“How many times does an angel fall?”

Blackstar, David Bowie’s final album, was released on his 69th birthday, and two days later he was dead.

Bowie’s death reflected his life. The artifact he left behind to mark the event is shot through with serious psychic overload, the sort of information glut that had for five decades defined his finest work. Its implications are wistful, intellectual, historical, deeply romantic, obscene, doubtful, heroic, mythic, vulnerable-to-the-point-of-shivering, preening, referential, reverential, grateful, obsequious, loving, reaching, reaching, reaching, dissatisfied, open.

Blackstar is rife with allusions, but one is especially moving and munificent:

Elvis Presley was born on January 8, 1935; David Bowie on January 8, 1947. Bowie discussed their shared birthday in 1997, stating, “I was absolutely mesmerized by it. I couldn’t believe it. He was a major hero of mine. And I was probably stupid enough to believe that having the same birthday as him actually meant something.” Nineteen years later, he found a way to make it mean something. To wit:

The famous image of Elvis that Andy Warhol used, with Elvis all intense and bug-eyed in cowboy gear, is taken from the 1960 film Flaming Star. That film’s notorious theme song is, in fact, a reworking of a song Elvis originally had written as “Black Star,” the lyrics of which are…

Every man has a black star
A black star over his shoulder
And when a man sees his black star
He knows his time, his time has come

Black star don’t shine on me, black star
Black star keep behind me, black star
There’s a lot of livin’ I gotta do
Give me time to make a few dreams come true
Black star

When I ride I feel that black star
That black star over my shoulder
So I ride in front of that black star
Never lookin’ around, never lookin’ around

Black star don’t shine on me, black star
Black star keep behind me, black star
There’s a lot of livin’ I gotta do
Give me time to make a few dreams come true
Black star

One fine day I’ll see that black star
That black star over my shoulder
And when I see that old black star
I’ll know my time, my time has come

Black star don’t shine on me, black star
Black star keep behind me, black star
There’s a lot of livin’ I gotta do
Give me time to make a few dreams come true
Black star


And so there you have it. As we go walking in the valley of the shadow of death, I bid you goodnight….


The moon stood still…

Valentine’s Day 2015
Fats Domino – “Blueberry Hill”

It’s after midnight, so technically it’s no longer Valentine’s Day, but anyone who pays strict attention to such technicalities deserves no place at this table. This is about love, and if you believe that love ought to be tethered to a specific day, you oughtn’t use the word at all….

When I turned 30, my family orchestrated a remarkably moving birthday gift.

I arrived at my parents’ house in the afternoon, fully armed with a clutch of discs I was ready to spin as I enjoyed my transition to the next culturally-recognized decade of significance (don’t all of us live lifetimes within moments anyway?), but I was cut off at the pass. I’d rushed to plop Iggy Pop’s Lust for Life onto the stereo (what a coup!), but my younger brother told me I had to wait. This made me a little angry. “You’re going to tell me how to musically enjoy my birthday?” I thought, selfishly indignant.

Then my present was trotted out. My sister Sarah had made a cake depicting a record, with my name and my age artfully displayed. The design was killer – fuck Stop & Shop and fuck your local cake company. This was better, I promise. As if that weren’t enough, my family had conspired to create a triple-CD mix chosen especially for me. Everyone had picked songs that made them think of me. That’s a tough place to be, in some ways. Very exposed. My older brother chose only tracks which we had seen in concert together, and so Einsturzende Neubauten’s “Haus Der Luege” played against a recording of my nieces and nephew singing to me. As with the best rock and roll moments, there is no way to reconcile the gulf across which such instances might pass.

One of the songs on the compilation was “Blueberry Hill” by Fats Domino. Part of the deal, such as it was, involved a game. If I could correctly guess which family member had picked which track up to a certain percent, I would be presented at the end of the dinner with a check for $100. I guessed most of them, and that $100, while much appreciated, is now a thing of the past.

But the song that really sticks in my mind, for whatever reason, across all the intervening, eventful years, is “Blueberry Hill,” chosen by my sister Sarah, who made that insane cake. When I asked her that day why she’d chosen it, she shrugged and said, “I just figured it’s just one of the best songs ever.” She was so right.

At the time of the gift and that birthday, I felt completely shattered and broken, but that’s another story. Or is it? Maybe that’s the real story, one that gets to the crux of the very function of this kind of music. I refuse to relegate music (or any art) to the realm of escapist comfort, and I don’t even think that’s what this song represents, but there exists the undeniable fact that in the dark of night, when we’ve been left more alone than we’d previously thought possible, there is some degree of solace to be found in a song.

