Jim Morrison – “Dry Water”

May 6, 2009 at 6:35 pm (Jim Morrison, Poetry & Literature)

The velvet fur of religion
The polish of knife handle & coin
The universe of organic gears
or microscope mechanical
embryo metal doll
The night is a steel machine
grinding its slow stained wheels
The brain is filled w/clocks, & drills
& water down drains
Knife-handle, thick blood
like the coin & cloth
they rub & the skin they love
to touch

the graveyard, the tombstone,
the gloomstone & runestone
The sand & the moon, mating
deep in the Western night
waiting for the escape
of one of our gang
The hangman’s noose is a
silver sluice bait
come-on man
your meat is hanging
on the wing of the raven
man’s bird, poet’s soul

the thin rustle of weeds
the voice comes from faraway
inside, awaiting its birth
in a cool room, on tendril bone
The insane free chummy cackle
of infants in a ballroom, of a
family of friends around
a table, laden w/feast-food
soft guilty female laughter
the bar-room, the men’s room
people assemble to establish
armies & find their foe
& fight

Clustered in watchful terror
by vine-growth, the hollow bush
dry cancerous wells
We awoke before dawn, slipped
into the canyon

Noon schoolyard screamed
w/play, the lunch hour ending
ropes & balls slapped hard at
cement sand, the female land
was bright, all swelling to degree
most comfortless & guarding

A record noise shot out
& stunned the earth. The music
had been bolted w/new sound.
Run, run the end of repose
an anthem has churned
the bad guys are winning.

Silver shaken in the gloom
I left her

Trees waste & sway forever

Marble porch & sylvan frieze
Down on her knees

She begs the spider-king to wed her
Slides into bed

He turns her over

There is a leather pouch
that’s full of silver

It spills like water

She left
And took the coins I gave her.

As to the drowning man
hoarse whisper
invokes, on the edge,
an arroyo
Sangre de Christo

Violence in a time of plenty

There is one deaf witness
on the bank, the shore
leaning in finery against
a ruined wall
as Jesus did. Red livid lips,
pale flesh withdrawn from
ragged dress, pit of the past
& secrets unveiled in the
scarred chalk wall

When, often, one is not deluged
by rain, 3 drops suffice
The war is over there
I am neither doctor nor saint
Christ or soldier
Now, friends, don’t look at me
sadly ranting like some
incomprehensible child
I know by my breath of what
I speak, & what I’ve seen
needs telling.

Please, freeze!
Danger near.
A message has started its path
to the heart of the brain
A thin signal is on its way
An arrow of hope, predicting rain
A death-rod bearing pain

I will not come again
I will not come again
into the swirl
The bitter wine-soaked
stallion eats the seed,
all labor is a lie;
no vice is kindled in
these loins to melt
or vie w/any strong
particulating smile.
Leave sundry stones alive.

Now that you have gone
all alone
the desert to explore
& left me here alone

the calmness of the town
where a girl in black
gets in a car
& searches numbly
for her keys;

Now that you have gone
or strayed away-

I sit, & listen to the hiss
of traffic & invoke
into this burned & gutted
room some ghost, some
vague resemblance of a time

Off-on, on and off,
like one long sick
electric dream.
This state is confused
state. Out there everyone
is greedy for love.

They will drain her life
like warm connectors,
plug into her soul
From every side & melt
her form for me.

But I deserve this,
Greatest cannibal of all.
Some tired future.
Let me sleep.
Get on w/the disease.

In this dim cave
we can go no further.
Here money is key
to smooth age. Horses,
givers of guilt. Great
bags of gold.

I want obedience!

We examine this ancient
& insane theatre, obscene
like luxuriant churches

I confess
to scarves
cool floors
stroked curtain

The actors are twice-blessed
before us. This is
too serious & severe.

Great mystery!
Timeless passion
patterned in stillness.

Sex for you
was thread
which binds
us even now
on this pale

To the poet
& cover-girl,
photo in color,
to armies
that join,
out on a desert,
& to Samson
& all his
bound quiet
now w/exotic
of dusk, in
& N. African

The bazaar is crowded
as dancers thrive.
Snake-wreaths & pleasures.
I take you to a low cave
called “Calipah”.

Stand there listening
you will hear them
tiny shapes just beyond
the moon
Star-flys, jarts,
dismal fronds
stirring ape-jaws striving
to make the morning
mail call

Cry owl.
Hark to the wood-vine.
Suckle-snake crawls, gnawing

I know you.
The one who left to go
warning. Wishless now
& sullen. Transfer

Steal me a peach
from the orange tree

She fell.

What are you doing
w/your hand on her

She fell, mam.

Give her to me.

Yes, mam.

Go tell the master
what you’ve done.

They killed him.


Going up the stairs
to his cell.

A shot-gun blast
Behind the back.


