Thursday, November 15, 2007

Staring Up at the Sky

Just back from late spring/early summer in Australia playing 4 Golem shows down under, I been working baby oh so hard, staring up at this guy ('cept in Melbourne when they provided me with a computer monitor screen placed directly before me showing the filmed image simultaneously projected behind me--screen in this capacious cinema was so high off the ground as to have given me whiplash peering up into it)...

But first things first.

Re my last pop quiz: had some good educated guesses submitted from Out There as to the provenance of Bernard Herrmann's famous 6 note cyclical motif which opens his score for Hitchcock's "Vertigo"...Habib Rahman, writing from Pursat Town in Cambodia ("they're comin' from all over the world") had the right composer, wrong opera (I hinted that Hermann's hypnotic motif derived from a 19th century opera, remember) in asserting Wagner's "Tristan and Isolde" as the source for the intro figure in "Vertigo"'s fact, Wagner's "Liebestod" from "Tristan" does indeed figure largely in a later theme in Hermann's "Vertigo" score; namely, as the inspiration for Hermann's love theme ("Scene d'amour") that recurs every time Jimmy Stewart/Scotty thinks he's successfully sighted or possessed Kim Novak/Madeleine (a Proustian moniker if ever there was one, ever so appropriate for Scotty's feverish/obsessive memoirs de l'amour fou)...Alex Ross, the New Yorker's classical gasser, who, along with fellow New Yorker critic Sasha Frere-Jones, is one of the most erudite and entertaining music writers on the scene, at my invitation made a very good attempt at identifying the source as Debussy's "Pelleas et Melisande", or possibly Mussorgsky (Alex has an excellent new new book out, "The Rest is Noise", through Farrar, Strauss and Giroux)...

but Noooooo-- the correct answer is the "Ho-Yo-To-Ho" motif--Brunhilde's Battle Cry-- from Wagner's wild "Ride of the Valkyries", Act II, Scene 1 of "Die Walkure" (or as my buddy the late Jon Arlow used to parody it-- "Hyatt Hotel! Hyatt Hotel!")...Hermann takes these intervals, transposing Wagner's descending scale a half-step down to D Bb F# D, and adds an ascending fillip of F# and D to fashion his recurring musical momento mori...the same borrowed Wagner figure turns up in the first movement of Vaughan Williams' 7th Symphony, "Sinfonia Antartica", which might also have been a source for Hermann (and maybe a private, allusive joke when he came to compose his "Vertigo" score, as Vaughan Williams' 1953 symphony derives from VW's own score for the 1948 film "Scott of the Antarctic"-- a good description of Jimmy Stewart/Scotty's glacial post-traumatic stress condition at the beginning of "Vertigo")...

Not the first time Bernard Herrmann has copped a feel from the classics, and otherwise (Zorn and I chuckled many a year ago over Hermann's appropriation of avant-trombonist Grachan Moncur III's Blue Note side "Evolution" for Hermann's main title theme for Scorsese's "Taxi Driver": stop-start dissonant whole note crescendos over accelerating Tony Williams percussion bursts)...all this is in no way to take away from Bernard Hermann as a film composer supreme--his "black and white" frenzied, stabbing music for "Psycho" is quoted endlessly to this day, respectfully (I did a solo arrangement for my "Hitchcocked" medley, and a band version with Gods and Monsters on "Coming Clean") and as parody...not so much his "Vertigo" music--although, hold on, Von Dexter does quote it pretty much verbatim near the top of his main title music for William Castle's 1959 howler "The Tingler"...also, Hermann likes to quote himself (many of his murkier "Taxi Driver" themes are recycled from his score for "Jason and the Argonauts"--some of his "Sport and Iris" cues recast the music accompanying Hylas and Hercules' plundering the cryot of Talos in "Jason")--and there is that chilling moment at the end of "Taxi Driver" when Cybil Shepard sees De Niro/Travis Bickle's eyes in the rear-view mirror of his cab, and Herrmann's ominous 3 note "Psycho" motif comes to the fore (F up to Eb and then down to low D )...and you know--as Cybil knows-- that Travis is a living time bomb who's due to go off again)...

Ran into rockwriter Billy Altman and his lovely wife at a preview of Tom Stoppard's "Rock 'n Roll" Halloween night on Broadway (what better place to avoid the ghoulies and ghosties and long legged beasties running rampant down in the Village)...I've already written glowlingly about this play in an earlier posting as read in the Faber and Faber edition during my holidays 2 summers ago in India--just wanted to say that actually seeing the play in the corporeal here and now brought a big smile, especially the ending (Rufus Sewell as the befuddled Czech intellectual/ex-Communist Jan sees the future of Eastern Europe democracy writ large in the form of the Stones playing a stadium in Prague post Velvet Revolution)--a Stoppardian big wet sloppy kiss to the World's Greatest Rock 'n Roll Band as the living embodiment of Dionysian energies at play today after Syd Barrett's earlier piping at the Gates of Dawn proves an evanescent harbinger of things to come, at best ("Tom always wanted to be Mick", opined Andrew Loog Oldham in an earlier email exchange about this)...nice and fitting really that my buddies the Plastic People are taking the Stones' place live at the end of the current Czech production at the National Theater in Prague, they are a fantastic band live who I always enjoy jamming with...

