Saturday, February 15, 2014

Talking Shop With CAConrad... Lannan Writer In Residence Interviews

The Lannan Writing Residency is a three to eight week fellowship where poets, authors, journalists, and translators are invited to live and work in Marfa, Texas and present their work at the Marfa Book Company. Over the last couple months I've had the immense privilege of interviewing the Lannan fellows for our local NPR affiliate. In addition to reading their exceptional books, its a joy to be able to talk a little shop with writers who are reaching their prime after years of hard work.

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As a part of the Lannan Writer in Residence interview series on Marfa Public Radio, I recently had the unique pleasure of interviewing Philadelphia poet, CAConrad. CA is the author of A Beautiful Marsupial Afternoon and Book of Frank (both released by Wave Books), Advanced Elvis Course (Soft Skull Press), and Full Moon Hawk Application (Assless Chaps Press). His forthcoming collection Ecodevience (Wave Books) will be released in September. CA is the creator of the (Soma)tic poetry method, a process of maintaining an extreme present while writing. Check out the interview and I highly encourage you to purchase any one of CA's beautiful books. They're all intense! Also, check out CAConrad's website...

CAConrad - Interview February 14th, 2014

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CA also hosts an ongoing internet poetry show called, JUPITER 88. He was kind enough to have me on his show where I read a 2011 poem from my first collection For Anyone Who Ever Had A Heart...

JUPITER 88 - EPISODE # 277 Cory W. Lovell

Thanks CA!

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Thunderbird Jam - Leonard Cohen "Death of a Ladies Man" (1977)

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Every era of technological evolution in contemporary music is meant with a degree of traditionalist resistance. Electric guitars in country music was the Devil creeping in, the use of multi-track overdubs in early Beatles recordings was disingenuous cheating, sampling in hip hop music was criticized as unimaginative. The very same kid's who would decry that their parents "just didn't get it" would soon be rallying for Parental Advisory stickers on compact discs and saying that modern music is just a bunch of noise.

But there is a trend of reassessment occurring in pop music today. Some of rock music's most iconic performers from the 1960's have an entirely new generation of fans. Younger fans from the era of Daft Punk and Kanye, who have grown up with contemporary production values and recording techniques all their lives, that can listen to more "controversial" albums of these artist's catalog with a different perspective of time and technology than their parents did.

Bob Dylan's Street Legal from 1978, Van Morrison's Wavelength from 1978, and Joni Mitchell's Don Juan's Reckless Daughter from 1977 are just a few of these records. For Dylan it was his initial foray into the world of gospel music, he added a vibrant horn section and a team of back up singers to rival the Raylettes. Morrison's Wavelength shocked his fan base, a far cry from his Astral Weeks or Moondance days he was supported by a massive band drenched in synthesizers. Mitchell took it even farther, experimenting with acid jazz and funk instrumentals on her ninth record, her first double album.

All of these records were critically dismissed as vain experimentation. Misfires from once great artists now trying to cash in on contemporary trends. None of them received much more than tepid sales and if you head to your local vinyl shop today you're likely to see many, many original pressings for sale on the cheap (while their classic 60's output is only available as 180 gram reissues). Perhaps the affordable accessibility of these records is what has led a whole new generation of audiophiles to appreciate the unappreciated. Because each of these albums is actually a gem. All of them in a certain way, a career highlight for these great artists. Each of them a turning point from an emotionally exhausting, drug addled decade to a sense of freedom and experimentation as mature artists.

Another of these records, only just beginning to receive it's due, is Leonard Cohen's Death of a Ladies Man from 1977.