Untrampled footsteps
Borderline dreams
Occasion for sinners
alive if it seems
given to wander
alone at the shore
wanton to whisper
I am no more
Am as my heart beats
live as I can
wanton to whisper
faraway sands


Now come into my pretty isle
My weary westward wanderer
Faraway is as it seems
& so alone shall shelter
Come along unto my sails
as weary islands go
prosper merry as I went
I shall no more the sailor
Shall I ho the sailor


Where were you when I needed you?
Where indeed but in some sheltered
Sturdy heaven; wasted, broken
sadly broke & one thin thing to get us thru


Urchin crawl broke
spenders bleeders all
brew North
stained lot
he was lost
out on an aircraft
high above
long awkward brewer’s
shelters breed

this ugly crew
our poisoned jet
god get us love & get
us speed
To get us home again
Crippled by people
cut by nothing
Public housing
the incredible damage
can be cured


She’s my girl friend:
I wouldn’t tell her
Name but I think
you already know her
Square fire insect
marble saffron intro
demi-rag in flames

it’s the same game
whether you call it
by her real name


She lives in the city
under the sea
Prisoner of pirates
prisoner of dreams
I want to be w/her
want her to see

The things I’ve created
sea-shells that bleed
Sensitive seeds
of impossible warships

Dragon-fly hovers
& wavers & teases
The weeds & his wings
are in terrible fury

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Lawrence Ferlinghetti – “An Elegy on the Death of Kenneth Patchen”

May 6, 2009 at 6:05 pm (Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Poetry & Literature, The Beats)

A poet is born
A poet dies
And all that lies between
is us
and the world

And the world lies about it
making as if it had got his message
even though it is poetry
but most of the world wishing
it could just forget about him
and his awful strange prophecies

Along with all the other strange things
he said about the world
which were all too true
and which made them fear him
more than they loved him
though he spoke much of love

Along with all the alarms he sounded
which turned out to be false
if only for the moment
all of which made them fear his tongue
more than they loved him
Though he spoke much of love
and never lived by ‘silence exile & cunning’
and was a loud conscientious objector to
the deaths we daily give each other
though we speak much of love

And when such a one dies
even the agents of Death should take note
and shake the shit from their wings
in Air Force One
But they do not
And the shit still flies
And the poet now is disconnected
and won’t call back
though he spoke much of love

And still we hear him say
‘Do I not deal with angels
when her lips I touch’
And still we hear him say
‘0 my darling troubles heaven
with her loveliness’
And still we hear him say
‘As we are so wonderfully done with each other
We can walk into our separate ‘sleep
On floors of music where the milkwhite cloak
of childhood lies’

And still we hear him saying
‘Therefore the constant powers do not lessen
Nor is the property of the spirit scattered
on the cold hills of these events’
And still we hear him asking
‘Do the dead know what time it is?’

He is gone under
He is scattered
and knows what time
but won’t be back to tell it
He would be too proud to call back anyway
And too full of strange laughter
to speak to us anymore anyway

And the weight of human experience
lies upon the world
like the chains of the ‘sea
in which he sings
And he swings in the tides of the sea
And his ashes are washed
in the ides of the sea
And ‘an astonished eye looks out of the air’
to see the poet singing there

And dusk falls down a coast somewhere

where a white horse without a rider
turns its head
to the sea

Lawrence Ferlinghetti

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Arthur Rimbaud – “Sun and Flesh (Credo in Unam)” (1870)

May 6, 2009 at 3:36 pm (Poetry & Literature)


The Sun, the hearth of affection and life,
Pours burning love on the delighted earth,
And when you lie down in the valley, you can smell
How the earth is nubile and very full-blooded;
How its huge breast, heaved up by a soul,
Is, like God, made of love, and, like woman, of flesh,
And that it contains, big with sap and with sunlight,
The vast pullulation of all embryos!

And everything grows, and everything rises!

– O Venus, O Goddess!
I long for the days of antique youth,
Of lascivious satyrs, and animal fauns,
Gods who bit, mad with love, the bark of the boughs,
And among water-lilies kissed the Nymph with fair hair!
I long for the time when the sap of the world,
River water, the rose-coloured blood of green trees
Put into the veins of Pan a whole universe!
When the earth trembled, green,beneath his goat-feet;
When, softly kissing the fair Syrinx, his lips formed
Under heaven the great hymn of love;
When, standing on the plain, he heard round about him
Living Nature answer his call;
When the silent trees cradling the singing bird,
Earth cradling mankind, and the whole blue Ocean,
And all living creatures loved, loved in God!

I long for the time of great Cybele,
Who was said to travel, gigantically lovely,
In a great bronze chariot, through splendid cities;
Her twin breasts poured, through the vast deeps,
The pure streams of infinite life.
Mankind sucked joyfully at her blessed nipple,
Like a small child playing on her knees.
– Because he was strong, Man was gentle and chaste.

Misfortune! Now he says: I understand things,
And goes about with eyes shut and ears closed.
– And again, no more gods! no more gods! Man is King,
Man is God! But the great faith is Love!
Oh! if only man still drew sustenance from your nipple,
Great mother of gods and of men, Cybele;
If only he had not forsaken immortal Astarte
Who long ago, rising in the tremendous brightness
Of blue waters, flower-flesh perfumed by the wave,
Showed her rosy navel, towards which the foam came snowing
And , being a goddess with the great conquering black eyes,
Made the nightingale sing in the woods and love in men’s hearts!


