Sunday, July 31, 2005

A la Recherche de la Gigs Perdu

Russian Rolling Stone, Aug. 2005 | Click on the image to enlarge (hosted by flickr)

Just back from Russia, and I must say, in retrospect of a couple of very jetlagged days back home it was probably the most satisfying series of gigs in a foreign land I've done in years, the overwhelming sense of Russian Soul suffuses my recollections here, a cheerful earthiness, a deadpan irony, a Gogolesque black humor that seems very close to the heart of my own Jewish sensibility...some random observations: motoring down the corruscated main drag that connects Saint Petersburg to Moscow in Andrey's BMW in an epic 14 hour journey this time mostly by daylight listening repeatedly to Jane Birkin's sensational live "Arabesque" album, the best driving music ever, Jane performing her ex Serge Gainsbourg's songs with Arab musicians providing inventive arrangements and appropriate melismatic instrumental flourishes, we must have listened to this oh about 37 times coming and going and it haunts me still, just ordered it from Amazon in fact--some footnotes: Jane B was an older classmate of Caroline's at Miss Ironside's School for Girls in London (along with Koo Stark) and I of course fell in love with Jane's celluloid image via her romp with David Hemmings in his photo atelier in "Blow-Up" in 1967; later on in the ensuing years, I purchased the 45 of Serge and Jane's exquisite "Je T'aime (moi non plus)" and used this as the entrance and exit music for the Yale Film Society's marathon showing of "Deep Throat" in spring of '73 (must have projected THAT film about 37 times over 3 consecutive days of filthy lucre-mongering indeed, thanks to Joe "Compendia" Bianco for providing us with the print--wonder where he got it from?--Hi Joe!). More Russian road ruminations: Stopping at a trucker's cafe (well, shed is more accurate) at midnight by the cerrulean glow of the famous Russian White Nights with shashlik grilling on open flames spewing sparks like fireflies along the highway edge and wolfing down greasy barbecued chicken and a thick sludge of bittersweet coffee and sugar and milk, a confection Andrey swore was the same formula served at his primary school. Playing the final evening's concert in Saint Petersburg's legendary underground Club Moloko (milk--remember the Korova Milk Bar from A Clockwork Orange--horror show, yes indeed). This joint didn't actually resemble Kubrick's cinematic vision of same but still had an appropriately retro-futurist feel to it, kind of a cross between a honky-tonk and a bunker on the frontlines of some nameless conflict (maybe the one between the landlord and the tenants upstairs, who have been bugging for years 'bout the noise level generated onstage)--me and Alexei Pliousnine and the drummer from Aquarium (one of Russia's legendary bands originally fronted by Boris Grebenchikov) created a soft explosion of sound that shook the rafters in an improv melee that touched upon Beefheart, avant-metal, the freest of jazz improv and fat gonzo rockabilly changes that had the large and supple crowd there transfixed, I started both sets solo and took requests and "Fata Morgana" was one that got much requested as melodies from my instrumental version of this as yet unrecorded original composition (written in a hotel room during the Quebec City Summer Festival 3 years ago and had performed at the SKIF Festival last year in Saint Pete) were still echoing in people's skulls...now it has morphed into a real song with lyrics and I performed it on steel guitar with abandon...yes it was a great honor to play in Russia again, I am still buzzing about it and can't wait to play there again!

Meanwhile I had dinner here on Friday night with Howie Klein, who was originally a proto-punk mover and shaker and music journalist in San Francisco when I lived there in '77, later the label supremo behind 415 Records which released the great Romeo Void records, later in cahoots with Seymour Stein at Sire Records (and later the former president of Reprise), and as we strolled and kibbitzed and reminisced on a beautiful midsummer night's eve past what once was the office of Crawdaddy Magazine on 6th avenue (over what is now the recently picketed IFC Theater) and I recalled how much I anticipated each new issue's arrival (this was pre-Rolling Stone and the only other source for hip journalistic takes on the nascent underground band scene at the time was Don Paulson's Hit Parader) and of being inspired by the wild writings inside by Sandy Pearlman, Richard Meltzer, and of course the overwhelming enthusiasm of editor Paul Williams, and Howie told me he had once sold copies of the mag on the street outside the Crawdaddy offices...while strolling thus, the sacred dream of living a life in music overwhelmed me joyfully, and I was flush with exaltation, and "opened my heart to the whole universe" (pace McGuinn) and realized once again that, to paraphrase Jonathan Richman (Gods and Monsters bassist Ernie Brooks' confrere in The Modern Lovers):

"I'm (still) in love with the rock 'n roll..."

