Freaky Repost: “I Talk to My Haircut”

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I don’t quite feel like counting down favorite bands tonight, so I’ll continue the theme week, well, next week.  Maybe I’ll even expand it.  I’m crazy that way.  Because I spent much of the afternoon running errands, and since one of those errands was getting my hair cut (thanks, Frank!), this seemed like an appropriate repost.

So Dangerous Minds has once again turned me on to a little bit of insanity I’d never heard of. The two albums released by Reverend Fred Lane appear to be completely bananas. Which makes them pretty damn awesome in my book.

I freely admit that I choose this song because I dug the title, but it turned out to be a pretty fun listen. Although I was pretty entertained by the other clips I heard, too, so you should just search him on YouTube. It’s all pretty strange. What I hear most in Reverend Fred Lane’s music is the roots of another absurdist musical favorite, They Might Be Giants. I have no idea if John and John ever listened to this guy, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they did.

Of course, Reverend Lane isn’t a real guy. Or, he is real, but he’s not a reverend. Or named Fred. It’s a persona created by an artist named T.R. Reed. The music encompasses pretty much every genre of American music, while the lyrics are Dada-esque in nature (read: they make no sense whatsoever). This isn’t novelty music, per se, but more like performance art. What stands out most is the freewheeling abandon of these tracks. Reed clearly decided at some point to not limit himself in any discernible way. This is what the phrase “anything goes” was invented for. He just tossed everything in, including the kitchen sink.

This stuff is wonderfully weird, but it’s not mainstream in any way. The Reverend Fred Lane is definitely not everyone’s cup of tea. Which of course means that these recordings are currently out of print. I hope someone realizes there’s a market for this stuff and re-release it. Soon.

Freaky Friday: “Too Many Cooks”

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I saw this on Dangerous Minds late last night, but apparently it first aired on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim block.  I’m not sure how much I want to say about this strange little clip, except that it’s very, very funny.  It also plays on my love of TV theme songs, as well as fond memories of my 80s adolescence.  Other than that, it really does need to be seen.  Otherwise, you might not believe anyone would be twisted enough to come up with this.

Yeah.  That just happened.

Freaky Friday: “I Talk to My Haircut”

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So Dangerous Minds has once again turned me on to a little bit of insanity I’d never heard of.  The two albums released by Reverend Fred Lane appear to be completely bananas.  Which makes them pretty damn awesome in my book.

I freely admit that I choose this song because I dug the title, but it turned out to be a pretty fun listen.  Although I was pretty entertained by the other clips I heard, too, so you should just search him on YouTube.  It’s all pretty strange.  What I hear most in Reverend Fred Lane’s music is the roots of another absurdist musical favorite, They Might Be Giants.  I have no idea if John and John ever listened to this guy, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they did.

Of course, Reverend Lane isn’t a real guy.  Or, he is real, but he’s not a reverend.  Or named Fred.  It’s a persona created by an artist named T.R. Reed.  The music encompasses pretty much every genre of American music, while the lyrics are Dada-esque in nature (read: they make no sense whatsoever).  This isn’t novelty music, per se, but more like performance art.  What stands out most is the freewheeling abandon of these tracks.  Reed clearly decided at some point to not limit himself in any discernible way.  This is what the phrase “anything goes” was invented for.  He just tossed everything in, including the kitchen sink.

This stuff is wonderfully weird, but it’s not mainstream in any way.  The Reverend Fred Lane is definitely not everyone’s cup of tea.  Which of course means that these recordings are currently out of print.  I hope someone realizes there’s a market for this stuff and re-release it.  Soon.

Freaky Friday: Letters from Animals

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I don’t have much to say today.  My brain is fried from too much heat and not enough sleep.  And looking at a lot of numbers while organizing and filing a lot of pieces of paper.

But here’s a little thing from the immensely weird and wonderful Hussalonia.  Letters from Animals is one of those things that must be heard to be believed.  I’ve heard it, and I still don’t believe it.

