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.