And a song like “Blueberry Hill” (as though there are other songs like “Blueberry Hill”) is just the thing. It’s a tonic, a friendly shoulder upon which we might lean. Love. What is it? Most natural painkiller what there is. Love.

What do we love about it? The drums have more than a little to do with it. They don’t let up, like real pain doesn’t let up. The piano chugs ahead like a snowball gathering strength, girth, and speed as it swoons down the blueberry hill. And the voice, that miraculous thing, resigned, sad, full of possibility. How many times Domino wavers, quivers, and shudders, each variation a moment of doubt, the kind of doubt that encompasses not only the notion that things might not work out, but also the more terrible fear that everything might, after all, be ok. Sadness is in its own way resolved, it requires no out, it can go on forever. But his voice as it works with the rhythm and melody he chooses to live with for the duration of this particular proclamation – there’s the real alchemy.

There’s no explaining it. There’s no prompting it. There’s no using it. There can only be our attempts to deal with it. And maybe that’s some kind of love, or maybe it’s not.

But I’m going to play this song again tonight…


GX Jupitter-Larsen
7” (sort of)
None Records, 2014

When Sandy Denny wrote the song “Who Knows Where the Time Goes?” she wrote the line “I have no thought of time,” and also in the beginning of Easy Rider Peter Fonda throws his watch away to prove that he’s hip to time. Stephen Hawking wrote a book about the history of time, and I read that book but I remember almost nothing about it other than the fact that he can’t understand why, given the way that time works, we can know so much about the past but nothing about the future. Philosophers love to talk and talk, and then write and write, about time as one of the principal modes of experience (the other is space, I think?), and David Bowie frames time as a thing that will take a cigarette and put it in your mouth.

But in a different song Bowie says that time is someone who, while waiting in the wings “speaks of senseless things,” and that starts to hint at Alfred Jarry’s assertion that “discussing comprehensible matters only weighs down the mind and distorts the memory, while absurdities exercise the spirit and make the memory work all the harder,” which gets us closer to what we should be discussing, which is that in the mail yesterday I got a clock from GX Jupitter-Larsen, who has made many amazing things between recording and performing as The Haters but also produced strange objects like rulers that don’t work and buttons with no image, etc. This clock, which is called Shear, is a piece of paper that comes in a sleeve that might indicate that it’s a 7” record, but if you take all the stuff out of the sleeve you find that there’s no record at all. Nope. Nothing to listen to. And, there aren’t even hands on this clock. It’s just numbers on a piece of paper. And on the back there are instructions, but they just tell you that you can squeeze the clock to watch it, and who’s going to do that? It also bears a stamp informing the time-teller that it’s not valid on Kettleday, and since Kettleday, insofar as Jupitter-Larsen has defined it is a period between other periods of time, we can go back to Jarry because it’s a pataphysical method of clock-making and clock-looking, since, as Jarry says “pataphysics is the science of imaginary solutions, which symbolically attributes the properties of objects described by their virtuality, to their lineaments.”

The character Austerlitz of W.G. Sebald’s book Austerlitz says, “I have never owned a clock of any kind, a bedside alarm or a pocket watch, let alone a wristwatch. A clock has always struck me as something ridiculous, a thoroughly mendacious object, perhaps because I have resisted the power of time out of some internal compulsion which I myself have never understood, keeping myself apart from the so-called current events in the hope, as I now think, said Austerlitz, that time will not pass away, has not passed away, that I can turn back and go behind it, and there I shall find everything as it once was, or more precisely I shall find that all moments of time have co-existed simultaneously, in which case none of what history tells us would be true, past events have not yet occurred but are waiting to do so at the moment when we think of them, although that, of course, opens up the bleak prospect of everlasting misery and neverending anguish.” So what do we make of clocks if all that might be true?

Alfred Jarry also liked to ride bicycles, and those have wheels, which is how they move, and wheels turn in circles, going round and round, which is what the wheels on Peter Fonda’s motorcycle do in Easy Rider and also what clock hands are supposed to do on normal clocks. But like I said, this clock has no hands so even though it’s a clock it’s not really a clock! And Jupitter-Larsen’s ahead of this game since The Haters’ Tractor, which is a record which is an object that spins around like the gears of a clock or any sort of wheel or any celestial body in orbit, is a thing you play forwards on one side and then backwards on the other (the needle moves from the inside out), and that’s like knowing already that time itself is a malleable field, which is sort of what Hawking says in that book I can’t remember any of. And if you don’t pay attention, the second side of Tractor might ruin your turntable because when it’s done the needle will just fall off the edge of the record and crush itself on the table part of your turntable, the way that Guy Debord and Asger Jorn’s book that they covered in sandpaper will ruin your other books if you file it on your bookshelf. You’ve got to be careful!