And here's a blast from the past...Gary in Taipei, Taiwan 11/76

photo by Frederique Bonhoure | Click on the photo to enlarge (hosted by flickr)

further on
xxxx

Gary

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Monday, July 25, 2005

The Golem Walks Among Us

Time Out St. Petersburg, July 2005 | Click on the image to enlarge (hosted by flickr)

Taking the Golem out for a walk in Saint Petersburg proved as thrilling and exhilarating an experience as in Moscow. In both cities I was given dream venues to perform in: the 35MM theatre in Moscow, a modernist edifice with an incredible sculpture outside the place that juxtaposes a sputnik replica with a cast iron anchor circa Battleship Potemkin, and a cinema inside that was huge with marvelous acoustics and comfortable seats and sightlines-- and the stunning, 30's deco style massive and imposing Dom Kino cinema complex here (I write from the Cafe Max internet joint on Nevsky Prospekt in SP right now and rain is coming down hard outside after many days of superb weather...oh well, perhaps God's tears after such a volatile week of tragic events worldwide). Both halls were full with fans as the promotion for my appearances here has been top-notch, with tv and radio plugging the gigs and photos and articles in most of the newspapers and magazines and I played another television show upon arrival here, this one live for an hour where I spoke and played with the avant-russo guitarist Alexei Pliousnine--we have a duo gig tonight at he city's top underground rock club Club Moloko. I was really feelin' 'bout half-past dead upon arrival here Saturday morning after a 12 hour drive from Moscow in Andrey's BMW where because of us getting caught in the friday traffic rush where as many Muscovites were fleeing the city for their dachas we made only 60 kms in 3 hours trying to leave the city! But some 2 hours crashing in the Hotel Arbat Nord (wonderful hotel!) and some needed fuel injection of coffee and tea and cokes revivified me for the noon live tv broadcast and I performed solo and with Alexei and fielded phone callers around Saint Petersburg who wanted to know what guitar tunings I was using, among other things :-) The energy at my shows was crackling and electric and different both nights and both gigs really rocked nicely as the Golem cast its powerful spell and overwhelmed everyone as usual, what a pleasure to play this in Russia finally! Yesterday was a much needed day off where we escaped this lovely and charming city and we spent a relaxing afternoon at a resort on the Baltic Sea with some older Russian friends, finishing with a 1am repast at my favorite Saint Petrsburg after hours restaurant, The Idiot (after Dostoesvsky)...must say the food throughout the trip has been delicious and I have been dreaming of the perfect blini with caviar ever since Andrey and I made a pit stop at 6am right outside of SP on our journey here and we had our fill of these delicious pancakes with sour cream and caviar...maybe I'll go in search of one now...

more later

xxGary

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Friday, July 22, 2005

From Rossija with Love

click on an image to enlarge | The St. Petersburg Times, July 22, 2005

Gary and Alexei Pliousnine rock out at the B2 Club, Moscow 7/20/05

Gary plays with Alexei Pliousnine and his band Lolita, B2 Club, Moscow 7/20/05

Gary plays "the Golem" at the 35MM Theater, Moscow 7/21/05

Gary plays "the Golem" at the 35MM Theater, Moscow 7/21/05

photos hosted by flickr)

Here I am in hot humid and sunny Moscow ensconced in a lovely airconditioned suite (yeah!!) overlooking the multicoloured onion domes of Saint Basil's Cathedral and the crennelated walls of the Kremlin in the good old Hotel Rossija...a concrete and steel relic of the Soviet era, soon to be retro-fitted and refurbished completely, a ritual magnet for Western sojourners here and once-upon-a-time holder of the World's Largest Hotel title, the Russiya sits squat and foreboding on the banks of the Moscow River straddling an entire city block or 2 or 3, wherein stepping through its portals one immediately encounters surly prison wardens and bureacratic factotums guarding many strategic points as in search of one's room you traverse endless labyrinthine corridors which exude a faint whiff of Marienbadish faded elegance about them. But nevermind, I would be a churl to complain, and as as this is my second time herein the hotel I kind of dig the joint, and know the drill...and smile kindly at the wardens as they grimace back at me when I flash my identity papers...there is a cool 24 hour sushi joint in the lobby and that is where I headed at 1:15am last night fresh back from my solo Golem concert at the 35MM theater, a wonderful cinematheque/theater/nightclub with a huge auditorium and immense movie screen that was the perfect venue to display the Golem's hypnotic mystical charm...the crowd was large, the press and hipsters and Russian fans out in force and as I summoned forth the spirits of Astaroth and Rabbi Jehudah Loew in the sweltering darkness watching the flickering images closely (I never fail to see some new and startling imagery in this film in a hidden corner of the screen, which never fails to inspire me to new heights of guitar legerdemain...this after playing hundreds of Golem concerts around the globe since my debut with it in the company of co-conspirator/composer Walter Horn), I was swept up in the maelstrom of madness and hysteria that surged through the crowds assembled by director and star Paul Wegener in 1920 on an outdoor set the size of a football field in the Tempelhof district of Berlin (near the soon to be demolished Tegel airport today). And I played accordingly, like a man possessed...the day before I had hardly stepped off the Aeroflot flight from NYC before Andrey Borisov my friend and accomplice in arranging my week here in Russia spirited me off for an interview with RTR national television for their Good Morning Russia program, which I'm told aired yesterday morning before an estimated 50 million viewers, I didn't see it as I was passed out in my hotel room dead tired from the trip in deepest golden slumbers...
off for a little museum tour now before Andrey and I forge ahead to make an overnight drive to Saint Petersburg tonight...more later, suffice to say I am thrilled to be back in Russia, the spires of Moscow shimmer in the summer heat outside my window like hazy jewels, and the spirits of most people I have met on this trip shine forth like diamonds...

