photo manipulation by nacrowe
VENEZUELA is intense.
with the exception of NIGERIA, i have never lived in a more precarious situation in terms of personal security. i took a teaching job in the eastern oil city of MATURÍN not too long after HUGO CHAVEZ passed on from cancer and basically had a front row seat to the economic, political and physiological dismantling of a nation. just to give you some insight, my first month saw the exchange rate at 1USD for 6 bolivares and by the time i left 2 years later it had jumped to over 200. not only that, when i lived in MATURÍN it was not on any global list of most dangerous cities, but the following year after my departure it shot up to number 4.
number 4. damn.
where they are now is beyond sad and depressing and the subsequent takeover of the legislative and judicial branches by the inept, sadistic MADURO regime is an international travesty. i don't see that ending anytime soon as RUSSIA is now using them in the same geopolitical chess formation as they do with in other intractible situations (i.e. KOSOVO). the fact that people are starving over there and the situation isn't improving or even being reported on stateside makes me frustrated to the point of despondency. venezuelans, much like the MYANMAR people, will literally give bread to others even if they themselves are hungry. selfless and vivacious, thats how i remember the people i ran into everyday in VENEZUELA.
when i listen to the music of LA VIDA BOHÈME i am reminded of the spirit of the people, who were genuine, open and community-oriented. being taken in by family of friends to better see great cities like CARACAS, BARQUISIMETO and PUERTO LA CRUZ was a highlight of my life for sure and my hope is to visit there again one day. what a beautiful country with such energetic people and such a vivacious culture.
what a waste. listen to LA VIDA BOHÈME and especially their stellar album NUESTRA (NACIONAL, 2011). great band definitely worth checking out.
so much of this HIT SO HARD (DA CAPO, 2017) by HOLE drummer PATTY SCHEMEL is about self-destruction. the enduring image of KURT COBAIN, a friend and former collaborator and even housemate of SCHEMEL, is seen as an example of being too far down the road of despair and drug abuse to turn back. he isn't portrayed as a victim as much as someone resided to their own fate. with SCHEMEL we see someone who took that road to its logical conclusion, losing literally everything: friends, family, financial independence, even her sexuality.
this memoir is less concerned with the story her journey from being an awkward, red-headed lesbian teen from eastern WASHINGTON who found in HARDCORE and drums her identity as it is about the harrowing depths of depravity associated with her road to recovery from opiate addiction.
her being a famous musician is only noteworthy within the arc of this book in that it showcases the cottage industry of enablers and hangers-on that provide celebrities with the means of their own destruction within the entertainment industry. i feel like reading as many biographies as i have about musicians, the recurring trope of drug abuse is a known cliche. that being said, any jadedness i had to the topic was obliterated by the honesty and clarity by which SCHEMEL dissects her actions and behavior and the wake of destruction that followed for bother her and those that cared about her.
to me this hit home, because an overriding theme of this book was kinship. the connection between musicians that is almost asurrogate family. there are surrogate families that fall apart (HOLE) and others that come and go as a means of support from friends (JULIETTE & THE LICKS, IMPERIAL TEEN). even her actual family, especially her brother and father, support her even when all was dire and hopeless. i have family and some friends that have been on similar trajectories, though nothing thankfully as harrowing as described in this book, and it feels comforting to know that an addict like SCHEMEL sees love and human connection as a means for maintaining sobriety.
and that is what makes the death of CHRIS CORNELL so poignant in this book, not just because it bookends the death of fellow SEATTLE musician KURT COBAIN. CORNELL's recovery mirrors that SCHEMEL and serves as an example that once you are an addict, always an addict. recovery is always ongoing and having a support system is your lifeline. which ultimately positions this book as being earnestly involved with the redeeming potential that hope and human connection can foster. it is easily one of the most affecting memoirs i have read to date.
BOOK REVIEW | "DON"T TRY THIS AT HOME: A YEAR IN THE LIFE OF DAVE NAVARRO" BY DAVE NAVARRO & NEIL STRAUSS
there was an interesting period in the late 90s when guitarist DAVE NAVARRO was without a regular gig as it had been years since he left the RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS and JANE'S ADDICTION had recently broken up for the second time. he was also recently divorced (pre-CARMEN ELECTRA). it was during this time that he bunkered himself into his HOLLYWOOD HILLS home and chose to document a year in his life ANDY WARHOL-style, by buying and installing a vintage photo-booth and requiring every person that entered his house (celebrities, models, comedians, hangers-on, musicians, groupies, maids, plumbers, drug dealers, etc) to take a photo when entering. WARHOL famously setup a 16mm film camera at his FACTORY studio and had everyone sit for several minutes, the idea being that after a while you stop posing and act like your authentic self.
