Alice Coltrane ... (Paris: November, 2015)

Making lists, on scraps of paper - post-it notes that will later be put in my bag; just in case I forget something, only to be reminded of it on my return.

The police found a car, abandoned near Simplon. They say that the car was left there by the (as yet) unnamed 9th attacker; they say that this might mean that the terrorists had been planning to attack the 18th as well.

Last night, lying in bed, listening to music - my 75018 T-shirt, faded - I think to myself, I need to write about jazz again. Music after a holocaust ...

I saw the video of a pregnant woman, hanging outside the bar window, calling out to those below her to catch her (before being pulled back inside, where the men with guns were). Someone compared the dead bodies to Dante's Inferno. Some hid for hours and could hear the people being tortured, with knives (this is what I read). 

There are words to be written here about what remains.  Of wonder and awe  ... 

After great suffering and loss. 

After great pain, a formal feeling comes –
The Nerves sit ceremonious, like Tombs –
The stiff Heart questions ‘was it He, that bore,’
And ‘Yesterday, or Centuries before’?

The Feet, mechanical, go round –
A Wooden way
Of Ground, or Air, or Ought –
Regardless grown,
A Quartz contentment, like a stone –

This is the Hour of Lead –
Remembered, if outlived,
As Freezing persons, recollect the Snow –
First – Chill – then Stupor – then the letting go –
— After great pain, a formal feeling comes – (372) BY EMILY DICKINSON

I typed part of this poem many years ago and placed it near my desk.

The city shut the libraries, told us not to go to public spaces and stay inside. I walked with my son around the neighbourhood as we had nowhere else to go (the metro was deserted, it remained like that for days). I asked a mother on the Sunday if the parks were still closed.

Today I saw that they were warning us not to mention the location of police, as it may aid the terrorists (is the 'mastermind' in Saint-Denis, or in Syria). I went to see a film at UGC Les Halles, it was empty of people; two men in front of me carried large bags, I told the security guard (he thanked me), I was too frightened to go inside; I had to leave.

Music after the holocaust. Of and about transcendence ...

There are words to be written here.

(the forgotten masterpiece 2) the unreleased David Ruffin album, 'David' 1971

Just before 3 am one morning  in June, 1991 a limousine brought the unconscious body of one of the greatest vocalists of the twentieth century, David Ruffin to a Philadelphia hospital. Wearing 'bright, multi-coloured Bermuda shorts, white sneakers and a lime-green sport shirt,' Ruffin carried no identification; 'when (the) doctors released his body to the Philadelphia Medical Examiner's Office, it was tagged, "John Doe."

Ruffin died one hour later from a drug overdose, aged 50 years old. One of the saddest parts of an extremely sad (and controversial) documentary on Ruffin's ascent to the top of US popular music, as part of the Temptations is the moment when his son, David Ruffin Jr. looks at the camera face-on to insist that his father died in a hospital (not a crackhouse). My father died in a hospital, he repeated with urgency. He died in a hospital.

When told of his death, Ruffin's girlfriend, Dianne Showers said she was saddened but not shocked by his death. 'He walked in the line of fire,' she said.

Ruffin became famous for his songs of love and loss. One website describes the 'moods' of his work using these adjectives; 'gritty, passionate, earthy, gutsy, poignant, romantic, dramatic, stylish' but then has only one word for his central theme: 'heartache'.

And yet Ruffin's musical achievement stems from the way it enacts contrasts, similar to those that dominated his life. Sweetness and light; force and delicacy; despair and determination.