One of the things about things is that they can’t really want anything because they’re just things, and so if time is a thing it can’t really be trying to do anything because if things don’t want anything they can’t try to do anything so maybe time is actually not that much of a thing and if it’s not a thing you can’t make a clock out of it or confine it in a way that makes you feel better about yourself the way you might try to make every other thing make you feel better about yourself.

“Nothing” has the word has “thing” in it as part of it so things are part of nothing even though “nothing” means that there are no things. So who’s really to say what the crux of this whole thing is? Some things are things, but other things aren’t really things and this clock is a thing that isn’t really a thing and that’s what makes it fun. Also think about how the word “someone” has “one” in it, and “one” means a single thing, but “someone” could mean many people, and the word “anyone” also has “one” in it but that word means that the concept of “many people” can ultimately manifest itself singularly. Take that and shove it up whichever hole you like, since “hole” is simply an absence surrounded by things.

And if you think I’m rather obviously ripping off another writer’s style here I might remind you that GX Jupitter-Larsen himself has a record called Rip-Off, but it’s not a full-length record, it’s a 7” (like this clock is sort of, but not really) with The New Blockaders and John Wiese that’s the sound of paper getting ripped up, and also if you have a problem with ownership, I’d argue that no one owns anything, since anything (as the mystics taught us) is everything, and if you still have a problem with that I’d encourage you to stick it where the sun don’t shine, which, as it happens, is nowhere, since the sun kind of shines everywhere, and even the places we think it doesn’t really “shine” are places that it shines because if you’ve made it this far and still have a problem, your definition of “shine,” much like your definition of “time,” must be rather limited.

And since “shine” isn’t really a thing either but rather is something that things do, what is the thing that makes the sun (which is what we’re talking about now) shine? If it’s fire (which is really what makes most things shine in one way or another), it’s the release of energy that’s been stored up by things (like wood or paper [which is made from wood]) from being shone upon by the sun and released when a certain temperature is reached. And here Jupitter-Larsen has us beat again, since he has a record called Fire which is another 7” which is just the sound of some fire burning. And that record is different from the record called In the Shade of Fire, which is a full length LP with many different sounds on it, sometimes at the same time.

Good night, thanks for nothing, nobody cares, everything’s fine, where do we go now, what’s next, who cares, what’s the point, maybe there’s a lot of points?

What a great clock this is!



Here are some of the things that rhyme with “shear”:

Tear (like from your eyes when you’re sad or laughing too much)
Mirror (if you make it one syllable)
Burning Spear
King Lear
Hear (duh!)
Pap Smear
Air (kind of)
Vitrine (doesn’t rhyme)
and, of course, rear.


There is a degree to which patriotism is every bit as awful as terrorism, and that is what was proven in the wake of the attacks on the World Trade Center.

Like many who grew up in and around New York, I knew people who perished and people who were there but escaped death. I also had the immediate feeling, once the reality of the situation began to set in late in the afternoon, that it was something that would bring out the very worst in everyone.

Aaron Rosenblum and I had driven past the towers the night before, dropping friends off in Queens on a return trip from Chicago where we’d played some shows with our band Shackamaxon. We awoke the next morning in Western Massachusetts to the chaos on the television.

On the day of the attacks, Noam Chomsky offered up this sobering observation: “The terrorist attacks were major atrocities. In scale, they may not reach the level of many others – for example, Clinton’s bombing of the Sudan with no credible pretext, destroying half its pharmaceutical supplies and killing unknown numbers of people.” Six days ago, Chomsky presented an even further-implicating statement, unrelated but related: “The likely end of the era of civilization is foreshadowed in a new draft report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the generally conservative monitor of what is happening to the physical world.”

And tonight I feel somehow moved to comment on these events which are far beyond my comprehension, but in no way beyond my understanding of that which this wretched species of ours is capable. I also happen to be working on a set of liner notes for a reissue of Loren Connors’ Airs, an album recorded two years prior to the events at the World Trade Center. Nearly every public response to the attacks has in some way seemed suspect to me, never quite hit the mark of what it was like to live through that foreboding time.

Loren Connors recorded this piece on that night, and the sorrow one hears is not all that different from the sorrow that exists in much of his music. Stylistically it is not all that different from the music I am trying to write about that exists on Airs. Loren’s music recognizes a strain of lament that can be applied to the entirety of life. When a seismic tragedy struck close to home, he knew just what to play.

So: Loren Mazzacane Connors – for NY 9/11/01

The Eye of the Needle

I want to say something about Robert Ashley’s death, but I am growing tired of memorializing. It’s not an easy situation.

