Saturday, September 19, 2015

Review of 'Salad Days' documentary

The latest hardcore documentary (now out on DVD) is Salad Days (2014), subtitled A Decade of Punk in Washington, DC (1980-90), directed by Scott Crawford and photographed by Jim Saah.  The hardcore documentary film has become something of its own subgenre at this point, and perhaps it’s even now a bit formulaic — interview snippets, cut to old live footage of a band, cut to photograph, cut to the next interview snippet, etc.  (What else could it be?  I don’t know.)  Occasionally there is text here to give the viewer some of the basic history not filled in by the interviewees.  Salad Days, however, distinguishes itself both on the material that it presents (J Mascis says at one point that while Boston bands had some good drummers, for him, it was the D.C. bands that had the best songs) and by the more probing, at times even critical point of view the director takes.  Thus, the film is not merely a celebration of the extreme outpouring of creativity that the D.C. scene was, but also an exploration of its limitations (necessitating, within the 11-year period the film takes up, numerous changes in form and attitude).

When most people think of D.C. hardcore, of course it’s the Dischord bands that immediately spring to mind: Minor Threat, Government Issue, S.O.A., The Faith, Iron Cross, etc.; they represent the classic period and are covered relatively well.  Ian MacKaye is featured prominently, and it would not be the same film without him.  Ian is fairly ubiquitous in these things, but he brings an important and often challenging perspective and is clearly not content to rest on his reputation as “leader” of the D.C. scene.  He speaks dismissively of getting crank calls from kids haranguing him about straight-edge, a “movement” he clearly no longer cares about in the slightest, if he ever really did.  In answer to charges that Dischord somehow alienated certain bands who were not part of their coterie, MacKaye simply notes that he never stopped anyone from forming their own label.  Still, it’s interesting that, as one commentator points out, regarding the formation of Fugazi, of course everyone was waiting to see what Ian would do next (and, humorously, that despite their demands that their shows remain all-ages and cheaply priced, Fugazi with their big hooks were in a sense the ultimate arena-rock band).

I personally would have liked to see more on the band Void, and Salad Days might have benefited from a more in-depth focus on other individual bands.  Void, one of the era’s best in my opinion, gets only a 10-second or so live clip and a very brief interview segment with guitarist Bubba Dupree.  There’s also only brief mention of the Flex Your Head compilation (1982), which is maybe more than any other record responsible for putting D.C. “on the map” nationwide.  The film rightly begins with the Bad Brains and their overwhelming influence, inspiring the formation of the likes of the Teen Idles, and from there Minor Threat, and, well, most of us probably know the rest of the early Dischord story.  Henry Rollins does an effective job painting a picture of the danger of the early days, of uber-macho assholes looking for punk kids to beat up, something one might remember, if indeed one was a punk kid in the early 80s.

Void, Wilson Center, 1983. Photo by Jim Saah /

One thing I liked about this documentary was that it and many of its interview subjects are intent on pointing out that there were other aspects to D.C., that the scene was not monolithic, and so Black Market Baby gets some coverage, for example, and later the political turn of the Positive Force shows.  Salad Days also devotes a significant amount of time to gender dynamics (something largely absent, for example, in another recent hardcore doc, xxx ALL AGES xxx: The Boston Hardcore Film [2012]) and presents a number of women saying frankly that they often felt marginalized.  Ian MacKaye and Henry Rollins both admit that, at least early on, it was a scene dominated by adolescent boys, and so a lot of stupid things were prone to occur.  Rollins claims that once people started to “get laid” or have healthy sexual relationships, the scene got better (Thurston Moore gives his analysis on the subject as well).  It does not appear that most female commentators here would agree, however.  To the credit of writer/director Crawford, this difference in point of view is clearly drawn, not papered-over or obfuscated.

It’s also interesting that the film gets into class issues, at least briefly.  Most D.C. punks, we’re told, were middle- and upper-middle-class kids, coming from well-educated, mostly supportive families.  This seems to be in stark contrast to many in the Boston scene or the figures inhabiting the recent Tony Rettman book on the New York scene, NYHC: New York Hardcore 1980–1990 (2014) (there is also an NYHC documentary in the works from Drew Stone, who directed the Boston one), who are often more working-class or, in the case of New York, sometimes lived on the streets.  Though Salad Days doesn’t state this specifically, it could be argued that these differences at least partly account for the divergence in musical styles as well as attitude, with D.C. bands becoming more introspective and musically searching, while Boston and NYHC bands sometimes tended toward a rigid militancy.  (This of course is a broad generalization, and certainly counter-examples can be cited.)  On the flipside, these class differences could also have something to do with the accusation that D.C. punks were even spoiled or privileged, which is momentarily raised here but not examined very deeply.

Salad Days also engages with race, illustrating significant contributions from African American and Asian American participants.  Further, it briefly explores the intersections between the D.C. hardcore and go-go music scenes (Minor Threat shared a bill with Trouble Funk, for example), among other things.  However, Beefeater guitarist Fred Smith appears on a special-features interview segment discussing the fact that sound technicians at the band’s shows often assumed he was the bass player, simply because he was African American.  It might also have been interesting to analyze the meaning behind the Minor Threat song “Guilty of Being White,” but then it’s something that Ian MacKaye has already discussed at length in the 2006 film American Hardcore.

