Space Interpreting
respect the architect

It's interesting the different ways we interpret the space around us

The way city folks get nervous in an empty street, the way a bare apartment looks bigger to some, smaller to others, than when furnished. How for some people, an all-glass penthouse view, with its breathtaking ego-vistas, is liberating and inspiring, while to others, like me, it feels like prison. We seem to love controlling space, dividing it, mapping it, framing it.

Many people have written great things on the subject. I won't be steering you to any of those things, however, because the space in my brain is a space that is forever in the act of emptying. (Mentally I am like a hapless prospector who missed the rush.)

When I was in the small blue-collar town of Cornwall, Ontario (why I was there is a short chaturbate story to tell, but not short enough) , the town hall displayed a handful of tourism brochures. One was for the new town "park". On the cover was a photo of an old couple, holding hands, walking over a faux-stone bridge, over a man-made creek, surrounded by what appeared to be 1/4 acre of mulch and a half-dozen tiny saplings. Cornwall sits up against the mighty St Lawrence River (I think thats what that was) and is surrounded by vast expanses of farmland, wild meadow and thick forests. So as a New Yorker, this dinky landscaped municipal park (not even a bloody gazebo to its name) was a joke. But open space has a way of making folks strange. People cope in different ways. Some surrender to it, some carve out little neutered parcels that they can fathom, some, like the Australians, make puppets with their foreskins.

I took a class in college called "Interpreting Space". I really enjoyed myself, though everything was painfully abstract. We read a work called "The Production of Space: by Henri Lefevre that was, theory-wise, an enormous burrito. Because of my sieve brain, the only thing I remember from it was the single word "striated" and that may have been on the book cover. We probably read something by Deleuze and Guattari, maybe about nomads. My favorite book was "The Road to Botany Bay" by a guy called Paul Carter. It was a "spatial history" of Australia and examined the country's continental colonization in terms of how space is named, and the profound import of the Victoria grid. Its a great book. I think amazon has it.

Anyway, this post started out as a collection of songs about architecture. I guess architecture is the way our culture articulates its most personal response to space. Its not the greatest list, I bet there are dozens of more suitable songs.

The Bowie song is probably the most explicit to the theme. It comes from his mid-90s record "Outside", a concept album he produced with Brian Eno. It got mixed press at the time. I don't know why, its an unbelievably great record. Its dark and driving and queer in a grim way, and all the way through Bowie plays this wandering piano that holds the whole thing together. This is a fantastic walking around NYC song.

Simon and Garfunkel, whats to say. I'll say that Frank Lloyd Wright's Falling Water building is supposed to be unliveably damp and is slowly collapsing so how good an architect can he be?

The Kate Bush tune is not one of the better tracks from her excellent and super-melancholy album "Aerial" from last year. It's not really about an architect, I think its about painting, but at least its not about doing laundry, which I swear one of the album's songs is about. Its really quite tragic laundry though.

"Koyaanisqatsi" I always loved and I never even watched it stoned. My friend Plum played this song at his wedding, as the guests arrived over the sand dunes and through the field of wildflowers. He had it blaring and stood back by himself and watched it all unfold, and said it was one of the great moments of his life. And if you know Plum, and his extraordinary capacity for private joys, you'll know it was probably one of the great moments for all of mankind.

"Don't Worry About the Gov" is the sweetest tribute to a bureaucrat and his office.

I saw the Cowboy Junkies play a couple of years ago at CBS, where I worked, when they needed people to fill the Jasmin live studio seats. They played a couple of their new songs. People clapped politely. Then some tourist yelled out "Sweet Jane" and they looked like they wanted to shoot themselves. But they played it.

"Respect the Architect" is from the Jazzmatazz series. Jazzmatazz Vol 1 is one of the rap records most loved by white college kids. The others, off the top of my head: Pauls Boutique, the 1st Pharcyde album, The Low End Theory, and I guess De La Soul Is Dead, Digable Planets and if he even had a record, Young MC. I am whiteman enough to admit I love this song.

OK, so quick POP QUESTION to get people on the comment boards. We did this exercise in my Space class:

What is your ideal space? if you could build a dream home, anything goes?

