Friday, December 31, 2021

The White Stripes at the Detroit Institute of Arts

 That was the best thing we’ve ever done. It was also the worst thing we’ve ever done.


So were the thoughts expressed by a long-forgotten big wig at the Detroit Institute of Arts. What they had “done” was bring in the White Stripes to perform two sets in the hallowed Diego Rivera Court. When booked, the White Stripes were moderately ascendent. By the time of the performance on November 2nd, 2001, they were stratospheric and lava hot. The performance, all guts and glory and emotion and resplendent joy, had pulled in THOUSANDS to the Beaux Arts-style building that day, the museum’s largest single-day attendance in over seventy years of existence. That was the best part.


The “worst” part was those thousands, many of whom had not set foot in the building since grade school field trips, really had no idea about the space they were occupying. Completely enveloped by 27 larger-than-life scenes conceived and executed by Diego Rivera in 1932-33, the Detroit Industry Murals stand as one of the most breathtaking and important displays of art in the city, if not beyond. As a stylized near-deification of automobile plants, communal labor, racial harmony and vaccination, the murals themselves (done as frescoes, paint applied to wet plaster) once dried, form an integral part of the wall.


But rock and roll fans of 2001 cared not. With the court well beyond capacity and the overflow crowd spilling deep into the adjacent Great Hall, over-eager attendees were climbing the planters in front of the massive expanses of both the north and south walls. Desperate for a better view, a clear line of sight or just caught up in the electricity of the moment, people were carelessly touching, casually rubbing and leaning against these priceless works of irreplaceable art at the heart of the literal, metaphorical and historical cultural center of Detroit. Risking the destruction of valued fresco history all just for the hope of catching a glimpse of what was, in 2001, the NOW cultural heartbeat of the city.


Thankfully, the only noticeable damage done on that evening was the ringing of eardrums. 


The White Stripes’ performance was nothing short of impeccable. The 33-song cavalcade ceremoniously kicked off with Jack White literally waving a Detroit flag, knowingly singing “Little Room” in the biggest room it had ever been performed in. The incongruity was immediately pushed further with the trilling screech of “The Big Three Killed My Baby,” as intensely critical a song as has ever been written about the industry that built Detroit. All performed in a room that, save maybe the Rouge Plant’s blast furnaces, is as close as to a temple as exists for the automobile industry. No sacred cows here. Iconoclasm exemplified. 


Jack and Meg fully hit their stride and power through a medley fueled by another renowned Detroit commodity...rock and roll. Their assertive take on Iggy Pop’s stomping “I’m Bored” weaved seamlessly into the Gories’ hypnotic “Omologato” and by the time they were crushing on the MC5’s atomic anthem “Looking at You” the result was maddeningly perfect, a daft tribute to the oft-overlooked local cultural fuel that helped ignite and launch the White Stripes to the perch where they could ultimately propel themselves globally.


Jack urged attendees to go check out some beloved home-grown Gordon Newton art before the set break then he and Meg came back all taut and attitudinal with impassioned takes on gems like  “Let’s Shake Hands” and “Fell In Love With a Girl” sitting comfortably amongst covers of Robert Johnson (“Stop Breaking Down”), Loretta Lynn (“Rated X”) and Blind Willie McTell (“Your Southern Can Is Mine”) before tying it all together succinctly with the White Stripes blasting through their bona fide set closer “Screwdriver.”


Knowing full well the gravity and importance of the 50th installment of Third Man Records’ Vault subscription series, here in its entirety is the White Stripes legendary night at the Detroit Institute of Arts. With striking soundboard audio that wonderfully captures the energy radiating off the band that evening while subtly balancing the cavernous BOOM of tube amplifiers in a room with only bodies to deaden the sound, the two LPs here are lovingly pressed on red and white vinyl. All sounds were painstakingly mastered, cut, and pressed at the Third Man Cass Corridor premises, less than a mile down the road from the marble fortress of the DIA.


Utilizing said audio as its bedrock, the package also features a pro-shot DVD of the complete White Stripes performance, sourced directly from the previously untapped video archives of the Detroit Institute of Arts. Vibrant and captivating, the footage manages to bring the viewer into the room, transported to the time and place where such magnetism unfurled.


The artwork here utilizes a cache of previously unseen images shot that day by noted Detroit photographer Steve Shaw. Capturing the band at delightfully opposing tableaus...the strikingly empty soundcheck where skylights find the sun dappled mise en scene of Rivera’s murals as a humbling backdrop to the hauntingly dark and imposing mid-set overhead spotlit vignette of Jack and Meg....the imagery here is among the best we have ever had the luxury of using for such an important moment in the White Stripes’ history. Gracing both the LP and DVD covers, the choicest Shaw images are reproduced here in a collection of four stunning photographic prints.


The White Stripes' at the Detroit Institute of Arts was an exercise in inherent juxtapositions. The best and the worst. High art and low art. Big rooms and little rooms. Past and present. Respect and irreverence. Hyper-local and widely global. Emptiness and overcrowding. Darkness and light. The White Stripes embody and attack all of these. A mess of contradictions laid bare for all to see and listen and love.

Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Kelley Stoltz "Antique Glow"

 Kelley Stoltz

"Antique Glow" 20th anniversary expanded edition

scum stats: 300 UK indie exclusive, 700 US indie exclusive, a whole mess of 'em on black and maybe some super top-secret single digit kinda things still to be revealed to you real heads

The number of albums I love more than "Antique Glow" could be counted on two hands.

Cut to February 2003. I'm still in college, loving journalism classes but bummed that I need to take French, in the beginning steps of starting my own record label and also balancing time in the Dirtbombs.

We're scheduled for a quick West Coast trip centered around a headlining spot at Noise Pop Festival in San Francisco. I made my way into Amoeba in the Haight and happily felt like I was at home. Back at that time, I knew enough people who worked there that someone I was friends with was bound to be on the floor whenever I walked in. It was a nice feeling then...I don't think it's true anymore.

I cannot remember if it was Detroit ex-pat Michael Cooper or SF stalwart Brock Galland who made the suggestion, but it was definitely one or the other who thrust a copy of "Antique Glow" into my hands.

My first impression was...I didn't like the name Kelley Stoltz. Probably to do with my dislike of Eric Stoltz and thinking that Kelley with an "E" seemed pretentious. I was NOT pulled in immediately. But after I was told that ever album cover was hand-painted by Kelley, that he self-released it himself AND that he was originally from the Metro Detroit area...I thought the $12 investment was worth the risk.

Took a minute upon arriving back home for me to throw the record on the turntable, but as SOON as I did, it was instantaneous amazement. The opening lick of "Perpetual Night", just close enough to "Here Comes The Sun" without invoking lawsuits, is the perfect enticement to keep listening. The WARMTH of it all, enveloping like a cozy old blanket, I mean, that's the GLOW we're talking about in the title, right? The lyrics lazily introduce themselves, delayed effects sputter from left to right channel like a shooting star across the night sky, it all feels like it's just going to fall apart and then at 1:52 the drums spring into step and it all locks in and just...makes sense.

The album is just full of moment after pleasing moment like the one's described. Every song, every change, every note...just a damned cornucopia of brilliance. An embarrassment of beautiful music all squeezed onto one album. feels like it's not even fair to the rest of the world. There's a lifetime's worth of incontrovertibly statuesque songs upending the statistical improbability of all being crammed one next to another across the 14 tracks on the original release. I mean, "Mt. Fuji"? Don't even get me started!

I sat and listened to that original hand-painted version for months before I finally worked up the gumption to actually reach out to Kelley and suggest that I put out a CD version of "Antique Glow" on my imprint, Cass Records.

He wrote back, quickly, and said he'd just signed a deal with Jackpine Social Club to put it out on CD, but that he was excited to try and work on something else. He wound up sending me 5-10 more copies of the LP which I handed out amongst people I trusted (Ian Svenonius, Simon Keeler, Jack White...probably some more I'm forgetting) that helped spread the word.

I wound up releasing a 7-inch single with Kelley in 2006 and by that time, I had passed his music along to Sub Pop, who ultimately ended up signing him to a three-album deal. He'd later go on to open one of the earliest Raconteurs tours, let me do a stint playing drums for him, get a crazy licensing deal with Regions Bank, join Echo and the Bunnymen as a touring member and generally making quite remarkable records in the intervening two decades. 

If there's anything that gets me OVER excited about this new reissue is the inclusion of SO MANY BONUS TRACKS. Ho-lee shit. A lot of these I'd heard back in the day as included on his absolutely necessary "Australian Tour EP" and just fell in love with. There really is no song more deserving of inclusion on some breathtakingly cinematic reminiscent soundtrack as "Old Pictures" is (side note: its Kelley's mom's favorite song of his). That along with "Frying Pan" and "Dead John" (inspired by Edward Gorey books) are just so integral to the listening my ears have done. As in....some of my most enjoyable moments of listening I've ever had have been to these songs.

So imagine my extreme happiness in the assembling of this set where Kelley pulls out a half dozen songs from that same time period that I'd never heard...and they are all absolute killers. I mean, "Too Beck" (named so because, well, it's sound too much like Beck) is just brilliant. I am still hopping around losing my mind to it. And "Umbrella" is painfully spectacular...described to me by Kelley as him "trying to sound like CSNY" and keep finding my way back to this song. The plaintive lyrics, not really telling a story per se, but just astutely conveying a feeling. "Don't you make the same mistakes that I made, don't forget to bring your umbrella" is simple at face value, but there's so many other ways to interpret it. "If you're a girl well you might see some mascara run but if you're a will be smiling." 

I have not felt so compelled by a song in an unmeasurably long time. Kelley has this way with me. I am forever a fan and the ability to help spread the gospel here is one the numerous joys I get here at my dream job.

Sunday, October 31, 2021

A Cursory Look At Detroit Devil's Night Commemorative T-Shirts...

While I was fear-mongered about this night throughout childhood, clearly I should have been…PRINTING T-SHIRTS. Nothing exemplifies the Detroit “hustle” more so than taking serious crime and disorder and trying to make a buck off of it. That they descend into unflinching racism against the mayor adds an unsurprisingly gross touch of Detroit class. The fact that they are almost all blue and almost all depict the Renaissance Center just seems…lazy. 

After posting that paragraph above on Instagram, I received a DM from a former Detroit firefighter providing a little bit of insight behind it all. His words below...

