photo by nacrowe
this december 2017 episode of the NOWHERE FAST show that i was lucky enough to be asked to document has been a standout highlight of my time collaborating with KRISTIN and TOM over at MAKERPARKRADIO.NYC who have continually supported DEER GOD since its inception. and for that we are grateful to them.
this show was amazing because it showcased rare half-century old ROCKABILLY vinyl singles from obscure (and in many cases defunct) record labels that were curated and commented on by special guest BOZ BOORER of THE POLECATS and MORRISSEY fame. i mean seriously, what a treat that was.
being a total SMITHS/MORRISSEY fanboy i brought a relatively obscure live concert VHS tape to show BOORER and he graciously gave me some contest of how crazy the security was that night. for me that moment was made returning home stateside worth it.
it still blows my mind that TOM would be gracious enough to find a reason to have me around that night and again, we here at DEER GOD appreciate the station and their ongoing mission to engage the local arts community of STATEN ISLAND.
that being said, you should check out past episodes of NOWHERE FAST which are all archived HERE on this website. yessir, all 74 of them!
photo by nacrowe
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.
photo manipulation by nacrowe
i came across GIRL IN A COMA years ago in the late 2000s when JANE'S ADDICTION guitarist DAVE NAVARRO spoke about them in an interview. i think he may even have a tattoo of them for some reason.
anyway, this NINA DIAZ-fronted trio from SAN ANTONIO (an yes there name is a reference to THE SMITHS track "Girlfriend in a Coma" - so kudos if you caught that) has released a three stellar rock albums via JOAN JETT's BLACKHEART RECORDS and they have really evolved as songwriters over the past 10 years.
their track "Smart" from their latest EXITS & ALL THE REST (2011) was my soundtrack to being a PEACE CORPS volunteer years ago. to me it just captured that vibe of being both hesitant and excited by a new environment. by nature i'm a reluctant, shy person but being tossed into a small albanian community with a strong distrust of foreigners forced me out of my shell and make connections with my neighbors, some of whom i still communicate with via social media (which is crazy).
their sound is a mixture of INDIE, SHOEGAZE and meat & potatoes ROCK N ROLL, but what makes the band for me is frontwoman NINA DIAZ's ability to let her vocals go where they want, sharp or flat or whatever she is feeling, even if that means coming off as a whine. to me that vocal choice is totally authentic to their vibe as a band, which is loose but deliberate and cutting. almost like they are inviting you to critique them.
i always appreciate it when musicians, especially women, make choices that go against gender prescriptions. there is a whole littany of male artists that have successfully done this from LITTLE RICHARD to DAVID BOWIE to PERRY FARRELL. with regards to women i'd say musicians like PATTI SMITH, BJORK or PJ HARVEY come to mind when i think of artists that consciously attempt to expand their audiences gender prescriptions.
i'm not putting GIRL IN A COMA on that level, but in their own way they are going for it and i definitely appreciate that. in a way they are the manifestation of JOAN JETT and her legacy as well.
photo manipulation by nacrowe
one of my all-time favorite writers. and not just because he writes about the part of brooklyn my family is from.
in the united states there is this force-fed optimism shoved down our throats since birth through our education systems and mass media that basically propagates the narrative that if you work hard enough, good things will happen. reading any HUBERT SELBY JR novel essentially an exercise in looking the AMERICAN DREAM straight in the face and laughing at it. and not one of those belly laughs were you see the folly, but one of those nervous ones were you realize how much of your identity is swallowed up in this hollow fantasy.
the three novels of his i am familiar with are LAST EXIT TO BROOKLYN (1964), THE DEMON (1976) and REQUIEM FOR A DREAM (1978). two obviously have been made into excellent film adaptations by ULI EDEL and DARREN ARANOFSKY, respectively. love them both but such will be the topic for another post. what unites them all is a sense of competing drives, not necessarily good vs bad, but constructive vs destructive tendencies brought on by ambition. the central question of his novels is "what is it that we want?" and "what is the price of attaining it to your psyche?"
his characters tend to have what SIGMUND FREUD would recognize as a very strong will to self-destruct, or as he termed it, a "death-drive." all of his protagonists (incidentally all share the name "Harry" in his novels) seek validation through community, money, vice, or otherwise and in each case they get into trouble. its almost like he chooses each novel as a way of elucidating different facets of how the AMERICAN DREAM is a hoax and a quixotic fallacy on par with any other human construction (family, religion, community) used to motivate a sense of identity. in terms of narrative the protagonist's character arc is inverted, as you undoubtedly encounter them initially at their highest point, the peak of their powers and sanity. from here on out its a downward spiral, with any solace in brief periods of calm merely red herrings making the free-fall to come that much more brutal and inhumane.