Ashley’s voice always contained its own ghost anyway. I have played his Private Parts LP countless times, turning the record over and over. For an album so absolutely chock-full of words, I can hardly remember a single line. It has always been the entirety of the experience that has drawn me in. A seal of its perfection, as it were, is that it is so easy to forget. A sure sign of thoughtfulness about who one might have been.

It is a piece, much like his Automatic Writing, into which I tune in and tune out of at will, allowing it invariably to wash over me, rather than getting tied up paying close attention to the literal meaning of what is being said. The sound of his voice invokes a singular atmosphere. His voice itself is a testament to the very nature of speech (and, indeed, of all sound) as ethereal vibration. As I listen, my mind sees every aspect of my breath.

So much of what he created is extraordinary, but Private Parts is what I turn to when I want something I can get nowhere else, when I want a set of circumstances that is indescribable with my geometry. I remember, down to the smallest detail, the time I first heard it. It is one of the few records I know which, upon the initial listen, seems to have always existed, an explication of an emotional state I felt (and, in fact, still feel, even though I’m not the same person that I used to be) constantly but which had previously held no explicit form.

Robert, as it happens, is my middle name.

Robert Ashley 1930—2014
“He worked with the forwardness and the backwardness.”


Arthur Doyle at Hampshire!

I will forever think of the early 2000’s as a magical time. Along with Aaron Rosenblum and John Shaw, I was involved in the organization of more shows than I can possibly remember. Between our two student groups at Hampshire College and the volunteer work we did at Flywheel in Easthampton, Mass., we managed to book shows for what is, in retrospect, an amazing cavalcade of weirdos: Michael Hurley, Magik Markers, K-Salvatore, MV & EE, P.G. Six, Lee Ranaldo, Idea Fire Company, Graham Lambkin, Roger Miller, Jim O’Rourke, Paul Flaherty, Wolf Eyes, Sunburned Hand of the Man, Joshua Burkett, Christina Carter, Eugene Chadbourne, Thurston Moore, Tom Carter, Double Leopards, Heather Leigh Murray, Pelt, Major Stars, Overhang Party, Dredd Foole, Joe McPhee, and many others who filled our nights with strange sounds and strange times. But unquestionably the story I’ve told the most is that of the first time we had Arthur Doyle play in the Hampshire Tavern…

We were so excited. We designed a typically crude poster and ran through the dorms taping copies to the mirrors in every bathroom. In those halcyon days before social media, this seemed like the best way to get the word out. It hardly ever worked. (If memory serves, three people came to see Wolf Eyes.) But for whatever weird reason, the Arthur Doyle show was packed, even with our steep $3 cover.

After opening sets from Katellus (a group that eventually modulated into xo4) and Son of Earth (Aaron, John, and myself) featuring a pre-Fat Worm of Error Neil Young Cloaca and Chris Corsano, Doyle stepped up to play. I can no longer remember why, but the room was almost completely dark. He climbed up on the flimsy risers that we used to push together to form a stage, still in his bright yellow winter coat, and started his set without much fanfare.

Arthur played music that came directly out of a long, rich jazz tradition, yet was still uniquely and utterly his. His formula was pretty simple: a riff would be established on the saxophone, it would repeat endlessly, and then he would remove the horn from his mouth and sing, almost invariably along with the melody with which he’d spent so much time entrancing the listener. When he played it sounded like there were years of dirt built up in bottom of his horn, but it didn’t sound shoddy. He was loose and the songs careened from one surface cadence to another, yet there was a guiding rhythm that never abated. When he sang it seemed like he was singing only when he felt like it, but it never strayed from that rhythm of his which managed to be at once intensely personal and invitingly universal. The room, still packed for reasons I cannot quite understand, listened intently the entire time. It remains absolutely indescribable, and all the more powerful for it, really and truly something else. I had seen him play before and I would see him play again, but here he was at my school, playing for people who for the most part didn’t seem to know who he was, and there was a downright magical quality to the night.

After the show, I walked Arthur across campus back to my dorm. I’d arranged for my next-door neighbor to stay with his girlfriend so I could put Doyle in his room. I opened the door and gave the best “tour” I could of the small space I was offering him. I told him he could watch TV and mentioned that there were sodas in the mini-fridge. His eyes widened. “There’s soda in there?!?” he said, “I’ve been waitin’ allllll day! Rightrightrightrightright.” He ended the majority of his sentences in this way, with these “rightrightrightrightright”s, in this friendly way that made any of the potential intimidation wrought by his not inconsiderable legend melt away. I was no longer talking to the person who’d played on Milford Graves’ Babi, the person who’d lent such force to Noah Howard’s The Black Ark, the person who’d reached such unpredictably amazing heights with The Blue Humans, not even the person who’d thrown most of my brain out of my 19-year-old head when I’d heard his Alabama Feeling album. In person he was Arthur, right in front of you and happy to be there. I left him to it and went off to bed.