The record was produced by Phil Spector (at the beginning of the end of the beginning of his violent end)and released to not only public and critical disdain, but a near disavowing from Cohen himself; "a failure of emotional accessibility" is how he referred to it. Legend has it Cohen recorded his vocals as temp tracks, almost demos, and Spector used them for his Wall of Sound's final mix. Barring Cohen from the mixing booth at gunpoint, hijacking his record and destroying the artist's true intent. While this isn't the first or last time we'd hear of Spector's gunplay, something tells me the truth is a lot more complicated than that. Also the critics, the initial listeners, and Cohen himself are all wrong. This is an incredible album, perhaps one of Cohen's best, and a foreshadowing of an incredibly radical artistic shift to come.

 photo Cohen_zpsb9fec35f.jpg The reviews of Death of A Ladies Man show a split opinion

Death of a Ladies Man, with its bombastic horn sections and vibrant, reverbed vocals, is indeed different from anything Cohen had done up to this point. His fifth album, following his acclaimed Songs... trilogy (iconic for their spartan productions, even additional instrumentalists went uncredited) and 1974's New Skin for the Old Ceremony(an instrumentally rich record, yet devoid of any production flourishes). Cohen had been going through a serious bout with clinical depression and was in a tumultuous relationship with Suzanne Elrod, the mother of his two children whom he never married, the two would split a year and a half later. It would be fair to say that Cohen was in an emotionally vulnerable state (even more so than normal) and itching for a change, both of which are sonically evident in Ladies Man.

The tracks on Ladies Man run the gamut, from the ampped up doo wop of "Memories" and slick pedal steel country of "Fingerprints" to the raucous avante garde crudity of "Don't Go Home With Your Hard On" featuring Alan Ginsberg and Bob Dylan on backing vocals. The album's title and closing track is a beautiful meditation on failed love, physical and moral deterioration, and exhausted apathy. It is, even with its Spector flourish, the most Cohenesque song of the album. It's echoey drums and lush string section sound as if it could have fit snugly amongst the tracks of Harry Nilsson's 1974 album Pussy Cats, produced by Spector disciple John Lennon. But the lyrical content is perhaps Cohen's strongest since "Joan of Arc" or "Bird on the Wire".

She beckoned to the sentry of his high religious mood She said, "I'll make a place between my legs, I'll show you solitude."

He offered her an orgy in a many mirrored room He promised her protection for the issue of her womb She moved her body hard against a sharpened metal spoon She stopped the bloody rituals of passage to the moon

So the great affair is over but whoever would have guessed it would leave us all so vacant and so deeply unimpressed It's like our visit to the moon or to that other star I guess you go for nothing if you really want to go that far.

Despite the common complaint that Cohen's vocals are not distinguishable, his lyrics come through enough to break your heart. In an interview with Crawdaddy magazine in February of 1978, Cohen explained to Hugh Seidman what he saw as the albums failure, "The listener could have been invited into the track rather than be prohibited from entering. Spector's Wall of Sound is a valid aesthetic that he has, but there is something inaccessible, something resistant about those tracks that shouldn't have been there."

Cohen is speaking a full 34 years before My Dark and Twisted Fantasy was released, a hip hop album by Kanye West that would attempt to deal with the themes of sex and fame and depression through grandiose production in a way neither Cohen or Spector could ever have anticipated. Having grown accustomed to having my senses bombarded by such production values in pop music my whole life, I can listen to Death of a Ladies Man and appreciate it's relative extravegence as a valid thematic device.

In the same 1978 interview Cohen singled out the song "Memories" for particular criticism. " could have been a great song, but the balance given to the voice in the track is way off." In "Memories", Cohen's voice is bathed in a lush bed of horns, bass, and angelic background singers. The song is about a young man at a school dance, a Christian school no less, trying to make it with a tall, blonde girl. The chorus is a reoccuring plea from the young man and denial from the young woman...

I walked up to the tallest and the blondest girl I said, Look, you don't know me now but very soon you will So won't you let me see I said "won't you let me see" I said "won't you let me see Your naked body?"

