Sunday, May 12, 2013
Moms teach you lots of things. When you’re a wee little one, they teach you about sharing and how to read. When you’re a little older they teach you about pursuing your passions and how to dance with a girl without stepping on her toes. When you’re an adult they teach you about interior decorating your bachelor pad and how maybe you should invest in wine glasses instead of old mason jars. Moms have an incredible amount of patience; when your report card comes and you tanked Math, when you get your 3rd speeding ticket in as many years, even when you call to tell them you’re forgoing that safe job with health insurance in San Francisco to move to the middle of the Chihuahuan Desert to be a novelist and playwright. Moms are rad. And so today’s Thunderbird Jam (or jamz really) are dedicated to my Momma. These three tunes forever remind me of my mom and make me realize how damn luck I am to have her looking out for me. The Pointer Sisters- Jump So my Mom taught Aerobics classes when I was a little kid. It was the eighties and instead of 24 hour gym memberships and iPods, people donned their spandex, met up at the YMCA, and sweated it out to mixtapes made by their aerobics instructor. I remember my mom spending hours sifting through her cassettes and making the perfect tapes for her class. A Prince track to start it off, maybe throw Steve Perry & Kenny Loggin’s “Don’t Fight It” on their to get peoples heart racing, and then when the cardio really needs to get kicked into high gear… The Pointer Sisters. There were tons of Pointer’s songs that I loved as a little kid. Neutron Dance, I’m So Excited, I Feel For You… but "Jump" is the one that will always remind me of how meticulously my Mother crafted those tapes to motivate her aerobics crew. Roy Orbison- You Got It One of the single greatest gifts my Mother ever gave me was a love for Roy Orbison. His was the first famous death I remember affecting me. The empty rocking chair in the Traveling Wilbury’s video still makes me tear up. It was 1989 when his last album, Mystery Girl, came out and “You Got It” was a huge hit. It got some serious play in my house and the following year when Pretty Woman hit theaters, the record company was churning out Greatest Hits collections left and right. My Mom had In Dreams: The Greatest Hits. I’ll never forget the crazy surreal album cover. It was a bright pink Cadillac in the midst of an odd blue haze, with a girl in a purple dress wrapped around the leg of some greaser in a black leather jacket. Staring at that cassette cover and listening to Roy’s ghostly voice, everything seemed somehow lovely and haunting at once. This planted in my consciousness, at a very young age, the idea that love and dreams and the afterlife and rock ‘n’ roll were all somehow intricately related. Now, anytime I hear this song (or Roy in general) I just thank heaven that my Mom is as cool as she is, with such exquisite taste. Lynyrd Skynyrd- Simple Man What’s funny about this song is it that it isn’t necessarily one that my Mother cares for. Instead, Skynyrd is one of my Pop’s favorite bands. Gimme Back My Bullets and (Pronounced 'Lĕh-'nérd 'Skin-'nérd) were albums he loved. I remember digging “Tuesday’s Gone” and “Free Bird” but even though I heard it a lot, “Simple Man” never really stuck. That is until I was in college and felt the restlessness and wanderlust that can set in when you feel like you’ve traveled far, learned a lot, and still haven’t quite found happiness. I was broke and pissed and a few thousand miles away from home when I finally understood the sentiment in this song and realized why I had some incredible parents. See… my parents both lost their folks early on. My Mom’s father passed when she was 16, my father’s mother when he was just 13. They had to figure a lot out on their own and lived with whatever mistakes they made without the approval, forgiveness, or guidance of their beloved parents. Me? I’m lucky. I have two healthy, intelligent, understanding parents who have always encouraged me to stick to my guns, pursue my dreams, and most of all to seek inner peace and happiness. They never steered me towards more practical or financially stable lines of work. They knew I wanted to be an artist. They never told me not to date someone even if they knew it wouldn’t work out. They knew I had to follow my heart. They saw me take hit after hit and were always there to help pick me up and dust me off and give me a pep talk to go a few more rounds. Having folks like that makes you feel like Rocky Balboa except with two Mickeys in your corner. So now, when I’m in the saloon or listening to the radio and the opening strums of “Simple Man” comes on… I always know how lucky I am to be raised right.