A few hours later, I awoke to the shrieks of the fire alarm. “Shit! Arthur’s smoking in the room!” I thought as I leapt from my bed and darted into the hallway. I looked to my right and saw Arthur, one foot in the hall and the other in the room, frantically looking around.  He saw me and his eyes lit up. “Is this a fire drill?!?” he wondered almost joyfully. We suited up and headed out into the chilly night. I will never forget the confused looks on my fellow students’ faces as Arthur weaved throughout the crowd asking over and over, “Where the fire trucks at?”

I learned later that someone had pulled the alarm in another hall, setting off alarms throughout the building. Arthur’s illicit smoking was not responsible for the incident, and I am a prude for ever thinking that it had. In the morning I went to rouse him, only to find he’d already made his way to the dining commons, leaving four empty cans of Coke neatly placed in the dorm room trash can, each full of unobtrusive cigarette ash.

Aaron, John, and I were enrolled that semester in a class called “The Nature and Practice of Improvisation,” taught by Margo Edwards, who had studied under Cecil Taylor and been a member of The Pyramids once upon a time. Margot nurtured a deep, abiding love of free music, and had agreed to let Arthur Doyle run the class that day. After a brief introduction, Arthur stepped up in the front of the recital hall and launched into what remains, without question, the most enchanted and surreal academic experience of my life.

We had given him little more than the course title in terms of prep, but that didn’t really matter. He looked out across the classroom, composed primarily of white students, and proclaimed in his inimitable southern drawl that his music was about learning how to ad lib, and most white people do not know how to ad lib. He paused and considered his own statement for a second, then rectified it by saying that Paul Bley was actually someone who knew how to ad lib. None of this was a put down, it wasn’t dismissive, it came off more like a statement of purpose, a promise that he was about to do his best to help the class learn how to ad lib. Think about your life for a second. Think about what doesn’t make sense. Don’t you want to know how to ad lib?

He demonstrated some diaphragm exercises in case any of the horn players in the room (there were maybe two) wanted to improve their lung capacity, and after that he gave the greatest music lesson I’ve ever seen. He drew a staff up on the chalkboard and wrote out a melody. “See, you could play this, I guess,” humming the melody he’d transcribed. “You could even improvise off it.”

He then shuffled to the other side of the board and wrote the following:


“Now this is what I’ve been working on for thirty years, rightrightrightrightright,” he chuckled. I recognized that what he’d written was the text from the cover of Alabama Feeling, but judging from the gobsmacked faces of my fellow students, I may have been the only one. Doyle had thus far been an eccentric presence, sure, but now he had suddenly shot off into the stratosphere, well beyond the realm of what anyone could possibly have expected of a person we had described only as a “jazz legend who played with Gladys Knight.”

Arthur picked up his horn and played the melody he’d written out.

“See, there’s that,” he said.

“But here’s what I’m working on,” and proceeded to play “YO YOO > HAO UUP TE” through his saxophone with chilling accuracy. He pulled the horn from his mouth with a wry smile and a “Rightrightrightrightrightright.” To this day I have never seen anything like it. Talk about school.

Arthur’s next move was to lead the class in a large-scale group improvisation. There was an electric bass, I’m sure someone played piano, Jeremy Starpoli had his trombone, and there was probably a drummer, but I can no longer remember the actual instrumental makeup of the class. John, Aaron, and I had brought recorders and sticks, so we banged chairs and made the weirdest sounds we could. Many of the students in the class seemed baffled. I neither blame nor pity them, but I do know that what Arthur Doyle brought to that class was exactly what a class about improvising needs: a potent dose of unpredictability. Looking back, the best part about Arthur’s visit was that after a certain point no one really knew what was going on (including those of us who “got it”). Somewhere in all of this I remember the incredible rush of realizing that I was actually playing with Arthur Doyle!

Arthur would pick up his horn and blare away, cutting through the cacophony of the rest of the room with such ease that it was enough to stop you in your tracks. Margo played her flute directly to him, and he’d play back. A number of times he took off his sax and set it down, listening to the sounds of the class. He looked at his watch a lot, since he had a train to catch, but he kept re-joining the group, screeching out when the energy started to lag. Looking back, those were his real moments of teaching. For someone who seemed like perhaps he was about to keel over when he spoke, he could play with an energy absolutely unmatched by any of the twenty-somethings in the room.

