Table of Contents: Music

The Enthusiast
Uppercase Magazine #3


…Across the province of Ontario, which I call home, Queens Highway no 17 plies for some 1000 miles through the pre-Cambrian rock of the Canadian Shield. With its east/west course deflected, where it climbs the northeast shore of Lake Superior, it appears in cartographic profile like one of those prehistoric airborne monsters which Hollywood promoted to star status in such late late show spine tinglers of the 1950s as Blood Beast From Outer Space or Beak From Beyond, and to which the fuselage design of the XB15 paid the tribute of science borrowing from art…

So begins, improbably, the narration of “The Search for Petula Clark,” one of a series of radio features the classical pianist Glenn Gould made for the CBC in the late 60’s, after his abrupt retirement from public performance. Gould’s story is often understood in terms of the standard drama of eccentric genius: young and brilliant, and yet temperamental and odd, he burned bright, was subsumed by his eccentricities, faded out, cue credits, etc. To regard Gould as the Howard Hughes of classical music may be romantic, but it obscures far more interesting motivations that led him to abandon the concert hall at the peak of his career. The radio documentaries provide not only a key to understanding Gould’s decision, but an inspiration to anyone who finds aesthetic and intellectual pleasure in the unlikeliest of places.

Described by Gould as “Contrapuntal Radio,” the documentaries were exquisite sonic constructions, built of precisely calibrated layers of voices and under-girded by a lattice of sound effects and musical passages. They were explicitly musical. Gould composed fugues of dialogue that cumulatively evoked notions greater than any of the individual sentiments themselves — like chords of language and thought. Each is narrated in Gould’s distinct voice–complete, rounded pronunciations of each word, formed without dropped syllables. Full word follows full word, separated by a crucial, clean, split second of silence in a quick, steady, hypnotic cadence.

Both in ambition and the complexity of construction, “The Search for Petula Clark” is probably the simplest of his radio features. However, it serves as a great precis of the main themes that animate Gould’s major radio works like “The Idea of North,” about the effects of living in solitude; “The Latecomers,” about Newfoundland; and profiles of composers Leopold Stokowski and Richard Strauss. One way or another they involve the discovery of deep aesthetic pleasures in the everyday, the fundamental character of ideas, and the mechanics of creativity.

As the “The Search for Petula Clark” continues, Gould drives through the remote regions of northern Canada, listening to the radio. As he passes from town to town, he compares naming conventions (Michipicoten, Jackfish, Terrace Bay) to describe three generations of settlers that have defined the region’s history. A passing observation of local real estate stratification unlocks the complex interplay of social standing, industry and the limits of upward mobility. As he heads once again into the wilderness, he sees the first of an array of relay antennae that pass radio signal deep into the endless stretches of the north. Utterly captivating, this is just Gould clearing his throat; acutely aware of cinematic staging, his introduction begins with an establishing aerial vantage, swoops down, passes over the landscape and under the wires, and pulls back up as the opening measures of Petula Clark’s “Sign of the Times” fade in and his ruminations begin.

Goodness gracious, how this cat riffs! Based on a close reading of four consecutive Clark singles (“Downtown,” “Sign of the Times,” “My Love,” and “Who Am I?”), he constructs a loose, yet full-field, theory on the distinct stages of mid-century pop stardom and sketches a pocket biography of Clark. He fuses Clark’s four singles into a coherent melodramatic arc: youthful earnestness, hope, urban vitality, romantic disillusionment, culminating in the “tenor of mindless confidence and the tone of slurred articulation… the interminable mid morning coffee hour laments of all the secret sippers of suburbia”

Along the way, Gould pauses for a hilarious, brainy and impertinent digression on the Beatles. With a sophisticated, yet idiosyncratic, musical analysis, he indicts the group as hopped-up folkie barbarians, rube minstrels filling an ageless role in cooking up a good racket. Yes, yes, so far, predictable fogey fare. Then comes a lavish testimonial to the acumen of Clark’s composing partner, Tony Hatch, remembered now mostly as a cheesy 70’s TV soundtrack hack, but once a deft and felicitous pop composer and early-60’s collaborator with Scott Walker and David Bowie. (As a prescription, Gould’s vision for popular music essentially endorses the approach embodied by decadent french pop maestro Serge Gainsbourg, especially in his magnum opus “Melody Nelson”–thoughtful orchestrations, found sound, collage, spoken word passages and soap operatic drama.)