David Ruffin famously fell out with Motown - just as he had with the Temptations - so the fact that the label decided not to release 'David' in 1971 perhaps should not come as a surprise. But it does, it is hard to imagine how even the most burnt-out execs did not recognise the record's essential impact and its great beauty. In the words of an Allmusic critic:

While this music was rooted in Motown’s signature sound and performed by the Funk Brothers, it also looked beyond Detroit, adding heavy doses of funk, psychedelia, and smooth soul, filled with galvanizing horns, driving guitars, down-n-dirty clavinets, flourishes of electric sitar, fuzz tones, and wah-wah guitars, all grounded by Ruffin’s earthy testifying and tied together by top-notch songwriting. All these elements wound up sounding much hipper than much of the music officially released by Motown in the early 1970, when Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye were just beginning to break free of the studio’s formula, and while David and its accompanying bonus tracks are not a masterpiece along the lines of Talking Book or What’s Going On (or even Where I’m Coming From, for that matter), it’s vibrant, exciting music that still sounds fresh — arguably fresher than full-length Temptations albums of the late ‘60s — which qualifies it as a lost classic of sorts.
— Stephen Thomas Erlewine review, 'Allmusic'

Starting with the extraordinary 'Each day is a lifetime' ....

This song amazes me every time I hear it, simply for the way it is constructed and the way his voice carries the melody; and then there are all the details (just listen to those backing-vocals, for instance or that bossy 'Listen' and the later interlude).

Such contrasts are put to even more dramatic effect in 'I can't be hurt any more' that starts with an over the top declaration to suddenly shift to a groove that is so sugary, while Ruffin's voice keeps breaking, cracking threatening to be overwhelmed by the backing track. My personal favourite, though is 'Let somebody love me' -

Marvin Gaye paid tribute to Ruffin by saying that 'I heard in (his voice) a strength my voice lacked' and this strength comes through here, even though he is expressing his need for love from 'someone true, you know what I mean ..'

Anyone with any knowledge of Ruffin's own complicated love life that involved a large number of attractive women might cough at the idea of him pining for a true woman who 'doesn't need to be a beauty queen' but these lyrics are part of the track's core sweetness and conceit. Like a lot of worldly soul singers from that era and since such feigning innocence only adds to their charm.      

Whether it comes from listening to a lot of music these days with the intention of writing about it, or listening to a lot of sample-based music, when I listen to this track by Ruffin I hear all the different elements in isolation, but also together; I listen to that tricky drumbeat, so fragile compared to his voice, or the brass and the tinkly elements and feel newly impressed each time. On the same record there's also a cover of the Jackson 5 hit,  'I want you back'.

Here's just an added extra, okay yeah I'm just a bit of a (ridiculous) fan -

When Earline Ruffin, then 92, learnt of the death of her stepson in 1991 she said, 'I would be glad if they could send his body to Meridian so they could sing one of his songs over his body.' She wanted him to return to the church where he once won a watch in a singing competition. 

'I was surprised at how he turned out in life,' she said. 'He wanted to play all the time. He could sing like a mockingbird.' 

Super Rare Ol' Dirty Bastard Freestyle 1995 (& hip-hop monstaz)

Lost within the widespread dismissal of hip-hop as a genre in much of the media and elsewhere - the entire 'is rap music' debate; let alone all the constant aggro about the sexism, machismo in the videos etc - is a) the diversity of the emcees  b) the humour.

Who better then the be put forward in counter-attack than ODB (Ol' Dirty Bastard) who became famous as part of the Wu-Tang Clan, back in the 90s.  Now held up as a kind of icon of the bygone era, ODB outsmarted, outshone all competitors in any context.  

One of the reasons why lots of people who don't normally listen to hip-hop say, yeah I like that stuff from the 90s, I think is because it's often funny; with all that word-play, it's easy to like and most of the time not too threatening. (Now that comment isn't meant to be too sarcastic, too critical, it's just sometimes I don't understand how people can go on and on and on about how great the 90s hip-hop was, but show no interest in anything since: it would be the same as if someone rattled on about 90s Britpop and never listened to Radiohead, or something). 

But what's glorious about ODB for me is that he embodies both the humour - he's hilarious by any standard - but also the hip-hop strange. He's really funny, but far from cuddly .....

