm/Baynes version of the I-Ching (also hardcover) and an archeological study of Nineveh. Seriously, I’m a great person to have on hand when book shopping… While I might re-read this in a month or so, I recall with some distaste that the last couple of chapters (“For the Ladies!”) consist of a desultory set of divination instructions, assuming that womenfolk are too delicate/dumb/whatever to handle the rest of the book. Ah well, it’s a product of its time.
Have a fantastic holiday season, peeps! See you all in 2015.
Friday, 17 October 2014:
Rock A Little.
Checked out the opening of 24 Karat Gold, an exhibit of Stevie Nicks’ self-portraits using Polaroid cameras and film, earlier this month. It was a far superior presentation to the Blondie/Debbie Harry exhibit, even though both were shown in pop-up spaces. The Harry exhibition aimed for a raw, punk aesthetic but wound up looking weak and sloppy. Shame, because there were some incredible photographs that truly deserved attention. 24 Karat Gold was put together by Morrison Hotel Gallery, who specialize in just this sort of thing and know exactly how to make rock stars look good.
The space on Mulberry Street was deeply minimalist: stark white walls, with enormous photos in white frames. The only other accoutrement were large vases filled with gold ribbon and topped with clusters of maroon and yellow flowers. They might have seemed tacky in more cluttered surroundings, but instead made a perfect counterpoint to the golden tones and dark red highlights of various prints on show.
She wore some influences on her sleeve – two of the prints were named after Alphonse Mucha, and Julia Margaret Cameron’s style could be seen reflected in many of the photos. The Polaroid camera was still a very experimental format in terms of art and portraiture when Stevie started doing this. I’m reminded of the cover for Peter Gabriel’s 3rd album, and the series of polaroids taken and manipulated by hand to disturbing effect.
The various articles and reviews that preceded the opening suggested a sort of paean to narcissism – “Stevie’s Selfies”. That says more about the intended audience for those articles than the actual impressions the photos provide. While there’s no chronological or narrative order, 24 Karat Gold documents what living the Rock ’N’ Roll lifestyle is like, how it feels to focus all one has into making music and going out on tour. The curves and lines of Stevie’s face repeat in permutations across the walls, showing the cold loneliness of the open road, the drugs and hard living, the paradox of having too much time on one’s hands when time always threatens to run out on one’s career. The photos don't scream “LOOK AT ME!!!” so much as intone “This, too, shall pass.”
Stevie was already in her thirties when she embarked upon her solo career (in tandem with Fleetwood Mac); it’s easy to forget how ridiculously successful she was, and how hard she had to push herself — and those around her — to keep the juggernaut rolling. By this point in the game she was a businesswoman as well as a musician. On a more prosaic level, it makes sense that she'd photograph herself in various getups, take the pics to her record label and say “THIS is the image I want to project for the next album/tour/whatever, let me know what the budget is and how we can make it work”. Although Stevie mentions that she “never really thought anyone would ever see these pictures”, many of them DO come across as prototype ideas for album covers, tour program interiors or magazine shoots.
My favorite section of the exhibit was the juxtaposition of two prints in a corner: Diamond 3 (Bella Donna) shows a fresh-faced Stevie without makeup and hair pulled back, while Smoke evokes a dark, neon-lit night owl, all sunken eyes and frizzed-out hair. (Stevie closely resembles Cherie Currie in this photo; it has a very Glam Rock, Sunset-Strip ambience.)
The NYC exhibit is now at Morrison Hotel’s main space at 116 Prince until the end of October, and there’s a concurrent exhibit in West Hollywood that runs until the 21st. If you’re a Stevie fan, you’ll fucking love it; if not, there’s still something to be gained by viewing the portraits and seeing what that life was like from her own visual perspective.
Monday, 22 September 2014:
It seems the cemetery is partnering with the Brooklyn Historical Society to provide moonlight tours, catacomb cocktails and even yoga breakfasts! That last link may come across as gentrifying bullshit, but there's actually a precedent for meditation amongst the dead.
There's also a Green-Wood Cemetery app, if that’s your thing. One last semi-related link: This Mortician Thinks You Should Spend More Time With Corpses. Interesting stuff, but for now wandering around Green-Wood will do me just fine.
Friday, 2 May 2014:
The Oath broke up this past week, and I’m bummed out about it. Guitarist Linnéa Olsson sent out a mass email thanking fans for their support, and:
“Since our album is now released, it’s time to let you know the band is over—and has been for quite some time. See you in the future.”
A rather minimalist goodbye...no muss, no fuss. But their debut album dropped about a month or so ago, and they were slotted to play gigs with Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats (Holy Shit what a bill!) along with some summer festivals. The most recent interview with vocalist Johanna Sadonis gave little warning that trouble was afoot (although she did mention the gigs were cancelled for “personal reasons and we can’t really speak about it”). What went wrong?
