Thursday, March 20, 2008

Springtime, Sunny Murray and Me Me Me

Yes, yes, Sunny Murray.

Soon it will be spring, and the better part of a season of hurt words will have come and gone with barely any hurt words having been slung. Instead all that's been happening is a lot of worrying and fretting about bringing this goddamn Sonny Murray liner note up to "presentation standards." if!

Rather than exhuming 2 year old liner note that no one gave a shit about in the first place, let's instead take a stroll down memory lane and revisit the "social conditions" behind the failed essay in question.

That said, I realize the chances are good that the four of five of you who intentionally tune in with any regularity have already heard the story or don't give a fuck one way or the other.

I also realize that the four of five of you who intentionally tune in with any regularity see this blog nonsense as the tawdry substitution for any meaningful participation in music that it is. But better "a bunch of imaginary notes" than throwing rocks through bank windows, so bear with me.

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The very fine Les Perles Noirs, featuring (among others) the very wonderful pianist John Blum was still getting put together in January of 2005. I was asked to do the liner note, then I was asked not to do the liner note.

Compared to the indignities endured before, during and after, "losing the contract" was a mere speck against the much larger yellow and brown drip painting that was my situation at the time.

I had just moved away from Portland. You see, when the New York Times starts to write about something, that means it's "in the cross-hairs" or, as in the case of Portland, already dead. I realize this may be confusing to the countless aspirants looking for the antidote to their even more fucked up metropolitan/suburban dystopia, to say nothing of the millions of New York Times readers who not only take what ever the New York Times says as truth but see the New York Times as a force of civilizing good.

As thousands migrated North from Los Angeles to get their PNW on at The Doug Fir, I migrated South to Los Angeles to come to terms with a festering family problem. Not a real auspicious start to a life after Portland.

My hatred for Los Angeles is different than my hatred for the San Fernando Valley and yet I hate them both the same amount. Isn't that something? Do I hate them more than New York City? That's a tough call. I like the plants of Los Angeles, and I am encouraged by the fact that after the robots and plagues and every other damn thing working day and night to solve the human problem finally triumphs, plant life will consume Los Angeles rather quickly. Then I imagine it will quickly die away, as there won't be anyone left to turn the hoses on.

New York is a little different. Plant life is going to have a tougher time in New York not because of the climate or ecosystem, but because of the overwhelming concentration of human urine and feces saturating the streets and subways and many of the apartment floors and stairwells and entrances. In Los Angeles, the human urine and feces is more disperse across the geography. Los Angeles is more like range. New York is more like a feed lot.

For most of my time in Los Angeles, I lived in a 125 square foot apartment just off Melrose. There was no kitchen (food comes from a menu, silly) and there was scary blue carpeting with no discernible carpet pad underneath. Not like that really mattered; almost immediately upon entering my new home, one of my dogs made a spectacular (auspicious?) diarrhea on the carpet. There wasn't much a carpet pad was going to do in that situation.

Next to my 125 square foot apartment was another building--it was one of those classic situations where the only window looks out on to a wall. Even more classic is that said wall had extensive fire damage from the airplane that crashed into it a few years earlier. How auspicious is that?

Oddly enough, shortly after arriving, I came down with a horrible cold. A memorable cold--memorable in a history of memorable illnesses. Oddly enough, it seemed to last the entire time I was in LA. Hmm.

I guess because the architecture of the building next to mine was so grand, and because the air craft was a small one, the building was in the process of being rebuilt, as opposed to being razed entirely and built anew. Construction started at 7:30 am. Well, the noise started at 7:30 am. The nail guns started doing their thing significantly later in the day.

Because Southern California is actually a Mexican territory, most of the employees at the construction site 5 feet away from the one window in my 125 square foot apartment spoke and (mostly) sung in Spanish. Each morning I would awake to the best hits of the 70's 80's and 90's sung in Spanish by the construction dudes across the way.

When there was an English word in the song they didn't know, or they didn't have a suitable translation for, they would simply sing "na na naaaaa naaa" and everything ended in an unnerving Tejano cry that went "aaaaaaaaaa yiiii yiiii yiiiiiiiii!"

For example, the Thin Lizzy hit "The Boys are Back in Town" went something like this

"told them na na naaa down town"
"na na naaaa old men loco"
"Los boys are back in town, los boys back in town"
"Los boys are back in town, aaaaaaaaaa yiiii yiiii yiiiiiiiii!"