"They were produced and sold by entrepreneurial fire fighters where the funds raised were put back into the firehouse. The ones on your post mainly originated from a crew that ran at Engine 52 on Manistique & Warren. If the art looks slightly juvenile, it's because some of them were drawn by one of the FF's teenage son. The reason you only find them in blue or black is because that's what our uniform requirements mandated and they were intended to be worn at work. The sales became more lucrative in the early 90's as the firehouses would become inundated with extra government entities like the FBI, ATF, state police and even postal inspectors during the days surrounding Devil's Night. They bought shirts as souvenirs and to support the firehouses.

The political content came from the FF's frustration with Coleman and the media's attempt to downplay the carnage they endured. There are still preserved shirts hidden in old retired FF closets. But most were destroyed as guys wore them under their gear and while they worked construction jobs on their days off."

An interesting bit of perspective that provides a little bit more nuance to the scenario. Not as black and white as I'd imagine.

Thursday, September 30, 2021

Rough Francis "I'd Be Your Doggie" b/w "We're Gonna Make It"

 Rough Francis

"I'd Be Your Doggie" b/w "We're Gonna Make It"

scum stats: 500 copies on blue vinyl

I am a simple man. I don't seek worldly treasures. I want not for gewgaws and baubles. On the real, all I'm truly looking for is a weird record to fill the pit of my blackened bottomless heart. Once or twice a year. That is all.

I became aware of the Rough Francis single around 2008. I played an ever-so small part in getting the world more acquainted with the band Death, a trio of Black brothers from Detroit who'd recorded some ahead-of-its-time proto-punk back in 1975 before seemingly disappearing into the mist.

Once people started to catch on and know more about Death and eventually reached out to me (I had written about them prior to any modern release/reissue of the material) I was lucky to have one of the sons of one of the original members of the band get in touch with me. 

The knowledge of the existence of Death, even amongst the progeny of its members, was zero. So these kids, who grew up listening to the likes of Black Flag and the Dead Kennedys, had their minds sufficiently blown upon finding out that dad and their uncles were creating some unholy punk scree in the family domicile on the East Side of Detroit back in the day.

As they dug deeper and deeper into the attic and family archives, they made me aware of a lone single released under the name Rough Francis. As I was told, Rough Francis was uncle David Hackney (guitarist in Death) doing his own thing, seemingly out-of-step with whatever could be considered "current" in 1991. I was sent a cassette dub of the two songs, quite possibly the last time I was ever hipped to music of an older, archived nature on a cassette tape. 

The standout track is the b-side "We're Gonna Make It." I remember the Hackney nephew's description along the lines of that the tune was kinda country sounding. And while I don't necessarily agree with that, I don't hard disagree either. The plaintive tone is warmly reminiscent of 70's country and western crooners, but the canned horns and (seeming) approximation of a lead sitar melody has me recalling "Abbey Road"-era Beatles. 

And the inherent message of "We're Gonna Make It" just rings SO true in light of the travails of major label tease, self-release scream into the void, decades of slogging it, David prognosticating that folks were someday going to care about the band Death, handing over the master tapes just before his own can't help but feel the emotion in it all. 

I put the Rough Francis record on my mental "want list" and didn't pay it too much mind.

Over the years, I'd find myself pondering here and there how, for such an unknown (and arguably undesired) single, it had NEVER turned up in my constant searching. The nephews, in a fit of tribute, named their new band Rough Francis, starting out merely covering the tunes penned by Death and eventually branching out into their own original material. 

Cut back to a couple weeks back, I got an email from a trusted Detroit record dealer, Steve. Our interactions have only ever been over email and he knows my reputation as a "Detroit" guy, so he'll share with me things he's found and/or is looking to sell from time-to-time. It is a seemingly simple courtesy that he pays me that I am never slow to marvel at. Being removed from Detroit on the regular, THIS is how I stay in touch with my preoccupation with music from the place of my birth. 

Anyway, he'd recently visited a record store far off the beaten path (one I haven't been to in 25 years) and pulled a wide-ranging pile of weirdo Detroit and Michigan 45's. Some cool Otis G. Johnson related singles, a $700 gospel 45, impressive stuff. And amongst that pile was a lone copy of this Rough Francis single, to which he asked "Do you know anything about this?"

The collector's dilemma. I have not always put myself on the morally defensible side of answering this question.  Record collecting is a balance of informed guessing, straight up knowledge, and dumb luck. So easy it could be to say "Eh, I dunno, looks interesting, I'll give you $10 for it." And without any other info out there to be gleaned on the record, I could merrily hop-scotch away, happy with the spoils of my deceit, tra-la-la-ing away to the next hopeless mark with a pile of precious desirables clean for the taking using nothing but my guile and mind games.

But I ain't got time for that bullshit anymore.

Without hesitation, I share everything I know about the record and my extreme desire to get my grubby little paws on it. I express some interest in a handful of the Otis G. Johnson singles too and directly offer $50 for the Rough Francis single.

He responds with prices on the Otis titles and says he's gonna hold onto Rough Francis for a minute.


So then I got COVID and spent 10 days locked in the guest room of my house and seemed to forget about most of this while I just stared into the mental black hole of my cell phone and laptop screens until springing out with everything but my sense of taste for liquids intact. 