Eventually it was time to get to the train, so Aaron walked up and helped Arthur get his stuff together. The class played on, and never in all my days will I forget the sight of Aaron trudging out of the room, with gear and luggage in his hands, while Arthur Doyle followed behind, wearing a huge smile and sunglasses, waving goodbye with both hands.

And that was just the first time we had him play at Hampshire!

Arthur Doyle was unassuming in his presence and required little in the way of attention, but when he played or sang or spoke he commanded the room. He almost seemed like he was from another planet, but at the same time he was so completely human and so oddly in tune with what was happening in any given place at any given time. He was amazing. I am so glad I got to meet him, so honored to host him twice, and so thankful that I get to tell the story I just wrote down to anyone who hasn’t heard it.

Arthur Doyle is dead. Long live Arthur Doyle! doyle poster

Your Object

Diagram: A Your Object (Open Mouth)

Dan Greenwood has operated as Diagram: A for nearly two decades. Long before his home, Western Massachusetts, had anything resembling an active noise scene, Greenwood was altering old telephones, constructing masks and sleeves with built-in contact mics, amplifying tin cans, and fashioning an insular world of noise, obsessing over his own carefully-crafted systems of failure. Your Object, Diagram A’s third release for Open Mouth, devotes four sides of vinyl to his continuing task of tearing apart dead air to expose its rotting innards.   

The lead-off track, “Coyote Oscillation,” is a study of profoundly dysfunctional rhythm, a maddening, unrelenting, never-quite-repeating series of severe punches. As the cycle of distortion slams into itself, stutters, and tries to repeat, it’s difficult to tell if there are a few minutes being repeated and run through different effects, or if this is a seconds-long fragment hopelessly and continuously shorting out. The sounds themselves are harsh, yet a greater harshness lies in the frustration wrought by the inescapable mangling of rhythmic expectation. It is a startling piece of music.

“Control Arm” begins life as a high-pitched, static buzz which quickly rips apart, exploding into a frantic series of distorted, violent twitches. One of the record’s highlights comes when the piece runs out of gas and tries to restart, a broken lawnmower lurching back into sputtering action. “Individual Cell/Cartridge Slot” finds a flurry of electric snowflakes echoing into the night and encountering blankets of static waves. Currents slide from side to side with eerie grace, offset by a manic dance of shards in the foreground.  

“Crypt of Lieberkühn” (the title betrays Greenwood’s interest in internal organs) rounds out the set. After an opening battle between a thick, round tone and some skittering scraps, the second half features the album’s most traditionally musical passage. A slow pulse, the first graspable rhythm of the record, is attacked by a creeping swarm of electric trash, and the mounting chaos creates an extended coda of real power. Of course, even this moment ends abruptly, pulling the plug on itself and flailing around like an unattended garden hose spraying amplified dirt as the record draws to a close.

These pieces act as frenzied snapshots of tedium, violence, and grotesque curiosity. Your Object is a potent statement from a tireless and devoted practitioner intent on forging the music of the guts. It is a reflection of Greenwood’s vision of our monstrous internal worlds, a place where physiology and psychology tear free of their normal operating systems and spill out in a horror show of malfunction and endless, screeching struggle.

An Open Letter to Bruce Springsteen

Dear Mr. Bruce Springsteen,

I hope this finds you in good health and fine cheer in this new year.

I am writing, quite plainly, to ask who the hell you think you are. While the “world-at-large” waits with baited breath for your new record, High Hopes, to appear on shelves and streaming across the internet early next week, I wonder if they know what you’re really up to. While I don’t need to fill you in on the details, as this is an open letter a bit of backstory may be required for those still kept mercilessly in the dark.

In February of last year (on Valentine’s Day, to be quite precise), a limited edition LP was released on a small but venerable Western Massachusetts label called Open Mouth. This LP was my creation, born of my own sweat and not infrequent tears, and was titled (and of course you know this already) High Hopes.

Under cover of night in a barn in Haydenville, Massachusetts in the summer of 2012, Bill Nace of Open Mouth filled me with organic pizza and cheap gin while I set up my dusty old Califone cassette machines. Jake Meginsky arranged his microphones for recording and we quietly went about the work of capturing some of my cassette music for posterity. While the creation of the cassettes themselves had taken almost two years, the recording of the album was quick and painless. If memory serves, one of the machines jammed once and we had to start over, but other than that, what you hear on the LP is what happened right there in the “studio.” Jake and I did some mixing and very slight overdubs (I’m sure you already know where those are, so I’ll spare you the details) and that was that.

After its release in February, the album received a fair amount of praise in the cozy world of the underground, going so far as to achieve the coveted “Tip of the Tongue” position (I’m sure you’re familiar with that as well) over at Volcanic Tongue. It was called “new classic music” by Vital Weekly and a “remarkable achievement” by Swill Radio. The small run of LPs sold relatively quickly, and we all went on about our business. I have, of course, continued to create new tapes as I look ahead to whatever next year may bring, buoyed by the support of a small but dedicated underground.