One minor revelation in Salad Days, for me anyway, is the extent of the split between the “Revolution Summer” bands circa 1985, such as Embrace (MacKaye’s first post-Minor Threat band), Rites of Spring, Fire Party, and Beefeater, and bands like Marginal Man and Scream, whose members suggest they became disaffected by the political emphasis of the former.  Back then, the latter bands seemed to me to be more representative of the ongoing D.C. hardcore sound, since Marginal Man and Scream (along with G.I.) were the ones who were still touring to other cities, whereas “Revolution Summer” was strictly a D.C.-based thing, and the bands associated with it were short-lived.  However, the film goes into some detail about the “Revolution Summer” departure, ascribing to it a much greater importance than many outside of D.C. might heretofore have realized.

The late-80s Dischord bands mostly lost my attention at the time, but Salad Days gives them their just due.  At least the likes of Fugazi, Ignition, and Holy Rollers broadened their styles out from the basic hardcore template that many of the bands in the New York of that period (for example) continued to assert.  Whether one direction is better than the other is a question for another time — my point here is simply that there’s something to be said for trying new things, which appears to be the hallmark of the D.C. scene.  (No doubt Stone’s upcoming NYHC film will have its own point of view on the continuance of the strict hardcore form in New York, after it was essentially over elsewhere).  It’s no accident, then, that Scott Crawford’s title refers to the Minor Threat song “Salad Days,” in which Ian MacKaye, as far back as 1983 (!), depicts hardcore itself as limited and limiting, as having “gotten soft.”  In any case, Salad Days the film manages to transcend the pitfalls inherent in the hardcore-documentary genre and provides a fresh look at one of the most important periods (and places) in American musical history.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Wasted Talent anthology album

A long time ago, in the early 1980s, when I was a teenager, I was in a hardcore/punk band called Wasted Talent.  Though never as well-known as the classic hardcore bands like Minor Threat, SSD, or Black Flag, we managed to play a few key gigs and also ended up on a celebrated compilation album, The Master Tape, Vol. 2 (Affirmation Records, 1983).  Additionally, we are mentioned in what is still the definitive hardcore history book, American Hardcore: A Tribal History, by Steven Blush (2001), and our bass player was interviewed in the American Hardcore documentary film (2006).

Now, a label called Going Underground Records has put out an anthology of almost all of our material, on vinyl, titled Ready To Riot.  Details are here:

The first pressing is a total of 500 copies, 100 of which are white vinyl.

Further, I was recently interviewed about the history of the band and the new record, here:

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Review of Maurice Scully, Several Dances

The latest collection from the Irish poet Maurice Scully is Several Dances (Shearsman Books, 2014). Scully’s writing, in the big picture, is just that: big. It is essentially an ongoing epic poem or chronicle of the “things that happen” (to quote the title of his major work, which this new book follows on from), in the line of Zukofsky’s ‘A’, William Carlos Williams’s Paterson, and Ezra Pound’s Cantos (thankfully without the kind of crackpot ramblings we sometimes find in Pound; Scully is anything but a fascist and has no time for paranoia about such notions as “USURA”).

Rendered correctly, these long, life-work poems do more than simply record the poet’s thoughts and observations; they encapsulate an argument, a philosophy. In his writing, Scully explores the way(s) in which language and physics (particularly light-waves) influence human perception of the world. Laden into this sort of thinking, or rather existing simultaneously in Scully’s work, are the emotions and details of human life in the day-to-day world, with these latter tending to be the key or gateway for illuminating the former.

A reading of the first piece in the book, “On a Light Ground: Eye Dance,” gives a sense of both Scully’s poetics and the kind of thinking that goes into his writing. First, there is an image: “Dapple of mother-spider / at the centre of its wet / web. . .” Then the speaker enters the poem, but obliquely, as the second-person “you.” In the third stanza come the lines,

I-me-myself are moving

to that left behind, through
air, to that placed shimmer
There is a sense of the multiplicity of the self, or perhaps rather the lack of a stable self. Even when the pronoun moves from second person to first, the first person exists in triplicate. Similarly, “forward” and “behind” and “ahead” are essentially one and the same.

Then, the mode switches back to second-person —

Are you ready? What? To cross

which pattern a/pattern a/
[black] ripple of leaf-shadow
over those books there
— which suggests the interconnectedness of the speaker (or even the reader, maybe also a “you”) with the patterns and shadows the world produces, and perhaps even with the poetry that limns such things (as “books” implies). However, even the things we see are never their “true” essences, Scully argues, but a simulacrum produced by the interplay of light waves and human perception:
smooth fluid undulations
that move across a vase
sketched in to burn care-
fully across representations

On the next page of the same poem, Scully further clarifies that what he is getting at are “Meshes of energies / made visible.” He goes on to revise and reiterate the setting “a calm autumn morning” (in different versions each time), graphing three different successive possibilities for the phrase, further highlighting the sense of the mutability of both language and that which it describes.