I believe! I believe in you! divine mother,
Sea-born Aphrodite! – Oh! the path is bitter
Since the other God harnessed us to his cross;
Flesh, Marble, Flower, Venus, in you I believe!
– yes, Man is sad and ugly, sad under the vast sky.
He possesses clothes, because he is no longer chaste,
Because he has defiled his proud, godlike head
And because he has bent, like an idol in the furnace,
His Olympian form towards base slaveries!
Yes, even after death, in the form of pale skeletons
He wishes to live and insult the original beauty!
– And the Idol in whom you placed such maidenhood,
Woman, in whom you rendered our clay divine,
So that Man might bring light into his poor soul
And slowly ascend, in unbounded love,
From the earthly prison to the beauty of day,
Woman no longer knows even how to be a Courtesan!
– It’s a fine farce! and the world snickers
At the sweet and sacred name of great Venus!


If only the times which have come and gone might come again!
– For Man is finished! Man has played all the parts!
In the broad daylight, wearied with breaking idols
He will revive, free of all his gods,
And, since he is of heaven, he will scan the heavens!
The Ideal, that eternal, invincible thought, which is
All; The living god within his fleshly clay,
Will rise, mount, burn beneath his brow!
An when you see him plumbing the whole horizon,
Despising old yokes, and free from all fear,
You will come and give him holy Redemption!
– Resplendent, radiant, from the bosom of the huge seas
You will rise up and give to the vast Universe
Infinite Love with its eternal smile!
The World will vibrate like an immense lyre
In the trembling of an infinite kiss!

– The World thirsts for love: you will come and slake its thirst.


O! Man has raised his free, proud head!
And the sudden blaze of primordial beauty
Makes the god quiver in the altar of the flesh!
Happy in the present good, pale from the ill suffered,
Man wishes to plumb all depths, – and know all things! Thought,
So long a jade, and for so long oppressed,
Springs from his forehead! She will know Why!…
Let her but gallop free, and Man will find Faith!
– Why the blue silence, unfathomable space?
Why the golden stars, teeming like sands?
If one ascended forever, what would one see up there?
Does a sheperd drive this enormous flock
Of worlds on a journey through this horror of space?
And do all these worlds contained in the vast ether,
tremble at the tones of an eternal voice?
– And Man, can he see? can he say: I believe?
Is the langage of thought anymore than a dream?
If man is born so quickly, if life is so short
Whence does he come? Does he sink into the deep Ocean
Of Germs, of Foetuses, of Embryos, to the bottom
of the huge Crucible where Nature the Mother
Will resuscitate him, a living creature,
To love in the rose and to grow in the corn?…

We cannot know! – We are weighed down
With a cloak of ignorance, hemmed in by chimaeras!
Men like apes, dropped from our mothers’ wombs,
Our feeble reason hides the infinite from us!
We wish to perceive: – and Doubt punishes us!
Doubt, dismal bird, beat us down with its wing…
– And the horizon rushes away in endless flight!…


The vast heaven is open! the mysteries lie dead
Before erect Man, who folds his strong arms
Among the vast splendour of abundant Nature!
He sings… and the woods sing, the river murmurs
A song full of happiness which rises towards the light!…
– it is Redemption! it is love! it is love!…



O splendour of flesh! O ideal splendour!
O renewal of love, triumphal dawn
When, prostrating the Gods and the Heroes,
White Callipyge and little Eros
Covered with the snow of rose petals, will caress
Women and flowers beneath their lovely outstretched feet!
– O great Ariadne who pour out your tears
On the shore, as you see, out there on the waves,
The sail of Theseus flying white under the sun,
O sweet virgin child whom a night has broken,
Be silent! On his golden chariot studded with black grapes,
Lysios, who has been drawn through Phrygian fields
By lascivious tigers and russet panthers,
Reddens the dark mosses along the blue rivers.
– Zeus, the Bull, cradles on his neck like a child
The nude body of Europa who throws her white arm
Round the God’s muscular neck which shivers in the wave.
Slowly he turns his dreamy eye towards her;
She, droops her pale flowerlike cheek
On the brow of Zeus; her eyes are closed; she is dying
In a divine kiss, and the murmuring waters
Strew the flowers of their golden foam on her hair.
– Between the oleander and the gaudy lotus tree
Slips amorously the great dreaming Swan
Enfloding Leda in the whiteness of his wing;
– And while Cypris goes by, strangely beautiful,
And, arching the marvellous curves of her back,
Proudly displays the golden vision of her big breasts
And snowy belly embroidered with black moss,
– Hercules, Tamer of beasts, in his Strength,
Robes his huge body with the lion’s skin as with glory
And faces the horizons, his brow terrible and sweet!

Vaguely lit by the summer moon,
Erect, naked, dreaming in her pallor of gold
Streaked by the heavy wave of her long blue hair,
In the shadowy glade whenre stars spring in the moss,
The Dryade gazes up at the silent sky…
– White Selene, timidly, lets her veil float,
Over the feet of beautiful Endymion,
And throws him a kiss in a pale beam…
– The Spring sobs far off in a long ectasy…
Ii is the nymph who dreams with one elbow on her urn,
Of the handsome white stripling her wave has pressed against.
– A soft wind of love has passed in the night,
And in the sacred woods, amid the standing hair of the great trees,
Erect in majesty, the shadowly Marbles,
The Gods, on whose brows the Bullfinch has his nest,
– the Gods listen to Men, and to the infinite World!