page from a Russian entertainment guide, July 2005 | Click on the image to enlarge (hosted by flickr)


xxGary

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Wednesday, July 06, 2005

The Talons Given Us (Trimmed and Burning)

Yes, you guessed it, I've been strummin' on the old banjo I mean Duolian (my 1928 National steel--a steal at a thousand bucks in 1980--to be heard in full effect debut on "Skeleton Makes Good", the last cut on Ice Cream for Crow--Beefheart told me at the time, "That's not a guitar, it's an instrument of death..."). And I'm strumming with newly cut fingernails (I choose flesh over fingerpicks any day) and working on an arrangement of a Chow Hsuan song called "Two Little Flowers", which I last performed with the great pipa player Min Xiao-Fen at the Quebec Summer Festival a couple years ago...I saw Min recently at the JVC Jazz Festival Knitting Factory "New York Now" show and she was as sterling as ever; I hadn't seen her in awhile and we talked how we missed playing together, her pipa playing is a joy and sounds beautiful on the 30's Chinese pop repertoire (wish I had had her playing on The Edge of Heaven album!). I was at the Knitting Factory without Jozef Van Wissem sadly, who was unable to come over from Amsterdam to do our duo thing (but we're back in the saddle together in September in Amsterdam and elsewhere, check my website calendar for details), and while I missed his lute I managed to assemble a great off the cuff electro-acoustic ensemble for the night consisting of Ernie Brooks, Felice Rosser, Joe Hendel, Lukas Ligeti (wonderful percussionist) and James Ilgenfritz ( cool acoustic bass) and we lifted the bandstand...I mean, we were smoking...and the crowd loved it, much cheering and applause and I was drenched in sweat by the end...Lukas and James and Felice and I tranced out again last night at Tonic, lotsa gigs in the city in this period, tomorrow I'm at the Livingroom on Ludlow Street in solo acoustic mode with Michael Schoen sitting in...so I'm up to my eyeballs in music here...so what else is new...saw the incredible Max Ernst show at the Met, one of my favorite painters, much more than a "Surrealist"-- "Europe After the Rain" a chilling masterpiece far more affecting to me than say Picasso's "Guernica", also his frottage technique still stuns and amazes, as does his mastery of organic forms and palette of almost mineralesque hues..."The Talent Given Us" is a delightful and quirky little film and I am not just saying this because my old friend Maggie Wagner is in it! Astonishing neo-realistic acting by her parents and sister and brother in motor-mouth purge mode, a great sprawling verite mise-en-scene a la Cassavetes, world-wear good humor abounds in many Larry Davidesque moments in this tale of one family's bonding (well, Maggie gets disappeared midway through the flick, film coulda used more Maggie in there for my money) on an epic cross-country schlep and I'll be damned if the film is still playing in town after 4 weeks or so, pretty damn good for a film made for about 57 cents...speaking of old friends my pal Frederique Bonhure is in town, my amie francaise from about 30 years ago with whom I shared a flat in Taipei along with my former bandmate and her former boyfriend the big Swede known as Jesper Gadelius (check out our group The Oh-Bay-Gone Band as documented on my "Street of Lost Brothers" album playing years-ahead-of-its-time avant-metal-Jewish music in 1976 at National Taiwan University)--Frederique showed up at Tonic last night looking absolutely great, as did the painter and writer (respectively) Roni Hoffman and Robert Duncan who I also haven't seen in about as long a time, last time was probably at the Cottonwood Cafe here in 1977...Roni I know from way way back hanging out with her and her then boyfriend the rock critic Richard Meltzer, they used to let me crash at their flat on Perry Street (just down the road apiece from my present domicile in fact) when I'd come down from Yale...seeing old friends at a gig really does my soul good...woops the guitar is calling out for me...bye for now as they say in the UK

xxGary

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