Friday, April 5, 2013
On Friday, April 5, Glen Hanson’s exhibition of bead work Blinky, We Hardly Knew Ya will premiere at Studio One in Marfa, TX. While this will be the inaugural show in that space, it is far from Hanson’s first. His journey in the contemporary art world is a long and varied one with more than one wild twist. I had the pleasure of speaking to Glen about his contributions both behind the scenes and on the walls of some of the unique galleries in America. “I started at Dayton’s Gallery 12 in Minneapolis” Hanson explained, “Back then department stores were different. It was hip to be hip.” Dayton’s was one of the mid-west’s most successful department stores and in the mid-1960’s they were also one of the foremost galleries of the contemporary art world. They introduced America to Joseph Beuys and Twiggy, and showcased works by Warhol, Rauschenberg, and Lichtenstein just a few floors above home wears and the shoe department. “I bought one of Warhol’s Marilyn prints for $120 bucks on my Dayton’s charge card.” When Dayton Gallery 12 closed in 1974, Hanson began dealing art out of his home, building the beginnings of a vast network of artists and collectors and musicians that continues to grow to this day. “At first there was no money in art. It was just smart people who were friends that helped each other.” One such friend, Todd Bockley, would end up running the Bockley Gallery, showing work by Hanson and other artists for the next 25 years. "I sold him his first pieces of art. He bought them with his saved up lawnmower money!" Hanson helped some local bands as well, playing guitar for transplanted blues musician, Lazy Bill Lucas. “He was really cool. And so perceptive. We auditioned a drummer one night and Bill said ‘He plays like a politician. We don’t need no politicians in this band!’” By 1976 Hanson had partnered with collector Russell Cowles and opened the Hanson- Cowles Gallery in the warehouse district of Minneapolis. “We were the first gallery in that part of town and I just ran it like Dayton’s because it was all I knew” Hanson explained, “Other galleries would just take 20 or 30 different pieces on consignment. I was taking ads out in Artform, buying wine for the openings, and inadvertently I raised the bar for the art scene in Minneapolis.” Being at the center of a burgeoning artistic scene is always an incredible thing and Hanson’s chuckle while recollecting this special era is infectious. “You know next door was this wonderful French café. By the next year we had a music venue down the way that had Elvis Costello playing his first U.S. tour. Soon enough it’s The Replacements playing a rent party down the street... it was really fun.” Like all good things, the Hanson- Cowles Gallery didn’t last long. By 1981, Glen Hanson was working as a corporate art consultant, traveling the world and acquiring pieces for the collections of some of America’s largest corporations. “It was a trend for these major companies to have a collection. It was another merit badge for them. So I was flying all over the world… Milan, Düsseldorf. Living in these apartments in Manhattan that no one else used.” While the commodification and commerce of art was increasing, Hanson was still trying to push the envelope in terms of content. “At first it was real loosey goosey. We could get away with anything. My partner and I… we stuck this Peter Saul painting in the lobby of this giant corporate office. This cartoon duck with money coming out of his ears and dollar signs in his eyes.” Hanson is now grinning from ear to ear, “The C.E.O. was furious. I’d seen his stock drop 20% in one day and he didn’t break a sweat. We bring in this picture and he’s freaking out!” A few years later, Hanson left the corporate consulting world and found himself at a crossroads. “You know I hadn’t had to make a real decision for almost 20 years. I had just ridden the wave. But now it was either go to New York or Los Angeles and continue to climb the ladder… so I chose Minnesota instead.” Glen went back home, buying a home out in the country and getting a real estate license. It didn’t go exactly as he had planned. “I tried to sell rural real estate during the farm crises… I sort of became a cartoon character.” Soon Hanson found himself with a collection of odd jobs; delivering