Besides their intrinsic interest, the relevance of the radio documentaries lie in their restless curiosity. Sometimes it seems as if Gould is interviewing reality itself. They are driven by a passion to illuminate the deep worth of overlooked things. Art could be anywhere; you had to tease it out, as he put it, by keeping “all the elements in a constant state of flux, interplay, nervous agitation, so that one is buoyed aloft by the structure.”

This notion serves as a manifesto of sorts for Gould. He spent his life soaking in the details of the world around him, observing, making, tuning, recording, tweaking, sketching, musing, opining, composing. To enter into Gould’s world is not to part the curtain on a reclusive eccentric. His abandonment of performance and his subsequent work are best understood as a commitment to a life of ecstatic appreciation. It’s what makes him practically a patron saint to passionate enthusiasts. Gould devoted himself to the central preoccupation of any cultural omnivore: the development of a self sustaining aesthetic universe, with consistent rules and endlessly roiling passions, full of quirks, strangeness, and charm. Uppercase_3



What a dandy little art book/scene document/memento thingy. Maripolarama is a collection of Polaroids taken in the late 70’s and early 80’s by Maripol. Her (single – natch) name contains a multitude of très fabuloso personas: Model; art director for quintessential 80’s designer Fiorucci; Madonna’s friend and her stylist during the original, classic, “Like a Virgin” period (we have her to thank for the rubber bracelets); producer of the legendary new wave art scene flick Downtown 81; and on, and on… she’s less a person that the essence of the New York post punk new wave fashion scene in human form.

Maripolorama is her raw candid, exuberant diary. It’s not really who’s in it that makes it so compelling, though. It’s how young and unguarded everyone is, how genuine and sincere they are in thier goofy exhibitionism. The group shots are especially revelatory – before they went on to become stars, icons, flameouts, poseurs, and tragedies they were all weirdo pals dressing up and running around the glittering big city.

Everything’s Archie!


My older daughter in is the midst of a full fledged multi-media obsession with the Archies, sparked by a week long fever I had for the song Feelin‘ So Good (S.K.O.O.B.Y.D.O.O) – as rad a side of bubblegum pop as you could hope for. Now it’s repeated spins of entire Archie albums, Archie comics, and lately, the Archies TV show from the late 60’s for which the songs were originally written.

And what do you know? Mostly the stuff’s great. The story of the band is interesting enough – formed by Brill Building savant and Monkees architect Don Kirshner, with vocals by Ron Dante, producer for my erstwhile employer – Barry Manilow – during his peak period of superstardom. The songs are mostly fantastic – sweet sides of sunny sunshine AM pop with a teeny, buy vicodin san diego tiny garage bite. As for the comics, the story there is about original artist Dan DeCarlo, who also worked on Millie the Model, Sherry the Showgirl and created Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Josie and the Pussycats, and the sadly forgotten Jetta the Space Girl. DeCarlo was also a consummate pin up artist. Shabbily treated by the industry, his legacy has been secured mostly by younger artists he inspired, and his work is lavishly documented in the book Innocence and Seduction. More on DeCarlo here, surely, later. And the show. I dunno. Junk really. Art’s janky, voices annoying. But Jughead teaches you a new dance every episode. And the songs. They’re great. Enjoy:

Feelin’ So Good (SKOOBY DOO):

Melody Hill:

Bicycles, Rollerskates and You:

Sugar and Spice:


The Liquidator


Score! Boundless delights here – from the great spy, bossa nova soundtrack (with a killer Shirley Bassey vocal, check the opening credits here), to the cover collage itself (by pulp, buy vicodin in the uk movie poster and advertising art titan Bob Peak.) The movie itself, a second rate In Like Flint like spy spoof, so far has proved elusive….