'Raw Hide' - feat. Method Man and Raekwon from ODB's Return to the 36 Chambers: The Dirty Version (1995) is an American classic, maybe even a true masterpiece. Taking as an incidental (almost) starting-point the quintessential trope of White (cowboy) Americana, the Rawhide TV series that starred Clint Eastwood and ran from 1959-1965, this track is messy and smart, but above all it's angry.

And all that intensity is carried by ODB's words and delivery:  

[Ol’ Dirty Bastard]
Yea, gotta come back to attack
Killin niggaz who said they got stacks, cause I don’t give a fuck
[inhales] I wanna see blood, whether it’s period blood
Or bustin your fuckin face, some blood!!
I’m goin out my FUCKIN mind!!
Everytime I get around devils [breathing hard]
Let me calm down, you niggaz better start runnin
Cause I’m comin, I’m dope like fuckin heroin
Wu-Tang Bloodkin, a goblin, who come tough like lambskin
Imagine, gettin shot up with Ol Dirty insulin [sucks air]
You bound to catch AIDS or somethin
Not sayin I got it, but nigga if I got it you got it!!
WHAT?!? [echoes]

This rhyme is really clever the way it builds at the end via all the rhymes/half-rhymes doubling up in the middle of the sentences (comin'/goblin/gettin') and at the end as well (runnin'/heroin/lambskin/insulin/somethin') as a way to bring it to a close while making explicit the internal logic of it all.

Here, ODB is taking on the persona of a 'devil' - a monster; playing around with the notion of the Scary Black Male that is used to justify white racist violence in the US against African-American men, whether it is by police in uniform or concerned citizens 'standing their ground'.

Monsters are a recurring theme in hip-hop; running from Big L to Ice T's revenge fantasies to the eccentric pop-culture reveries of MF Doom and Ghostface Killah's Twelve Reasons to Die project from 2013 with its slasher-gore pix of a white woman 'defiled' by a man in a mask.

More recently, Joey Badass has revived the notion in his track 'No.99' where the monster-figure fights against 'the supremacy' (amid the background brouhaha of tabloid news) ...

L7 'Lost cause' (the ULTIMATE 3 mins or less)

 L7 - best antidote to the capitalo-consumer female sexuality being marketed at youngsters these days, where smart women construct ditties extolling body parts to the eternal indifference of men.

For me this track and the band more generally is a feminista/Rites of Spring moment, maybe; hear how the original version by Melbourne's Cosmic Psychos kind of puddles along in contrast.

The band's drummer is beyond goddess-like.

Blue Oyster Cult 'Don't fear the reaper' (1976)

Might this be the sweetest love-song of all time?

And the 'studio version' ...

For some reason I'm listening to this track obsessively at the moment, once again cultivating my musical OCD tendencies that never completely disappear; listening to it endlessly and on repeat. I had heard this track - the original and cover versions - before, but now it is fulfilling some need in me that feels new.

On the studio version,  about 1 min 30  the vocalist sings that Romeo and Juliet are together for eternity and there's this great moment when the music lifts in its intensity; it all comes together. But then the singer starts to repeat: '40,000 men and women every day' - the estimate of how many people die daily; repeating it over and over just a bit to strongly like some deranged uncle at a party ranting about politics. It's very sweet and odd too.  

But the song is made up of many such curiosities, where the tone and sense of balance go a little askew. This is why it charms me so much. Not forgetting too the lyrics that appear to be deceptively simple - 'baby, I'm your man ..' but are always a bit loopy with all the Goth-allusions to candles and the wind etc. But it remains sincere in expressing a great love and the need to let go of fear. (I especially like the final section where the woman loses her fear and takes his hand). Note too that totally cosmic interlude at 2 mins 30 that segues into a slippery-perfect beat and over the top guitar-line: fantastic. 

The group's singer responded to claims that the lyrics encouraged suicide: 

I felt that I had just achieved some kind of resonance with the psychology of people when I came up with that, I was actually kind of appalled when I first realized that some people were seeing it as an advertisement for suicide or something that was not my intention at all. It is, like, not to be afraid of it (as opposed to actively bring it about). It’s basically a love song where the love transcends the actual physical existence of the partners.