Chances are I'll let you do most anything I know you're hungry, I can hear it in your voice And there are many parts of me to touch, you have your choice Ah but no you cannot see She said "no you cannot see" She said "no you cannot see My naked body"

The setting of the song; an innocent high school dance, surrounded by balloons and streamers, perhaps a band in matching suits playing an old Drifter's tune, and the libidious and desperate yearning for biblical knowledge and subsequent rebuke, is perfectly articulated by the bombastic backing. Cohen's voice has to be buried, it has to rise above the caucaphony, otherwise the power and forwardness of his lust is lost. And trust me, Leonard, it's a little more subtle than Jay Z and Nikki Minaj.

Death of a Ladies Man is a lost gem, ready for reassessment and appreciation. Oddly, within segments of the punk community, it is a revered album. Greg Ashley, an Oakland punk, psychedelic, garage rocker covered the album in it's entirety for a limited edition cassette release in 2012. It is ready for reintroduction to the mainstream. My suggestion? Put a twenty dollar bill in your pocket and head down to the record store. Buy all the records mentioned in this article. You should still have some change left for a stick of gum and a tall can.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Talking A Little Shop ( about the Military Industrial Complex...) - Interviews With Lannan Fellows

The Lannan Writing Residency is a three to eight week fellowship where poets, authors, journalists, and translators are invited to live and work in Marfa, Texas and present their work at the Marfa Book Company. Over the last couple months I've had the immense privilege of interviewing the Lannan fellows for our local NPR affiliate. In addition to reading their exceptional books, its a joy to be able to talk a little shop with writers who are reaching their prime after years of hard work.

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Scott Horton - Interview December 6th, 2013

Scott Horton is a fellow at The Nation Institute and a contributing editor at Harper’s magazine, where he covers legal and national security issues in his NO COMMENT column. Horton is currently working on a book discussing the erosion of democracy by a pervasive culture of secrecy, particularly in the area of national security.

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Nick Turse - Interview October 4th, 2013

Lannan resident Nick Turse is editor of His most recent books are Kill Anything that Moves and The Changing Face of Empire.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Thunderbird Jam: DeBarge - I Like It (1982)

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The other day I was making a mixtape for a girl I dig. Yes, I’m 30 years old and I’ll still make a shawty a mixtape. What of it?! Anyhow, I was choosing some cuts; an old Janet track from 1989’s Rhythm Nation, a little “Into the Groove”, etcetera. Somewhere along the line though, I found myself searching for a tune that got a little more specific. I thought to myself, I really dig this girl’s sense of style. I wish there was a song that mentioned that. Oh, and her hair is so curly and wild! Is there a jam that calls that out? She’s such a sweetheart, doing cool little things for me. There can’t possibly be a song that fits that in there too.

In fact, Thunderbirds, there is such a jam.

“I Like It”, the 1982 hit by Motown family band, DeBarge. DeBarge consisted of sister Bunny and her brothers Mark, Randy, James, and El. El was the main singer and songwriter, his signature falsetto helping to score some much needed hits for the Motown label during an era when they were on the decline. “I Like It” was the lead single from DeBarge’s sophomore album All This Love and it’s a spectacularly smooth jam. Opening with a killer bass line by “Ready” Freddie Washington (this is the dude who laid it down on “Forget Me Nots”/”Men In Black” so he’s not f’n around) the tune has an infectiously melodic horn section and quickly settles into a groove that’s both sexy and sweet. El DeBarge’s vocals on the chorus are perfectly high pitched and brother Randy’s verses have an effortless flow that sit over the thick rhythm section like whipped cream on dark chocolate mousse. The only thing better than the sound is the simplicity. The lyrics of “I Like It” are basically just a laundry list of all the rad things about this babe that El digs.

I like the way you comb your hair,

And I like those stylish clothes you wear,

It’s just those little things you do that show how much you really care.

That’s so bad ass! What’s better than pointing out the most obvious and ordinary parts about a chick that make her so incredible? In addition to this fantastically on the nose chorus are the backing vocals by Bunny, Mark, and James; a repeating harmony that provides a foundation for El to really show off his falsetto chops.