Are you a loft person? You like cul-de-sacs, castles, motorhomes, sailboats, bunkers, a moutaintop fortress, seaside cabins, a reclaimed subway car, or this place or an apartment designed as an exact replica of the bridge of the USS Enterprise?

As for me, I'll have to think about it. I forgot what I said in class. I know I really like big windows with small black panes, thats where I would start, and something amazingly remote but "neighborhoody" and walking distance to the express train, pref. the 2/3.


Good rock tonight

Ok, folks, my book's due - overdue - really overdue - really, really overdue - so in lieu of fresh posts, a very small fragment of the manuscript, at a tiny fraction of the retail price. There are a few steps missing, but dedicated MW readers should see how the threads I'm picking at bellow might eventually tie into the songs I've posted above. Or not, in which case I am deeply, deeply f-u-c-k-e-d. Also - entirely unrelated - does anyone happen to have a recording of Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings covering "I Just Dropped In To See What Condition My Condition Was In"? If so, would you be so good as to send it along? Danke.

During the giddy, post-depression years, swing bands played old ballrooms with old, mahogany floors. On Saturday nights, when the house was packed and rocking, those floors would buckle under the weight, give a good eight inches, and toss dancers into the air like a trampoline.

But in 1941, bands began losing musicians to the draft: In Europe, the 28th Infantry Division Band lost 44 of its 60 members at the Battle of the Bulge. Musicians belonging to the 82nd Airborne Band held the line against infantry and Panzer divisions in the Ardennes, and in 1944, Glenn Miller was shot dow - friendly fire - over France. Stateside, jukebox factories and record pressing plants were requisitioned for the war effort, midnight curfews and a 20% entertainment tax closed the dance halls, and gas rationing and tire shortages forced touring bands off the road. Shellac shortages led the three major record companies, which had a near monopoly on the market, to focus on white artists, and in 1942, the head of the American Federation of Musicians called a recording ban which prevented even the white bands from pressing new material.

Not bound to the union, vocalists and a cappella groups rushed in to fill the void, and the record store racks filled with torch ballads and novelty tunes. This was not music meant for dancing - it was music meant for pining, and as the fighting progressed, the Hit Parade became a gauge of wartime fears and frustrations: "My Devotion" and "Somebody Else is Taking My Place" comforted war brides and disturbed doughboys (and vice versa), in 1942. "As Time Goes By" and "You'd Be So Nice to Come Home To" topped the charts in 1943, and the following year brought "I Dream of You," "I'll Get By," "I'm Making Believe," and "I'll Be Home for Christmas." By the war's end, Tin Pan Alley had supplanted jazz in the public imagination, and jazz itself had split in two.

In the early 1940s, Dizzy Gillespie had joined Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk, Kenny Clark, Charlie Christian, and other big-band players in small club dates and after-hour jam sessions. There, they fired up the music's tempos, inverted stock chord changes, and emerged with a new, modern jazz. "The boppers worked out a music that was hard to steal," pianist Mary Lou Williams said, and at first there was little incentive to; not only because the music was fast, and fantastically difficult to play, but because it was almost impossible to dance to (something of a moot point, since the new clubs tended to discourage those who tried). "Jazz had gotten so cool, we lost the kids who wanted to dance," Lionel Hampton wrote in his autobiography. "So we started playing this real gutty jazz, and people called it rhythm and blues."

The great modern-jazz drummers - Clark, Max Roach, and Art Blakey - had accented off-beats on the hi-hat, ride, and crash cymbals, creating sharp, melodic rhythm patterns that cut against the grain of the horn lines. Hampton simply flipped his sticks around and stomped a heavy backbeat out with the thick ends. Charlie Parker had stood motionless on the stage, eyes closed in concentration, pulling sinuous melodies out of the most familiar chord progressions. Hampton's saxophonist, Illinois Jacquet, ripped off his jacket, fell to the floor, lay on his back, and let loose a series of simple, screeching one-note phrases. Modern Jazz was supple and sophisticated - a self-conscious art music. Rhythm and blues was earthy and danceable; it harkened back to the blues shout, the barrelhouse, and, especially, the music of black sanctified church.