And now you come along, assuming that since the LP has been sold out at source for the better part of a year everyone has forgotten about it and you can make your move, climbing my ladder of acclaim. I’m not sure exactly who tipped you to my music, but I have to wonder if when you were getting your picture taken with Dylan Nyoukis and Sharon Gal at that festival in July perhaps Dylan mentioned something. Maybe he even slipped you a copy of the Straw Hat for a Madman CDR of mine he released. Just because it was in an edition of 60 doesn’t mean people aren’t paying attention, Bruce. Get real. This is underground music in the digital age and everyone knows about everything. Or perhaps your knowledge of my career goes further back, to when a certain Ben Chasny likened my group Son of Earth’s Pet LP to Nebraska. I don’t know. And I don’t care, but I’m on to you.

I know it’s an impressive piece of work, Boss. I’m sure you, like many others, harbor a secret soft-spot for hopelessly distorted pianos, out-of-tune tape loops of string quartets, crudely-edited montages of breaking glass, and reverb-drenched choral samples, but for my money a “Nice job, Matt!” would have sufficed. I don’t see why you felt it necessary to poach the album title, slap it on that picture that looks like two of you exploding from the crotch, and pass it off as though it had been your idea all along. It’s sad. Or it makes me sad, anyway, and I’m sure it makes all of the Krefting fans out there a little sad as well. You should see some of the emails I’m getting. I mean, really. If you’ve been performing Tim Scott McConnell’s song “High Hopes” since “the 90s,” as you claim, why wait until this year to craft an album around a song with that name? Pretty goddamned transparent, sweetie.

You seem like an ok guy. Your vocal on Lou’s “Street Hassle” gets me every time. It’s great. Anyway, what I propose is a High Hopes Smackdown. You bring your crew up to Western Mass and we’ll go toe to toe. I’ll perform my album in its entirety, you perform yours. I’ll even let you go second so you can really milk the crowd for all it’s worth. And we’ll see who wins. I’m sure I can get us a show at Flywheel in Easthampton with enough notice. I could sue you, sure, but a Smackdown just seems more honest and fun. (Besides, the Open Mouth legal team happens to be comprised of the rather ineffectual duo Dungberg & Holmes, a “force” that has yet to emerge victorious in even a single case on behalf of the label.) So put your makeup on and put your hair up pretty, Boss, and come on up. My tape machines and I are waiting.


Matt Krefting

“All power is in yourself…”

Scott Foust asked me to write about this record for his latest Swill Radio catalog. This is an expanded version, complete with photo…

Anton Heyboer – Rules of the Universe (Kye)

Anton Heyboer was a Dutch artist best known for his paintings and prints. A promising career artist in his youth, he suffered a nervous breakdown in 1951 upon witnessing a dying cat. During his recovery, he developed a personal philosophical artistic system aimed at showing others the innocence of their lives. By the mid-80’s he made a break with the commercial art market, and retreated into a world of his own making, producing stunningly raw paintings, living with his many brides, and merging his life and his art as completely as he could.

In 1976, EMI released the LP She and She as One, a mysterious-sounding recording for harmonium and voice. Now, nearly thirty years later, Kye issues Rules of the Universe, a double vinyl collection of private recordings made between 1993 and 1995. For a label that has regularly favored field recordings and the sound of the everyday, Rules of the Universe may stand as the most legitimately documentary entry so far in the catalog. According to one of Heyboer’s wives, Lotti, “He played and sung sitting on his beloved red couch, while one of us would be cooking or doing the dishes, the dogs all around, phone ringing, doorbell, whatever. Joke, the one who looked most after him, simply turned on the cassette player. Preferably without him knowing it. Sometimes though he liked it, that we found it important enough to record it.”

And so we are cast into Heyboer’s strange world. Rules of the Universe consists primarily of Heyboer’s voice, joined by wheezing harmonica, atonal guitar, occasional harmonium, and the sounds of the life around him. Doors creak and close, dogs bark, phones ring, and yet he continues, unperturbed. The sense of wonder is both endearing and enduring. The harmonica playing is forlorn and lonely, aimless without worry, pleased with each breath. The voice moves from trembling falsetto to weary, low, near-mumbling intonations, at times swinging unexpectedly to full-bodied, almost operatic confidence. He alternates between vocal personas – the droning old man, the wildly ambitious operatic, the cynical whining misanthrope. 