Steve reached out asking if I was still into the Otis stuff. I told him I got COVID and reconsidered. He said in trying to find out more info about Rough Francis that he'd reached out to Archer Record Pressing and Death's management seeking more details. 

I told him based on my experience, Archer's archival invoices stop at 1986 so he wasn't going to get any information from them about a single from 1991. But based on my knowledge about the plant and other releases that Death (and their off-shoots the 4th Movement and Lambs Bread) had pressed at Archer, they probably did 500 copies and that they would've all been on blue vinyl.

He responded saying that the manager confirmed my suspicions and that he was still going to hold on to the record and think about it.

After 13 years of never even SEEING the single, I figured he'd holler back at me in another year and ask for $200. And I'd be perfectly content paying it.

It's not that I even think the record is worth anything near that amount of money. That's not the point. I oftentimes veer into the world of consciously and conspicuously OVER paying for a record, almost as a matter of resigned deference to forces larger than myself. I will happily rid myself of $200 and all that could otherwise bring/do/change in my life (not much, I know) in exchange for the peace of mind that I no longer have to be "on the hunt" for this 30 year old piece of reconstituted fossil fuel. 

(I understand there's an argument that the record absolutely IS "worth" $200 if I am willing to pay it. But that's a deeper quagmire than I have time to parse today)

I'm sitting on my couch a few days ago and a 45 mailer arrived with Steve's return address on it. "Oh shit" I think. "He sent the Otis singles before I could tell him I'd changed my mind!" I slice open the packing tape and am immediately dumbfounded. 

Steve sent me the Rough Francis single accompanied by a handwritten 
note saying...


This is much better served in your collection. Glad I found it, enjoy!


Does this change my life? Does it change the world? Does it truly matter to anyone, the record itself? Not really. Does it make me smile any less? Absolutely not.

What I find taking precedence in my life as I creep toward the crippling age of our interpersonal interactions. Connecting with other people in the world through whatever barriers and boundaries (self-imposed or otherwise) separate us. Finding connection amongst ideas and thoughts, being receptive to new and challenging ones, never remaining static or intractable in our lives or beliefs. Giving, whether based on need or based on where something SHOULD be. That is my goal.

And thus I am far more moved and will treasure this record THAT much more as opposed to if I had just thrown a pile of money at it. An acquaintance that I know only through the digital email realm thought it far better to just give me this record than to sell it to me. A small, easy gesture, that just resonates beyond the complexities of capitalistic exchange of culture and commodities and harkens back to all the hunters in the prehistoric tribes working for the common promulgation and continuance of us all. 

These moments, however fleeting, are the foundation of what keeps me optimistic for the never-ending future that lies ahead of us. I hope and strive to put the same positivity and good vibes out into the world for others as others have divined in my direction.

Determine what the things are that you love. Seek them out. Live a life open to ideas and experiences. Share everything. That is all that will matter.

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Jack White Live at the Garden Bowl Lounge June 3rd, 2001

Listen here!

The weekend had been a whirlwind...the slightly odd outdoor college gig on the Columbus campus of Ohio State at dusk on Friday night followed by the third time in nine months that the Stripes were onstage at the Southgate House in Newport, Kentucky on Saturday evening...pretty sure it was the first run of gigs in the brand new 2001 model Dodge van that Jack and Meg had bought from the dealership for straight cash. I sold merch out the back of the van in Columbus, Weezer's "Green Album" was listened to on the drive, the band goofed on the Gories' "Rat's Nest" on Friday night...these are the few memories that are still retrievable two decades on.

We made our way back to Detroit with a tad bit of urgency, as there was an interview with Ralph Valdez on WDET radio on Sunday night followed by this performance at the Garden Bowl Lounge, booked under the name “John Gillis” with hopes of notifying some people while not tipping off ALL people.

In my memory Brendan Benson was doing sound or at least some approximation of it. There may have even been a newly purchased PA for the occasion, but still, that room is a hard one to get the sound just right. Compared to previous Jack White performances in this spot, it felt a hair more other musicians, no feral screaming, still that same electric hum, but more a calming exercise than some attempt to prove something or win folks over.

Jack first played the Garden Bowl Lounge, solo, in November 1998 and in the intervening three years he would play there no less than five additional times in various configurations. The June 3rd, 2001 show is, seemingly, the last time he’d play this intimate setting where he’d spent so much time, both socially and on stage, that time and the experience gained used to propel himself from local up-and-coming musician to internationally renowned ROCK STAR.

That being said, I am hard-pressed to find or recall ANY set by Jack White, in any incarnation or band, that is as varied and unique as this Garden Bowl gem. A layover, stopoff, way my eyes, something that just had to be done as a means to get to the better things in the not-so-distant future. The metaphorical closing of one door so that fifty more could open.

All these years later, I’m legitimately surprised to find out that this evening is likely the first-ever live performance of “I’m Finding It Harder To Be A Gentleman.” The take here is charmed...almost as if Jack had never even tried to tackle it without the beating heart electric piano that pumps throughout the recorded version...having to find his footing on the fly but never tipping his hand to the struggle. 