mushrooms from the farms to the cities, teaching art classes at local colleges, and starting a country-western band. It was during this time that Hanson was also first introduced to the beading process that would be the main focus of his artistic practice for the next two decades. “A friend of a friend came to crash at my house. He lived in a teepee in the Black Hills mostly. He made me this guitar strap from elk hide and taught me this old Lakota style of beading called ‘lazy stitch’.” Lazy Stitch is a common Sioux beading style that while simple, is extremely time consuming. Some of Hanson’s larger pieces contain 11,000 beads, all individually selected and threaded to make a continual, flowing pattern. “Anyone could do this if they had the patience” Hanson explains, “But very few people do.” The discipline of the bead work spoke to a place in Hanson that enjoyed the simplicity and peace. In 1991, shortly after beginning beading, Hanson joined a Benedictine monastery and was a monk for six years. When I pressed him as to if he had an overarching motivation or spiritual calling, Hanson merely grinned and said, “Like Wittgenstien said, ‘if you ask why you’re looking for a cause or justification.’ I had neither. I just did it.” During his time in the monastery, Hanson continued his bead work. His first exhibition, Following A Rule, occurred in 1994 and included several lazy stitch pieces. Hanson described the show as “… art about the difference between explanation and understanding.” Just as suddenly and inexplicably as Hanson entered monastic life he departed. When I asked again if he felt he had achieved any sort of spiritual epiphany that led to his departure he quickly replied, “No. No. No. No. No. I just left. I was just ready to go.” Returning to Minneapolis, now very much changed from the artistic scene of the late 60’s, Hanson was welcomed as an artist and musician. “It’s weird cause I don’t claim to be an artist or a guitar player or anything. It’s just different stuff I do.” These different things that he did still had a vital place in the close knit community of the Minneapolis art scene, including a new country band that consisted of singers Page Burkam and Jack Torrey, of The Cactus Blossoms. Soon Hanson began to escape the harsh Minnesota winters by traveling the southwest in his restored Toyota Chinook, a customized camper that he also uses as his studio. Eventually he made his way to West Texas and set up shop in Marfa. The show Blinky, We Hardly Knew Ya is his first in the town and came quite unexpectedly. “I never look for shows. They just kind of happen. It’s a real treat and the whole thing is stuff I’ve made since I’ve been here.” The show is a nod to German abstract painter, Peter Schwarze, who adopted the moniker of a famous American mafia capo, Blinky Palermo, and painted the 1976 series To the People of New York City, which influenced Hanson tremendously. Hanson’s bead work is rich and precise. The colors seem to shimmer off of the hides and the level of skill necessary to make them is immediately evident. “It’s like blues or country music. You’ve got 12 bars. I really just enjoy restricted forms.” Hanson’s work still reflects his organic spiritual inclinations. While no longer in the monastery, he still attends church regularly and looks at his beading as another form of prayer. “It’s calming. When things get fucked up I just keep beading and it comes together.” While he has created detailed landscapes and intricate pattern work in the past, the pieces in this show offer a simple and earth tone palette. One set of pieces is entitled The Four Seasons, a group of four small works with shifting, complementary colors. “I made Winter and Summer first before I knew what was happening” Hanson explains, “Then I said ‘Aw fuck!’ and I’ve been beading for three days straight. I finished at 9:30 this morning and came and hung them up.” Glen Hanson’s contributions to the contemporary art world have been eclectic and enduring, his greatest being that he is simply still involved and in such a vital way. In a town like Marfa, Texas, where the two aspects of the art world (grassroots local artists & international jetsetters) are in such close proximity, Hanson is a modest man who has seen enough changes in each to exist in both.