In For The Kill


I know…. it’s just so obvious. But yet, but yet… It seems every year there is one retro synth confection before which I stand helpless and silly-struck. Sally Shapiro last year or so, Neon Neon before that, Baxendale, etc, etc, now this. La Roux. Perfect. Three singles. Big in England. They all sound exactly the like the cover of “In for the Kill” looks. Enjoy.

In For the Kill:

Passing Strange


Last year’s musical highlight, bar none. The best kept secret in songwriting genius, Afro-baroque pop smarty pants Stew took a bright bow in the klieglights of Broadway for his debut autobiographical musical Passing Strange. The Tony nominated show, a massive critical success (see here, and here) has been superbly filmed by Spike Lee. The film is now available nationwide on cable pay-for-view as the premiere offering of Sundance Selects’ Video on Demand service buy cheap vicodin online (available on Time Warner Cable, Comcast, Cablevision, Cox and Bright House) beginning August 26th. You. Must. Watch. This. Featuring gospel raveups, formative stabs at California hardcore, a heart-wrenching song about getting stoned with your choir director, musical pastiches of bohemian Amsterdam and German anarchist industrial agit-prop (on Broadway!), all in the service of a supremely moving story about the search for the meaning of art in life. Once more – Must. Watch.

Dee Doo Dah


Jane, gouache on illustration board, 10″ x 10,” 2009

This little ditty of a two night sketch is my contribution to the InLiquid 10×10 Benefit. It’s based on the cover of Jane Birkin’s adorably batty 1973 record Di Doo Dah. In Liquid? Great outfit, local Philly art collective, resources network etc…  they are celebrating their 10th anniversary with a show of over 200 10″ by 10″ works. If you’re in Philly, check it here.

Summer Belle


Those allergic to fey, turn away, now. The girl can u buy vicodin over the counter in mexico group version of Belle & Sebastian is upon us and it’s the bee’s knees. Stuart Murdoch adopts a Phil Spector/Kim Fowley role here (without, of course, the oogy, mad, leering vibe that darkens their reputations.) The tunes are elaborate, orchestrated melodic scaffolds built on the basic Belle & Sebastian model. Over them he drapes vocals one by his three belles, steps in for duets on two track, and on one brings in Neil Hannon from The Divine Comedy for a great campy cameo. The result is basically a survey of British girl group styles, from the Bacharachy swing of Sandi Shaw, to the alabaster soul of Dusty Springfield, to any number of long forgotten Decca girls like The Orchids, Louise Cordet or Susan Hampshire. It’s an incredibly rich listen – wide eyed and big hearted, swaggering and campy, and it sounds like a stack of singles and yet song by song, scene by scene, tells a story. Huzzah! Songs of the summer…

Here, for your pleasure, is a choice cut and two classic fab British girl group sides:

God Help The Girl:

Louise Cordet: Two Lovers

Susan Hampshire: When Love Is True


Bell Jar Pastoral


Warren, MI, 35mm film, 2008

So strange… This suburban neighborhood was jammed between a cluster of extended stay hotels off a major trunk road in Warren, a suburb of Detroit. It seemed so cut off from its surroundings it might as well have had a glass dome over it. Everything seemed to stop at its perimeter: the pavement, the landscaping, even the weather and ambient light conditions seemed to terminate abruptly.  The scale seemed surreal, just slightly shrunken. For the entire duration of my stay in the adjacent hotel I never saw a single instance of human activity. Adding a final ominous flourish to the vignette was the plume of clotted gray smoke rising in the distance.

That plume is the link to another oddity…

Continue reading

Al Stewart


During sightseeing cruises on the Sea of Rock, boats usually cut to half speed and glide by the melting tip of Al Stewart. Passengers look up for a moment as a soft melodic zephyr breezes by…in the year of the cat…

Below the waterline, though, looms a singular body of work. Imagine the following: one axis, stretching from tweedy personal narrative sketches to richly detailed historical episodes. The other axis encompassing the sonic spectrum from acoustic folk to richly layered progressive rock. Spatter the resulting quadrants with random points and you have a working map of Al Stewart territory.

