Weekend links 419

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Cover art by Leo & Diane Dillon, 1975.

Art is not supposed to be easier! There are a lot of things in life that are supposed to be easier. Ridding the world of heart attacks, making the roads smoother, making old people more comfortable in the winter, but not Art. Art should always be tough. Art should demand something of you. Art should involve foot-pounds of energy being expended. It’s not supposed to be easier, and those who want it easier should not be artists. They should be out selling public relations copy.

Typical of the late Harlan Ellison to describe his vocation in terms of difficulty and struggle even when his prolific output made writing seem effortless. When my colleagues at Savoy Books published a Savoy issue of New Worlds magazine in 1979 one of the features they ran was an introduction by Michael Moorcock to an Ellison story collection. (They also published two books of Ellison’s around this time.) A copy of the magazine was duly sent to the subject of the essay since Ellison always liked to keep track of his print appearances. The back page of that particular issue is blank but for a few words in bold type from singer PJ Proby: “I am an artist; and should be exempt from shit.” Ellison cut this slogan from the magazine then glued it to his typewriter, no doubt transferring it to later models since it was still visible in the 2008 Ellison documentary, Dreams With Sharp Teeth.

My first encounter with Ellison’s work was also my first encounter with what became labelled the new wave of science fiction, via a reprint of I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream in a book in the school library. I was only about 12 or 13 at the time, and found Ellison’s story so shocking and disturbing that it overpowered everything else in the collection. The only other story that made an equivalent impression at the time was The Colour Out of Space by HP Lovecraft, so it’s perhaps fitting that Ellison gave my work a favourable mention in his introduction to the huge Centipede Press collection of Lovecraft artwork, A Lovecraft Retrospective: Artists Inspired by HP Lovecraft. I still haven’t got over that one. After the initial encounter, the Ellison-edited Dangerous Visions and Again, Dangerous Visions were just as important for me as the paperback reprints of stories from the Moorcock-edited New Worlds: a handful of books that showed science fiction to be a literary form of limitless possibilities, as opposed to the stereotype of space adventure and future technology. The Ellison and Moorcock anthologies led me to William Burroughs, James Joyce and all points beyond; they also soured for me the preoccupation with space adventure and future technology which persists today.

My final connection with Ellison replayed his compliment in a small way, when editor Jill Roberts and I took extra care with the typesetting of Jeffty is Five for The Very Best of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Volume 2. Ellison was the only author I’ve encountered in the digital age whose corrections were still handwritten comments on printed sheets; these had to be faxed to San Francisco then scanned and emailed to me (to this day I still don’t know why the oft-reprinted story required so many adjustments). It was awkward but amusingly so, a benign taste of a legendary bloody-mindedness and insistence on precision.

• “Laughing about an acid trip with members of Can and opening up about some of the ‘scars’ left from his association with Brian Eno and David Byrne’s My Life In the Bush of Ghosts, [Jon] Hassell is candid in a way that comes naturally to those who’ve lived life on their own terms.”

• Drone Metal Mysticism: Erik Davis talks with music scholar and ethnographer Owen Coggins about amplifier worship, sonic pilgrimage, “as if” listening, metal humour, and his new book Mysticism, Ritual and Religion in Drone Metal.

Psychedelic Prophets: The Letters of Aldous Huxley and Humphry Osmond; “Letters between the men who coined the term ‘psychedelic’ and opened doors to a different way of thinking about human consciousness.”

Artaud 1937 Apocalypse: Letters from Ireland by Antonin Artaud; translated and edited by Stephen Barber.

• “I thought female sexuality was an OK thing?” says writer and porn performer, Stoya.

• “How did a major label manage to lose a John Coltrane record?” asks Ted Gioia.

• Welcome to the dollhouse: Alex Denney on a century of cinematic cutaways.

• The trailer for Mandy, a new (and much-awaited) film by Panos Cosmatos.

• Rest in Anger, Harlan Ellison (1934–2018) by Nick Mamatas.

• Mix of the week: FACT Mix 659 by BD1982.

Emily Gosling on library music design.