Arthur Rimbaud

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Gene Clark – “No Other” (1974)

May 6, 2009 at 12:01 pm (Music, Reviews & Articles)

Matthew Weiner’s review for Stylus (Sept. 1, 2003) of this criminally underrated album by former Byrds singer Gene Clark… 


By the time Gene Clark recorded his Asylum debut No Other in late 1973, label-boss David Geffen was banking on hopes that there might be a bit of the old commercial spark left in the mercurial Missourian yet. It wasn’t an unreasonable proposition; though Clark’s solo career had hit something of a thud in terms of sales, the Byrds’ best songwriter was hitting his stride artistically at the dawn of the 70s. He had recorded the magnificent double A-side “She’s the Kind of Girl” and “One in a Hundred” with his former bandmates in 1970, following up the effort with a post-Dylan tour de force, White Light, a year later.

To boot, Clark would be the only one to come out with his dignity in tact on the Byrds’ flaccid reunion album, released by Asylum earlier in 1973. With the other members’ material roundly criticized as the work of lazy superstars saving their best songs for their own records, Clark’s contributions showcased the singer-songwriter’s emerging style: a pensive, melancholy, but melodic country-rock delivered in Clark’s deeply Midwestern yearn of a tenor and graced with a lyrical preoccupation with imagery derived from his interest in Native American symbolism. Geffen’s plans didn’t quite work out the way he’d imagined; No Other would, like the rest of Gene Clark’s records, tank commercially, but not before the songwriter and his producer, Thomas Jefferson Kaye, racked up $100,000 in studio bills recording what turned out to be one of the great lost albums of the decade.

On first listen, though, you’d be forgiven if you thought No Other sounds less like a masterpiece than a “Manassas-terpiece,” laden as it is with mid-tempo country-rockers, CSN-style harmonies sung by the likes of the Eagles’ Timothy B. Schmit and a roster of heavy session-cats like super-bassist Leland Sklar. But just beneath No Other’s country-rock veneer is a one-of-a-kind record: building on the endless, infinite exploration of sound and space of Tim Buckley’s Starsailor and Skip Spence’s Oar.

A mere perusal of the lyrics gives the listener an idea of where Clark was going with No Other; more than any of his records, No Other posits Clark as a Deep Meta-Thinker, which is really saying something for someone who once wrote of “vessels” floating on “wisdom’s karmic ocean.” Witness the record’s gospel-tinged opener, “Life’s Greatest Fool”:

Words can be empty/ Though filled with sound
Stoned numb and/Drifting hard to be profound
Formed out of pleasure/Chiseled by pain
Never the highest/And not the last one to gain

Or “Strength of Strings,” its title a line from Dylan’s “Lay Down Your Weary Tune,” its bridge sung in ghostly a capella:

I am always high
I am always low
There is always change
Hear the strings are bending in harmony
Not so far from the breaking on the cosmic range

Every song on No Other illustrates the metaphysical frame of mind Clark was in during their composition – how he was exploring the meaning and purpose of music itself (a theme that reared its head in his classic and Dylan-admired “Spanish Guitar” three years earlier). And so it’s hardly surprising to learn that No Other was largely composed under the influence of peyote while staying in the coastal home of one of his girlfriends, holed up in a room adorned with a massive picture window high above the Pacific. There, he would sit, tripping and writing for hours on end overlooking the sea as the ocean waves crashed below.

But ironically, the Doug Dilliard-assisted “Lady of the North” excepted, none of the songs he came up with could be considered among Clark’s best in and of themselves, which is probably why the record splits fans to the degree it does. More than any other Gene Clark album, No Other’s songs served as mere sketches. Indeed, what gives the record its singular potency is the marriage of such open-ended, ponderous imagery with music and a production that aspires to the equally cosmic, brilliantly showcased on the epic progressive folk of side closers “Strength of Strings” and “Lady of the North” and the swampy murk of the title track. Here, credit must be given to producer Kaye, who was inspired to create a soundscape for Clark’s quirky, formally-complex songs that was largely grounded in country music (or what was passing for it at the time) but emblazoned with a massive grab bag of gospel choirs, psychedelic guitars, wah-wah violins and honky tonk piano. Such orchestrational touches stretched even the poppier songs here, like the snappy “The True One,” well into the stratosphere.

For years, only three of these songs have been available in the U.S. on the pricey, but worthwhile compilation, Flying High. So while Collectors Choice’s reissue of No Other is historic in and of itself, it is a tad disappointing that they weren’t able to dig up any bonus tracks, especially considering that Clark had intended to release a 13-song double album before he and Kaye ran out of money and thus forcing Geffen to pull the plug on the project. One would think there must have at least been a demo of those songs lying around somewhere.

Alas, going overbudget would be the least of Clark’s problems with Geffen; by the time the pair got around to recording a follow-up, Two Sides To Every Story in 1977, Asylum had dropped Clark from its roster and the ambitious production values of the earlier record would be swallowed by concessions to the smoother adult contemporary market of the day – all of which served to make No Other an entirely unique entry in the Gene Clark catalog. It may be difficult in some ways; indeed, some still think to this day that No Other is Clark’s worst record – overproduced and sluggish. But like the work of brother Buckley, Dennis Wilson’s Pacific Ocean Blue or Big Star’s Third/Sister Lovers, No Other is a record that no fan of seventies cosmic exploration should do without. It’s true to its title – bold, experimental and utterly one of a kind.