Toward the end of the poem, Scully connects “small paint-marks on my palm” and giant stars, conflating the large and the small, the individual and the universal, before finally asserting that “I // think I’ll live here for a bit / not across no but along.” This implies both a sense of ephemerality and the desire to be a part of a greater whole, to, in a sense, “go with the flow” of the universe.

Now, I don’t mean to make Scully sound overly or self- serious. There is plenty of humor here as well, from his riffs on Williams’s “This Is Just to Say” to his wry jabs at the arts industry and literary prize factory; from his short section of poems in greyed-out font (which incidentally come at the end of the book, after the bio note, when you think it’s over) and other typographical play to his use of the mysterious acronym “ELIGP” in the poem “Ground”: “this was at the ELIGP” — huh? Helpfully, the phrase is glossed in the Notes as “Eternal Learning Institute of the Gaelic Phantasm.” Oh, right, I should’ve known!

Actually, though, it’s a brilliant phrase that both subtly parodies and in Scully’s own way affirms the oft-overlooked or dismissed Gaelic backdrop in Irish culture. Since the Celtic Twilight period, there has been a tendency to romanticize this, but Scully, a fluent Irish-speaker, himself often intersperses phrases of the language throughout his work in a manner that both highlights Ireland’s Gaelic history and the part that that heritage and language plays on a day-to-day basis in the present. “The Gaelic Phantasm,” though on one level tongue-in-cheek, is a concept rife with possibility.

And now, I leave it up to other readers to analyze the poems in Several Dances that might speak to them, to indulge in the myriad other Scully phrases and lines here that are also rife with possibility and meaning.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Duquesne University Library, Pittsburgh Poets Database

The Point Bridge, c. 1900
Duquesne University’s Gumberg Library has created a database of Pittsburgh poets (in which I am listed). See it here:

Friday, May 29, 2015

Podcast Interview, May 28, 2015

There really was a microphone that looked like this.
I was interviewed yesterday (May 28, 2015) about poetry, artistic evolution, punk rock, Irish culture, American culture, and various other assorted topics, by Matt Ussia of the podcast radio series “We’re All Gonna Die.” Somewhere in there, I actually read a couple of poems.

Here is the link:

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Che Elias, Of Tire & Anonymity

West Virginia poet (long resident of Pittsburgh) Che Elias’s new poetry collection is out, and it is an arresting offering. Titled Of Tire & Anonymity and published by Six Gallery Press, it is his first in a number of years. Anyone who has read Elias’s work is aware that it is idiosyncratic and visionary and unlike anything anyone else has ever done. The fact that I know him personally and laid out this text and cover should, I hope, only make you want to check it out even more.

Here is John Menesini’s blurb for the book:
“Scars become wings, so shrug—Che Elias changed my life—Wheeling’s Son burns the brightest—holy ghosts Reed & Cleary—whose communion burst—phantasmagoria of coming hosts—ejaculate conception—drink the blood of Wheeling—who showed me the darkness and then a golden, minor place—Che Elias changed my life.”

Of Tire & Anonymity can be ordered here:

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Poem at Philadelphia Review of Books

“many  e x / p l o d e d  earthworks, mounds — ”
My poem “The Cold Salt Snow” (part of a series, but easily read as a stand-alone poem) appears today at the site of The Philadelphia Review of Books:

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Newspaper Article on Recent Reading

Newspaper article on the poetry reading I recently did with John Thomas Menesini, Margaret Bashaar, and Jason Baldinger in California, PA, 4/17. For me its behind a paywall, so I cant read it, but sometimes if youve never been on their site before you get a free one, so who knows.

Four poets deliver provocative performance at Jozart
Friday, April 24, 2015
By Dave Zuchowski for the Herald-Standard

With the goal of “pushing the boundaries of taste,” four diverse poets took to the stage at Jozart Center for the Arts in California Saturday evening to read a selection of pithy, often provocative poems written in a variety of styles. . . .

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Poetry Reading 4/17

I am reading poetry in the town of California, PA, of all places, along with Margaret Bashaar, John Menesini, and Jason Baldinger.

The event takes place at Jozart Center for the Arts, 333 2nd St., California, PA, on Friday, April 17 from 7-10 p.m. Admission is free. The authors will have books to sell.

There’s a story about the reading here: 

There’s also this wording out there on the press release:
This event is not recommended for children and is intended for mature audiences. Those of age may BYOB provided they have proper ID. For more information, call 724-938-9730 or email

(I guess someone intends to use some bad words, or something.)

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Begnal Article on Haniel Long

My article on the 1930s poet Haniel Long, “Haniel Long’s Pittsburgh Memoranda: Documentary Form and 1930s Political Poetry,” is published in the journal College Literature, Volume 42, Number 1, Winter 2015.  The issue may be purchased directly from the journal’s website (here), or, if you have access to the Project MUSE database, may be read in PDF or HTML form (here).