— Buck Dharma, lead singer

I think it is the combination of the sweetness of the melody; the odd elements and the fact that it is so guileless that touches me so much.     

Love of two is one
Here but now they’re gone
Came the last night of sadness
And it was clear she couldn’t go on
Then the door was open and the wind appeared
The candles blew then disappeared
The curtains flew then he appeared... saying don’t be afraid
Come on baby... and she had no fear
And she ran to him... then they started to fly
They looked backward and said goodbye... she had become like they are
She had taken his hand... she had become like they are
Come on baby... don’t fear the reaper

Wipers 'Over the edge' (1983)/MBV 'You made me realise' (1988)

So continuing the conversation (with myself, cough) below about the hallmark of guitar music, being a replication of a total sonic world; a complete and all-encompassing wall of sound.

Here are two examples for the defence: Wipers' 'Over the edge' -

Portland's finest forgetten sons, remembered and celebrated by the singer of a much more famous band and the ultimate example of the UK - or Irish to be more accurate - obsession with hitting the perfect beat, 'You made me realise' by My Bloody Valentine ...

Small confession time: I'm not a monumental Wipers fan, I much prefer the Melvins cover of 'Youth of America' to the original and much of their output kind of bores me, as it's far too mono-dimensional in terms of its emotional quotient , much too black/white, but there's no doubt in my mind that the above track is one of real genius.  

If you listen to the way the instruments work together, it's hard to find anything purer than this; anything stronger and clearer in its intent. I love the repetition of the swing; it has a kind of pure poppiness that is strangled by the vocals and the lumbering guitar-line.  Machine-like, it hits the mark.

Also love the music-nerdiness of the following quote from the Wipers' singer Greg Sage recounting his early passion for music: 

I would spend countless hours studying the grooves I would cut under the microscope that was attached to the lathe and loved the way music looked, moved and modulated within the thin walls. I might have spent too much time studying music through a microscope because it gave me a completely different outlook on what music is and a totally opposite understanding of it as well. There was something very magical and private when I zoomed into the magnified and secret world of sound in motion. I got to the point that I needed to create and paint my own sounds and colors into the walls of these grooves.

As for My Bloody Valentine, well, what you can you say, other than there is no more perfect pop moment in the entire ugly guitar music scene than this. I often try to filter the instruments; listen to the drum-beat in isolation; listen to the guitars ... When I listen to this drum-beat, I love the fact that it is so artificial, it could be a sample overlaid.    

 

Dave East 'The Offering'/Black Rose (2014)

Nothing better than coming across a track that disrupts attempts at categorisation - meandering around in my head were thoughts looking for a system, trying to work our defining qualities of punk (music based on impact) or hip-hop and dub.

I had been thinking about the importance of the 'echo' in hip-hop; the way elements are brought to the front in a kind of call/response, to provide levity and humour - or contrast, commentary in any form - and that dub had something similar.

And how punk, or to be more accurate 90s 'post-punk' with its roots in 70s metal - bands like Black Sabbath - was all about the unity of sound, seeking out no space in terms of how the instruments worked together, broken (maybe) by a guitar solo - but only momentarily. 

But then there are hip-hop tracks like this; broken-up and fractured with all kinds of ironic or even funny contributions - samples that have no clear logic (to me), but also hitting you with such force it could never be called 'light' entertainment. 

Too much music, hip-hop or otherwise is far too earnest: too keen on spreading a single, unified message; both in terms of the lyrics and music. Here, what you have is a sense of the emcee's character/style; you sense the urgency of the delivery, but even after listening to it I don't understand it and that's fine with me.  

It reminds me of this track by Plan B 'Ill Manors' - but musically Dave East's track is much more radical in its approach. 

The other stand-out track for me on the Black Rose mixtape is 'Ghost' ... This is paradise-stuff, wonderfully strange.