"THE ROSE HAS TEETH IN THE MOUTH
OF A BEAST"
When we put out our last album "The Civil War" we provided a kind of exploded view of it on this website; it was fun to do so we're going to have at it once more, and attempt to provide some pointers and navigational tips about our new album, "The Rose Has Teeth In the Mouth of a Beast".
First things first: our album is a series of portraits of ten people that we admire. We might as well point out now that we don't have their permission or their endorsement; these are unauthorized tributes, unrequited love letters to people whose lives speak to us. In the texts below, in addition to info about how the songs were made, we have also provided short, user-friendly biographical accounts of each person who is the subject of a song. Yeah, yeah, you all know who William S. Burroughs is already. Some of these people are already well known, but some have been relegated (unfairly, we think) to the margins of history. The texts below are of course just introductory, thumbnail sketches. If you are interested in these people, the best thing to do is to simply read their writings, listen to their music, analyze their philosophy, tour their palaces, masturbate to their pornography, and enact their politics. But if you want to do some more research, there's plenty of things to check out, so we've also provided a bibliography of helpful books, films, and/or websites to examine, should you wish to investigate further. We hope that you do.
1. "Roses and Teeth for Ludwig Wittgenstein"
Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889 - 1951) was the most important and influential philosopher of language of the twentieth century. His early work "Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus", with its insistently foregrounded logical structure and its final announcement that "That of which we cannot speak we must pass over in silence", became a manifesto for the Vienna Circle of logical positivism. Wittgenstein himself substantially reversed the view of language put forth in that text, and his later teachings (gathered together in the posthumous collections of lecture notes and observations such as "On Certainty" and "Philosophical Investigations") became the template for the movement known as "ordinary language philosophy". He remained aloof from the movements that tried to carry his standard.
With regards to our decision to make a musical portrait of Wittgenstein based upon the sound of (among other things) teeth grinding and clicking, here's one of our favorite Wittgenstein quotes that you might want to chew on:
"When I imagine a piece of music, as I do often every day, I always, so I believe, grind my upper and lower teeth together rhythmically. I have noticed this before though I usually do it quite unconsciously. What's more, it's as though the notes I am imagining are produced by this movement. I believe this may be a very common way of imagining music internally. Of course I can imagine music without moving my teeth too, but in that case the notes are much ghostlier, more blurred and less pronounced." (Wittgenstein, Culture and Value, p. 28c, trans. Peter Winch).
We are grateful to Erika Clowes for loaning us her extracted wisdom teeth for the purposes of this song, and to the farmer in Sebastopol who let us record his cows eating and to M.C.'s incredible sister Victoria W. Schmidt who lives across the street.
There is a vast ocean of writing about, in honour of, or interpreting, the life and work of Wittgenstein. We recommend Norman Malcolm's "Ludwig Wittgenstein: A Memoir", Ray Monk's "Ludwig Wittgenstein: The Duty of Genius", W. W. Bartley III's "Wittgenstein", and Allan Janik & Stephen Toulmin's "Wittgenstein's Vienna". You could always rent the Derek Jarman/Terry Eagleton film "Wittgenstein" too.
2. "Steam and Sequins for Larry Levan"
Larry Levan (nee Lawrence Philpot, 1954 -1992) holds an important place in the history of disco music and gay nightlife as the resident DJ of the Continental Steam Baths and the Paradise Garage. His obsessive attention to the narrative and perceptual possibilities of mixing during his tenure at the Garage has become the stuff of urban legend. His dub-inflected, psychedelic remixes of artists such as Loose Joints, Ednah Holt, and Class Action exemplify a promiscuous, open-ended approach to dance music which is his enduring legacy.
There have been a number of strong books on disco recently, in particular Tim Lawrence's "Love Saves the Day: A History of American Dance Music Culture, 1970 - 1979" and Peter Shapiro's "Turn the Beat Around: The Secret History of Disco"; the Josell Ramos documentary "Maestro" focuses on Larry Levan and has some great interviews with Frankie Knuckles, David Mancuso and others.
3. "Tract for Valerie Solanas"
Valerie Solanas (1936 - 1988) was a radical feminist, a playwright, and the author of "The S. C. U. M. Manifesto", one of the most passionate, and certainly the most extreme, expressions of a utopian gender separatist position. In a telling indication of the sway of celebrity culture, she is best known not for the humor and brilliance of her own writing but for her attempted murder of Andy Warhol. After her release from prison, she continued to write and agitate, and died in San Francisco after working on the streets as a prostitute.