Coupled with an early live outing of “We’re Going To Be Friends” and solid runs through tried-and-true (at least in Detroit) songs “Hotel Yorba” and “The Same Boy You’ve Always Known” along with “You’ve Got Her In Your Pocket” a good two years before the band would record it and those are the only de facto White Stripes songs shared this evening. The majority of the set is a phalanx of covers which almost reads as a road map as to where the future would lead.

Like “Rated X”...the Loretta Lynn-penned polemic here is plain but pointed, the live from the Hotel Yorba version would be recorded within a week and end up as a b-side from the Stripes come November. 

Or “Cold Brains”...on this evening all contemplative and compelling, while just over a year later and an hour up the road Jack would perform it live with its writer Beck at the Michigan Theater in Ann Arbor. 

Or “Baby Blue”...the 1958 Gene Vincent rockabilly gem, which soon after this performance found its way into Stripes sets and in seven weeks time would wrap up, on a lark, their first ever session for John Peel, as earlier that evening Peel had mentioned his appreciation for Vincent in passing.

“Who’s To Say…”  had been a staple of Two Star Tabernacle’s sets during their brief 1997-1999 existence. The song was written by White’s Two Star band mate Dan Miller and would see its debut release via Miller’s group Blanche on a 7-inch on my imprint Cass Records. Released “summer 2003” (I’m terrible with non-Stripes timelines) and complete with a stellar guest guitar solo from White, the Stripes’ version would follow close behind as the flipside to their “I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself” single in September 2003. 

“Fragile Girl” was originally written by Dean Fertita and performed in his group the Waxwings, who joined the White Stripes on their West Coast tour in July 2001. Fertita would later perform with White in the Raconteurs and then as bandmates in the Dead Weather. White’s pre-song anecdote speaks to his endearing mishearing of the lyric “to unveil a vision” as “television” and its ability to break up a couple or bring them closer together.

The middle of the set is thick with blues and folk covers. White’s tackling of “Dying Crapshooter’s Blues” is arguably the highlight of the entire performance. The daft deathbed storytelling is accompanied by insistently accelerating guitar...from slow, to trot, to the listed litany of last requests piles up, the specter of impending death is palpable, as if there’s a rush to get all these thoughts out before Death wields its mighty scythe. 

The folk standard “Black Jack Davey” tells its tale with an austerity of words, which would later make an appearance as the b-side to “Seven Nation Army” in roughly two years time.

“In My Time Of Dying” likely shows up on White’s radar via Zeppelin’s 1975 version. In the context of his performance here, both Blind Willie Johnson’s 1927 original (titled “Jesus Make Up My Dying Bed) and Dylan’s well-known take from 1962 seem to figure prominently.

White’s version barely hits the ninety second mark when, right before the start of the third verse, he pivots into Blind Willie McTell’s “Lord, Send Me An Angel.” Curiously, the first word of that third verse is “Lord” and I can’t help but think this was a purposeful connection between the two done on Jack’s part.

For me, being in the crowd for this performance was a treat...these were all songs that kinda felt like they’d just been floating in the ether for the past couple years. Things that’d be goofed on, messed with, maybe never fully explored yet. In the spirit of that, at approximately 3:14 mark of “The Same Boy You’ve Always Known” you can hear my distant voice yell “Hypnotize!” from the bar.

Jack had written the song roughly three years earlier as a “gift” to local band the Hentchmen. He’d come up with the idea that was vaguely in their musical wheelhouse, recorded a demo where he played all the instruments, and then shared it with them to ultimately...end up having the White Stripes do a version for “Elephant.”

Having heard that demo at the time and likely nothing of itin the intervening three years...I was just hoping to hear it again. My request went unanswered and I’d end up waiting another eight months or so before the Stripes started playing it live. 

A recording of this show made by taper Brian Rozman seemed to be available in trading circles pretty quickly after the performance. The quality is solid. A few years back when gathering disparate master tapes for our vault, a DAT of this show recorded by Brendan Benson landed on my lap. Having been previously in the dark about its existence, I was happy to hear it was even better quality than the respectable audience tape...yet failed to capture the entirety of the performance.

So with the help of our crack mastering engineer Bill Skibbe, we stitched those two recordings together and gave the whole thing a proper mastering clean up for the audio you listen to today. 

The Garden Bowl Lounge looks largely unchanged now from how it was back in 2001. There’s a new coat of paint on the walls, the random black and blue linoleum flooring has been replaced. But if you get in the cozy little nook where Jack was set-up on that calm Sunday night in 2001 and look up, you’ll see the same checker pattern black and white ceiling tiles, having held that spot for Lord knows how long.

Saturday, July 31, 2021

Ancient Charm: Masterpieces of the Chinese Gu Qin

 Various Artists

Ancient Charm: Masterpieces of the Chinese Gu Qin

My first cognizant exposure to the gu qin was on the Murmurs of Earth compilation. It's a collection that put together all the songs featured on Carl Sagan's golden record that was sent out with the Voyager and I was hipped to it after Third Man put out the "A Glorious Dawn" single.

The track "Flowing Streams" performed by Kuan P'ing-hu from that comp just hit me HARD. Would stick in my head for days, the seemingly arbitrary timing of the muted, plucky strings just so evocatively beautiful that I'm feeling almost short of breath trying to describe it now over ten years later.