You can download this fun from Hussalonia’s store.  They’re awesome enough to let you stream it for free, and you can name your price when you buy it.  There’s a lot of other awesome music there, too, so you should explore.

Freaky Repost: Laurie Anderson

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Sorry I totally spaced on posting yesterday.  I’ve been running around doing stuff today, so I didn’t really prep any good new freaks.  Here’s one of my favorite old freaks for your re-enjoyment.

 

Laurie Anderson is an artist. Her work is a brilliant commentary on American culture, values, and mores. She is the author and creator of herself. For women, that last statement is very important, because so much of what women do in this culture is defined, at least in part, by their relationships with men. But Anderson has never been in anyone’s shadow. She got her start in New York in the 1970s, during that amazing heady period when punk and disco were born. Now Anderson was never a punk or a disco diva; her musical sensibilities were wide-ranging, but much of it could be traced back to experimental music. It’s also important to note that while Laurie Anderson uses music as a medium, she isn’t really a musician. She’s an artist.

One of her earliest installations at a gallery was a jukebox that played 45s of songs she wrote. One of these was “It’s Not the Bullet That Kills You (It’s the Hole).” These songs were never released as songs, although a few copies are still around. This particular song seems to be about misplaced values and a culture of violence, a world where the victim gets blamed for the crime (sadly, this is still familiar for some crimes).

It doesn’t hurt that Anderson’s compositions are attractively catchy. She’s clearly got a tunesmith’s ear for what works musically. Her songs are interestingly literate, with good hooks. She often creates instruments to help craft her songs and performances. One of her earliest creations was a violin with a tape recorder attached to it, which eventually evolved into her tape bow violin. It creates eerie sounds that perfectly echo the dread underlying much of her work.

Of course, Anderson is at her best when she’s performing. Her concerts aren’t really shows, but more like experiences. In 1986, she released Home of the Brave, a film version of performances at the Park Theater in Union City, New Jersey. Some kind soul has posted the entire film on YouTube, which I’m including here (thanks, LegeCre). It is by turns thrilling and unsettling. Enjoy.

Late Freak Out: Skinny Puppy

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I’ve been trying to catch up on Pop Culture Happy Hour podcasts the last few weeks, with mixed results.  I was almost completely up to date last year when Dad started getting sick, and I fell way behind again.  As of right now, I’m up to the end of January and Oscar nominations (it is kind of fun listening to all the predictions they got wrong).  But it also means that the blog sometimes slips onto the back burner as I’m giggling along with four of my favorite NPR employees (you knew I was a nerd, right?).

But I thought I’d throw this one out here for you late-nighters, even though it might turn you into an insomniac.

I don’t know much about this style of music.  Except that it kind of terrifies me.  Nine Inch Nails actually comes from this sort of Industrial/Electronica/Metal school of music.  But Trent Reznor has, in becoming the public face of this style, softened it somewhat for more mainstream consumption.  NIN is frequently pretty dark shit, but it’s also tuneful and melodic and really very artful.  Skinny Puppy makes even the earliest NIN music seem like cheerful Pop made by teddy bears.

I’ve sort of deliberately not learned much about Skinny Puppy (here’s their Wikipedia page if you want to know the basic facts).  I first heard them back in the late 80s.  I don’t remember the name of the album, but I listened to about one and a half tracks, and then I had to listen to something else.  Or watch cartoons.  Or maybe the news, which was happier than Skinny Puppy by a long shot.  I haven’t even watched the entire clip I chose to post.  It’s after 10 PM as I’m writing this, and I’d like to be able to sleep sometime tonight.  (To be fair, I’m sure the members of the band are perfectly nice human beings, and that they have legitimate reasons for their artistic and musical choices.  I just don’t care to know right now.)  It’s a little bit like watching a scary movie after a certain time; at some point, you make a conscious choice to watch the sun come up because the shadows are just a little bit too dark.