DON'T TRY THIS AT HOME: A YEAR IN THE LIFE OF DAVE NAVARRO (HARPERCOLLINS, 2004) is the culmination of NAVARRO and co-writer NEIL STRAUSS contextualizing these photographs into NAVARRO's relapse into heroin addiction. you would think that this premise would be easy fodder for glamorizing drug addiction, especially with the seeming young HOLLYWOOD in-crowd partaking in his late night activities on a semi-regular basis. but the book really just sets up how lost he was at the time. it would be years before he would properly go about getting professional help regarding the trauma of dealing with his mother's murder by the hand of a jealous ex-boyfriend in his formative years as a teenager.
all that being said, i can't imagine the seductive power of being so young and admired. i don't know how anyone in that situation would not become a full blown addict with the HOLLYWOOD set. but he got out of it. he recovered.
and i think that is the reason he chose to write and have this book published, to show others (maybe within the music community) that there is a way out, no matter how deep and dependent you are on the drug community. in the years since more members of the community have passed on from drugs or drug-related activities, most notably CHRIS CORNELL, MICHAEL JACKSON, AMY WINEHOUSE, TOM PETTY, MAC MILLER, PRINCE, SCOTT WEILAND (STONE TEMPLE PILOTS), JANI LANE (WARRENT), LIL PEEP, WHITNEY HOUSTON, RICK JAMES, WAYNE STATIC (STATIC-X), IKE TURNER and THE REV (AVENGED SEVENFOLD).
i really feel this book was meant for his peers and not the general public. to the public parts of this book come off salacious and voyeuristic, but to a musician of any importance my guess is this unending expanding cadre of enablers is more than familiar. to them by showing his reality, hopefully it'll make them seek help.
as for NAVARRO, i wish he'd stop with his addiction to hosting shitty REALITY TV shows. i'm just saying.
photo manipulation by nacrowe
getting into instrumental rock music can be difficult. too often it gets ahead of itself and becomes a self-indulgent wankfest by "muso" musicians so clever they've ended up regressing. there is something about rock music that demands immediacy yet spontaneity, unlike say a JOE SATRIANI or an EMERSON LAKE AND PALMER record, no disrespect intended. to me listening to a RAMONES record is more in the spirit of ROCK N ROLL than say DREAM THEATER since the later are inherently more concerned with their off-time paradiddles a obscure scales than the experience of the listener. only my opinion.
experimental rock band BATTLES is one of those groups that can pull it off since their highly inventive and kinetic, propulsive rhythms demand the attention of the listener in the tradition of BEBOP JAZZ, 70s PROG ROCK and AFROBEAT.
its hard to explain how good these guys are since they all have chops, but the music is composed and constructed in a way that things build and overlap and crescendo, with interesting sonic textures and non-traditional instrumentation being utilized to enable a cogent musical idea. its remarkable. and i highly encourage anyone to seek out the instrumental music of BATTLES. definitely worth your time to explore.
art by nacrowe
check out this live performance by BROOKLYN indie rock artist BUNI HATE MAIL filmed and recorded recently at TRANS-PECOS as part of our ongoing OFF THE M series. all OFF THE M performances are recorded live in concert at either MARKET HOTEL and TRANS PECOS in NYC.
definitely seek out their 2018 A EP. they are currently recording their follow-up. can't wait.
photo manipulation by nacrowe
growing up in SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA in the mid-90s means i was very much aware of local legendary LOS ANGELES rock station KROQ 106.7FM. it is almost absurd to consider the amount of bands that have broke big internationally due to exposure at this single radio station. i still think its incredible that such a corporate entity still had room for the esoteric pursuits of legendary resident taste-makers like RODNEY BINGENHEIMER.
my problem was that in this pre-internet age (yep i am that old) i oftentimes didn't know who the bands were since the rotation of songs weren't often tagged by the DJs, which makes sense given how ubiquitous these songs must have been to their regular audience. as a child and later a preteen, i was definitely not that clued in unfortunately.
it wasn't until years later in middle school abroad in NIGERIA that i realized songs i was familiar with were by bands like ALICE IN CHAINS ("MAN IN THE BOX"), NIRVANA (obscure b-side "SAPPY"), SPACEHOG ("IN THE MEANTIME") and THE BREEDERS ("CANNONBALL").
one of these bands was ELASTICA and the song was "CONNECTION." i distinctly remember hearing that song while waiting in line for SPACE MOUNTAIN at DISNEYLAND in elementary school. sadly, i didn't rediscover this band until high school in the early 2000s after relocating to SACRAMENTO from KUWAIT during my senior year. to me their debut album ELASTICA (GEFFEN, 1992) is a perfect album, easily the best thing to come out of the whole 90s BRITPOP movement (check out this BOOK REVIEW i did if you are unfamiliar with that scene). what i loved about it aside from JUSTINE FRISCHMANN's snarky, seductive crooning was angular guitar work which after further investigation introduced met to POST-PUNK bands that influenced them like WIRE and GANG OF FOUR. the inter-textual nature of art where different scenes, eras and modes are referenced and re-appropriated is something i've always appreciated. ELASTICA to me is an example of a stellar band that encourages me to stay curious, dig further and expand my ears to different sounds. i don't tend to fixate, if anything each new great band i learn about only serves as a new nexus point for other new discoveries.