Gary and Aishlin Harrison, Gods and Monsters live at the Bowery Poetry Club NYC, 11/2/07

photo by Insky | click to enlarge

Had a cool gig with Gods and Monsters at the Bowery Poetry Club on Nov. 2nd the Mexican Day of the Dead, Jerry Harrison was in town and joined us along with his fetching young daughter Aishlin on background vocals who is attending the Clive Davis School of Recorded Music at NYU...the whole shebang was covered by film maker Doug Sloan who earlier that week had filmed the band in rehearsal (me teaching the guys 2 new tunes) up at Gibson/Baldwin in the old Hit Factory...the band keeps getting better and better, and young Joe Hendel really is coming into his own as an improvisor, also a versatile multi-instrumentalist (he took over from Jerry on keyboards for several numbers and is really sounding great on that instrument)...inda house were James Truman and his lovely lady friend, Cineaste editor Richard Porton, and Kevin Coyne's widow Helmi all the way from Nurnberg (Kevin is one of the best kept secret treasures of the music world, he was Richard Branson's first serious signing to Virgin after Mike Oldfield, an intense singer/songwriter/blues shouter beloved of (among others) the 3 Johns--John Peel, John Lydon, and Jon Langford--and a wonderful friend and collaborator--check out the pair of tracks I recorded with him in the 90's in the 'Giving to You' section of my homepage)..

Then it was off to Melbourne Australia Saturday afternoon on a 24 hour journey that landed me there early Monday morning due to crossing the International Date Line, where I was warmly greeted by Les Rabinowicz, the founder of the Australian Festival of Jewish Cinema which he's run successfully these last 15 years...Les, a wonderful and sensitive guy surrounded by a great friendly and sympathetic support staff (thank you Lina and Les from the Grand Mercure Hotel) made sure my trip ran as smoothly as possible and started off things right by putting me up throughout my week long stay Down Under in 4 star hotels (yeah!)...his lovely wife Diane, the Festival's Artistic Director and an accomplished documentary film maker in her own right (her film "Escape to the Rising Sun", about Jewish emigration to the then free-port of Shanghai between the wars, is a a must-see) acted a superb hostess and drove me around the next day showing off the beautiful city of Melbourne, which I'd played a couple years ago in the company of Future Sound of London..ace Festival publicist Justin Rogers had lined up a spate of radio appearances for me, the first a national one on ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corp.) on Richard Stubbs show, which proved a really fun encounter as he let me gab for about half an hour as well as play acoustically...I got a phone message shortly before I went on from my old friend Mick Harvey of The Bad Seeds, who was in Melbourne and had heard about my appearance on Stubbs' show--he invited me to a Nick Cave retrospective which was opening at the National Gallery on opening night gig went off smoothly that night at the ACMI (Australian Centre for the Moving Image) in Federation Square, a very well attended concert in an amazing cavernous space, superb sonics too, playing to a 35 mm print of The Golem--quite a dream engagement!

The next night on the way to the soundcheck, after taping John Safran's humorous/intellectual show "Sunday Night Safran" which he shares with the 70-something Catholic priest Father Bob McGuire, Justin and I stopped off at the National Gallery to say hello to Nick Cave, who had flown in from Sydney that day to set up his gallery exhibition--he looked great, with an overflowing handlebar mustache (very Tracy Pew-ish, original Birthday Party bassist), and was exceedingly warm and friendly, last time I'd seen him was at a Tribute to Harry Smith I played at St. Ann's Church about 7 years ago... I've known Nick since the early 90's and have collaborated with him several times since, he is really one of the authentic greats in music, a guy who has definitely tread his own path defiant of trends and fashion (plus-- he really has a terrific feel for the deep dark blues)...

Unfortunately I woke with a chill and a fever the next morning, some bug I'd picked up en route, and it was determined to take me up to Sydney to rest up for for my next couple performances (it was two Golem shows in Melbourne, two in Sydney), so I had to miss Nick's opening, which looked fascinating with lots of art and artifacts tracing his career...good idea to move as I got sicker and sicker on the flight to Sydney, ears popping from the de-pressureization, nearly swooned in the taxi queue when Justin and I arrived...but the timely arrival of a female Asian doctor at my hotel and a judicious application of antibiotics more or less improved things by showtime next day, and I played a great opening set at the West Bondi Junction cinema, which was well attended as well (lots of avant-garde musicians/ friends of Phillip Johnston) up rather early and only slightly the worse for wear Saturday morning and made it over to Radio FBI studios with Justin where I had a delightful on-air chat with the loony crew who preside over the Saturday morning show known as The Naked City--including Dr, Gabriel, Coffin Ed, Miss Death, and Jay Katz...and of course, Jack the Poodle, their canine psychic mascot! Diane arrived as well that morning, and me and Justin and Diane took a lovely stroll in the Botanical Gardens and to the magnificent Sydney Opera House where Kiki and Herb recently ruled the roost--

The next night Steve Hendel's friend the boisterous John Kempler showed up for the soundcheck with his lovely family, and invited me over to his house to dinner for my last night...Phillip Johnston, my partner in Fast 'N Bulbous and an Australian resident for the last few years showed as well, and the next day we hung out near Bondi Beach an at his studio going over arrangements for our next F 'N B album, he looked great and happy to be living in the summery paradise of Sydney...then it was off to the Kemplers and some wonderful salmon on the barbie...a short sleep and then off to the airport for a grueling 22 hours flight home to NYC (not my idea of fun!)...sat next to an Iranian Ph.d architect on the plane back from LA and the 2 of us watched a small plane covered in flames burning out of control on the tarmac at JFK just as we set down at 9pm Tuesday night, surrounded by fire trucks lights a 'flashing and men dousing the wreck with chemical hoses...a Fire of Unknown Origin...not a word about this curious incident in the local papers either, my my...

been walking upside down inside hand-cuffs ever since
but now in the throes of recuperation
so thought I'd write you this letter and and




Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link