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17 August 2010

Crass & Mary Margaret O’Hara de-recluse themselves

In the overmediated age we find ourselves in, I have a kind of kneejerk negative reaction to the entire notion of the recluse. Especially when the semifamous are accused of such behavior, it strikes me less as a desire for obscurity, than an assertion of self-respect, a meek demand for privacy, and/or a slide into a more decent sort of existence. Viz Salinger, admittedly a tad more famous than some of the “obscure” musicians whose work I admire.

In any case, there’s no denying two of my favorite icons of ’80s music have been accused of reclusive behavior. But today I woke up, fired up the internets, and bumped into two fine examples of them speaking loud and clear. So, without further adieu:


One of the great archival photographs that appears alongside the great Crass interview appears above. Another right below.

And here is the Mary Margaret O’Hara interview in its entirety.

If you click on the tags to this post you can find a fair bit more of my internet ramblings about these two folks. And, because I’ll always appeal to prurient interests when given the chance, there’s one last image of Crass — a nudie shot! — after the jump.
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16 October 2009

Moby on Moby: “I sometimes ramble a little bit.”

Eminem released a new album this past May called Relapse. It sold over 600,000 copies in its first week of release. A month later Moby released his new album Wait for Me and, well, let’s just put it this way, it did not sell 600,000 copies.

Peoples love them some Eminem! Generally speaking, though, when he hates on people — his mom, his ex-wife Kim, Christina Aguilera — he doesn’t make a very sympathetic case. Entertaining? For sure. Somewhat terrifying? Definitely. Sympathetic? Hells no. His feud with Moby was a major exception. 9 out of 10 people seem to agree: Moby is annoying. Its harder to turn off that feeling than it is to ignore Eminem’s ranting. Weirdly most of this annoyance arose from Moby’s pop culture ubiquity around the time of his multi-platinum Play record.

People made him popular and then hated him for the condition they had caused.

This recent interview with the electronic musician made me reconsider my position on him. It’s a bit of a ramble — much more so than even my blog posts — so I’ve excerpted and edited the result, adding some paragraph breaks and such for increased readability.

The Q&A finds Moby struggling with one of the issues I glanced upon in yesterday’s post on Sufjan Stevens’ new music: What does an artist do once he gains a certain level popularity? Are they supposed to play to it, or ignore it? Are there certain musicians who don’t conceive of their creative endeavors leading to popularity? Finally, is it even possible to ignore the affections of rapturous fans, or the financial imperatives that seize upon the successful? Or does the application of fame and money inherently warp the creative process?

The lynchpin notion of this excerpt is “creativity outside of market concerns” — a notion that came to Moby via a David Lynch speech. Lynch later ended up directing a video for the title track of Moby’s new record, the video which opens this post.

The questions are in bold. Moby’s answers are not. He rambles a bit, just as his career after Play has rambled. My argument in the case of both Moby & Sufjan would be that the freedom to ramble is very much their prerogative, and that their ability to maintain a career financially while doing so is the real reward that success has brought them.

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14 October 2009

Too much, too much, too much: A short attention span essay about Sufjan Stevens & Liberace


Maybe you heard about Sufjan Stevens’ recent US tour. Maybe you read my braggadocious post about the (tiny) role I had in kicking off this latest round of shows.

Last Wednesday I saw the last gig of the run, one of four sold out New York shows. Let’s take advantage of what the internet has to offer and kick off this discussion with one of the new tunes he debuted. I’ll start with my favorite, the relatively straightforward “Age of Adz”:

Now let me admit, I came away from the show feeling both intrigued and baffled. As one of my fellow concertgoers said to me that night, the music borrowed all the signifiers of rock but contained no actual rocking. Add to that a liberal dose of spacious textures from electronic music and jazz. Another friend left early, complaining that the music was a tepid mess.

And, well, I sort of agree with these sentiments. My befuddlement can best be expressed by a series of comparative thought experiments.