Saturday, March 07, 2015

Meg Ronan, the obligatory garnish argument

Meg Ronan’s the obligatory garnish argument (SpringGun Press, 2014) is a 51-page, 6” x 4” chapbook consisting of a series of variations on themes. One of these themes is the title-phrase itself, which doubles throughout as the title of the majority of the book’s three-line poems. Its meaning is never explained, but that seems to be the point. This is a ludic, absurdist exercise: “obligatory garnish propaganda posted about / the new museum of discarded knobs / a bargain for dues paying members and cooperative mobs” (page 39). Here’s another, a little further on: “competing luxury lumber yards boast / golden rash simulations but no no / nothing like the obligatory garnish argument” (page 42). Ronan’s ultimate forebear in this method is Gertrude Stein, of course, but she’s updated the Steinian subversion of linear language for our own contemporary era. Interspersed through this book, she gives a number of pieces that appear to comment obliquely on the act of reading itself, which inevitably must take into account internet reading strategies. Many of these come across as found comments from a blog or internet article. For example: “If you’re still reading, then you’re pretty serious about your car audio. / If you’re still reading this you’ve gone too far. / Why are you still suffering this hardship at your age?” (page 26). The joke is that such questions inevitably bear on Ronan’s little book too, and, although it perhaps takes a short while to tune in to what she’s doing here, it’s actually not really a “hardship” at all. Perhaps, then, this is a little slap at those critics of “avant-garde” poetry who dislike it for its supposed “difficulty.” Here’s another one, probably also found, that wryly, self-reflexively alludes to the obligatory garnish argument itself: “Thanks for reading my blog, you dirty sluts! / If you’ve read this far the one thing that’s probably sticking in your brain is / WTF with the name?      That’s honestly so nice” (page 43). Yes, WTF? but in a good way.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Reading at Louisville Conference 2/26

I’ll be giving a poetry reading at the University of Louisville on February 26, as part of the Louisville Conference on Literature and Culture since 1900. If you’re in Louisville for the conference, do come by if you can. Here’s the full panel:

B- 9  Creative Panel

Thursday 3:15 PM – 4:45 PM    Room: Humanities  210

Chair: Ted Morrissey, University of Illinois Springfield

Michael S. Begnal, Duquesne University

“Elegies & Homages”

J.D. Schraffenberger, University of Northern Iowa

“‘On Passing Out’ and ‘Dropping Babies’”

Jennifer Gravley, University of Missouri

“Proposing a World without my Mother: Grief and Creative Nonfiction as a Sense-Making Tool”

Mark Silverberg, Cape Breton University and Ben Lee, Univ. of Tennessee

“‘Someone Else’s Words’: Collaborative Poems by Mark Silverberg and Sean Howard”

Friday, February 06, 2015

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Leora Fridman, Obvious Metals

Leora Fridman’s Obvious Metals (Projective Industries, 2014) is at certain points an homage to and/or inspired by the contemporary experimental poet Carrie Lorig, being dedicated to and deriving many of its individual titles from her.  The “Poem for Carrie Lorig” provides both the title of Fridman’s overarching collection and acts as something of a personal manifesto:
stalk the most main street
uninterested in pacing or
what this town has to offer
in graceful rust. No one
wants me, Carrie, in the way
I want the slick street.
Anyone wants me, Carrie —
anyone wants the obvious
metals I know.
The reader wonders about the nature of this relationship — do they even really know each other?  Is this more to do with poetic influence?  Without conducting a bunch of research, we’re not sure.  And, at least in terms of the experience of reading these poems, it doesn’t really matter.

There is much in Obvious Metals that is ambiguous and ambivalent, and that is I think part of its charm.  Most of the poems herein rely on an emphatic “I” voice, a speaker who purports to assert the first person, but who at the same time never really reveals much about herself.  Aside from the declaration that she is “mean / to strange men” (“Proving a Bird”) or that “I can lie / this easily // and so / can live” (“A Body in Distress”) or that “I aspire / to find you / welcome” (“Attempts at Spirits”), this is largely a poetry of purposeful obfuscation.  At times, Fridman verges on outright surrealism/dadaism, as for example in “Dyad”:
the boy down in front
was in trouble for real

the salt shaker had
become the orient

had an awkward roomy
alibi all crust
Yet, in an oblique manner, Fridman also makes arguments about what it’s like to live in this world, in a society, where real connection is difficult and one is left seeking protection “on a grey / street”, metaphorically asserting oneself a bird “play[ing] lamely // at the feet / of the sun” (“Proving a Bird” again).  Or, one emulates a bear, storing up fat for hibernation.  Yet this same bear also acts on a communal level and “delivers / on a promise // when it tells its friends / where food” (“What’s Fatty”).

For that matter, let’s look at those lines from “Attempts at Spirits” again.  “I aspire / to find you / welcome” on one level suggests the speaker’s hesitance about her relationship with someone or other.  In other words, the person addressed is seemingly not or not yet fully welcome.  But Fridman’s use of enjambment here also allows a slightly different reading.  “I aspire” gets its own line, emphasizing a sense of hopefulness in the situation.  Read together, the phrase “I aspire to find you” certainly lends weight to this idea.  Then, the fact that the single word “welcome” gets a line to itself actually implies that the addressee is in fact quite welcome in her company.  Taken together, we might read this passage something like, “I am open to connecting with (finding) you — welcome!”