The earliest records, like Bedsitter Images and Zero She Flies, close out the 60’s with restless explorations of bookish folk and psychedelia. Lush orchestrations and session work by Jimmy Page, Robert Fripp and Richard Thompson hint at the musical sophistication to come. In 1974 Stewart began a partnership with engineer and producer Alan Parsons (yes, of the Project), who established his reputation helping craft Abbey Road and Dark Side of The Moon. Parsons’ contribution was to deploy his arsenal of progressive production flourishes and session musicians in the service of uncharacteristically subtle songs. Together they recorded Modern Times, Stewart’s masterpiece, filled with character studies, historical narratives, pop sketches and, best of all, a harpsichord embellished precis of Kurt Vonnegut’s Sirens of Titan.

AM radio, Clive Davis, and Japanese super-stardom followed. As those portents suggest, his fame immediately receded. He retreated to wine collecting, his bookshelf, and a boutique recording and touring schedule.

I saw him play a superb show recently at the Colonial Theatre in Pheonixville, Pennsylvania. He looks and dresses like a retired accountant and has the facial mannerisms of Monty Python’s Eric Idle. His stage banter was brainy and wickedly funny. He concluded  a long introduction/digression with an aside about the English city of Dunwich, which was slowly consumed by the North Sea. It is said that you can still hear the bells of the church tolling below the waters. That vignette seems to me the essence of Al Stewart; the power of a painterly detail to emit the power of history – whether it be of youthful romantic manoeuvres in a Swiss cottage or the forgotten Swedish invasion of Russia.

A few selections follow. A small sampler can be downloaded here. Enjoy. And remember, the only things left on the beach when the apes take over will be the Statue of Liberty and acres of Year of the Cat LPs.

Bedsitter Images:


Sirens of Titan:

If It Doesn’t Come Naturally, Leave It:


Punk Flyer Quintessence


In terms of aesthetics, the classic punk rock flyer is a monument to the xerographic process. The conversion of the disparate source imagery to stark black and white is the primary source of it’s graphic power; unifying a roughly glued assemblage of random snapshots, cuttings from Seventeen, Vogue and the Orange County Register, hand drawn op art patterns and skeletons with martini glasses. The ultra high contrast exposure ladles on gobs of glamour and style. Faces loose all their middle tones, primary features gain mass and shape and everyone ends up looking like a cross between a mugshot and a Patrick Nagel painting. The effect is further enhanced by the translation of the intermediate tones into a coarse black and white grain. This texture, an important consideration in photography, is freely granted by xeroxing. The best flyers are a fusion of the direct urgency of underground publishing, order vicodin online overnight razor sharp glamour, fine art photography, the charm of the homemade, all screaming in the blaring tones of a tabloid.


Further reading: The most aesthetically rewarding period (for both music and flyers) was around 78-81, when the the notion of punk was subject to wildly different musical and stylistic interpretations. Punk rock flyer archives abound. One of the best selections is here. Also it’s well worth checking out the work of Mark Vallen. Vallen was a LA scene fixture and flyer artist (he did the original Decline of Western Civilization flyer and art for Slash magazine.) He currently works as a figurative painter and activist. His site features old flyers, albums, and fanzines, all accompanied by short thoughtful essays on punk design and scene culture. Forgive him, however, for the site design, which is comically awkward. It’s totally worth exploring fully… (flyers from Operation Phoenix Records)

There are Bad Times Just Around the Corner


Last August, Morrissey was a guest DJ on LA’s KCRW and closed his set with the greatest song he never wrote, “There are Bad Times Just Around the Corner” by Noel Coward. In honor of Morrissey’s upcoming new record and best cover art ever, here’s a short, unlikely tale of cabaret and espionage.