The primary instrument used to generate the sounds of this song is a preserved specimen of a cow's vagina, uterus, and reproductive tract. We reversed the flow of air on our vacuum cleaner, inserted it into the vagina, inflated the uterus with air and then squeezed the air out of the tract while squeezing the vaginal lips, in essence playing them like a saxophone (or a bagpipe). Cow reproductive tracts are sold in farm supply catalogues to teach farmers how to artificially inseminate cows. Valerie herself was a great believer in the capacity of artificial insemination to transform society. As she stated on the first page of the S. C. U. M. Manifesto: "It is now technically feasible to reproduce without the aid of males (or, for that matter, females) and to produce only females. We must begin immediately to do so." Solanas is said to have favored a silver lamé gown when turning tricks. In a tribute to her fashion sense, we purchased a bolt of silver lamé fabric from Fabric Town and recorded the sound of contact-mic-ed fabric being caressed, stroked, and cut.
Avitall Ronell's introductory essay to the recent Verso edition of "The S. C. U. M. Manifesto" is an excellent theoretical meditation on Solanas as a writer and thinker. Valerie can be seen in the Warhol/Morrisey films "Bikeboy" and "I, A Man"; Mary Harron's film "I Shot Andy Warhol", starring Lili Taylor as Valerie, is the most elaborate biographical treatment that is widely available. There is an extensive bibliography of all things Solanas at http://www.geocities.com/WestHollywood/Village/6982/solanas.html
4. "Public Sex for Boyd McDonald"
Boyd McDonald (1925 - 1993) was a columnist, journalist, and the creator and editor of the longrunning pornographic fanzine "Straight To Hell", also known as "The Manhattan Review of Unnatural Acts". McDonald compiled first person descriptions of sexual encounters submitted by readers, gave them mock- journalistic, slyly ironic titles ("Priest Dies- Story Won't", "Sports Special: Football Pro Takes Dick"), and intercut them with his acerbic political commentary and cultural criticism, producing an archive of subterranean and illict encounters which fuse functional pornographic narrative with social history. His magazines have been anthologized by Gay Sunshine Press, and "Straight to Hell" is still being published.
The public sex acts which appear very quietly in the mix of this song were recorded at Blow Buddies in San Francisco during International Bear Weekend. A top secret recordist, with mini-disc recorder tucked discreetly in a pants pocket, sidled up to in flagranti couples and waggled a microphone at them. Stephen Thrower's saxophone was recorded very loudly in our chalet during the Slint-curated All Tomorrow's Parties. A number of classic gay porn films of the 70s and 80s have been interpolated into the sources of the song.
Alas, the bibliographic trail for Boyd McDonald is all too skimpy. Boyd's life has yet to produce the lavish biographical treatment that we feel it deserves. But there is an interview with Boyd's friend Billy Miller (subsequent editor of "Straight To Hell", a duty he now shares with K48's Scott Hug) in issue #2 of BUTT magazine with some reminscences about Boyd. Queer historians, get to work!
NOTE: The Boyd McDonald that we are celebrating is NOT the Canadian composer and pianist Boyd McDonald, and we regret any confusion or misdirection that their similar names and utterly divergent lives may have caused.
5. "Semen Song for James Bidgood"
James Bidgood (1933 - ) is a New York based photographer, designer, visual artist, and film-maker best known for his 1971 masterpiece "Pink Narcissus", an erotic reverie whose extravagant set design, baroque art direction, and wide range of settings belies the fact that it was shot entirely in his New York apartment, with sets made out of ready-to-hand, found materials and fabric. The lush homoeroticism, saturated color, and hyper-real settings of his work have exerted a wide influence upon contemporary artmaking; strong influences of his aesthetic can be seen in the photography of, for example, French illustrators Pierre et Gilles and American celebrity photographer David LaChapelle.
Fittingly, we are greatly indebted to many New Yorkers for helping us to realize this tribute to a citizen of their city. It took a cast of thousands to complete this track: Antony Hegarty sang for us, and Nico Muhly helped to record him; Zeena Parkins played the harp, and recorded herself too; Jefferson Friedman wrote a ravishing arrangement for strings, Clarice Jensen played the cello, Miranda Cuckson and Erik Carlson played violins, Bridget Fitzgerald played the viola, Matthew Fuerst played piano and prepared piano, and Mario J. McNulty, Dan Bora, and Ichiho Nishiki recorded them. Together Everyone Achieves More=T. E. A. M. which is an anagram for M. E. A. T.=Matmos Enjoys Artistic Togetherness . . .