Matthew Weiner

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Carol Cooper – “Someday Your Prince Will Come” (1983)

May 6, 2009 at 11:47 am (Music, Prince, Reviews & Articles)

June 1983 article in The Face by Carol Cooper on Prince, right before he ascended to superstardom with the Purple Rain movie, album and tour the following year…  


The thing to bear in mind is that Prince does not do interviews. He certainly didn’t do this one, nor any of a dozen others when tabloids and magazines were dangling cover stories as bait. 

In the States this aversion to the press has reached astonishing proportions with the 1999 tour. His management now supports a PR firm solely to explain to frustrated paparazzi why they can’t have interviews, and to warn photographers that their equipment might be confiscated if caught snapping during a show. 

It’s an odd sort of Mexican standoff for an aspiring pop star, but his cheek is an appealing reversal of the trend that has kept many black artists in a state of abject, often futile, supplication for media attention. I suppose we must expect an eventual backlash against such a brazen 24-year-old black genius who is neither blind, nor, says he, a homosexual. This self-styled Wilhelm Reich of the sepia set not only has a lion in his pocket, but a tiger by the tail. 

Most critics got off to a weak start with His Royal Badness (a monicker Minneapolis scribes have hung on their local hero) by being slow to catch on. Only America’s black teen mags were with Prince at the beginning when he was the first ‘coloured’ 17-year-old to land a six figure contract with Warner Bros – a contract with the unheard-of rider that no outside producer would be forcibly attached to his projects.

His first management team – Owen Husney, Gary Levenson and studio owner Chris Moon – were instrumental in landing this contract. But according to the New York Rocker‘s Tim Carr, Prince soon felt his talent would be beter served by California hot-shots Cavallo, Ruffalo & Fergnolis. This firm took the PR strategies developed by the Minnesotan team to soft sell Prince onto what might be called a higher plane. 

Husney told Billboard‘s Nelson George that he, Prince and Andre Cymone used to sit up all night in the early days discussing the whole shtick that finally came to fruition with Dirty Mind: the suggestive visuals, the cultivated mystique, the comprehensive publicity kits, and the careful control of ancillary rights. Prince was co-writing songs with Chris Moon at the time (of which the classic ‘Soft And Wet’ from the For You debut album is one) and writing demos for other artists, a habit that accounts for the ease with which The Time and Vanity 6 have been grafted into Prince’s proven formula and current stage show. 

After the second LP – titled simply Prince – had established an equivocal image but unequivocal sales figures, our boy left Husney and the cosy ghetto exclusivity of the black teen slicks far behind by giving Dirty Mind to Cavallo & Co. with the single injunction: “Sell me!” Storming the rock press with the renegade allure of incest, oral sex, and soul-rock fusion, Dirty Mind did indeed cultivate the critical attention of the nuevo wavo crowd, and gave the properly hyped interviewers their first – and possibly last –taste of an audience with the vocally reticent rude boy.

Prince told Musician‘s Pablo “Yoruba” Guzman that he scorned many of the punk/new wave efforts Dirty Mind was being compared to because these fellow refugees from the ennervating decline of white rock and beige disco “can’t sing.”

A background of high school bands that specialized in Sly Stone covers had convinced the young Prince that what power pop, acid rock, heavy metal and all their latterday derivations needed was a studied infusion of funk and old fashioned sweet soul crooning. 

If white rockers couldn’t do it, Prince was more than ready to fill the gap. He told Andy Schwartz, editor of the New York Rocker that he learned arranging and production techniques by using two cassette tape recorders; singing cross harmonies into them and playing them back, alternately playing and recording as he strummed along, building layer upon layer of sound. As a studio neophyte he took five months to finish the first album in LA: Dirty Mind took only 12 days in Minneapolis for the basics and a week and a half for the mix. 

There is reason to believe that some of the tracks on 1999 date from the time of Dirty Mind or even earlier. Prince described to Schwartz the way he wrote at 16: “I was writing things that a cat with ten albums would have out, like seven-minute laments that were, y’know, gone. I wrote like I was rich, had been everywhere, and been with every woman in the world. But I liked that, I always liked fantasy and fiction…” 

So maybe His Royal Badness will excuse our own exercise in fantasy on the following ‘interview’. I was dreaming when I wrote this, so forgive me if it goes astray…in my dream the ectoplasmic Prince was ever so kind and forthcoming. His lips, his eyes, his hair were burning – very much like his pictures; the Edwardian tart, the Prince of Uptown, USA. 

Carol Cooper: Do you believe that white people understand what you are doing?
Prince: No, of course they don’t. How many black people understand? White people are very good at categorizing things – and if you tell them anything they’ll remember it, write books about it. But understand? You have to live a life to understand it. Tourists just pass through. 

At the beginning, when California based slicks like Soul Teen and Right On! were examining and stroking this boy in the proper context (as just one of many talented and shrewdly outrageous black pop contenders) there was no hint as to how far into the “mainstream” his increasingly bizarre self-hype would take him. When the pop soul of For You and Prince was derailed into the randy rock of Dirty Mind, Controversy and 1999, Right On! ran an illuminating series of colour pin-ups clocking the visual transformation from ’79 to ’82. 

The indulgent, tongue-in-cheek copy that helped wedge this growing incongruity between the glossy smiles of Stephanie Mills and Richard “Dimples” Fields bore no resemblance to the credulous awe of the white rock press. The difference in perspective stems from the American cultural apartheid which neither white nor black media likes to approach head on. 