The physical rendering of Fridman’s words on the page is thus to fore, and in that regard she might be seen as a contemporary practitioner of Objectivism, whose foremost figures (Zukofsky, Oppen, Niedecker, et al.) at times exhibited similarly oblique qualities, also similarly often resolved with repeated readings.  And though I haven’t read Carrie Lorig as extensively as I perhaps should (some pieces online), it seems that she herself works in a similar mode and so makes an apt dedicatee here.  Dense at first, Obvious Metals gives pleasure in its density, in its unexpected suggestion(s), its eschewal of obviousness.  As Fridman herself concludes in the book’s final poem, “Take the Call,” “can any explanation / dispel” — the answer, I suppose, is just take the call and see what happens. . .

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

James Williamson, Re-Licked

James Williamson, Re-Licked

I don’t write a lot of record reviews these days, focusing mostly on poetry, but when something Stooges-related like this comes out I kind of have to.  So, James Williamson, Stooges second guitarist from late 1970 through 1971 and sole guitarist through the second phase of the band’s incarnation (as Iggy and the Stooges, 1972-74, playing on and co-writing their important third LP Raw Power), has released an album titled Re-Licked, remaking some of their later songs that never made it to an official album (but eventually surfaced on numerous bootlegs of live and rehearsal recordings).  Iggy Pop does not appear, and instead Williamson has enlisted a number of guest singers.

As someone who is very familiar with the bootlegs of these tunes and who doesn’t care all that much about their supposedly bad sound quality, Williamson was always going to have to a lot to live up to: the original Iggy and the Stooges in their raw, primal glory.  I’ve spent many hours listening to these songs and know them as well as any of the other Stooges material.  So, when I initially played this record, I thought it sounded a tiny bit tame in comparison.  However, with repeated listenings it has grown on me a lot, and I have to say that Re-Licked is overall quite a success, probably even better than the 2013 Iggy and the Stooges Ready to Die album.

My favorite song here is “Head On,” with Jello Biafra of the Dead Kennedys on vocals, and it’s no accident that this is the lead-off track.  I more or less stopped following Biafra’s career a while ago, although I always liked the first few DKs records, but he sounds great here and the uniqueness of his yodel-like voice adds a lot, and this is one of the most up and energetic pieces on the whole album.

Now, to “Open Up and Bleed,” which I know from reading various interviews is James’s own favorite on this album (which he repeats on the “making of” DVD that’s included), and particularly because of Carolyn Wonderland’s singing — but sorry to say I can’t share his enthusiasm for the vocal performance here.  It’s a subjective thing, but to me she sounds a bit too refined, a bit too practiced in a kind of mainstream FM-radio “blues” style of singing.  It’s not that she’s bad per se, quite the opposite, just that it doesn’t feel authentic to me.  So this is one instance where Iggy was really missed.  (I hope James isn’t mad; I know, from social media, that he tends to read these reviews.).  And, for whatever reason, the heavy, speeded-up part at the end of the song is dispensed with in this version.

Track three is “Scene of the Crime” with Bobby Gillespie of Primal Scream on vocals, the song originally being recorded in the Stooges’ pre-Raw Power rehearsals in 1972.  I was kind of surprised to see songs from this period here (as they were previously studio-recorded and already had something tantamount to an official release), but this is a very good, faithful-to-the-original rendition.

“She Creatures of the Hollywood Hills” was one of my favorites from their bootlegs, and in those versions really intense and usually pretty freeform.  Williamson’s guitar on at least one version I can think of was especially loud and violent-sounding.  On this alternatively imagined version, with Ariel Pink, the electric piano and horn section are to the fore (there is no guitar solo, but instead a great tenor sax solo by Steve Mackay), but it makes for an absorbing song nonetheless, with kind of a percussion-y voodoo feel.  Ariel Pink does a straight-up Iggy impression, and it works.  “She Creatures” was written by the late Ron Asheton, and at one point Ariel Pink seems to say, “C’mon Ron” — just like Iggy did on “No Fun” — as kind of a tribute?  A nice gesture.

“Til the End of the Night” was another surprise inclusion, simply because of its rarity.  The song was never performed live that I know of, appearing only on one rehearsal tape.  It’s a slow, pretty ballad (perhaps recalling Iggy’s Doors influence), which I always liked in its original form, and though Alison Mosshart isn’t quite my favorite singer (again just subjective taste, but I do think she comes on especially in the choruses), it’s a pleasant listen here.  Williamson’s solo sounds almost exactly the same as it does on the original.  As with “Open Up and Bleed,” the fast, heavy ending section is omitted in this version.

“I Got a Right” is such a classic that it would be hard to live up to the original, but Lisa Kekaula from The BellRays does a nice job with it.  I liked her work with the BellRays and their punk/soul fusion a lot, and it was good thinking of James to get her in for this project.  Whether “I Got a Right” needs a horn section, though, is another question altogether (well, it’s not the worst thing in the world).  Kekaula especially shines on “Heavy Liquid” (a bonus track appearing later on the CD part of this package), a somewhat lesser-trodden Stooges tune where comparisons to the original are less necessary.  That song leans toward the bluesy or even southern-rock(!) end of the late-period Stooges’ sound, not quite representative of what they were really about, but still a good song.  I recently read a review in which someone suggested of this version that it’s what Led Zeppelin would have sounded like if they had horns, which struck me as kind of funny since I never would have uttered the Stooges in the same breath as Led Zep (Zeppelin is one of my all-time most hated bands), but I can kind of hear it.  Despite that, a solid performance, and this time the horns work well.