Record Label Logos

The Deathbird Song (1997) by The Forbidden Dimension | Eidolons (2017) by Deathbird Stories | Deathbird (2017) by Tempos De Morte

Mea Culpa, a film by Bruce Conner

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More David Byrne. Artist Bruce Conner made two films in 1981 using pieces of music from Byrne & Eno’s My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts album: America Is Waiting and Mea Culpa. The latter is the more abstract of the two, with the drums and fragmented voices matched to dancing particles from science films. Watch it here.

Previously on { feuilleton }
The South Bank Show: Talking Heads
The Catherine Wheel by Twyla Tharp
Moonlight in Glory
My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts

The South Bank Show: Talking Heads

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Like many UK arts documentaries, The South Bank Show seldom repeated its films so you had to watch them when they were broadcast or you might never see them at all. This Talking Heads feature from 1979 is one that I missed, a great portrait of the band shortly after the release of their third album, Fear Of Music. Shots of the group performing songs from the first three albums are intercut with interviews and montages of American TV. You also get to see a very young-looking David Byrne writing (or attempting to write) some lyrics. The most revelatory aspect of the film now is the discussion of the ordinariness of both the band and their lyrics. In 1979 being resolutely mundane had become a radical position.

Ear to the Ground

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The name of percussionist David Van Tieghem won’t be familiar to most people, but if you’ve ever heard Eno & Byrne’s My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts, Speaking In Tongues by Talking Heads, any of Laurie Anderson’s early albums or Steve Reich’s Music For 18 Musicians then you’ve heard some of Van Tieghem’s session work.

For Ear to the Ground, a four-minute video piece by John Sanborn & Kit Fitzgerald, Van Tieghem leaves the recording studio to play the city streets of New York: pavements, fences, doorways, etc. This may be a typical product of the NYC art crowd of the late 1970s but it also seems prescient for the way it predicts the urban percussion/performance that would flourish a couple of years later in Europe, a micro-genre exemplified by Einstürzende Neubauten, 23 Skidoo, Test Department, the Bow Gamelan Ensemble and others. Watch Ear to the Ground at Ubuweb.

The Catherine Wheel by Twyla Tharp

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The music links this weekend were all related to my favourite Talking Heads period, 1979–1982, which not only encompasses the release of the band’s Fear Of Music and Remain In Light albums but also saw the individual group members produce some great solo records. I’d been playing one of these, the first Tom Tom Club album, all week while the sun was out. Now the temperature has dropped again, and we’re back to this summer’s default setting of perma-rain, the music doesn’t feel quite so appropriate. In 1981 while Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz were exercising their funk muscles David Byrne was recording My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts with Brian Eno. The score Byrne produced immediately prior to this for the Twyla Tharp Dance Company often sounds like My Life… avant la lettre, with similar musicians (Eno included), sounds and rhythms. This is one reason I favour Songs From The Broadway Production Of “The Catherine Wheel” over Byrne’s subsequent solo albums.

The Catherine Wheel was a seventy-two minute dance film choreographed and directed by Twyla Tharp. The film was part-produced by the BBC and as far as I’m aware was only ever broadcast the once in Britain in 1983. Byrne’s score runs continuously as on the CD and cassette versions, the vinyl release being a re-sequenced editing of the tracks favouring the handful of songs. In dance terms the film was very innovative for the time, employing some subtle video effects and a couple of sequences where a duet is danced with a wire-frame CGI figure. A long end sequence, The Golden Section, predates The Catherine Wheel, and was apparently the origin of the project. Since I hadn’t seen any of this in nearly thirty years my search for Tom Tom Club videos at the weekend made me wonder whether YouTube had any Catherine Wheel clips, only to find that the entire film can be viewed here in a recording from Italian TV. (That copy was removed, link now goes to another one.) I’m so familiar with Byrne’s album it’s been fascinating seeing this again, especially since I only saw it on a small black-and-white TV originally and recalled very little of the performance. All the music works well enough on its own but seems completed when heard in this context, especially during The Golden Section. The film is also available on DVD from Kultur so this is another item for the shopping list.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Moonlight in Glory
My Life in the Bush of Ghosts