But all my heebie-jeebies aside, Skinny Puppy is really good at what they do.  And it may well be that scaring listeners silly is an intentional goal.  If it is, bravo, fellas.  You succeeded with me.

Freaky Friday: “Elvis is Everywhere”

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I’m a little off today.  The contractors stayed late working on the laundry room (and apparently went on a heroic quest for the new back door).  But if there’s anything that can pick me up, it’s the thought that Elvis really is everywhere.

I’m sure the conspiracy theories and tabloid stories began within just a few days of Elvis Presley’s death.  If Americans love anything more than Elvis, it’s a good conspiracy theory.  Elvis didn’t die; he was abducted by aliens.  Or he grew a beard and became a long-haul trucker.  The denial of his passing was just the way some people dealt with losing their idol.  It’s almost a secular version of Jesus’ death and resurrection (appropriate since Easter is almost here).

Now that I’m thinking about it, that seems to be what most conspiracy theories are about: denial.  Holocaust deniers.  9/11 truthers.  Kennedy assassination hobbyists.  Civil War re-enactors who rig it so the South wins.  Fanfiction “fix-it” stories (which might explain what’s been wrong with Agents of SHIELD all season).  If they deny something traumatic or unpleasant happens, if they find “evidence” that something else happened instead, then the thing they’re denying didn’t really happen.  Or at least it didn’t happen the way everyone else says it did.  You can see it happening in real time with Malaysian Airlines 370.  Those people demanding answers and proof that the plane crashed into the ocean are trying to find a way to cope.  (Of course, to be fair, there is something really hinky about the whole thing.)

We all want life to be easy, for there to be answers to all of our questions.  My biggest question right now is how I got from Mojo Nixon to conspiracy theories, but hey, let’s just roll with it.  As a Buddhist, I do believe that in some sense, Elvis never really left the building.  No one is ever really gone; they’re just on another plane of existence.  Their energy is still part of the universe.  But that doesn’t answer all the questions, and it doesn’t make actual life any easier knowing that.  I’ll still have to get up and deal with bills and dishes tomorrow.  Chop wood and carry water.

But at least I know that I’ve got a little Elvis in me.

Freaky Repost: “Door of the Cosmos”

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My original plan for today’s post didn’t pan out.  Maybe next week.  Instead, enjoy this somewhat timely repost.  You know, since the rebooted Cosmos has begun airing on Fox/NatGeo with scientific rock star Neil Degrasse Tyson stepping into the late great Carl Sagan’s shoes.

 

I’m actually a little ashamed at how little I know about Sun Ra and his Arkestra.  He’s one of the leaders of Freak, being the composer and creator of some of the finest experimental jazz out there.  Now I admit to liking a certain amount of free and easy in my jazz, but I also like a certain amount of structure to it, which is why I’m such a late-comer to experimental jazz.  And I’ve only really dipped my toes in this fascinating subgenre.  Ornette Coleman ain’t the only bird in this musical tree.

Sun Ra is decidedly freaky as a person; some might call him insane, but I don’t think that was ever the case.  A very spiritual and religious man without a formal religion, he consciously separated himself from the life that men of his time were expected to live; he refused to follow the paths that were traditionally laid out for him.  Sun Ra claimed to have been to Saturn, and to have communicated with aliens there.  He believed he had a mission to speak to the world through music.

It’s kind of hard to decipher what the message here is supposed to be.  This is wild, chaotic stuff.  But it’s a controlled chaos, starting with a gospel-like chorus and taking off into a melange of musical notes, the tones and rhythms clashing and competing with each other while blending almost seamlessly together.  It’s like an aural Jackson Pollock painting.  The saxophone weaves in and out, the bass runs like a river current below the rest.  It’s beautiful.