if you aren't familiar with ELASTICA, check out either of their two releases. along with THE SMITHS, they are on my bucket-list of bands i hope and pray to see play live on day. nobody is cooler than JUSTINE FRISCHMANN. no one.
i just want to get it out of the way that i found SLEATER-KINNEY guitartist/co-vocalist CARRIE BROWNSTEIN's memoir HUNGER MAKES ME A MODERN GIRL (RIVERHEAD BOOKS, 2016) jarring and difficult to follow. as a former english teacher im pretty accustomed to student writing that attempts to cover up a lack ideas with cumbersome structures and awkward word choices. this memoir is full of them and i can't figure out why?
it was meandering to the point of confusion. my feeling is that a reader of an book dedicated to an artist is hoping to appreciate any number of aspects, any of which are good fodder for a memoir. these could include insights on the artist's biography, creative process, context(s), breakthroughs, downfalls, influences, etc. BROWNSTEIN seemed determined to not placate to any of these tropes of the memoir format. she would seemingly take you on a long aside that dithered and wandered nowhere.
it was very frustrating as i was constantly questioning what her point was and why i was reading this. and then there was her writing style which was overly and ornamental to the point of being annoying. if she was attempting to show-off her cleverness, she failed miserably.
i was able to gleen some information about the formation of SLEATER-KINNEY and how BROWNSTEIN's complicated upbringing informed her relationships with peers and collaborators, but ultimately BROWNSTEIN puts herself center stage which is an odd choice in a memoir. my understanding is that what makes portrait photography and memoirs compelling is not the subject necessarily, but rather the context surrounding the subject. how have outside forces affected an artist's process? what are the internal/external dynamics that contributed to the making of a piece of art? in this memoir things just happen and seemingly she brought it about. came off a bit narcisstic, almost like reading THE DIRT (HARPERCOLLINS, 2001) by MÖTLEY CRÜE, where each of them fight over narritive control by asserting their greatness at the expense of all other band members. same thing with BROWNSTEIN.
i was really interested in knowing about their politics which never really came up. for me personally this is odd because i saw them play ROSELAND BALLROOM on February 15, 2003 right after participating in the anti-war protests that day in manhattan. they seemed very much enthused by that palpable energy and voiced their displeasure in GEORGE W BUSH's policies and proceeded to play a killer set. maybe my perception of them was off, given that so few pages addressed any political concerns. instead all of her concerns are rather insular tropes of the misunderstood traveling musician, which is beyond boring to read.
a very frustrating read. i love the band and i highly recommend listening to their records. i'd just say wait until CORIN TUCKER decides to get around to writing her story. this book is a hard pass.
JOHNNY MARR is a singular talent whose legendary partnership with MORRISSEY in THE SMITHS puts him, in my mind, in the highest echelon of songwriting talents that rock music has ever produced. his story could've ended there but he went on to expand his musical vocabulary by pursuing an expansive carrer that includes collaborative efforts with the likes of TALKING HEADS, PET SHOP BOYS, BRIAN FERRY, THE PRETENDERS, THE THE, ELECTRONIC (with BERNARD SUMNER of NEW ORDER), BILLY BRAGG, KIRSTY MACCOLL, OASIS, BLACK GRAPE, MODEST MOUSE, THE CRIBS as well as a stellar string of successful of recent solo releases.
all that being said, what struck me most from reading his autobiography SET THE BOY FREE (DEY STREET BOOKS, 2016), which deals with him recounting his extraordinary career was his ability to be in the moment. this moment. i cant imagine what it must be like being defined work (however transcendentally awesome) you did as a teenager. for him it was a determined focus and drive, perhaps rooted in his struggling irish-immigrant MANCUNIAN working-class upbringing, that allowed him to not get caught up in the hype and hysteria of riding such a phenomenal critical and artistic wave so early.
as a fan, i'm always struck by his career choices which always appeared to be labours of love and over time he cultivated a following that came with him, which is incredible given that most successful artists are mindful of no alienating their audience. if anything MARR is taking them on the journey with him.
i want to add that MARR's voice as a writer is very direct and deliberate and this has to be one of the better written autobiographies i have read in recent years. perhaps this shouldn't come as a surprise given the literary aspirations of his work over the years and the quality of project collaborators he has sought out. i wouldn't expect anything else but quality in his writing.
as NOEL GALLAGHER is apt to saying with regards to MARR, "dude is a fucking wizard." by all means, check out his work if you haven't and down the road after a lifetime of enjoying his music, consider reading his excellent autobiography.