The inclusion of “Pinpoint Eyes” was a further surprise, because I always thought it was just a sort of random jam thing the Stooges played during a practice session, just a two-chord blues over which Iggy improvised some drug-themed lyrics, and I didn’t even think it was intended to be a real song.  But here it is, with Joe Cardamone of The Icarus Line (who I’d never heard of until now) doing his own Iggy impression (with a tiny bit of Mick Jagger tossed in for good measure) — not bad, though maybe tries too hard to come across as ultra-sleazy.  I guess the nature of the song calls for this, however.

“Wild Love,” rendered as a duet between Mark Lanegan and Alison Mosshart, is one of the standouts of Re-Licked (though again it took me a while to get into Mosshart’s style), with Williamson’s heavy guitar riff dominating.  The liner notes by Jack Boulware suggest that this song “should have been the centerpiece of a post-Raw Power album,” which again surprised me (surprises all over the place on this record).  I would’ve thought “Rubber Leg” or “Head On” would’ve been the anchor to the putative album (fulfilling the “Search and Destroy” / “Raw Power” role, with “Open Up and Bleed” being the album’s “Gimme Danger”).  But Boulware must get this straight from Williamson, so I guess we live and learn.

There are two versions of “Rubber Leg” on Re-Licked, one sung by Ron Young from Little Caesar and the other bonus version by J.G. Thirlwell (who I’m more familiar with as Jim Foetus).  I’m partial to the latter, as Thirwell’s vocal style is a bit more extreme and original (note: where songs are duplicated, the instrumental tracks seem to be the same, with the vocals simply dubbed over).  In any case, this was always one of my favorite later Stooges songs, with a particularly Stonesy vibe, which comes across here.  For me, definitely one of Williamson’s best moments, and, with “Head On,” the highlight of the album.  (Incidentally, the main riff in “Rubber Leg” has the same chord progression as that of “Wild Love,” just in a different key, speeded up, and accented slightly differently; anyone else who’s familiar with these tunes ever notice that?)

“I’m Sick of You” (with Mario Cuomo from The Orwells, another band I was unfamiliar with) is another faithfully rendered 1972 song.  Cuomo’s voice is so Jim Morrison-inflected on this track that the whole first half of it began to remind me of “The Crystal Ship,” something I’d never noticed in listening to the original Iggy version.  But kind of cool.  Williamson’s guitar in the middle section of the song is blazing, like in the original.

Then there are the bonus tracks appearing only on CD (which is included with the vinyl, a nice touch).  “Gimme Some Skin” features Caroline Wonderland again — well, see above.  There are two versions of “Cock in My Pocket,” one with Nicke Andersson of The Hellacopters, who’s good, but I prefer the Gary Floyd version as I was always a fan of The Dicks (get their Kill From the Heart album if you don’t already have it), and Floyd’s Austin-punk/blues singing is especially great on this, one of the album’s standouts in fact.  I’ve already discussed “Heavy Liquid” and the alternate “Rubber Leg,” which leaves “Wet My Bed” (with The Richmond Sluts), a sleazoid Chuck Berry-esque tune that the Stooges performed live at least a couple of times.  It’s done quite well here, a real cool listening experience.

All of the players, of which James Williamson and Steve Mackay (sax) are the only actual Stooges left, rise to the occasion and give it their all.  The instrumental tracks are split between two different rhythm sections, one being Mike Watt (who should sort of be a considered a Stooge at this point too) and Toby Dammit, the other being Simone Marie Butler (of Primal Scream) and Michael Urbano.  Gregg Foreman (keyboardist with Cat Power) appears on most of the songs and, in the documentary DVD, rocks a period Keith Richards/Rod Stewart/James Williamson shag haircut.

Williamson of course is the central figure, the linchpin — not only is it his project, but with only two exceptions, he wrote the music to all of these songs, and his playing throughout the album is impeccable.  At times I miss the rawness of the Raw Power-era sound (though often he still attains it), and because of that the album took a couple listens to grow on me; but Williamson’s greatness as a rock’n’roll guitarist certainly cannot be ignored.  I’ve always thought of him in the same category with Keith Richards, Johnny Thunders, Wayne Kramer, Fred Smith, Sterling Morrison, Lou Reed, and of course Ron Asheton, the guitarists who defined the proto-punk rock sound.  And though this is not an original Stooges album (due to the short-sightedness of their management and record label back in 1973/74), Re-Licked reminds us also that Williamson’s songwriting (as well as his playing) is some of the best in rock’n’roll, of any period, of all time.

