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6 August 2012

Deep thoughts on Jason Noble

Jason Noble died of cancer this past weekend at the age of 40. I want to take a moment to acknowledge the influence his art had on my path in music and my path in life. Below I’ll reproduce a long interview with him and his frequent musical collaborator, Jeff Mueller — which I conducted in 1995, but published in 1998 in the Jaboni Youth zine I did throughout college.

Rodan: “The Everyday World of Bodies” (1994)

First some perspective on his importance to my present day self over fifteen (!?!) years after I met him. Way more than other musical influences — the influence of Jason Noble was one that I lived rather than one which I acquired through clicking links on the internet or picking up albums in record shops. I was in my early twenties when he was in his slightly less early twenties. I got to see his projects evolve in the flesh at a most receptive age. Discovering the music he made in groups like Rodan and Rachel’s wasn’t just research into the history of music — it felt like a kind of mentorship at a (very slight) distance. I had the privilege of watching him living a life in art, hearing how his musical interests evolved over time, and learning that as your interests shift you could still maintain an unquestionably strong dedication to making art in a way that was humble, fearless and true. In this age of Spotify, there’s dozens of places you can start exploring his music — and I’d recommend starting with the album that made me fall in love with his work, Rodan’s Rusty (1994, Quarterstick/Touch & Go) — but this download of Rodan’s early demo tape Aviary, is another excellent way to begin.

It would require a long stretch of contemplation to fully unpack what I admired so much about Jason, what drew me so strongly to his music in those years. But rather than pretend I can come up with a comprehensive list on the spot, let me just dive into some uncollected thoughts. I remember how he seemed to be at the center of a Lousiville, Kentucky music scene that was disconnected from everything else going on in the world. I admired how he and his peers in projects like Slint, Gastr Del Sol, Palace Brothers and The For Carnation created their own universe. I particularly admired the frission of unlike sensibilities in his own musical projects — classical but punk, composed yet unleashed and, always, both beautiful and idiosyncratic. I was drawn to his sense of personal style and sensibility — how the almost forgotten art film he starred in, Half-Cocked, seemed to translate the wandering American possibilities of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road and Robert Frank’s The Americans into the modern age. I was emboldened by the fearless way that Jason absorbed and reformed the art he loved — from Neil Young’s epic 70s rock to hardcore punk to minimalist classical music to Egon Schiele. There was no anxiety in the way he integrated his influences. He just listened and loved and regurgitated those influences in new forms. “When it comes right down to it I guess we could be confused as having too many interests,” he told me back in 1995, “but I’ve always thought if you didn’t exercise ’em you were just kind of scared of them or something.” I liked how Jason was proud to be a “lifer.” He wasn’t making art to get rich or be cool or get girls; he was making art because he had to. And I liked the way his most profound insights about that life quest were stated with humility.

In any event, when I was coming up in the music world with my own little clique, what Jason did had opened up a lot of room for us, rooms we’re still exploring, space we’re still coloring in. And his help was also literal. I can’t recall all the dates or the bills, but a few of our artists’ earliest shows were opening slots for groups from his Louisville clique. I know it’s hard to imagine a co-bill of The National and David Grubbs today, but it happened. And though no one knew it at the time, the final show by Rachel’s was a co-bill with Clogs at New York’s Merkin Hall. Most excitingly, Rachel’s didn’t exactly “break up” in the traditional sense — it’s just that all the members, who continued to collaborate in various iterations afterwards, got busy with other creative possibilities.

Frequently, it’s obituaries which seem to pull me back to blogging. Odd that, but not dissimilar to the way death will make music fans around the world re-examine an artist’s discography. If this blog post gets you to check out Jason Noble’s recorded history for a few hours or even days or weeks, my job is done. Let this be the beginning of your own exploration of Jason’s work, and of your own creativity, rather than an end.

Without further adieu here is the interview. And just so I don’t give the misimpression that Jason was some po’ faced artiste — it’s hard not to take yourself too seriously when writing about someone’s death — I’m also going to reproduce the photo that accompanied the Q&A, a shot of Jason being fearlessly groped by Jeff. It was a pisstake, but it gets across one of the important things about Jason. That, for him, art was a way of grabbing life by the balls.