I like it, I like it, I really, really like it.

I’m for it, Adore it, So come let me enjoy it.

There is little room for confusion. I’m pretty sure he likes this chick.

“I Like It” is one of those versatile smooth jams, the kind you can dance to with your lady while y’all are making dinner or the kind you put on when y’all are making out. Or both. Simultaneously. Just don’t forget to turn the burner off before you head to the bedroom. Rookie mistake.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Lou Reed Tribute Hour- Marfa Public Radio 10/29/13

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A couple weeks ago I did a tribute hour on Marfa Public Radio in honor of the late, great Lou Reed.

Below is the track listing. Click the link to listen!

The Velvet Underground - Sweet Jane

The Velvet Underground - White Light/White Heat

Roses - I See It All

Jonathan Richman - Velvet Underground

Lou Reed - Andy's Chest

Lou Reed - She's My Best Friend

Lou Reed - Legendary Hearts

Suicide - Keep Your Dreams

Lou Reed - Coney Island Baby

Lou Reed - Street Hassle

Lou Reed - New York Telephone Conversation

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Paul Is Not Dead - A brief overview of Westerberg's solo career

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Last Sunday night I was one of the lucky sons of bitches who got to see The Replacements tear through a career spanning 80 minute set in Humboldt Park in Chicago. It was by far the most fun rock n roll show I’ve ever gone to, Paul Westerberg and Tommy Stinson grinning almost as wide as the 20,000 ecstatic fans that had waited 22 years to see them again. They were stone cold sober but that didn’t make the show any less spontaneous, sloppy, and thrilling. It was still a high wire act, teetering on the brink disaster or brilliance at any point. Forgotten lyrics, snippets of Chuck Berry covers, and Paul leaning over to change the distortion on replacement Replacements guitarist Dave Minehan’s petal. “Get rid of that Cure shit…” he grumbled mid-song. It was everything you could possibly want out of a Replacements show.

Except for one thing.

As I was going through the list of songs that the band hadn’t been dusted off on that stage (cuts from records like Tim, Don’t Tell A Soul, and Hootenanny) the complete absence of another whole era of songs hit me. I realized that the first thing I was going to listen to when I got home was not a ‘Mats song at all but Westerberg’s fantastic contributions to the soundtrack of Cameron Crowe’s Singles. I found myself at the end of the night realizing that while I’ve always been a huge fan of the band, I was now even more enamored with Paul Westerberg’s solo career than ever before.

My first introduction to the world of The Replacements had been a solo Paul track, a cover at that. It was the amped up version of Jonathan Edward’s 1971 pop-folk hit “Sunshine” featured on the FRIENDS soundtrack (basically the watered down sitcom version of Singles). I was in middle school and I would steal my sister’s CD and play that track over and over again, I loved the twangy, jangly punk rhythm and the ragged voice that somehow still sounded smooth. It was bad ass and bubble gum all at once.

By the time I heard Pleased To Meet Me’s “Can’t Hardly Wait” (one of the top 5 greatest pop songs of all time), I was hooked. I was destined to spend the rest of my life loving a band that no longer was. But I still had Paul. I got a copy of his first solo record, 14 Songs, for $3.00 at my local record store. It had the raucous foot tapper “Knocking On Mine” and a cover that looked like a Norman Mailer novel.

I tossed aside my soundtrack of Reality Bites in exchange for Singles, where Paul was alongside Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, and Smashing Pumpkins. A little later came Eventually and Suicane Gratification, the later record included members of Tom Petty’s Heartbreakers fresh off work at Johnny Cash’s American recordings. In addition to all-star backers, Paul had the blessing of the president of Capitol Records. Despite all this and top-notch songwriting, none of his solo efforts were commercially successful. Suicane included some of Westerberg's best lyrics, like the incredibly gorgeous "It's a Wonderful Lie", in which Paul sings...