Some further observations about the composition of the album.  A handful of other late-period Stooges songs are not included, “Johanna” and “I Got Nothing” being the most obvious omissions — but then, these have already had an official release on the Kill City album, so it makes sense.  “Rich Bitch,” which appears on Metallic K.O., does not make it to Re-Licked (perhaps the sexist lyrics had something to do with it?).  “Born in a Trailer,” on the Till the End of the Night bootleg, is also left off, but that seems just to have been a kind of a jam on a riff and was never fully fleshed out.  There’s another such track out there titled “Hey Baby” (on the My Girl Hates My Heroin bootleg) where James plays a Stones-influenced riff, Ron Asheton and Scott Thurston join in, and Iggy improvises some lyrics — but again it’s not a fully fledged song.  There’s no “Jesus Loves the Stooges.”  A track called “Rock Action,” provenance unknown, but bearing a passing resemblance to “Open Up and Bleed,” included on an EP called Siamese Dogs, similarly does not make the cut (I’m not even sure when or with whom that one was recorded).  None of the 1971-lineup songs (aside from “I Got a Right”).

So, what would a Raw Power follow-up album, recorded in 1973, really have looked like?  Re-Licked gives a strong hint of it, but the 14 or so songs included here would have had to be trimmed down to, say, ten at most.  It’s hard to know what songs they would’ve gone with in the end, and much of it would’ve been up to Iggy, who had no part in the Re-Licked project.  All of the pre-Raw Power songs would have been out, for sure.  “Cock in My Pocket” would probably have to have been left out because of its dirty lyrics; ditto “Wet My Bed.”  On the other hand, given how much of a staple “Cock in My Pocket” was to their live set, perhaps they would’ve re-titled it and changed a couple lyrics.  Given that Iggy and James kept “Johanna” and “I Got Nothing” through to the post-Stooges Kill City sessions, these would definitely have been on the album.  “Open Up and Bleed” is a definite.  “Rubber Leg” and “Head On” you would think as well, and given Boulware’s liner notes comment about “Wild Love,” that one too.  Since they played “Heavy Liquid” a lot live, I guess that one would get in, and possibly a version of “She Creatures” too.  And, given how practiced and thought-through “Till the End of the Night” was even back on the 1973 practice tape, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that it too probably would have been included.  So the album might have looked something like this:

Side One:
Head On
Rubber Leg
Open Up and Bleed
Wild Love
She Creatures of the Hollywood Hills

Side Two:
Cock in My Pocket (probably with a new title?)
I Got Nothing
Heavy Liquid
Till the End of the Night

Suggested title for this album that, sadly, never was: Open Up and Bleed; released (in a parallel reality) on Columbia Records, 1974.

[For those of you interested in this sort of thing, I wrote a poem about the similarly non-existent Stooges third album on Elektra (1971) in my collection Future Blues, available here.]

Williamson w/the Stooges, 1974

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Michael McAloran, The Zero Eye

Michael McAloran’s The Zero Eye (Oneiros Books, 2014) is poetry at possibly its most extreme in terms of disjunctiveness of language and the violence of its themes and vision. Certain influences suggest themselves — Lautréamont, Rimbaud’s A Season in Hell, the pessimism and some of the techniques of Beckett. Writer of the introduction to the book, Aad de Gids, adds Malcom Lowry and Céline to the list. But McAloran takes these possible influences to their limits and adds in further doses of apocalyptic terror, paranoia, and desperation. 

The Zero Eye is the poetic equivalent of early Einstürzende Neubauten. Here is a sample of McAloran’s writing, from a section called “the hang(ed) light”: “. . .detritus collapse/ wrung light of all that ever was/ spoke no no not sung neither/ claim or not/ a broken jaw of acrid tears/ sedimentary skull lights/ ache without speech/ from a gouge of absent colourings/ ache without sound/ . . .” This is a panorama of destruction, modeling in words the struggle to represent what apparently cannot even be really represented or fully transmitted — there is the sense in these lines of the futility of expression and the horror of human beings’ isolation from each other.

Compared to Rimbaud, the personality of the speaker, the I, is less apparent, but there is the titular “eye” in certain pieces here, which acts as a sort of symbol or stand-in (I think) for the speaker or at least the vision of the poet. It is at once “the roving eye” (one that is “clear” and “wishful” as well as “bleeding” and “silenced,” “roving in the darkness of I”) and “the zero eye” (far more negative, “voidal,” “obsolete,” a “nullity”). Ultimately this book seems an expression of both a sort of personal pain and the process of interrogating (and I think here of “interrogation” not only in the academic sense of problematizing an idea, but also metaphorically say a jail-cell interrogation, the aggression and harshness of that) the language which always seems unable to encompass it — McAloran ends with the realization or paradoxical assertion that “this is not [even] a text. . .” The Zero Eye is not for the faint of heart and requires a certain kind of readerly discipline. But it has a visceral effect and is unlike just about anything anyone is writing today.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Paige Taggart, The Ice Poems

photo by Jes Shimek (, from the DoubleCross Press site
Paige Taggart’s The Ice Poems (DoubleCross Press, 2012) is a sharply constructed little chapbook with letterpress covers that sparkle subtly, imitating the quality of ice itself. The physical package (designed by Jeff Peterson) is a fitting complement to a quite excellent series of poems by Taggart, poems which often subvert syntactical expectations to dazzling, sometimes dizzying, effect. Initially dense and hard to penetrate, these untitled pieces soon shine through with a little bit of work on the reader’s part (at least, that’s how it was for me). They are never literal but succeed by layering themes and ideas throughout the course of the series, relying on repetition and juxtaposition to make their meaning(s).