In 1992, Jeff Mueller, Jason Noble, Tara Jane O’Neil, and Kevin Coultas, all members of Louisville, Kentucky’s vibrant punk rock scene, joined forces to form the band Rodan. These four youngsters, all in their early twenties, were not particularly skilled at playing their chosen instruments. Rodan, however, did not take the easy path. Read more »

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16 May 2012


This picture appears in the fresh issue of The New Yorker. It’s Maurice Sendak in his backyard wearing a bathrobe, taken by Mariana Cook in 2005. I assume she’d be cool with me sharing it, just as I’m relatively sure the magazine’s owners might not be. So let’s willfully misread copyright law for a second here to emphasize feeling over legal regimes, k? (And, uh, using a bit of Napsterlogic, maybe it’s okay if I tell you to subscribe?)

Anyway, accompanying the photo was a touching interview excerpt in which he expresses some extreme self-knowledge. It’s somehow not strange at all that the best obituary on Sendak was written by himself. None of that nostalgic lost childhood bullshit that we (?) have been posting to our Facebook pages & Twitter feeds. Which goes to prove: speed is overrated, and there is no way to better understand a person than by spending an extended period of time not online but in one’s own head.

I am in my bathrobe in the front with my dog, Herman, who is a German shepard of unknowable age, because I refused to ever find out. I don’t want to know. I wish I didn’t know how old I was. This is far more than I expected, far more than I need, far more than I desire. I didn’t think I’d live this long…

I have serious flaws. And I think they come from a time of one’s life when one is very young and they stick to you like glue. And then things change when you get older. You’re doing what you want to do. You’re very lucky. Oh, the books, the books, the books, the books; the prizes, the prizes, the prizes, the prizes. It doesn’t matter that you’ve done a hundred books. It doesn’t mean anything when people say, “I read your book. I like it so much.” People do say awfully nice things, but it doesn’t change the fact that you’re a stinky person by nature…

It’s hard to be happy. Some people have the gift of pulling themselves up and out and saying there is more to life than just tragedy. And then there are those who can’t, and I’m one of them. Do you believe it when people say they’re happy?

There’s more to it than that. So I’ve provided a subscribe link above & I’m sure the internet has connived some method by which you can get it for free if that’s your thing.

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25 July 2011

Amy Winehouse at 27: M.I.A. & magical thinking

Don’t burn that image of her casual, sloppy brilliance into your mind when remembering Amy Winehouse. Instead remember this one:

M.I.A.’s predilection for inserting herself into debates she has no place in is annoying. Her music is not. And here’s her tribute to Amy Winehouse, an unreleased demo called “27,” one in which her two cents actually seems well-deserved. And, one has to believe, heartfelt.

It includes these lyrics:

said your all mouth and no brains
all rock stars go to heaven
you said you’ll be dead at 27 seven

So it is, in a way, a tribute to the 27 club. Though let’s be honest these lyrics from later on in the song ring even truer than that phenomenon:

you blew that money on a mountain of drugs
and staged your self a bed in

Elliott Smith died at age 34. Rick James died at age 56. 27 is a magic age for rock star death if, for no other reason, people have rarely developed enough good judgement by that age to let self-preservation triumph over the acquisition of new experience. If I recall numerous conversations with friends looking to “settle down” with a mate, 27 is also the age floor many people observe when looking for a life partner. (Obligatory shout-out to those enjoying newly legalized gay marriage in New York State yesterday. Beware the pitfalls, friends!)

Anyway, the sooner we begin attributing death to something other than a mystical kind of numerology, the better off we’ll be.

Bye Amy.
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2 May 2011

A true American

I lack interest in politics for the same reason that I lack interest in sports: I don’t like being a spectator. But I’ll happily admit it sometimes delivers as in Barack Obama’s speech at this weekend’s White House correspondents’ dinner.

My favorite quote: “I want to make clear to the Fox news table, that was a joke. That was not my real birth video. That was a children’s cartoon. Call Disney if you won’t believe me. They have the original long-form version.”

It’s a contextual quote that will make more sense when you watch. Which you should.

PS – The above post was written before this happened, or at least since it was revealed. (I had a sneaking suspicion Obama may have known at the time of his most excellently delivered correspondents’ dinner speech.) Fingers crossed this might just be Obama’s comeback weekend. I will leave you with this tasteful coverage of the event from the Huffington Post.

Sometimes I wonder why I pay no attention to the media. Then I pay attention to the media, and all is clear.

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19 January 2011

Look up. Don’t look up.


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