Monday, April 1, 2013
Andrew Tobiassen is barreling down the New York State Thruway talking a mile a minute on his phone, hung over, and very excited. Understandably so, seeing as how he just released one of the most infectious sounding pop records of the year. ROSES, the eponymous debut EP of Tobiassen’s new band, was released online February 20th and anyone who bought it right away has most likely listened to little else in the last month and a half. I was able to catch Andy for a phone interview on his drive back home to Brooklyn after a month long tour of the US, including shows in Austin, TX for the SXSW Festival. He spoke a bit about the genesis of Roses, the comfort of touring, and how Harmony Korine and Lou Reed make for strange, yet inspiring, bedfellows. With its tinny drum machine beats, synth flourishes, and Dionesque vocals, Roses is about as dissimilar from Tobiassen’s former band, Deer Tick, as can be. “I wanted to get away from ‘Alt-Folk’ or ‘Alt-Country’,” Tobiassen explained, “It was important that whatever I did sounded like ROCK.” While he was only lead guitarist for the Providence based rockers for two years, Andy’s experience with John McCauley and crew thrust him into a swirling community of eclectic musicians that have influenced his developing style and helped birth Roses. “After Deer Tick I was just doing a whole lotta nothing. Working shitty jobs, working at Lady Ga Ga’s restaurant. Living in Brooklyn and just writing tons of songs.” In between odd jobs, Tobiassen would perform one off solo shows and gig with various bands including fellow Brooklynites, The Shivers. A friendship with Shivers founder, Keith Zarriello, developed and Andy began a new stylistic phase. “I basically had a songwriting apprenticeship with Keith. Just over a year of nothing but trying to write a good song. I think I found it.” While the songs on ROSES are easily accessible and broad enough for near universal appeal, the influence of Brooklyn and the simultaneous agony and ecstasy of urban living weigh heavy on the albums six tracks. Tobiassen sets the tone perfectly in the initial lines of album opener “I See It All”… There’s some good people in this town. Paper thin walls, Game show sounds. Broken glass, Road rage. Barking dogs, Metal chains. “It’s just where I was living. Where I was at in my life for that year. I wanted it to be weird and out there and loving all at the same time. I wanted it to be honest. I wanted it to be… roses.” Amidst the familiar and beguilingly catchy songs on ROSES, lies a distinctiveness and conceptual originality that is almost a genre onto itself. From the stark black album cover that sports a hilarious found photo of bi-racial/lesbian/80’s romance to the rather unambiguous band name, the aesthetic of Roses, while still calculated and hip, is a welcome breeze of earnestness and romanticism. Roses wear its influences on its sleeve while still managing to sound unique. A steady diet of Lou Reed, Buddy Holly, Suicide, and Marc Bolan provided Tobiassen with an eclectic palette from which to pull. “So many of those old guys, they sound like cartoon characters. So otherworldly. So bright and melodic. I didn’t want to make reverb Pitchfork background music. I wanted it to be me right out in front.” The influence of Lou Reed in particular is quite apparent (Roses first single, before the EP’s release was a cover of Sweet Jane). But its Reed’ s more ethereal qualities that Tobiassen is able to channel and thus create an opportunity for sincerity to meld with sonic experimentation. “Coney Island Baby is one of the most beautiful songs I’ve ever heard. And you know Gummo? The Harmony Korine movie. It makes people uncomfortable but the thing is… it’s not real. It’s honest but it’s a dream world.” The same can be said of Tobiassen’s songs in which he pieces together the innocence and lovey dovey sounds of 50’s rock n roll with bright, minimal electronic production. “I wanted room to breathe in the music. To have the beats and synth to be natural not oppressive” he explains, “I wanted it to sound like an artifact. Like you found it in the gutter while you were waiting for the train.” While the EP is only a few weeks old, it has already gained some traction, widely circulated amongst Tobiassen’s network of artists and musicians. When Roses went out on a month long tour the growing popularity of the EP was evident by the last few dates. “We got to Austin for South By and people already knew the words to the songs. It was great.” With tunes this fun and addictive it’s no surprise they’re so well received. The reception has ignited a fuse within Tobiassen. “I feel most comfortable when I’m touring. I don’t want to stop. I just want to re-record the whole EP, add six new songs, and release a beautiful record. This won’t feel real until I have a gorgeous full- length vinyl LP in my hands.” As a new fan of Roses, I couldn’t agree more.