– Imagine if James Taylor aspired to sound like Miles Davis
– Imagine if Cat Stevens took a greater interest in Frank Zappa than the prophet Muhammad
– Imagine if there was a male equivalent to Joni Mitchell’s experience of getting lost in a jazz hole
– Imagine if Erik Satie decided to compose his take on jock jams, more or less missing the point of what jock jams are

In case you’re mistaking these comparisons for disses, here’s a last one:

– Imagine if there were more young(ish) musicians making music so strong & brave you felt comfortable namedropping them alongside such heavyweight peers

Let’s go deeper into this with a second song, “There’s Too Much Love,” which reminds me, alternatively, of Prince and…
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4 September 2009

Song of the Summer: Das Racist’s “Combination Pizza Hut & Taco Bell”

The autumn doesn’t officially begin until late September. But let’s be honest, emotionally speaking, it starts after this Labor Day weekend.

And I just realized I never announced my official song of summer. Well, whoot, here it is.

What makes this song simultaneously retarded and awesome? Seriously! I think it’s the kind of thing that makes life worth living another day. And I am pretty much 100% serious.

A bit more food for thought on why I like dumb music & why I like smart music. (I hope I don’t have to point out that Das Racist’s music falls firmly in the “dumb” category.)

I will try to limit myself to three points:

ONE: When I listen to this song it makes me smile & note how it puts a laser like target on the redonkulousness of a phenomenon in the vernacular retail shopping experience which no one really pinpointed quite so well previously. (Unless there’s, like, a Tracy Jordan bit about those combo stores I’m missing.)

TWO: By contrast, when I listen to music like that of Nico Muhly it makes me think very deeply about language and meaning and communication. These, of course, are more rarefied areas of human experience, and suitably subtler shades of formal craft are required to make the work successful. (To restate: Artistic commentary about combination Pizza Hut & Taco Bell franchises require less complicated tools than artistic commentary about how we tell stories and assemble notions of the self through language.)

THREE: It’s alright for a person to love music that tickles only one side of their consciousness. It’s alright for music to not be a 7-layer burrito dip of meaning, significance and catchiness. Sometimes a dog is a dog, and a cat is a cat, and you can love them for that.


Of course, music that tickles both sides (the need for humor, the need for thought) makes me even happier. I think the Dirty Projectors qualify, and it’s why I love Sufjan Stevens and Joanna Newsom.

Along those lines, this is what I love about Elliott Smith & the Beatles, too. Though neither is explicitly about intelligence or “smarts,” both artists possess a formal genius, plus an extreme realization of a musical aesthetic, along with a realization that the whole enterprise is inherently goofy & a good time & must sometimes break. Maybe that’s why I’m still obsessed with Crass too?

I’ve heard a lot of people in my circle complaining about how stupid Das Racist are, how useless, what an affront to “real” music. My question to these people is this: Why is it that the three rock critics left in this world seems to be obsessed with pinning down cats for not being dog like enough, and dogs for not being cat-like enough?


Okay, actually, I think that’s more than three points. But here’s a final one, after the jump….
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13 July 2009

Welcome back Sufjan

I’m happy to have had a small part in bringing Sufjan Stevens back into the public eye.

Last Thursday, my friends at his record label, Asthmatic Kitty, finally ran with this brief scrivening we worked up about his new instrumental record Run Rabbit Run. Roughly speaking it is a string quartet transcription of his early instrumental experiment Enjoy Your Rabbit. Brassland is well represented on the album, with inspiration for the transcription project coming from my label partner, Bryce Dessner, illustrations from Bryce’s sister Jessica, and an orchestration by Nico Muhly.

In even better news, on Friday, the world-renown festival promoter whom I represent in America, All Tomorrow’s Parties, announced Sufjan’s first US show in more than two years. He’ll be playing the festival we’re throwing upstate at Kutsher’s Country Resort in Monticello, NY from Sept 11-13. A line-up which was previously blowing my mind has now exploded it.


The weekend now includes, among many others, The Feelies, Boredoms, David Cross, Grouper, Iron & Wine, Animal Collective, and Caribou who, for this appearance, will include special guest Marshall Allen (?!?), leader of the Sun Ra Arkestra. A constant news feed on the event can be accessed on this internet webpage.

I’ll leave you with this video of Sun Ra’s group at the height of their powers which, following my recent vid posts of Jason Faulkner and Ornette Coleman, might lead you to believe that I’ve discovered a newfound and inexplicable fascination with jazz. (I will deny this fervently.) Marshall Allen gets his starmaking cameo at the 30 second mark.

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