For the white media the real possibility of Prince attaining a large white audience and its added bonus of high visibility is merely a momentary titillation, a diversion. For the black media, Prince is yet another in a long line of brilliant young turks getting ready to break his back against institutionalized white indifference. “Is He the Prince of Darkness?” read the blurb above the Right On! photo essay, as if to render all his abrasively ambiguous posturing into a statement on how the black man must exaggerate and contort his image (as allegory for much of the gratuitous absurdity of being “black” in America) just to be heard. 

From what he tells us, Prince’s early life was surprisingly insular for one of nine or so half-brothers and sisters. Left alone for vast stretches of time after the departure of his father, an itinerant jazz musician, the prepubescent loner would spend hours at his dad’s abandoned piano or amuse himself with whatever reading matter came to hand – a dollop of speculative fiction, a dip into his mother’s personal stash of dime store pulp porn novels. His father’s surname was Nelson and his stage name was Prince Rogers. Prince claims his father actually christened him Prince Rogers Nelson. 

What should be remembered about Minneapolis, Minnesota (but what is unlikely to ever show up in any “official” demographic studies) is that the area became a magnet for ambitious young black males in the Fifties and Sixties seeking space, calm, and equal opportunity. The result was a remarkably high incidence of multi-racial families developing in an atmosphere of relative financial stability. Meaning that the “black” population of Minneapolis is possessed of several characteristics distinct from the ghettoized norm. They haven’t eradicated the dark-skinned genotype, just amplified it with yet another strain. Another genetic mood

A part of this mood was a motivation towards upward mobility, and like many matriarchs of a nascent black middle class, Prince’s mother was unhappy with her son’s increasing obsession with music. She tried sending our boy to various boarding schools as a cure, but that, coupled with an increasing dislike of a current step-father forced Prince to migrate. He spent much of his early to middle teens gypsying about between the homes of various friends and relations, not all of them limited to the midwestern outback of Minneapolis. 

It was during a sojourn with an older sister in New York that Prince claims to have been initiated into the forbidden joys of incest, the details of which he revealed to the world on Dirty Mind with the cut ‘Sister’ (and evidently felt compelled to discuss with subsequent bedfellows who contribute to a growing Gotham rumour mill). By the time ‘I Wanna Be Your Lover’ had our favourite mestizo waif finishing off his second year at the top of the soul charts, Prince already had the material and the experience to launch himself out of the small Greenwich Village jazz halls into massive rock areas and beyond. 

Carol Cooper: Are you at all afraid of alienating your black audiences with the radical change in your music?
Prince: They knew it was coming. ‘I’m Yours’ off the first album was a straight-up rock jam…
Possibly your best. The guitar solo near the end is exquisite; that dream dimension where Hendrix, Van Halen, and Jeff Beck meet.
And the second album had ‘Bambi’, which was also written in such a way as not to give the impression that I was a dilettante. So many black bands in the early Seventies diddled with the rock guitar just to prove they could. They had no real conviction, but none of my rock jams are contrived that way. Yes, I expect to lose some of the black audience with the new tunes. But in general my fans are pretty loyal and broadminded. And while blacks may not get into the Edwardian drag, or the hair, or the fact that the new stuff demands longer, more ‘grooveless’ and atonal solos, there will still be elements they will appreciate. 

If the live concert’s primary function is group therapy, then Prince’s stage show starts exactly where it must: at the infantile traumas of sensation, bodily function; working its way to, and culminating in, raging adolescence. Although the recent date at Radio City Music Hall in New York was criminally short and high priced (the Prince entourage makes more use of beefy house security than any anti-authoritarian rabble rouser I can remember; I expect to see the T-shirts pop up among the hoi-polloi any day now: “Prince Jacked U Off at Radio City”) it was also a superb example of conscious, old school showmanship. 

On a dark stage intermittently punctured by the glare of a riot flare beaming out of the drum kit, the supersonic throb of the overture to ‘Controversy’ sounds like nothing so much as the chant of the witch’s guard from The Wizard of Oz (“The only one, the Old One”). Prince, ever the coy boy Satanist, rises in silhouette to a backstage platform like a demon on the express elevator from Hell. 

He seems to have written new arrangements for this set as everything is not only faster but versions of ‘Sexuality’, ‘Let’s Work’, ‘Dirty Mind’ and ‘Little Red Corvette’ are instrumented to emphasize their Sixties rock ‘n’ roll underpinning rather than the technopop drone heard on vinyl. The light show and the band’s sexually and racially integrated choreography is full of pointed comparisons and humour. During the instrumental break in ‘Let’s Work’ the Prince front line strike a classic Rolling Stone tableau, with Dez and Prince doing a back-to-back Ron Wood & Keith Richards impersonation, their bassist more Wyman than Wyman. ‘Little Red Corvette’, gloriously lurid in billowing red smoke, becomes the soundtrack of Cat People as Prince mimes a Bowie-esque salute before immersing himself in the hallucinogenic hydraulics that burble and shuffle behind his vocals. Erection, copulation and consummation to the subliminal tempii of Endless Love. 