"I was brought up in the Holiness church," Hampton explained. "I'd always try to sit next to the sister with the big bass drum. Our church had a whole band, with guitar, trombone and different drums. That sister on the bass drum would get happy and get up and start dancing up and down the aisles, and I'd get on her drum: boom! boom! I always had that beat in me.


Auto mowdown

As I make my way through Simon Reynolds's Rip It Up and Start Again, an excellent overview of UK (and in the states, US) post-punk, the chapter on Devo has been most illuminating thus far. That band severely altered the DNA of my musical heritage and some revelatory facts about Devo come to light:

-Both Mark Mothersbaugh and Gerald Casale were students at Kent State at the time of the National Guard shooting. Two of the students killed were friends of Casale's.

-Mothersbaugh had waist-length long hair and was originally in a band doing Yes and ELP covers.

-Casale had an ongoing performance art thing involving a sidekick named Poot Man, who'd rub his ass on students' artwork and drink milk out of an enema bag. Later on, Devo would often see themselves as the enema bag of music, clearing out blockage.

-Eno, Bowie, and Neil Young were obsessed with the band (the latter's Trans really makes sense in this light), while Iggy Pop wanted to do an album of Devo covers.

-Devo's major label, Virgin, wanted the recently band-less Johnny Rotten to be the group's new lead singer.

-The band actually descended from a lineage of brain-eating apes that had settled in northern Ohio.

It was the start of my junior year in a brand-new high school and my only friends were the absolute weirdest girls in high school. Neither goth chicks nor punks, not stoners or hippies, these livejasmin girls were just bizzaros, embracing weirdness and hating everything. Leslie decided that she'd just put gobs of cheap gel in her long hair and roll around in raked leaves for a new hairstyle. We would break into boats stored in shopping center parking lots just to smoke cigarettes in the cabin. She and her friends (Lauren, Megan, and Emily) decided (with no knowledge of Riot Grrrls) to form a band. They'd all play tennis rackets and in lieu of singing, they'd instead swing their legs up on a table and begin to emit a shrill whistle. The band name? The Cunt Whistles.

Unfortunately, there will be no mp3s of the Cunt Whistles forthcoming today (or ever). The only band they liked was Devo (oh wait, they also liked Frank Zappa's "Don't Eat the Yellow Snow" and were responsible for making me like the Beatles by ceaselessly playing "Hey Jude"). So in their honor, here are some old favorites, from the Transformer-crunch of "Auto Modown" to the raw live versions of "Uncontrollable Urge" to the colon-flushing out of "Bottled Up."

As Leslie herself crossed a double-yellow line some ten years ago, "Can U Take It?" remains especially poignant for me. Every day, the spinach-bitter irony of Yosemite Sam blowing up his head and cartoon people not growing old (while you and I end up dead) makes itself into the ultimate truth.


The horse used to wear a crown

I'm not going to burden you with a prayerful meditation on the noble horse - leave that to Mr. McCarthy. Nor will I be so bold as to prematurely suggest that just as 2005 was the Year of the Wolf in indie rock (Wolf Eyes, Wolf Parade, Tiger Bear Wolf, Patrick Wolf, Wolf Mother, Fuckwolf, Superwolf, Voxtrot's Raised by Wolves EP, ad infinitum), 2006 is the Year of the Horse. Nevertheless, as the abominable A.I.D.S. Wolf puts the kabosh on that particular trend, with all its sinister connotations, Band of Horses (risen from the ashes of Carissa's Wierd) gallops in like a paradigm shift, the angular gnash of lupine teeth giving way to a more elegant muscular ripple. "Our Swords" even moves like a horse, with implacable grace; its clipped rhythm section evokes the stately cadence of hooves, the singer's voice gliding above the music with the compact energy of the torso above the scissoring legs. Rule of thumb: wolf songs dart and snarl, horse songs float in languid arcs.