Saturday, March 16, 2013
Image by Gary Grayson Yo, Thunderbirds… its extraspecialfunpoetry time! POP! is a collection of 10 new poems based on the idea that pop songs are our new hymns. That despite the digital age of mp3s and icloud and all that jam, the basic purpose of punk, rock, rap, folk, jazz, what have you is to bring us closer to God, The Universe, Eternal Life, Spiritual Awakening, what have you. These poems are my attempt at pop songs, sans music. Those of you who are instrumentally inclined are encouraged to put music to any of the poems inside. They’re meant to be sung! POP! will be available on April 1st at the following stores... Needles & Pens - San Francisco, CA Divinyl Revolution - Saratoga Springs, NY Marfa Book Company - Marfa, TX OR… just email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll happily send you a copy (with a personalized note inside). Oh I forgot to mention one very important thing… POP! is FREE!
Friday, March 15, 2013
I can't think of any two jazz players alive today who have been able to slip so seamlessly into mainstream pop consciousness as well as Bill Frisell and Brad Mehldau. What Yo Yo Ma did for contemporary classical music, these two visionaries did for jazz. Frisell and Mehldau have transcended genre or niche and gained widespread status as beloved legends. Both have been working for 3 decades now, each releasing record after record of incredibly beautiful original compositions as well as stunning re-imaginings of classic popular music. Brad Mehldau's two records with pop-producer Jon Brion, Largo and Highway Rider are some of the greatest jazz records of the last 25 years. Bill Frisell's 10 album stretch in the 90's is incomparable in it's consistency and strength. Few artists in any genre are as continuously impressive as these two. One of the greatest reasons for their massive success and appeal is that they aren't purists. Far from it, in addition to George Gershwin and Charlie Christian, both site influences as diverse as John Hiatt, Kurt Cobain, John Lennon, and Brian Wilson. This contributes to a risk taking in their playing that brings many more listeners to the table. Jazz (especially contemporary jazz) can so often be an isolating and alienating world. The aura of pretentiousness around it is no doubt a self-defense mechanism. A response to accusations that the genre is decades long dead, relegated to one shelf in a record store, and inducing eye rolling or worse yet yawns in most of America. There is an instinct to turn inwards as a genre, as a movement, and call everything outside of that sphere frivolous. But when Mehldau and Frisell turn their virtuosic talent towards familiar and beloved pop compositions, they end up elevating not only the original pop song itself, but themselves by their courage to associate with it. Bill Frisell - Surfer Girl (The Beach Boys) Brad Mehldau - Paranoid Android (Radiohead) Bill Frisell - Julia (The Beatles) Brad Mehldau - God Only Knows (The Beach Boys) Bill Frisell - Have A Little Faith In Me (John Hiatt) Brad Mehldau - Bittersweet Symphony/Smells Like Teen Spirit (The Verve/Nirvana) Bill Frisell - A Hard Rains A-Gonna Fall (Bob Dylan) Brad Mehldau- Wave/Mother Nature's Son (The Beatles)
Tuesday, December 18, 2012
Pretty much the moment I released For Anyone Who Ever Had A Heart... earlier this year, my mind was already working towards a follow up. I'm sure its a common feeling for artists across all mediums, as soon as one project is finished the next one begins. Your mind becomes feverish with all the things you know you want improve upon, the new directions you want to explore. For the new collection I knew I needed to get away from me as much as I could. To look outward at other people in my life, other stories I'd heard, other adventures and dangers beyond my own little world. Moving to the vast open expanse of desert in West Texas has certainly helped to provide a physical representation of that artistic and emotional journey. Almost immediately upon arriving in this terrain,stories began to tell themselves. All I had to do was sit down and shut up. Just listen and look around. Keep my pen and paper handy and take a few photos and the rest would unfold on its own. So far so good. Seeing as how For Anyone... is almost a year old (and it's the time of giving) I figured I'd share a few images and passages from the new collection taking shape. It's (as of now) called Cuts & Bruises. Stories of scars, inner and outer, that make us who we are.