Sitting at a keyboard brought centrestage, Prince throws the synthesizer into acoustic mode and slows down the pace with a blast from the past. ‘I’m Still Waiting’, that wistful teen plea for a love too long delayed, gives way to a fierce new blues ‘How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore’. Innocence has been scorched by rejection, and Prince camps it up in mock macho effortlessly sliding from Little Richard falsetto to Rick James baritone. Moving towards the audience he preens before them as the lover of the song. “Does he have an ass like mine?” he sneers. “What’s the matter baby, don’t you want to play with my tootsie-roll?” The audience is in raptures, reliving all those puppy-love scenarios of false bravado. The segue into ‘Lady Cab Driver’ is totally apropos and totally unexpected; the psychodrama completed with our stricken hero being whisked from the throes of self-realization by deus-ex-machina in the form of a taxi cab. 

Having spent most of this year touring up and down the US by bus, Prince has polished his moves and his professional attitude. In a recording industry recession where tour support is often harder to get than a three year contract, Prince has a relationship with his company, Warner Brothers, which is the source of great envy and speculation. Thus far they have deferred to him on every level of how to steer his career, and in return Prince is stubbornly determined to make his wilfully idiosyncratic, specially underpriced, two-record 1999 LP (reduced to a single album in the UK) go gold in the US, something even exposure on the notorious video channel MTV has, as of this writing, yet to deliver. 

No black artist outside of Stevie Wonder’s deal with Motown has been allowed to do whatever he likes; so at least half the critical excitement over Prince is to see how long his good fortune will last. A master of indirection, Prince continues to send out conflicting signals without coming off as weak minded or insecure. ‘Party Up’ was anti-draft, a conceptual anagram for ‘Don’t Join Up’. ‘Sexuality’ is not about enslaving oneself to the flesh as much as it is about freeing oneself from anti-life authoritarianism. ‘D.M.S.R.’ pegs the hypocrites that tell you what’s good or bad for you based on what they’re selling this week – teaching people to be afraid of their own bodies so they can be manipulated that much more easily. 

Prince declares that if modern society has divided everything into either Sex or Death symbology then he will define himself in terms of Sex. And unlike George Clinton, Rick James, or Kid Creole, who also wield sex and romance as tools and metaphors, Prince has not lost himself in cynicism, not abandoned the chance for original solutions by subscribing to the pimp’s excuse that “you can’t win, you can’t break even, and you can’t get out of the game.” 

When Prince leans toward misogyny on tunes like ‘Something in the Water’ and ‘Let’s Pretend We’re Married’ one can hear him consider and re-consider the options. The outcome of the war between the sexes is in no way a foregone conclusion for Prince, nor has he bothered to take sides. 

A line like “screw the masses” on ‘D.M.S.R.’ is meant to distress the armchair revolutionaries, for totalitarian government impresses Prince about as much as any police state. If you ask him to suggest a better alternative he might refer you to a line in ‘Ronnie Talk to Russia’ where another ostensibly counter-revolutionary statement – “…don’t feed guerrillas” – is merely a reminder that when you are trying to live it doesn’t really matter if the people doing the killing are of a right or left persuasion. Feed people not guerrillas; wage food diplomacy not revolution. 

Carol Cooper: What is all this talk about a “new breed” coming out of the Controversy album?
Prince: The “New Breed?” It’s no doctrine, no rhetoric. We’re not sloganeers the way politicians are. I always laugh when people complain that my “message” lyrics aren’t specific. Where has all the “specificity” of Mao or Marx, Franklin or Jefferson, or even Plato and Aristotle gotten us? True philosophy need be no more specific than “live and let live”. The “New Breed” are people who know how to do that.
On ‘All the Critics Love U in New York’ on the new album, you recite a litany of backhanded swipes at music critics. What is that all about?
A little vindictiveness I guess, but not a lot. It was part experiment and part joke, but people didn’t seem to get it. I remember the critic from Rolling Stone tagged it along with ‘D.M.S.R.’ as obvious filler, when I thought they were two of the best tunes, so you figure it. But if you’re asking for a general statement, I guess I’m saying that the media fucks with you, with your image. They’re concept groupies. Interviewers are another species of tourist. Mental vampires. I think Zappa once wrote a line like ‘I won’t do any more publicity balling for you.’ That’s sort of how I feel. 

Prince proteges  The Time and Vanity 6 have of late taken up their benefactor’s on and off again affair with the press, and at present, only Morris Day of The Time remains sanguine about bolstering his onstage persona with comments (more playful and flippant with each encounter) to the scribes and Pharisees. 

The Time, with their modified zoot suits and two-tone shoes are like a scaled down model of the early Savannah Band. But their style is less about degenerated America than about bad boys who’ve found a constructive use, temporarily, for their time. Due to circumstances they’d really like to control some day, they’ve become white collar gangsters-in-training; a sort of street elite of Uptown USA. Given to puns and mock bragadoccio, Day’s primary emphasis is always about being pressed for time. And paired with Prince’s time-tied apocalyptic warnings, The Time also offer a thematic indirection that echoes one of Stevie Wonder’s recent mysticisms…We are the children of your night.” 

Day might quip “Eat drink and be merry for tomorrow you may die – but not us.”

The three girls who form Vanity 6 are somewhat more problematic as a viable female faction of the Princely avant garde. None of the three play instruments on stage, and the songs on their debut LP for the most part require no extraordinary singing ability. For visuals they vascillate between Vampirella’s cartoon menace, and lingerie-clad coffee table porn. Susan and Vanity develop more stage presence every time I see them (Brenda, the oldest, had hers down from the beginning) but they as yet seem unclear on whether they’re aiming for Annabella style prurience, camp comedy, or the deeper implications of a Joanna Russ style Female Man. 