The elaborate Taschen monograph "James Bidgood", with Bruce Benderson's critical and biographical essay "Pink Illusions", is essential reading/viewing. "Pink Narcissus" itself is available on DVD from Strand Releasing. We hear there's a documentary by Wolfgang Hastert called "The Queer Reveries of James Bidgood" but we haven't seen it (yet). Prints of Bidgood's photographs are available from numerous gallerists of contemporary fine art.
6. "Snails and Lasers for Patricia Highsmith"
Patricia Highsmith (1921 - 1995) was a novelist and writer of short fiction whose work sits uneasily within the horror, suspense, and detective fiction genres; she is best-known for "The Talented Mr. Ripley" and "Strangers On A Train", but she also wrote a lesbian romance novel, "The Price of Salt", under the pseudonym Claire Morgan. An expatriate who fled Texas and then New York to settle in Europe for most of her life, her writing explores the psychotic, antisocial urges and threatening forces at work beneath the surface of everyday life.
For our portrait of Highsmith we decided to collaborate with her favorite pet animal, the snail: "Her editor at Doubleday, Larry Ashmead, recalls that when Highsmith moved to France in 1967, she told him that she smuggled her pet snails into the country under her breasts. 'You coudn't take live snails into France so she was sneaking them in under her breasts,' he says. 'And that wasn't just on one trip- no, she kept going back and forth. She said that she would take six to ten of the creatures under each breast every time she went. And she wasn't joking- she was very serious.' "(Wilson, p. 267) In a completely darkened room, we aimed a laser at a light- sensitive theremin, then placed garden snails in a glass cylinder. As the snails crossed the glass they interrupted the path of the laser and thus altered the pitch of the theremin, which transposed their movements into sound. Our pal Jason Mecier has made a collage portrait of Patricia Highsmith entirely out of cigarettes and snails which illustrates our song.
For Highsmith's own account of her art, consider checking out her "how to" text, "Plotting and Writing Suspense Fiction" (a representative quote: "I find the public passion for justice quite boring and artificial, for neither life nor nature cares if justice is ever done or not", p. 51). For a full account of her lifestory, look no further than Andrew Wilson's absorbing, thorough biography "Beautiful Shadow: A Life of Patricia Highsmith". For a first person account of Patricia Highsmith as girlfriend material, Marijane Meaker's memoir "Highsmith: A Romance of the 1950s" gives a great account of the underground lesbian scene of Greenwich Village and Fire Island.
7. "Germs Burn for Darby Crash"
Darby Crash (nee Jan Paul Beahm, 1958 - 1980) was the lead singer and lyricist for the Los Angeles band The Germs, and a commanding, charismatic figure who straddled a Southern California music scene in the middle of a transition from arty, glam-damaged punk to militant, masculine hardcore. His lyrics for the Germs' recorded output, the "Forming" 7", "Lexicon Devil" EP, and the "GI" album, reveal a visonary poetics deeply at odds with his self-destructive, shambolic live performances. He died of a heroin overdose on the night of a Germs reunion concert.
True fans of the Germs memorialize their committment to the band with a "Germs burn", a cigarette burn on the inner left wrist; a true Germs burn can only be granted by a member of the band or someone who has been burned by same. Accordingly, we asked the dapper and charming Don Bolles if he would burn Drew's flesh with a cigarette and he happily obliged.
The best book about Darby has been written by Don Bolles and Brendan Mullen; it's called "Lexicon Devil: the Fast Times and Short Life of Darby Crash and the Germs". For footage of Darby being Darby see the Penelope Spheeris film "The Decline of Western Civilization, Vol. I", or check out the "Germicide" bootleg of the Germs live at the Whiskey. There is an imminently forthcoming biographical film about Darby and The Germs by Rodger Grossman entitled "What We Do Is Secret".
8. "Solo Buttons for Joe Meek"
Joe Meek (1929 - 1967) was an engineer, musician, and independent record producer. His obsessive, innovative approach to home recording and customized electronics yielded a vast body of rock and roll and pop singles characterized by cavernous reverbs and disorienting sound effects. The stunning success of The Tornados instrumental #1 hit single "Telstar" was a public vindication of his hermetic approach to pop. Increasingly paranoid and despondent as popular tastes shifted and business alliances collapsed, he murdered his landlady and shot himself in a dispute mysteriously timed to the anniversary of the death of his beloved icon Buddy Holly.