Sunday, December 16, 2012
There are love songs and then there are love songs. You know what I’m talking about. There is a song like “Maybe I’m Amazed”. Good song, right? Great climactic piano. McCartney belting it out. Good stuff. But love, however universal, lives in the specifics. The intricacies. When we fall in love with someone, we tend to feel like no one in the history of human kind has ever felt quite like we do. We’re the only ones who know how special this whole thing, this whole person whom we've fallen for, truly is. The songs that address that are love songs. There are a few that come to mind right off the bat; Randy Newman’s aptly titled “Love Song”, that manages to trace a relationship from first kiss through old age and eventual passing away in about 2 minutes. It's phenomenally detailed and beautiful. Big Star’s “Thirteen”, which perfectly encapsulates the feeling of young, rebellious teenage love in perhaps Alex Chilton’s greatest lyric; Would you be an outlaw for my love? These tracks cut through ambiguity and get into the nit and grit of falling for someone. Loudon Wainwright III’s “New Paint” is just such a song. Released in 1972 on Album III, Wainwright paints a portrait of a not-so-young- anymore man taking a girl out on a date. It’s a song that casts love as a sort of redemptive journey, with simple yet powerful rituals that help us to mine the jewels of life affirming moments from the muck of everyday existence. It’s good to take a girl in the not so very good world on a walk in the park, until it gets dark. Take a breather on a bench, it helps to build up the suspense, then the two of you go to a movie show. He rattles off these relatively commonplace date scenarios like rules, the way your Dad reminded you on your way out the door to be a gentleman. “Don’t forget to open the car door for her, Son. Pull out her chair…” “I know, Dad! I know!” Chivalry will remain alive and well as long as we understand its significance. And Wainwright is able to remind us. If she’s a woman there’s a chance that she maybe likes to dance. So you go to the hall and you outstep them all. She takes you home to meet the folks, laughing at all the father’s jokes. “Should we watch TV?” “It’s all right with me.” Wainwright has always been a self-deprecating songwriter. To the point of self –destruction in old songs like “Unrequited to the Nth Degree”, through to a subtle recognition of his later day (though perhaps undeserved) luck in more recent tunes like “Passion Play”. In “New Paint” he strikes a gorgeous balance, portraying the narrator as a past his prime Joe who realizes that this date just may be his last chance at love, and he ain’t gonna mess it up this time around. This narrative is perfectly tucked in among the verses, shifting from the third person to the first. Perhaps it’s a silent aside or an inner monologue that the girl on the date can’t hear. Not yet at least. Not till he’s ready to reveal it. Maybe though, it’s this guy just laying it all out there; a brutally honest, cards all in, attempt to let this girl know exactly what she’s getting into. I've listened to this song a million times and still can’t quite be sure. But either way it’s a heart wrenching, gorgeous, and painfully accurate account of a gentleman’s feelings. Sometimes I feel ugly and old. Excuse me, baby, if I’m acting bold. My head gets hot but my feet aren’t cold. Excuse me, if you will. Don’t make a hullabuloo. I’m not the hoi palloi. I’ll try any trick and I’ll use any ploy. I’m a used up 20th century boy. Excuse me, if you will. If I was 16 again I’d give my tooth, I’m tired and I’m hungry and I’m looking for my youth. I’m a little uncool and I’m a little uncouth. Oh, Excuse me, if you will. Wainwright is a fearless songwriter. To write a love song, I guess you’d have to be.