Similarly, the Pretenders hit "Back on the Chain Gang" went sort of like

"na na naaa beyond my control, na na na naaa na na"
"I'm back on el Chain Gang, "aaaaaaaaaa yiiii yiiii yiiiiiiiii !""

Those two songs seemed to be real favorites. Long after the radio had been turned off you could still hear construction dudes singing "yo soy back on el chain gang, "aaaaaaaaaa yiiii yiiii yiiiiiiiii !" and "los boys are back in town, back in town, "aaaaaaaaaa yiiii yiiii yiiiiiiiii !" as if they all had Tourette's syndrome and Thin Lizzy and the Pretenders were their tics.

Believe it or not, that always started my day with a smile, even if that smile only lasted 10 to 15 minutes.

Much of the un-smile had to do with the residual effects of my grandmother's passing--specifically the "collateral damage" resulting from the sale of my grandmother's house. Apparently the terms of the real estate deal were such that the remaining resident (my uncle) was not included in the purchase of house.

Not only was I coming to terms with the fact that I no longer lived in Portland, not only was I living in 125 square feet of polyester carpeting and animal excrement, not only was there thick angry mucous in my nose and lungs at all times, not only were the (mostly Spanish) Boys back in town, not only was I trying to put together some vaguely humane, non-indicting narrative explaining why my special needs uncle was being evicted from his home of over 30 years, but I had this Sunny Murray liner essay to write.

Which was good. Without the focused listening and transmutation of sound into words, without the sparkly feeling that come with the knowing (or pretending anyway) that I too would be a "part of"--a collaborator this groovy happening featuring the not only the wonderful Sunny Murray, but also my dear friend of over a decade, the equally wonderful John Blum on the very prestigious and personally much admired Eremite label, I don't know what I would have done.

Working on that essay was, as they say in gospel circles "a rock in a weary land."

And so it went: family shit getting too nuts? Put on the Sunny Murray. Tired of parallel parking the F-350 crew cab on Melrose? Turn up the Sunny Murray. The boys are back in town? Introduce them to Sunny Murray.

The other mental sanctuary was a book called Ether God and Devil by Dr. Wilhelm Reich. Have I mentioned Ether God and Devil yet?

Being in LA, browsing at the finer crystal shops in Hollywood and Van Nuys, reading Reich and listening to Sunny Murray made me think there might be a connection. Now, two years later, I am absolutely positive there is a connection. I began to explore those ideas in that fateful non-essay.

Who knew that very constellation of crystals, Reich, Orgone, free improvisation and my failure to enunciate the connection in a readable, non-confrontational, capitalism-friendly, sales-positive manner in very small print on the inside of a CD would inspire a "blog."

While this escapade didn't teach me, it did remind me that failure is a gift that keeps on giving. What's more, it's cheap and plentiful and seems to be available everywhere, at every turn.

The criticism leveled at the essay that I remember most clearly was objection taken to the "marxist hysterics." Yes, yes, I know I know, there's that fag talk again.

I also remember the occasional, though fleeting plea to "talk about the music--talk about what the music sounds like."

Talk about what the music sounds like. Not like you should or do give a fuck, but I have to tell you, it's been two years and I'm still trying to figure out how one talks about how music sounds. Can that really be done? Can it really be done and still be readable? I really am asking.

When management finally decided to cut their losses and go with someone punctual, professional and sensible (Ed Hazel, as I recall) the response from those near and dear to me was

"What the fuck do you mean he isn't going to use your essay?"

Mind you, this reaction by those near and dear to me was less about my missed opportunity, and more about their time with me robbed from them for naught--time that could have been better spent parallel parking the F-350 crew cab on Melrose, for example or driving to crystal shops in Van Nuys.

I realize that time spent listening to Sunny Murray and John Blum, looking at crystals, thinking about Reich wasn't exactly "social" time.

Since the rest of my time was split between navigating social services that weren't available and meditating on the dichotomy between creme brulee not made by Sirio Maccioni (but by his pastry chef) and sugar-free apricot pies pulled from the dumpster behind Jon's, I wasn't the jolly, personable bouquet of sunshine kisses I usually am.

If only I was totally to blame for it all, then that might be something to be proud of. Unfortunately, many others contributed to making my time in LA the nightmare it was--the particular details of which are another story for another time.

Anyhow, both volumes of Les Perles Noires are really quite excellent. Surely you have them both by now. If you don't, visit the Eremite web site and get them. Pick up a copy of the Astrogeny quartet while you're at it.

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Now that I've finally passed that stone, please stay tuned for more maladjusted invective!

copyright © 2008 Stanley Jason Zappa