On a recent revisit to "Flowing Streams" I'd finally had the urge to explore that realm further. While not being able to read the language is a huge disadvantage, I was able to find one recently manufactured listing on Discogs. 

I was hesitant plopping down the dough for the one copy still listed there. Fretted over it for months. Then two weeks ago while see-sawing as to whether or not I should pull the Discogs trigger, I thought it'd be worthwhile to check and see if any copies were listed on eBay.

Sure enough, Buy-It-Now for $40 less than the Discogs price and I was sold. The best part is, within 60 seconds of, I found a $100 bill on the ground...a cosmic affirmation that I was traipsing down the right path.

The LP is wonderful, much more than the spa background noise that I imagine folks chalk it up to be. Really, really interesting sounds, masterfully performed and charmed by subtlety. Just wish I read Mandarin (Cantonese?) so I could understand more of it.

I can't tell if this is explicitly streaming on any DSPs, so I'm just sharing "Flowing Streams" here and if inspired you've got the motivation now to explore further.

Wednesday, June 30, 2021

The Gories “Gimme Some Money”

"Gimme Some Money" b/w "You Don't Love Me (You Don't Care)"

scum stats: most copies on red vinyl, fewer on blue and even fewer on pink. Sub Pop used to have quantities listed on their website that are long gone now, but if gun is pointed to my head, I'd say 2900 on red, 1500 on blue and 100 on pink. I have copies of all three. And a test pressing.

Quite possibly the first single I truly ever fell in love with. I bought this for $15 at Neptune Records in Royal Oak, either 1997 or 1998 and didn't even think to bat an eyelash. I'm pretty sure this is the first Gories record I ever bought and one of the first Sub Pop singles I ever grabbed. So...a big deal all around.

I feel in the depths of my marrow that this is as perfect a 7" that could ever exist. The false starts at the beginning of "Money" (especially the great aside "She was taking a swig of beer") to the blown out harmonic intensity of "You Don't Love Me" (almost certainly inspired by the Birds arrangement of the Diddley-penned classic) from the iconic cover photo (taken in the building where Harry Houdini's body was embalmed! Danny's wearing a wig! Mick's guitar has a fake MIDI read out!) to covering a song that was written as a total joke for "This Is...Spinal Tap" (credited to the faux pre-Tap band the Thamesmen) to the insane "Metal Machine Music" adjacent feedback that erupts on "You Don't Love Me" to the rumor Mick once told me that this single was actually intended to be the band's release on Estrus (the "garage" label) because it was pretty "garage-y" and that "Baby Says Unh" (which ended up on Estrus) was supposed to come out on Sub Pop, because that song was more "grunge-y" which Dan later told me was bullshit but then I was listening to the live recording of the Gories at the Old Miami and Mick introduces "Baby Says Unh" as "our upcoming single on Sub Pop" and who knows what to believe at this point all I can say is that spending time in Detroit lately, in the neighborhood the band played and recorded and spanned most of their time that I am 100% FEELING this moment. In the depths of my marrow that this is as perfect a 7" that could ever exist. The false starts at the beginning of "Money" (especially the great aside "She was taking a swig of beer") to the blown out harmonic intensity of "You Don't Love Me" (almost certainly inspired by the Birds arrangement of the Diddley-penned classic) from the iconic cover photo (taken in the building where Harry Houdini's body was embalmed! Danny's wearing a wig! Mick's guitar has a fake MIDI read out!) to covering a song that was written as a total joke for "This Is...Spinal Tap" (credited to the faux pre-Tap band the Thamesmen) to the insane "Metal Machine Music" adjacent feedback that erupts on "You Don't Love Me" to the rumor Mick once told me that this single was actually intended to be the band's release on Estrus (the "garage" label) because it was pretty "garage-y" and that "Baby Says Unh" (which ended up on Estrus) was supposed to come out on Sub Pop, because that song was more "grunge-y" which Dan later told me was bullshit but then I was listening to the live recording of the Gories at the Old Miami and Mick introduces "Baby Says Unh" as "our upcoming single on Sub Pop" and who knows what to believe at this point all I can say is that spending time in Detroit lately, in the neighborhood the band played and recorded and spanned most of their time that I am 100% FEELING this moment.

Monday, May 31, 2021

Andy Hay "Many Rivers"

scum stats: 500 copies, all covers hand-painted by Hay, mine came direct from UK label Jazzman which is apparently a sub-edition of 50 numbered with a "Jazzman" prefix and seemingly a different colorway than the other copies I find online. With a sewn-together 12 page booklet. Also came with a watercolor painting as an insert. 

Self-released and hand-painted is an almost guaranteed buy every damn time. Even if it's a total trainwreck, the idea of the artist/singer/band/whatever being the crazed conductor of said metaphorical locomotive just feels like a beautiful balance applied to the world. I wish it could be every release. Alas...

The promotional write-up for this album states that this is Hay's debut release and that his entire 38 years on earth were a lead up to the two days it took to record. Direct quote from Andy "This is my debut public representation of my soul." Damn, that's heavy. And yet I've never before felt that my appreciation (or un-appreciation) of an album could be a direct judgement of someone's soul. 