Once I got into Taggart’s method — about halfway through my first reading of it — the poems really began to come across for me, and I then immediately went back and reread the whole thing. When poems are able to give you that intangible inward buzz via their own inherent aesthetic effects, just by reading the words themselves on the page, you know there’s something worthwhile going on. This was one of my favorite sections:
offensive myth in chronological order
can’t take baby wait
outside a twine ball unwinds down the sidewalk
ancestry is hereditary

the bridge is tied under the water // in rain snow melted on sidewalk showing nothing had come before // backwards becoming undone // by the none other than escape
So what does it mean? Does there even have to be easily identifiable meaning all the time? I don’t think so, but again I can see themes here — in the case of this excerpt, of the influence of the past on our individual lives, of families, of disconnection, of personal transformation. I like the sudden, brief static image (“in rain snow melted on sidewalk”) amid poems that overwhelmingly function kinetically. By this I mean that it’s the quality of the language itself, its disruptions, and at times outright oddness that seem to move these poems forward — rather than basing them on Poundian snapshots — and so when one such snapshot does appear, it stands out effectively.

Though we would probably call this poetry “avant-garde” in some way, I think Taggart works less in the tradition that leads from Pound to Language Poetry (though her language-play does occasionally recall something of Stein), and instead gestures toward the methods of Dadaism and Surrealism. For example, the line “we have an inside of another us” suggests a cut-up of something like “we have another inside of us” (though of course I’m speculating here), while “the face of the mountain lapped up my mind into a whirlpool // birds outside crystallized into imaginary migrations // an eggshell in times of my mouth grew weary // an egg in the snow // . . .” puts me in mind of Joyce Mansour or Charles Henri Ford, more so than of, say, Susan Howe (which is not a value judgment; I love Susan Howe).

One difference between what Taggart does and what Language Poetry typically does, is that emotional resonances are very much to the fore in Taggart’s writing, and the “lyric I,” if obscured, remains very much present. In a recent online interview, she said of another poem of hers,
This particular poem was written with extreme clarity and written all in one sitting from beginning to end and it was all TRUTH > memory forming thought to gain better clarity about the present . . . sometimes I write in pursuit of pure language, love, and want to impact my emotions into a vessel that can ride like a philosophical seahorse, and this was definably that kind of moment.
I think something similar is going on in The Ice Poems, where emotions are suggested in mystifying metaphors and weird veers of thought and grammar: “I fell entirely through the ice // swim and sank into invisible patterns / pulled from inside my memory bed // it was thick // it was crowded with me” — yes, this is good stuff.

But perhaps my impulse always to contextualize or situate a work in a tradition is unnecessary. It is also enough to see Taggart’s work as engaging on its own terms, or as part of its own scene — Taggart is prominent among a particular group of poets based in New York City, specifically Brooklyn, and maybe in some way she reflects the zeitgeist of that informal circle (and I wholeheartedly affirm the idea of groups of poet-friends). In any case, as someone who is not part of the same social group but who comes at Taggart’s work as an interested reader and poet, I’ll end by simply saying that The Ice Poems appealed to my own particular tastes, and for whatever it’s worth I very much recommend them.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Reading at Duquesne Univ. 12/4

I will be reading poetry, along with fiction writer and poet Karen Lillis, for Duquesne University’s Coffee House Reading Series on Thursday, Dec. 4, at 7 p.m. in the Barnes & Noble Café (ground floor of the Power Center).
Duquesne’s media services did a little story on us, here.  If you’re in Pgh, I’ll see you at the reading.

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Poem in Spiral Orb

My poem “Homage to Muriel Rukeyser” appears [here] at the online journal Spiral Orb, issue 9. This journal is particularly interesting for its intertextual and eco-poetic aspects. Spiral Orb describes itself this way:

How systems (a poem-system, an eco-system, a human-construct-system like a state or a country, a solar-system, a web-system, a circulatory system, etc.) organize themselves (and are organized) is of great interest. This systems focus may be considered a permaculture poetics. The lyric cross-pollinates the experimental.

Sections (words, phrases, lines) of each poem published in Spiral Orb are embedded with hyperlinks to other poems in Spiral Orb. A composite poem including a fragment from each piece in Spiral Orb serves as the entry piece and table of contents. Hence, Spiral Orb is an experiment in juxtaposition, interrelationships, and intertextuality. Each poem stands on its own, but is also illuminated by its links. Anticipate the poems making contact with one another in an odd and perfect manner.

Aside from myself, this issue includes work from Maleea Acker, Amy Ash & Callista Buchen, Stephen Collis, Dina El Dessouky, Betsy Fagin, Barbara Henning, Elizabeth Kelley Bowman, Lucia LoTempio, Paige Menton, Sabine Miller, Jessica Reed, Chris Turnbull, Linda Umans, Erin Renee Wahl, Steve Willey, and Sarah Ann Winn.

My thanks to editor Eric Magrane.