In performance the critic Kenneth Tynan described Noel Coward this way – “…he padded down the celebrated stairs… halted before the microphone on black-suede-clad feet, and, upraising both hands in a gesture of benediction, set about demonstrating how these things should be done. Baring his teeth as if unveiling some grotesque monument, and cooing like a baritone dove…. If it is possible to romp fastidiously, that is what Coward does.”

So hold in your mind this picture of Coward as a fastidiously romping baritone dove when you consider this next biographical detail. Coward, it turns out, was a British secret agent during World War II. His exploits are detailed in a fantastic essay in the New York Times Book Review. He was trained in Bletchley Park, the legendary secret spy training center where tweedy teams worked feverishly to crack the German Enigma code. He used his European cabaret tours and invitations to diplomatic functions to sift for intelligence. He was sent on a mission to Hollywood and paired with fellow spy Cary Grant. He took dinner with Roosevelt and his clearance came from Churchill himself.  As he put it, “Celebrity was wonderful cover. My disguise would be my own reputation as a bit of an idiot … a merry playboy.”

To ponder his biography is to imagine possibly the single greatest movie never made –  a spy thriller, splashed with Technicolor and debonair wit, set in Europe and Hollywood amongst the glitter of high society, reaching to the highest levels of power, its suspense and heavy stakes lightened by swaths of swaggering cabaret.

As a bonus, here, for your delectation, is “There are Bad Times Just Around the Corner”

Paul’s Boutique?


Given my general embargo against hip hop, I’m surprised at how fondly I remember the release of Paul’s Boutique. Pitchfork’s reappraisal of the record was a gobstopper of nostalgia… how it emanated its bong-y idiot glee all throughout the early nineties, to it’s dense referencing of the early 80’s (Robotron!) to it’s crash course in 70’s kitsch. Anything that 20 years later reminds me of how much Vaughn Bode’s Cheech Wizard ruled my world back then is a force for good.

For Your Pleasure 2008

For_Your_Pleasure_2008_Front FYP_2008a_back

So, here, below, please find a recreated, reposted version of the first in the For Your Pleasure series, from 2008.

It was originally posted at my old ad agency’s then-obligatory “weblog.” That post, along with this, marked the beginning of a good four/five years of committed blogging and writing. I set things up over here at shortly after, and, well, here we are, still transmitting in the wilderness.

Looking back I can see why I wanted to commemorate that year in music. So much boss tunage! Stew’s remarkable musical Passing Strange opened on Broadway that year. Embedded deep in its soulful heart was “Arlington Hill” – a gorgeous benediction to ardent, addled, questing oddballs everywhere – “Yes, suddenly there is a meaning… and everything’s alright”

It was a banner year for swinging psych — I had finally tracked down the erotically volcanic “Mundo Colorido” by Brazilian jazz chanteuse Vanusa; gotten turned onto the Cambodian rock melange of Dengue Fever; lost it for the hi-gloss epic 60’s revivalism of the Last Shadow Puppets.

Neon Neon remains an enduring one-off treasure – the gonzo synth soaked tribute to the life of 80’s avatar John Delorean.

There were comebacks & old head hits galore: Stereolab and REM released their most vital work in years; the long abandoned second album by Sandy Denny’s Fotheringay was finally, lovingly cobbled together; a delightful egghead pop record by Byrne/Eno; and the Psychedelic Furs played one of the best live shows I’ve ever seen, playing with genuine punk passion to a small motley crowd in a now shuttered, forgotten West Philly niteclub.

Can’t remember where I happened upon the spellbinding, spooky spoken-word charms of Meanwhile, Back in Communist Russia – as evocative, singular, wordy and weird as their name.  The apocalyptic synth-punk of Lost Sounds sizzled and Amanda Palmer’s barrelhouse melodramas were still well inside their sell-by freshness date.

And, as welcome and pleasant then, as now, and ever, ladies and gentlemen — the seasonal zephyr we like to call the Sea and Cake.

Total time: 53 minutes. Download the comp here. Thanks for listening. Cheers.