What Heyboer calls “innocence” could perhaps more appropriately be understood as a particular and gentle sort of individuality. Innocence, at least in his conception, is a state that is entirely impossible to achieve in the context of current cultural life, and so he pursues and expounds innocence through removal. His negation of the world-as-given is not a nihilistic death wish, but rather a dive through the looking glass and into a realm of truly particular being. His method is brave and confounding. The context and scope of his program, its sheer openness, is both its greatest strength and its greatest flaw, and as such contains something of real interest.

He can’t possibly be held up as exemplary: the very concept of “example” seems to crumble as soon as it touches his ideas, he’s far too singular, and yet what he creates from this place can serve as a lesson to all of us. His cry for innocence is little more than a call to everyone who hears him to be fully themselves, to exist in the world as freely and individually as possible. Heyboer’s rejection of the art market is a rejection of a monetization in no way aligned with his vision of what the function of art can  be. To truly engage with art is to constantly be willing to think outside of its structures and, more importantly, to build new ones. Remember the hacienda.

Rather than working his way towards or against predictable musical forms, Heyboer sounds as though he is somehow discovering music for the very first time as a possibility. The set ends on one of these notes, the voice slowly coming to a pause, its quavering silenced, if only for now, seemingly in awe of what it has created.

This collection casts a spell. We are sent beyond what we are able to conceive of as the everyday or the expected. It represents a tear in the fabric of what is generally considered to be reality, and in so doing throws open a door to an entirely different series of concerns. It is there in the story of the artist, in the quality of his voice, in its innocence and its wisdom. “Do you know what it means to love in art?” Heyboer asks. Well, do you?



“To be here without you…”

A quick holiday postscript…


“Walk on the Wild Side,” Lou Reed’s most famous song, was a love letter to New York nightlife. Candy Darling, Holly Woodlawn, Jackie Curtis, Joe Dallesandro, Joe Campbell, and the streets they walked were put on parade. Drag queens. Drug people. Back room beauties. There was a new character for every verse along with little pictures of things they did: “Shaved her legs and then he was a she.” “She never lost her head even when she was giving head.” “A hustle here and a hustle there.” The song slid along to Herbie Flowers’ unmistakable bassline, an immediately catchy, unthreateningly sleazy piece of portraiture that took these people out of the underground and put them on the radio and into everyday life. All of a sudden they were front and center and regular-old-people were snapping their fingers and going “do do do” right along with them.

Jump ahead 17 years…

“This next song is about a parade we have in Greenwich Village in New York where a lot of people are dying of AIDS, so this is a song about AIDS called ‘Halloween Parade.’”

The song lopes, a little upbeat and a little sad, and we watch the parade pass. Greta Garbo, Alfred Hitchcock, Tinkerbell in tights, a “tacky” Cary Grant, Joan Crawford, no fewer than five Cinderellas, and others all go by, and as we watch them we are reminded of others who are no longer there; people with great, suggestive names like Peter Pedantic and Rotten Rita and Brandy Alexander. Reed was fond of pointing out that he never wrote a “Son of Wild Side,” but if there was one, this is it. Everyone’s in costume, and there is always a degree to which costumes allow us to be ourselves, especially when the world doesn’t want to deal with who we really are.

“Halloween Parade,” like “Walk on the Wild Side,” is a love song. It’s an elegy, a topical song that doesn’t rely for a second on the tired language of “protest” or “political” music. Reed made no secret of the influence Delmore Schwartz had on his writing, specifically the short story “In Dreams Begin Responsibilities,” which he said was “one of the greatest short stories ever written…. Imagine being able to do something like that with the simple language that is available to anybody. It’s mind-bending. Now imagine putting it into a song. It’s so simple, it’s ridiculous.”

It is in this language available to anybody that Reed writes “Halloween Parade.” The images are direct, clear, and evocative. Through a simple catalog of who is in the parade and who is not, he conjures an entire social reality. Like any good art, we are not told what to think. There is nothing dogmatic present. A scene is offered, a perspective established, and the audience must make its way through the rest. 

“In the back of my mind I was afraid it could be true/In the back of my mind I was afraid that they meant you.” It’s both the most explicit and mysterious moment in the song. Who has he been talking to this whole time? Whether he’s talking to a departed friend or talking to himself, it’s sad as shit.

Brendan Toller said to me the other day that Reed’s death “really puts all of that New York crowd into perspective—how they  altered consciousness and certainly gave a voice to the voiceless.” It’s true. This song is about people many of us never saw at all, let alone will ever see again. Who was Peter Pedantic, anyway?

“See you next year at the Halloween Parade.” But we won’t see Lou Reed at next year’s parade any more than we’ll see Peter Pedantic or Rotten Rita or countless others we did or didn’t know…