it is a dark, bleak and ultimately realistic portrayal of reality. when i read his work i am often thinking about my own motivations, goals and what the actual cost of such are. yes in america there is opportunity, but what is the price of the success we seek? what are you giving up to achieve it and fundamentally who are you at the end of that process? what has that process done to your sense of self? that is the gift of his work in my opinion. they are almost bitterly self-reflective in nature in a way few others are.
as a former english teacher i really appreciate the fact that his characters are so singular and well-constructed that HUBERT SELBY JR imposed a very unique writing style where he would not use quotes and never specifies what characters say what at the end of sentence. characters speak in all caps and by context you know who said what without being told. it is a really neat trick that just further showcases the depth of his writing.
other side note: THE SMITHS' THE QUEEN IS DEAD album is named after a chapter in LAST EXIT TO BROOKYLN. just saying.
when i used to go on interviews for high school teaching gigs i would almost be guaranteed to be asked if given the choice what book i'd want to teach. my answer was always ALAN SILLITOE's novel about working class masculinity SATURDAY NIGHT AND SUNDAY MORNING (1958) of which the legendary KARL REISZ film was based.
british kitchensink dramas of the 1960s tended to deal with working class-related themes such as class and domesticity, which for me makes them far more interesting and real than their american counterpart films. there is rawness to the subject matter as well as the production, as it is obvious these were made quickly at low cost.
but what drew me to both to the film and the book was this idea of exploring the performative nature of masculinity. in working class midlands england in the post-WWII period, where this films takes place, the main character ARTHUR SEATON struggles to come to terms with how to transcend his repetitive factor job and womanizing ways. for he doesn't get any satisfaction from his work and the only avenue for being dominant was swooning the bored housewives of what he deemed "slow husbands." its as if his conquests was more of a badge of honor to his male mates than an expression or projection of his will. essentially this behavior was a ironically a form of impotence.
i'm almost certain this dynamic, as well as the geographical and cultural similarities of nottingham (where the film takes place) to manchester are what drew a young MORRISSEY to transpose the line "why don't you ever take where it's lively and there's people" into THE SMITHS' iconic song THERE IS A LIGHT THAT NEVER GOES OUT. just saying.
i saw this idea of male identity defined through work almost everywhere growing up but especially in the arab world, where at times you would see young men of immeasurable means doing dangerous things out of sheer boredom. this was in kuwait and since their financial, social and political connections were bulletproof, it was as if they had to develop a new pissing contest to set themselves apart. as a foreigner it was fascinating to watch and mock but at some level i really pitied them and their circumstance. it was like they were neglected and were in a dead-end.
this book and film present to me a dead-end scenario that is transcended through hard fought self-reflection. and for me that concept is one meaning that both the novel and film explore effectively: the need for self-analysis apart from your circumstances.
art by nacrowe
cult filmmaker and queer icon DEREK JARMAN was a visual artist of the first order. he gave voice to a community that was largely ostracized, forgotten and pushed to the periphery of western society during the twin reigns of 1980s reagan's america and thatcher's britain.
given the new world order we find ourselves in at the current historical and cultural moment, his largely claustrophobic set pieces with equally harrowing narratives dealing often with whisper campaigns (EDWARD II), coded behavior (CARAVAGGIO) and persecution based on identity (SEBASTIANE) seem wholly prescient and beyond relevant to today's jumbled digital clusterfuck of identity, reason and truth.
JARMAN may have been writing and speaking from the perspective of an uncloseted homosexual in the 80s dealing with the AIDS epidemic, which ultimately took his life, but in his immaculately constructed scenes of fringe characters fighting for dignity and purpose in a world that offers neither, I find a overflowing well of both.
his films show that you don't need outside affirmation to have real meaning and purpose, even if you are doomed.
artwork by nicholas crowe
check HERE out this latest episode of DEER GOD RADIO where we explored music by the IRISH as well as those descended from them.
was a fun exercise in investigating how ideas like displacement and community have come to define IRISH literature, music and culture through the generations. enjoy.
past episodes of DEER GOD RADIO as well as other MAKERPARKRADIO.NYC shows like MAKE HER SPACE, NOWHERE FAST, and THE SYNTHESIZER SHOW are available here at the DEER GOD website.