Imagine you— a beer-swilling moron whose only goal is to get laid— are chatting someone up at the local dive, saying anything to get some: “That movie was a slap in the face to all the vertically challenged people; they totally violated that dwarf!” And the house band is on your team, creating a sultry backdrop with its insipid and uninspired “original” music while you smear on the drunken charm. Then suddenly . . . Bad Company’s “Feel Like Makin’ Love.” “I love this song,” tonight’s mission gasps, doing that chicken head-bob thing to the beat, leaving you alone with your eight-dollar bottle of two-dollar beer. This is the bar band’s bid for the attention of your hotty, and it’s a war, especially if the bar band boasts Joe Strummer, and the band’s cover repertoire is the Clash’s back catalogue.
As Irving Plaza’s bar band for the night, Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros, ambled their way through unreleased material off the tentatively titled X-Ray Style (due out in October on
Hellcat/Epitaph), audience chatter rivaled band volume. The band’s dub Muzak fell like aimless liquidy jams— the tunes weren’t played with enough introspection to come off trippy, so it felt like the band was just wading through vamps and grooves. A big rubbery bass pulsated. Drums and percussive trinkets dug a deep pocket. Guitars were inaudible. And Strummer did the “Straight to Hell” whispering-rasp thingy. All the while, blind-drunk oafs swapped lines for a crack at some nookie; but every time anyone progressed, Strummer and company set them on their asses with a Clash tune. Eight times that prick stole the hotties’ attention, though most had a leg up on the flimsy Prince-like rendition of “Rock the Casbah.” —Lorne Behrman
Too Cool for School
“Oooooooh!” Check it out, Mom, that’s me doing breathing exercises with Meredith Monk at the Summer Sessions at Tonic. Right, like a music camp, sort of. Uh, no, she couldn’t get me to stay on key. But my diaphragm is much more activated now! Here, listen, I’m putting the phone up to the speaker. Marc Ribot was so right on about detuning my guitar to “make those tired riffs fresh as a daisy.” I can’t wait till the guys check out my surf version of Albert Ayler now. Hey, did you already send NYU next semester’s tuition? You should cancel the check because Jim O’Rourke said I should drop out as soon as possible. Seriously. Professors have too much baggage. Jim “just sat in his room listening to records” and “cross-referenced.” And he’s like the international god of electronic whatever he does.
No, there wasn’t swimming! Jesus, Dad, you think Henry Threadgill is going to stand by a pool with a stupid whistle? He taught me something way more important than swimming but I couldn’t really understand it. “You have never looked at a goddamn C chord,” he said. I see what’s been wrong with my compositions because “that rococo shit is a deception.” Listen, instead of that sight-reading class, maybe you could loan me the money to start my own label, like Tim Berne? Elliott Sharp says notation is a “distraction,” he had to invent his own systems anyway. Zorn says record companies have lawyers who spend “as much time thinking how to screw me as I spend thinking about music.” No, I guess Downtown musicians don’t have very nice vocabularies, Dad. Except Jim O’Rourke. He’s from Chicago.
It was so great how open and available all these musicians were. They just hung at the bar chatting before their sessions. Joey Baron, I would drop dead of happiness if I could play like him for three bars, and he’s such a positive guy, he even talked about drawing support from his family, Dad! No it’s not a bar bar, they have drinks but it’s more like a café. They had these sessions during the day to boost their iced tea sales. The first question for Zorn was “Why did you break up Naked City?” I thought Zorn would punch the German kid but he was cool. The second question for Ribot was how did he get the licks on Rain Dogs 15 years ago, which I was dying to ask but was embarrassed to. Ribot let me try out his Gibson and told me which hardware stores on Canal Street to get shit to “prepare” my guitar. Treated me like an equal, you know? There was a real sense of community— like the Knitting Factory 10 years ago, I bet. In a way that was more important than anything in particular they said. I gave my demo CD to Vernon Reid and John Zorn, maybe he’ll put out my free improv stuff on Tzadik.
I was bummed to miss Anthony Coleman and especially Milford Graves’s “Grand Unification” seminar. Do you think next summer you can come up with $275 for the full deal?
No, I didn’t meet any girls. It was mostly music dudes. Hope you guys are enjoying your summer too. —David Krasnow
James Brown brought his old-time full-strength soul music review to Lincoln Center June 26, including all the traditional pieces: the dancing horn section in matching outfits, three drummers, six backup singers, two different sets of dancers, an MC, a magician, and an opening singer just good enough to hold your attention but bad enough to make the wait for the Godfather of Soul almost unbearable. The largely white audience thrilled to the ebb and flow of the drama but was thrown off by the introduction of another classic piece: the preacher. It was none other than Reverend Al Sharpton, drawing more boos than applause. Gracious and understated, Sharpton delivered a very short blessing, but Brown was clearly pissed and lectured the crowd at length. Eventually things got back on track and Brown made a point of bringing Sharpton out again later in the show to pray for “all those who lost a loved one this year.”
A good time was had by almost all, but lingering in the air after the show was the memory of what my son referred to as “a drunken frat boy” screaming for “Sex Machine” while Brown tried to talk about God. Soul Brother Number One was not going to be reduced to a really good oldies dance track, no matter what his current young white audience might find comfortable. —Tom Smucker
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on July 6, 1999