Category Archives: Tuesday Musics

Carl’s Tuesday Musics on Wednesday for May Day: Extreme Noise Terror, “Work For Never”

by Carl Wilson

Often on an occasion such as the traditional international day for workers and against exploitation, I would opt for something reflective and inspiring. But having just returned to the confinement of an office after a couple of great weeks of travel and release, while moving through a part of the world that’s been deeply railroaded by the politics of austerity and precarity, I have resolved instead, after careful consideration of the alternatives, to say FUCK IT.

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Carl’s Tuesday Musics (on Monday): “Empire of the Senseless,” The Mekons (1989)

by Carl Wilson

If this week has given us anything so far, it’s that a lot of people have learned about the great British anti-Thatcher songs of the 1980s and 1990s. (Although anyone who thinks, like Slate’s David Wiegel, that “we Americans had nothing like this” really wasn’t paying attention.) Elvis Costello’s Tramp the Dirt Down would be the great anthem specifically looking forward to Thatcher’s death (rivaled by Hefner’s The Day That Thatcher Dies and Morrissey’s Margaret on the Guillotine) but one I haven’t seen mentioned is this song from one of my favourite albums, The Mekons’ 1989 Rock’n’Roll.

It doesn’t call out Maggie by name (though it does mention “the hard lady”); in fact the only political figure name-dropped is an American, Oliver North (“Boring Ollie North down in the subway dealing drugs and guns/ turning little liars into heroes, it’s what they’ve always done” – and this was decades before North became a Fox News pundit). Instead it’s about a whole suite of Thatcherite policies, in the “culture wars” ambience of censorship and intolerance of the ’80s.

What I like best is its demonstration of the particular, peculiar sense of humour you develop when you spend a decade being near-continuously pissed off.

The now-odd-sounding lines, “This song promotes homosexuality/ It’s in a pretended family relationship/ with the others on this record/ And on the charts and on the jukebox/ And on the radio” refer to Thatcher’s family-values legislation Section 28, while the earlier, “These lines are all individuals/ And there’s no such thing as a song” parodies Thatcher’s famous claim that “there is no such thing as society.” (Man, she was a piece of work.) “Even the silent are now guilty” refers to legislation her government passed saying that while accused people would retain the right to remain silent, judges and juries would be free to interpret their silence as an admission of guilt. The line “turning journalists into heroes takes some doing” is a joke about the popularity of Charter 88, a petition protesting Thatcher’s restrictions on press freedom. And finally, the closing lines take off from Thatcher’s notorious line on immigration that “people are really rather afraid that this country might be swamped” – turned around to say “people are really rather afraid of being swamped by selfishness and greed.”

I’m sure there are other references I’m missing. The title is of course borrowed from Kathy Acker’s then-new, excoriating novel, which in turn I guess was playing on the title of Nagisa Oshima’s classic Japanese S&M art film, which in France was called L’Empire des sens, “empire of the senses,” itself a play on Roland Barthes’s book about Japan, The Empire of Signs …

“All unacceptable gropings have been removed from the screen. Only eyes full of unspeakable thoughts remain.”

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Carl’s Tuesday Musics: “March of Greed,” by Pere Ubu, Sarah Jane Morris and Alfred Jarry, video by The Brothers Quay

by Carl Wilson

In honour of the week of Fools, this is from Pere Ubu’s Bring Me the Head of Ubu Roi, adaptation – finally, after nearly four decades – of the Alfred Jarry 1896 grotesquerie that gave the Cleveland proto-punk band its name when it formed in the 1970s. Sarah Jane Morris, who plays Mere Ubu, is formerly of The Communards (“Don’t Leave Me This Way“). The Brothers Quay are of course the American-British brothers best known for Institute Benjamenta.

As says the uber-Ubu, David Thomas: “Whoever you personally think is the Bad Guy – whether you demonize those on the Left or the Right, or everyone In-Between – the Church or the State, Big Business or Big Labor – Père Ubu can supply the face and voice. Ubu is a portrait of the soul of every do-gooder monster.”

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Carl’s Tuesday Musics: “Zmirneikos Balos” and others by Marika Papagika (1928)

by Carl Wilson

I was fortunate enough this weekend to be present at the revival of Double Double Land in Toronto’s “Talking Songs” series, in which people play recordings for other people and talk about them, featuring a special guest – the independent intellectual, anthologist, vintage 78s collector and “Fonotopia” DJ/podcaster, Ian Nagoski, who regaled us with the sounds and stories of Indian classical singers with disreputable pasts, Lemko-American bands, Carpathian “hillbillies” and the parallels between bluegrass and polka (both urban adaptations of mountain stringband music), the Okeh laughing record (though he didn’t mention the great Tex Avery cartoon that uses it as soundtrack to its second half), canary breeding as a form of musical composition, and much more.

Much beyond collecting for collecting’s sake, Nagoski’s fascination with non-English-language (aka “ethnic” at the time) records made in the U.S. before the Second World War serves him as a lens on ignored or suppressed histories of America, non-canonical views of musical development (in which it doesn’t all culminate in rock) and the confidence games of the American dream.

On that last theme, one person he didn’t play but alluded to is Marika Papagika, a great singer of many styles, including what we today would refer to as rebetika (or often “rembetika” in English). She was a Greek immigrant to New York who, with her husband Costas, made many successful recordings and opened up a nightclub nearby where the Port Authority is today – until they lost it all in the stock-market crash of 1929, just a year after the song above was shellacked. The emotional detail of her singing is spellbinding.

Nagoski has played an important role in reintroducing her to modern (and non-Greek) audiences, by including her music on his compilations Black Mirror: Reflections in Global Musics (1918-1954) and To What Strange Place:The Music Of The Ottoman-American Diaspora (1916-1929) and finally a collection entirely of Papagika songs, The Further the Flame the Worse It Burns MeThe one he’s rhapsodized over the most is below, the even-more-plaintive Smyrneïko Minore, which the Kronos Quartet heard on Black Mirror and arranged and performed it in concert.

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Carl’s Tuesday Musics: Michelle McAdorey, “Line Across My Heart” (2013)

by Carl Wilson

Michelle McAdorey was one of the first Toronto artists I ever wrote about, after moving here; I’m very pleased that she has new music out (and reportedly more to come) and that she’s performing again, beginning with a Wavelength show this Thursday (with Iceland’s Valgeir Sigurðsson and Toronto’s Prince Nifty). This song is so pretty it’s almost hard to listen to. You start holding your breath, knowing something is going to break.

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Carl’s Tuesday Musics (belated): Jim Guthrie, “The Rest Is Yet to Come” (2013) (Animation by Dan Berry)

From the upcoming album Takes Time.

“Fire all the hired guns –
I know I’m not the only one.”

Dan Berry on vimeo.

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Carl’s Tuesday Musics: Captain Beefheart & the Magic Band, “Hot Head” & “Ashtray Heart” (SNL 1980)

[blip.tv http://blip.tv/play/AYLWhlsC?p=1 width=”550″ height=”443″]

by Carl Wilson

For un-b2tw reasons last week I was looking for Captain Beefheart’s appearances on David Letterman in the early ’80s but then wondered if I could dig up this even rarer clip. Via a misleading for-devotees-only pitch-dark live clip, I landed here. Shhh. Both from Doc at the Radar Station, which unfashionably might be my favourite Beefheart record, no doubt just because it’s got the new/no-wave-vertical-horizontal-flip-nervy-shakes that are my personal national rhythm. And maybe a lyrical economy compared to what he was doing in the previous decade.

For those who don’t know Capt. Beefheart, maybe it just sounds perfectly banal by now, and not like something illegal is happening on your TV.

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