But not all horses are noble: Ed Dorn's smoked dope and picked up hitchhikers transporting drums of LSD; Diomedes' had a taste for human flesh. They Shoot Horses, Don't They's steeds go stampeding through a Suessian oompa-oompa brass band, enraged by the previously unconsidered intimation of their mortality; Frog Eyes's bitterly lament their faded glamour; Berman's get drunk and buckle at the knees. Lindstrom and Prins Thomas, on the other hand, have constructed a horse for the new century, with a mane of fiber-optic filaments and coat of coruscating light, binary code in its veins and nothing at all in the cold marble of its eyes.


Over the hills and far away

Enuff about who teh Mighty Zepp is ripping off, how about all the artists that take from them without credibility? Even though I call him "The Maestro" elsewhere, Ennio Morricone can't rock, so the beginning of this Physical Graffiti track is quiet at first as he figures out how to make it all scary instead. And with choirs chanting "Jesus Christ" it really is. Mysterious folksinger Shelagh McDonald never really had a break and plain evaporates after her cover of "Jesus is Just Alright." Her collection says that no man should steal your thyme, but I guess it's alright for her to rip off Jimi Paige though.

As any major dude could tell you, Led Zepp invented reggae with 1973's "D'yer Mak'er" and so Jamaican singer Horace "Sleepytime" Andy pays them back by covering "In the Light," though since he can't quite get that sweet organ sound, the song is half as short. Wussiest of all though is Nick Drake making the awesome "Black Dog" all sad and shit, replacing the honey drip with plain droop. Whatever, I'd rather drive a Cadillac than a VW any day.


The artful dogers

Today we will close with a group of old blues songs that were covered, some famously, most dramatically, by Led Zeppelin. As far as I know the band is quite open about these covers, but this doesn't mean the original artists always received credit where it counted.

Bring It On Home

Originally written and recorded by Willie Dixon, whose songbook fueled much of the British blues explosion. The Stones made a hit from "Little Red Rooster." Zeppelin covered "You Shook Me" and "I Can't Quit You Baby" (Led Zeppelin I) and "Bring It On Home" (Led Zeppelin II) and Cream had "Spoonful".

Robert Plant intentionally tried to reproduce the vocal technique Sonny Boy Williamson used in his cover for Zep's musclebound version, singing through a harmonica microphone and amplifier for effect.

Shake Em Down:

"Hats Off To (Roy) Harper" (Led Zep III) is an uncredited version of the old Bukka White song. "Custard Pie" (Physical Graffiti) also contains lyrical similarities.

When The Levee Breaks

Zeppelin went to school on this one, they locked it in and ripped the knob off, as they might say on classic rock radio. John Bonham's thunderous drumbeat has been sampled a number of times. Zeppelin had the balls to take legal action against the Beastie Boys over it. To record it, they had Bonham move his drum kit into a stairwell.

Jesus Make Up My Dying Bed and In My Time Of Dyin'

This death bed petition first recorded by Blind Willie Johnson in the 1920s (way back, before boomboxes even). Covered beautifully by Dylan at age 20. And then by Zeppelin on Physical Graffiti, which borrows a riff from the Dylan version. Dylan didn't give himself any songwriting credit, but I think Zeppelin did, with no nod to Blind Willie.

Travelling Riverside Blues:

Zeppelin covered this song live in an early BBC recording that appears on the BBC Sessions album. It's a pretty original interpretation. I dont think Johnson's peeps saw any royalties. As previously mentioned, the "Squeeze my lemon" lyrics from "The Lemon Song" are lifted from this tune.

I Can't Quit You:

Another Willie Dixon tune, here covered by Mississippi bluesman Otis Rush. Dixon sued Zeppelin over their uncredited cover of his song on Led Zeppelin I.

Misc Zeppelin Trivia:

Jimmy Page played rhythm guitar on the Kink's songs "You Really Got Me" and "All Day And All Of The Night"

Page also plays on the theme song to "The Wonder Years" (maybe when his agent pitched him he just heard the word "Savage" and bit)

and

the soundtrack to the film "Death Wish II"

and

Joe Cocker's cover of "With A Little Help From My Friends."

In 1970, Zeppelin played a show in Copenhagen. The band billed themselves as The Nobs because aristocrat Eva von Zeppelin threatened legal action. She is claimed to have remarked: "They may be world famous, but a couple of shrieking monkeys are not going to use a priveleged family name without permission".