How am I looking? I don't want the truth. Who am I kidding? I ain't in my youth. I'm past my prime or was that just a pose?

Perhaps recognizing that he'd made an image, indeed a career, off of being the slacker has been or perhaps, never was. Is it easier to fail if you convince yourself you never really tried?

Don't pin your hopes or pin your dreams to misanthropes or guys like me Cause the truth is overrated, I suppose. It's a wonderful lie. I still get by on those.

Like a gutter punk Frank Capra, who realized his era of cynical rock n roll idealism had long since passed, Westerberg retreated from the public eye to find a new method for his madness. He even assumed a new moniker, “Grandpaboy”.

Though sidelined with an injury to his fret hand in 2006, Paul began releasing a string of basement recordings. Some were physically released, Stereo/Mono being the closest sound to the Mats he’d ever put out. Others were released online with bizarre cover art and even stranger pricing, these records became my favorite of them all. 49:00… Of Your Time Life, released in 2008 on Paul’s 49th birthday and costing a mere 49 cents, is damn near a masterpiece. It’s actually only 43 minutes and 55 seconds long (an accompanying EP title 5:05 made up the difference) but instead of cutting up the rock into digestible segments, Westerberg just gives it to you in one stiff shot. A little distortion and creative crossfading creates the illusion that you’re rolling the dial on your radio and every station is playing Paul. What you would imagine might be an exercise in patience is actually over too soon. The maybe/kindof/whocantell dozen tracks zip right on by. Jailhouse ballads, stop the wedding laments, and another ode to New York Doll’s guitarist Johnny Thunder, a few decades after “Johnnys Gonna Die”. It all ends with an amazing medley of pop covers that sees Paul channeling Alice Cooper, Paul McCartney, Art Garfunkle, Elton John, and climactically… David Cassidy. Only Westerberg could make the Partridge Family’s “I Think I Love You” cool again.

49:00 has been followed up by a few other basement tapes. 3oclockreep included lost recordings of The Replacements with Tom Waits, drunkenly singing beloved b-sides. PW & the Ghost Gloves Cat Wing Joy Boys was a six track EP that found Paul getting tender again with a handful of piano ballads. Every now and then he’ll toss out a few singles in between, maybe a vinyl only 7’. It’s an unpredictable mess that seems to have no rhyme or reason, just like the tunes themselves.

Westerberg, despite his lackluster solo success, is fearless. Either that or completely insecure. He’ll have incredible highs of pop poetics and follow it up with an eye rolling punch line. Is he undercutting himself out of fear of being taken too seriously? Or does he simply not give a fuck about putting saccharine sentiment and vitriolic vinegar side by side? Whichever it is, he’s a genius, and an accessible one at that.

Friday, August 9, 2013

More Shop Talk... Interviews with Lannan Fellows

The Lannan Writing Residency is a three to eight week fellowship where poets, authors, journalists, and translators are invited to live and work in Marfa, Texas and present their work at the Marfa Book Company. Over the last couple months I've had the immense privilege of interviewing the Lannan fellows for our local NPR affiliate. In addition to reading their exceptional books, its a joy to be able to talk a little shop with writers who are reaching their prime after years of hard work.

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James Arthur - Interview July 26th, 2013

A conversation with poet James Arthur about his debut book of poetry,Charms Against Lightning, released by Copper Canyon Press. In this interview we discuss his changing understanding of love and fatherhood as it pertains to his poetry.

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Laird Hunt- Interview August 9th, 2013

A conversation with novelist Laird Hunt about his eclectic writing style over the course of six novels, including his most recent book, Kind One, nominated for the PEN / Faulkner Award.

I hope you enjoyed the interviews and if you're interested in purchasing any of the work discussed,follow the links below. These are some incredibly gifted writers producing exceptional work. Don't hesitate, just check it out!

James Arthur - Charms Against Lightning

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Laird Hunt - Kind One

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