Full Disclosure: I haven’t picked up the album yet, although I enjoyed their single immensely. They have a very classic Danzig/NWOBHM vibe that works for me, with a hint of hard psych/garage deep in the mix. I heard some bad reviews of the album via Twitter; other online reviews seem more positive. I still plan to check out the album & decide for myself, once some money rolls my way. (Soon!)
There are two things I’ve noticed about The Oath that are problematic, and therefore likely causes for their breakup. For one thing, they don’t have a dedicated rhythm section—they’ve often depended on friends, studio musicians and guys in other bands (most noticeably Simon Bouteloup, currently rocking out with Kadavar.) That not only complicates things when it comes to booking gigs and studio time, but also makes it difficult for a band to consolidate its sound. Playing with the same people over time allows musicians to feel each other’s grooves and know each other’s style, building a camaraderie that can’t exist when drummers and bassists get switched out every few months.
The second thing I’ve noticed with the Oath is that they both have full-time jobs—the band is not their main focus. Linnéa is a journalist for multiple rock magazines and Johanna works at a booking agency. Now, on one hand it’s really smart on their end to have multiple income streams and not just depend on one thing; on the other, full-time work only leaves so much time for being in a band. Either it’s a hobby or it’s a going concern. If things take off there’s gigs, promotion, more studio time, a whole whirlwind of activity that might not, in the end, actually make all that much money. Maybe the two of them looked very hard at their financials and decided The Oath was a losing proposition. Maybe one wanted to take it further and the other didn’t, or couldn’t. We’ll never know unless they decide to talk about it.
Rock ‘N’ Roll has always been a risky business. I wish both Linnéa and Johanna the best of luck and hope they find their way back in the game—separately or together.
Sunday, 23 March 2014
I wrote a bit about my birthday visit to the New Museum over at the blog, and uploaded some photos of the interactive/collaborative section of the exhibit to my portfolio, but here I’d like to show a couple of Pawel Althamer’s figurative works. His mixed-media sculptures were life-size, reminding me of golems or what Mary Shelley originally had in mind when she wrote Frankenstein. I appreciated the painstaking intricacy, but let’s face it—they were creepy as fuck.
Yet there was one statue that I really enjoyed, his most recent self-portrait.
There was a sense of calm and placidity in the face, and I loved the contrast of dark leather skin (or perhaps a darker wax? Many of the other figures had wax outer coverings) under bits of bright faux-marble stitched together to create a peplos-like garment.
The figure was incomplete, hovering quietly like a ghost.
Monday, 17 February 2014
Took this shot back in October on route to a lecture on dream telepathy, with Dr. Stanley Krippner as the guest speaker. He's rather advanced in age, but still sharp as a tack! I enjoyed hearing his firsthand accounts of the Dream Lab experiments at Maimonides Medical Center. Some of the original test subjects from the 1960s were in attendance, and their reminiscences about their time in the Lab—as well as how their lives were affected long after the experiments ceased—were fascinating. Psi experimentation took a severe downturn here in the States by the '80s & '90s, but is carrying on in Europe, Latin America and parts of Asia.
The lecture wasn't held in the usual Proteus Gowanus space, but at the Gemini & Scorpio loft instead. While the room was quite nice (there's some pics at the link), the lecture audience skewed much older than the party crowd G&S usually draw in; there was some quiet grumbling about the steep, rickety stairs. But everyone had fun for the most part, and the lecture was very informative.
Monday, 23 December 2013
I originally posted this Kirlian photograph of my fingertips earlier in the year, and wanted to bung it back up on the site. I attended a lecture by Shannon Taggart on the subject of Kirlian photography, and she was kind enough to take this pic afterwards.
Sunday, 8 December 2013
I've been having some incredible dreams lately, very lucid. Many of them take place in a Gowanus brownstone where I used to live back in the '90s, in various states of disrepair and abandonment. (In waking life, the brownstone is under new ownership and in fantastic shape -- from the outside, at least.) I spent my formative adult years in that top-floor apartment and had many good times there, which may explain my sadness at the state of the place in my dreams. It's as if my deeper mind knows that I can never return there, but feels a keen attatchment to the apartment and refuses to let go. Hmmm...something to work on!
I should look into creative visualization exercises revolving around "psychic temples", and make an new inner home for my dream self.
Saturday, 12 October 2013
I'm not keen on the recent trend in live concerts where a band or performer will play a specific album in its entirety, from the first cut to the last, without deviation. It's complacent, killing the spontaneity that's central to a live performance.
One of the highlights of a live gig is hearing how songs from different albums, different eras of a band's career, can be juxtaposed together in myriad ways to create a fresh, new aural experience. Just playing an album from start to finish is like saying the music is preserved in aspic, unchangeable and static.
Fuck that—it's boring! Far better to switch things up and leave people wondering what comes next.