The collection of songs here is largely instrumental jazz, at points light and airy with very little tension or conflict to be derived from the groove. Easy listening without any negative connotations yet far from challenging. Impressive piano runs tend to lead the band, accomplished, a little bit of something for everybody in the effervescence of songs like "Lost Lonnie" and "Seasons."

Yet the album has consistent pivots back and forth to a more free, frenetic sound. "Many Rivers" hinges on a dissonant saxophone counter-played to non-metered drums, strong, powerful... commanding the import of something bigger than human existence. "Walking With Ali" borders on hypnotically meditative, plucked strings, subtly brushed drums and double bass grounding with expressive vocalizations. 

The duality between "light" and "free" is impressive and best displayed on album closer "Bass Is the Place"...all chiaroscuro flourishes slowly descending into a solitary bass progression repeated with simple contemplative tranquility verging on enlightenment. In an odd way, the closest comparison I can draw, both in how it sounds and how it makes me feel, is "Lividity" the closer on the Melvins 1994 album Stoner Witch.

While I've previously been reluctant to jump into jazz that is anything less than wild, the combination of the two varied elements (wild/less than) only seems to elevate the end result. The pairing of versatility with comparative skill is truly uncommon. Ultimately, it captures my attention, my interest, my praise and my respect. "Many Rivers" is worth your effort.

Friday, April 30, 2021

Dan Sartain: A Friendship in Twelve Records

Based on the contract I signed (but did not read) with Discogs, I'm not entirely sure if I can/should post the essay here. So below is just a link to it on their site. Some caveats...

1) the title was supposed to be "Dan Sartain: A Friendship In Twelve Records" but Discogs changed it to "Dan Sartain: A Friendship In Twelve Pieces of Music" and I don't really know why. I guess a couple of the releases are the same record re-released, some of them were never even released, let alone recorded. Maybe there's a valid reason, but it's not really the end of the world.

2) the essay as I delivered it was in a numbered, list presentation. Discogs removed that as well. I guess it maybe seems a little bit more professional their way? I certainly wasn't trying to Buzzfeed this shit, but again, it's not really the end of the world. 

3) I wrote and re-wrote this three times. I've probably still got another Dan Sartain essay or two in my brain (and seemingly the unreleased album will be released, so there's my liner notes as well). This is far from my final thoughts on the guy. 

Dan Sartain: A Friendship in Twelve Records

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Dan Sartain Live at the Grand Opera House - Wilmington, DE July 27, 2007

I had the sound guy run board recordings when I was playing drums with Dan in 2007 opening for the White Stripes. This is the only one I currently have handy (the version of "Voodoo" here was used on the Sartain/Dirtbombs '08 tour 7-inch) but felt like as good a time as ever to share. Rest easy.


Sunday, February 28, 2021

Are Teenage Dreams So Hard To Beat?

I was never legally old enough to enter the Gold Dollar when it was a functioning rock and roll club. 

From my first visit on June 6th, 1998 (The White Stripes opening for Dura-Delinquent) until my final time through the front door on August 8th, 2001 (my band the Dirtbombs playing as a kick-off to a West Coast tour) I spanned the ages of 15 through 19. For insurance purposes, the bar was a 21-and-over establishment. But whether by carrying amps, playing the drums or just earnestly convincing whomever was working the door that I legitimately had no interest in consuming alcohol...I was able to see no less than two dozen shows there. 

As likely the youngest person to have been a witness/participant in the music scene at the Gold Dollar...I am well aware that I was DAMN lucky to have done so. That may be the coolest thing I am ever even remotely adjacent to and truly embracing it I feel simultaneously both proud and depressed. Most people who peak as teenagers do so as some sort of high school football/cheerleader/big shot on campus bullshit...all things that I was expressly avoiding at that time. Yet, here I am, over twenty years later, still talking about the group that had a half-dozen mildly attended performances within a nuclear blast radius of each other, across five months of 1999 like it's goddamned "Glory Days" and I'm Bruce stepping back from the mic so that the crowd can shout along the words to the chorus. 

Tony Soprano saying "Remember the lowest form of conversation" fucked me up more than any other dramatic dialog in my life. I feel like I am constantly fighting with myself. Fighting to appropriately appreciate and contextualize the past and at the same time, attempting to downplay it, hoping that I'm currently living something that will be worthwhile to recollect in another twenty years. 

While I weirdly never felt like "The Bricks" (a name we'd never called ourselves and were never referred to as when we were actually performing) were a real band, I was, by far, the weakest player in the group of otherwise professionals. I had yet to join the Dirtbombs and prior to my gigs with the Bricks I had played MAYBE three shows in front of a crowd. One of those was a high school battle of the bands. Another in a bowling alley lounge. You know...inconsequential shit. 

While an audience recording of this show has existed in tape trading circles since the performance, this multi-track soundboard recording proved revelatory in what had been unheard to my ears since that night. The opening of "Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground" shined through with Brendan Benson's striking countermelodies on guitar, all but nonexistent on the audience tape. When the opening lyrics came through, I was confused "Why is Brendan singing?" 

The delivery is unmistakably him, though through years and years of listening on a lo-fi tape I’d never noticed Brendan sang the first two lines… 

 Dead leaves and the dirty ground when I know you’re not around 
 Shiny tops and soda pops when I hear your lips make a sound… 

Only to have Jack jump in, with gusto, guts, glory and the response to Brendan’s call.. 