As a freeze frame triple fracture of Prince’s own feminine projections they are intriguing: Vanity, a creamy sort of black Barbarella sandwiched between a sweet, underage brown vixen and a tall, butch blond who talks like the black Boston ghetto. Vanity is meant to combine the other two with an extra kink or two of her own thrown in for good measure. It will be interesting to see where the second album takes them, as The Time were not taken seriously either until their second time around. 

The point is, has been, and always will be to fly in the face of convention, and if The Time, Prince, and Vanity 6 are able to sustain the work pace they’ve set for themselves, the changes and growth are bound to be a more accurate reflection of America’s current state of mind than any other set of pop-culture artifacts. 

Carol Cooper: Tell me about the line “Purple love and war/That’s all you’re headed for/But don’t show it”. That seems to be the pivotal statement on ‘All the Critics Love U’.
Prince: Oh, now you’re getting close. All is fair in love and war. Royal purple, red and blue, the colour of yin and yang when they become one. People are still not serious on a mass level about the war against racism and poverty, they’re also not ready for my kind of love. So yes, I’m making love and war in ways that society is not sympathetic to at the moment, so that’s why it’d be unwise to show it. The war of Armageddon is coming whether we’re prepared for it or not, and in ‘Free’ I talk a little more about the freedom of choice between good and evil. No government gave you that, God did. But governments don’t want you to remember that – which is why they put conscientious objectors in jail. But in the war that’s coming there’ll be no way to abstain. Whatever you do you’ll have to be behind one flag or another. My flag is freedom, purple, unconditional love.
But you would have to admit with all the sex-related disease around, from herpes to A.I.D.S., that it would discourage people from following your advice into free, polymorphous sex.
All these things are prophesy. I wouldn’t tell anybody not to take precautions…
Your philosophy doesn’t mention any.
You can look at it two ways. Either other aspects of the wrong way people are using their environment is making people sick, or these diseases are just what they call them – the Wrath of God. All I say is that you shouldn’t repress your sexual feelings just because somebody official told you to. In many places in the world today you’re not supposed to fuck just like you’re not supposed to think. Part of thinking for yourself is avoiding people who are going to give you diseases – mental or physical. 

Carol Cooper

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Elvis Costello – “When I Was Cruel” (2002)

May 6, 2009 at 11:03 am (Elvis Costello, Fran Fried, Reviews & Articles)

This review comes from Fran Fried, April 26, 2002, from the New Haven Register. Good album, but I can’t say that it’s better than Imperial Bedroom, which to me is EC’s masterpiece…


No Cruelty to Costello’s Brilliant Return to Form


Through the dark ages of ’90s rock, it was as if Costello took a working vacation — digging into expanding his horizons and seeing what happened. And when he did come up for air, in various personae (the Jerry Garcia Elvis, the Brodsky Quartet Elvis, the Burt Bacharach/Austin Powers Elvis), he was trying things out in public — seeing what worked, what didn’t. It might have been frustrating to his fans, to bounce with him through his many forays — but it was necessary, really, in his growth process.
Well, it’s only been two years since his album with mezzo-soprano Anne Sofie von Otter, but it seems an eternity (actually five years-plus) since the last “Costello” album (All This Useless Beauty). And now, he’s come around full circle and given us his best album in over 20 years. Actually, 24 years. This will probably land on the medal platform with This Year’s Model, his second album, and My Aim Is True his second and first discs, respectively.
I know; that’s a serious statement, and some fans will point to Imperial Bedroom (1982) and King of America (’86). But three things set this album apart. It’s a synthesis of just about everything he’s absorbed musically over the years. It’s clear that Costello finally took Bacharach’s advice about trying to cram too many words into a bar of music, rediscovering the balance between lyric and melody, letting the lyrics breathe. And he rocks like he hasn’t in a long time.
He’s had his rock moments over the decade or so — “Veronica,” “The Other Side of Summer,” “13 Steps” — but not many. Here, backed by a core unit that includes old Attractions mates Steve Nieve and Pete Thomas, he lets loose years’ worth. The nostalgic “45” explodes into a bloom of melody and sound, then retreats, the waits to do it again. “Tear Off Your Own Head (It’s a Doll Revolution)” is, at turns, ’60s trippy and poppy, edgy and relentless. The noisy “Dissolve” is his John Lennon venting moment, early-’70s vintage. And “Daddy Can I Turn This?” a rage against a golden cage, is as hard as he’s sounded since the Angry Young Man days, a searing guitar screaming over a dense beat and ominous melody line.

But, master of subtlety and variety that he’s become, he’s just as effective slowed down. The acid test is when one can make a long song seem too short. “When I Was Cruel No. 2,” a 7-minute tale, treads old territory (money can’t buy happiness), but paints it with a craftsman’s verbal dexterity, roasting it slowly over a musical bed of dread, sadness and emptiness. It will probably stand as one of his best songs. And “Alibi,” nearly as long, uses dub reggae to set up a song that morphs into Bacharach/Dionne Warwick soul with a fuzzy guitar over it (think “Don’t Make Me Over” at one point).
It’s corny and untrue to say “Elvis is back” or even hint this is a comeback. The sly dog didn’t go away, and besides, he knew what he was doing all along.

Fran Fried

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