A reminiscence about Joe Meek from Bobby Graham, drummer for The Outlaws: "When we were recording the 'Dream of the West' album he had me playing the snare drum with one of his tea towels draped over it. Because it was hard to play with this grubby, stained old tea towel over the snare, I had to hit the drum very hard to get any response, and in doing so made a hole in the tea towel. Joe went ballistic and told me that not only had I ruined his favorite tea towel, but he would never be able to get the same drum sound again without this disgusting piece of cloth to put on it. He left the studio in tears, cradling this cloth like it was a baby."
As the above quote demonstrates, the photographs, memoirs and liner notes contained in the 4 CD boxset "Joe Meek: Portrait of A Genius - The RGM Legacy" provide a vivid description of Joe Meek's history and personality. His life has also become the subject of a recent West End drama, "Telstar: The Joe Meek Story", by Nick Moran with James Hicks; the play's script is now in print. The text "Creative Music Production: Joe Meek's Bold Techniques", by Barry Cleveland, is an exhaustive and technically detailed account of Joe in the studio; in addition, the first two volumes of the "Meeky Meeky" bootleg series provide some astonishing examples of Meek's own singing voice on demos and outtakes.
9. "Rag for William S. Burroughs"
William S. Burroughs (1914 - 1997) was a novelist, essayist, and artist whose work is defined by American vernacular language, formal experimentation, scabrous humor, and a virulent, radical manipulation of the found rhetorics of genre fiction (detective stories, sci-fi, western, pornography). The obscenity trial for his celebrated novel "The Naked Lunch" became a referendum on the artistic validity and sexual politics of the American literary avant-garde. After accidentally shooting his wife Joan in Mexico, Burroughs relocated to Tangiers and then to London and Paris, where he conducted experiments with tape recorders in collaboration with Ian Sommerville that applied the "cut-up" techniques of Brion Gysin to both sound and literature. He finally returned to America and settled in Lawrence, Kansas.
Burroughs' family fortune came from the adding machine business; the next time you make a purchase at the liquor store, recall that Burroughs brand adding machines were the first to provide the customer with a printed receipt itemizing the transaction. For our song, among other sounds, we play some Burroughs adding machines from the private collection of David Cole. Thanks to Leif Fairfield of One Heart Press, we were given access to some working 19th century printing presses (a Heidelberg Windmill and a Chandler and Price) whose tempo can be adjusted to print in time to music.
As with Wittgenstein, there's an embarassment of bibliographical riches. Ted Morgan's "Literary Outlaw: the Life and Times of William S. Burroughs" is the primary biography of note, but you should also try the classic RE/Search magazine Issue 4/5 on Burroughs, Gysin, and Throbbing Gristle (1982), "The Burroughs File" collection of notebook excerpts (1984), the essays collected in "The Adding Machine" (1985), and seek out audio and video footage of Burroughs reading his own work aloud (for example, the numerous readings on the Giorno Poetry Systems label, or the Aspen magazine recordings archived at UbuWeb). Burrough's tape experiments with Ian Sommerville are gathered on the Sub Rosa CD "Break Through in Grey Room".
10. "Banquet for King Ludwig II of Bavaria"
King Ludwig II of Bavaria (1845 - 1886) was born into the Wittelsbach dynasty and became king at the age of eighteen. A passionately devoted friend and patron of Richard Wagner, Ludwig provided the composer with a home, a theater, and the funds to escape his debtors. Draining the royal family's coffers to build an increasingly elaborate series of Gothic revival castles and estates modelled upon the extravagance of Versailles, the reclusive, pacifist Ludwig was declared insane and ousted from power by a conspiracy of government ministers and nobility. Ludwig and his psychiatrist drowned under mysterious circumstances in the Starnberger See.
We were first introduced to King Ludwig through Luchino Visconti's suitably opulent and epic (at four hours) biographical film, "Ludwig", starring Helmut Berger. Wilfrid Blunt's biography "The Dream King: Ludwig II of Bavaria" provides a fascinating account of of his family history, about which our favorite sentence is the following: "Max too was sane enough, but he had a strange sister, the highly talented Princess Alexandra, whose whole life was clouded by the unshakable conviction that she had once swallowed a grand piano made of glass." (Blunt, p. 16) Blunt also excerpts numerous letters between Luwig and Wagner, and his text is supplemented with some scrumptious color photographs of the interiors of Neuschwanstein, Linderhof, and Herrenchiemsee. Apparently, Ludwig is also the subject of a new German musical about his life, entitled "Ludwig2". If you've seen it, please describe it to us.
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