Which might well be what Sun Ra was trying to tell us.  That the world is chaotic but still beautiful.  That you can be an individual and still be a part of something. That all we have to do to travel to the cosmos is to let go of whatever is weighing us down.  Gravity is just another illusion in Sun Ra’s universe.  Nothing can hold you back if you know where you’re going.

Freaky Friday: Don’t Panic

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I shop at ThinkGeek on occasion (big shocker), and I get emails from them advertising sales and other assorted geekery.  Today email mentioned something rather dear to my geeky little heart.  36 years ago tomorrow, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy premiered on BBC radio.

You might be a bit curious about why I’d mark this particular anniversary.  I mean, it’s not exactly music, is it?  Maybe not, but as it was a radio program, I’m being rather liberal with my definitions today.  The other peculiarity that might strike you is that Hitchhiker is best known as a book.  Didn’t that come first?

No.  Douglas Adams originally conceived the story as a radio series.  After it’s success, it became a novel.  And then there was a sequel.  And another sequel.  Eventually, the Hitchhiker’s trilogy became the best five book trilogy ever published.  (Think about it.  I’ll wait.)

The novel was used as the basis for the later adaptations for television and film.  I will freely admit that I’ve never seen any of these.  I don’t have to; the pictures in my head from reading (and listening, although I’m most familiar with the books) are good enough.  It’s really just one of the funniest things ever created.  I’ve only linked to the first episode, but YouTube seems to have the complete series posted.  Good thing, too, since I think it’s out of production now.

So grab your towel, and enjoy the ride.

Freaky Repost: The Residents

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I wasn’t up for any freaky research tonight, and I was feeling a little residential, so here’s another look at this weird little bit.

The Residents are a performance art/music group from Northern California.  They are freaky.  To say the least.  I have no other words for them.

The Residents are officially anonymous, although there are some names attached to the current lineup (see here for more info on their history and rumored members).  They retain their anonymity by wearing huge eyeball masks.

Who was that masked man?

Because of a dearth of music videos, and because The Residents have always used film/video as part of their creative modus operandi, they were an early MTV staple.  I know that’s where I saw them first.  As a teenager, I was flummoxed by them.  I still am.  While clearly interesting and creative, The Residents are also deeply unsettling.  They seem to take delight in making audiences uncomfortable.

Good art often is uncomfortable, though.  The point of art is not to mirror society, but to question it.  From the Renaissance to Pop Art, artists have made it a point to challenge convention, morality, and social norms.  My favorite artists are the ones who say something about the world they live in, for better or worse.  I don’t mean topical or political art, necessarily; that kind of work is important, to be sure, but can also seem too rooted to a particular time and place.  (One of my all-time favorite comic strips, Bloom County, is a perfect example of this.  It is still very funny, but reading it now is like looking at a time capsule of the 1980s.)  I’m always interested in art–paintings, music, television, whatever–that looks at the world and asks “Why?”  Elvis, The Beatles, and Bob Dylan are so endlessly fascinating because they changed the rules of how music was made, because they did something new that essentially upended conventional wisdom about popular music.  Picasso and Andy Warhol both challenged viewers to look at the world from a different perspective, literally.  James Joyce and Virginia Woolf both refused to be confined by traditional narrative styles and helped forge new literary frontiers.  These are just a few examples of how art and artists of all sorts influence the world.  And then there’s The Residents.

The Residents follow in the footsteps of most great creative and talented minds by questioning the world we live in, by asking why we hold the values we hold, and what kind of damage are these values doing to us.  Why is money and material wealth so important?  What is success?  Just what is it that we’re running from?

This video is long, and, frankly, disturbing.  But I think it’s worth watching.  I love how it takes an old children’s song and brings out a deeper, darker meaning.  You can have all the stuff in the world, money and power and security.  You can build empires and fortresses, but it won’t make a difference if what’s in your soul is corrupt and empty.  “Run, run as fast as you can.  You can’t catch me, I’m the Gingerbread Man.”