When I hear your lips make a sound! 

I’m not exaggerating here…when I first heard this, clear as daylight, I choked up a bit. I think it’s beautiful and feels like a truly moving moment just accidentally happened to be caught on tape that night. 

Although I play drums here, I have few clear memories of what went down that evening. Royal Trux, the headliners, were late to arrive. I believe they showed up after we’d finished our set. My mom was there. It was a school night. I was seventeen years old. Pretty sure I got paid. That’s about it. My entire time in the band I was just making a very poor attempt to play drums like Patrick Keeler. Why I thought I could approximate his style is beyond me, and I often compare myself to Billy Yule playing drums in the last-gasp iteration of the Velvet Underground. I really shouldn’t have been onstage or in this band, but am forever grateful and happy that I was. 

The setlist features a couple of songs that aren’t on the Bricks live recording from the Garden Bowl two months prior, which was released as part of Third Man's Vault #15 in 2013. “One and Two” is an original Jack White song that never ended up being used or recorded anywhere else, which is odd for him. I particularly enjoy the slippery bass playing of Kevin Peyok on this song and feel like he may well have been the glue that held the band together. “Candy Cane Children” feels odd outside of the context of the White Stripes, especially as they never really performed the song live. “Ooh My Soul” is sloppy sloppy sloppy and in my opinion, the first two chords presage what would come later via “Fell in Love With a Girl." 
All my personal caveats aside, the show is a legitimately fun listen. That weird time in '99 where Jack just seemed like he had so much music seeping out of him that he had to hurry up and start ANOTHER band after the break-up of Two Star Tabernacle and his ousting from the Go...and that band seeming to be COMPLETELY different from either of those outfits or the White Stripes even. I can't help but stress here, besides "Candy Cane Children" NONE of these songs would've been considered "White Stripes" songs at the time of this performance. They were "Jack White" songs that hadn't truly found their form or footing in the duo format. 

Originally included as part of our 27th Vault package back in the first quarter of 2016, the audio here is newly remastered by Bill Skibbe at Third Man Mastering...a facility only blocks away from the Gold Dollar address at 3129 Cass Avenue. 

As part of my duties at Third Man Records, I was able to enter what remained of the Gold Dollar building on "official business" not long after the original release of this show. Clad in a hard hat and joined by folks representing the Illitch family that owned the was a sad collection of four walls, dirt floor and collapsing ceiling. The idea was to try and see if there was some sort of collaboration that Third Man could spearhead to rehab the building. But damn...all I could think of was that besides the walls, there was no "there" there. As someone who had MANY formative nights in that space and saw more than my fair share of transformative performances on that stage AND could possibly help revitalize it...I was unmoved. I'd rather let the memories exist as they were than invoke a Ship of Theseus experiment. 

Though I did take solace in the fact that I had finally entered the building legally. 

On July 22nd 2019, the structure would meet its ultimate demise in a suspected arson, the news of which no less than a dozen people felt compelled to immediately share with me. Developers reached out to me directly asking if Third Man would be interested in trying to rebuild/recreate the spot. Dare I even mention that there was talk of Third Man getting the building for a $1/year lease prior to the fire? And that we weren't interested then? 

When asked by the Metro Times to comment on the fire at the time I said, "History like what happened at that club, for me, transcends the buildings it happened in. I'm sure there were probably at least five other fires in Detroit today that were far more tragic. Life goes on. This too shall pass. Memories are all that matter." 

I stand by that statement. I think I was unemotional about the fire because I actually had the vague "closure" of being able to walk through that room one last time. Bar missing, mirrors behind the stage desintegrated, finally able to go backstage for the first time (no one ever told me there was a backstage!)...the only sign music ever happened there being a destroyed Half Japanese / Godzuki / Wild Bunch handbill I'd dug out from underneath where the security monitors were. was just a space, empty for 15 years, left to the ravages of time and the elements and scrappers and squatters and in desperate need of being demolished. You know...a regular building in Detroit. 

So here's to the memory of the Gold Dollar, to club owner Neil Yee for being wise enough to hit "record" so many times, to the sublime summer of '99, to peaking early, to electric nights of loose rock and roll, played for no one you didn't know, figuring it all out in the process, working on mysteries without any clues, crystalline and idealized in my mind, me unaware of how clueless I actually was at the time, feeling like there was nothing but opportunity, potential and promise that lay ahead. 

While youth may be wasted on the young, why are teenage dreams so hard to beat? I think memories, true, deep, stay-with-you-the-rest-of-your-life-because-they're-fundamental-to-your-ever-so-fragile-sentience MEMORIES are only thrust onto those who are both sufficiently eager and receiving. Old guys who only talk about old times have closed off their receptors, failing to continue as memory collectors. Scientists say that humans aren't the only beings that recollect, that rats can have episodic memory, but I doubt those vermin are ever troubled by it. Yet the tenous balance between nostalgia and living in the moment shows no signs of subsiding in my consistently evolving superego...with all indications that my final actions, final words, and final thoughts on this mortal coil will almost certainly be some act of reminiscing. 

I hope when I get older I don't sit around thinking about it, but I probably will. 

You know...glory days. 

-Ben Blackwell February 17th 2021