Steve Reich + Philip Glass mend fences

Photo by Stephanie Berger

Photo by Stephanie Berger

For the first time in over 30 years, Steve Reich and Philip Glass shared a stage. My NPR colleague Anastasia Tsioulcas was there, and wrote about it. That composer Nico Muhly, who owes both men a lot, was performing with them made it an even more resonant occasion.

Here’s an excerpt from Love Goes To Buildings On Fire about another time Reich performed Four Organs, 40 years ago, when it elicited a rather different audience response.

Riley wound up back in New York that fall, too. But he wasn’t pleased when he discovered Reich pursuing ideas Riley felt were his, and they never worked together again. Reich did strike up a friendship with another like-minded composer, Philip Glass, a Juilliard classmate who re-introduced himself at a concert Reich gave at Paula Cooper’s Park Place Gallery—the foremost exhibition space for minimalist artists like Sol LeWitt—in early ’67. Reich and Glass formed a collective ensemble, in which they both played each other’s work. They also formed a furniture-moving company, Chelsea Light Moving, as neither one of them made enough money from their music to pay their bills.

Meanwhile, Reich’s longtime interest in drumming was rising up. He was inspired to visit Ghana in 1970 by Alfred Ladzekpo, a Ghanaian drummer teaching at Columbia University. (Ladzekpo’s African Dances and Games LP, which may also have provided the seed for Willie Colon’s “Che Che Cole,” had just been released.) The trip was something of a nightmare—Reich contracted malaria and left a month earlier than planned. But his studies there blew his mind, confirming many of his ideas on rhythm. His own music came into sharper focus, and at the end of ‘71, he premiered his extended Drumming —for bongo drums, marimbas, glockenspiels, female voices, piccolo, and a whistler (for now, himself)—over two weeks at three concerts: at the Museum of Modern Art, The Brooklyn Academy of Music, and Town Hall. As a new-music composer, he had arrived.

Still, a gig at Carnegie Hall, the bastion of old-school classical music, was not on his to-do list when the phone rang in late ’72.

Yet the guy on the line—Michael Tilson Thomas, 27-year-old conductor of the Boston Symphony—was knowledgeable and enthusiastic about his music. He was curating a new music program for Carnegie Hall called the Spectrum series, which hoped to lure a younger audience. Thomas wanted Reich in it.

Reich agreed. His Four Organs, an extended piece employing extreme repetition and performed with four Farfisa electric organs and some Latin Percussion-brand rawhide-and-buckshot maracas, was presented in Boston without incident. The performance in his hometown on January 18, 1973, was another story.

Four Organs was not new to New York, having premiered at the Guggenheim back in 1970, with Glass at one of the keyboards. Performed by the musicians not in concert dress but in shirtsleeves—a statement in itself on the Carnegie Hall stage—the performance lasted about 16 minutes. The music was amplified, but it wasn’t rock-concert loud. And after a few minutes, the performers could hear the noise of the audience—more old guard than the young vanguard they’d hoped for— fidgeting in their seats, coughing, murmuring and rustling their programs. Soon, it was joined by groans and eventually, straight-out shouting and heckling. The musicians traded glances. There was nothing to do but to keep playing the repeated, stabbing phrases, over and over and over. The audience noise grew so loud, they couldn’t hear each other play; they had to mouth their cues, and eventually yell them, to keep the piece from falling apart. The audience was literally trying to stop the performance by shouting it down. At one point, a woman got out of her seat, and walked down the aisle towards the musicians. All eyes were on her, and when she reached the lip of the stage, she began banging her head against it repeatedly, at least in gesture, and she wailed: “Stop, stop – I confess!”

When the piece finally ended, there was a moment of silence, and then a tidal wave of boos and cat calls. The musicians bowed, and walked off stage with as much composure as they could muster.

Harold C. Schonberg of the New York Times described the audience reaction in the paper “as though red-hot needles were being inserted under fingernails,” and added that he himself had heard “nothing much to like, nothing much to dislike.” Alan Rich of New York magazine, meanwhile, praised it as a “marvelous, original invention about musical time and rate of change.”

Soon enough, Steve Reich was back in his element, giving free performances of works-in-progress alongside exhibitions by his new friend, Sol Lewitt, at the John Weber Gallery. When Reich’s old colleague Phil Lesh came to town to play Nassau Coliseum with the Dead that March, they did not see each other.

The Fania All Stars Play Central Park

FANIA All Stars at Yankee Stadium, 1973.


Today’s New York Times has a piece about the legacy of Fania Records, on the occasion of the label’s 50th anniversary.

It notes that the current edition of the Fania All-Stars will be playing their first concert in New York City in ages, a free show in Central Park on August 24. That happens to be 41 years — to the day — after the historic Yankee Stadium concert (see above) that I wrote about in Love Goes To Buildings On Fire.

Will I be there? Hell yes.

Love Goes To Buildings, Italian Edition


This just in…

The Italian edition of Love Goes To Buildings On Fire – with a more nuts-and-bolts moniker – is out this week. Here’s my translater Michele Piumini with a copy.
The cover shot of Dee Dee Ramone is by Paul Natkin.LGTBOFItalianEd

The South By Southwest Lou Reed Tribute

Richard Barone: "All Tomorrow's Parties"

Richard Barone: “All Tomorrow’s Parties”


Last week, as part of the SXSW music festival in Austin, TX, a four-plus hour tribute concert was devoted to the music and memory of Lou Reed. It was curated, pretty masterfully I thought, by Richard Barone and Alejandro Escovedo.

Neither are household names: as leader of The Bongos, Barone was one of the forebears of the Hoboken indie rock scene alongside The Feelies and Yo La Tengo, while Escovedo, of San Francisco punk pioneers The Nuns and Texas alt-country pioneers Rank and File, is a roots-rock icon and Austin’s mayor of rock’n'roll. But the show wasn’t about a parade of stars. It was a group of Reed admirers — some longtime friends, some just spiritual kin — gathered to celebrate the legacy of a great artist.

Rehearsal: "Sweet Jane"

Rehearsal: Barone and Escovedo hammering “Sweet Jane” into shape w/ the house band, including Lenny Kaye, Ivan Julian, Clem Burke, and Susan Voelz.

“We cast the songs like you would a film or a play,” explained Barone backstage on the day of the show. It wasn’t always what you’d expect, and not every part worked. But for four hours, it rarely flagged, and it was often sloppy and illuminating in a way that was very much in the spirit of SXSW, and rock’n'roll in general.

Highlights included Reed’s old pal Garland Jeffreys, who turned “I’m Waiting For My Man” into an Otis Redding-style r&b workout (cannily appropriate, as it happens), and jumped off the stage to finish the rave-up ending in the crowd.

Lou-TribGarland

Suzanne Vega did a gentle acoustic “Walk On The Wild Side” which was spot-on, casting the song in the tradition of folk-blues storytelling.

Suzanne Vega - "Walk On The Wild Side"

Suzanne Vega – “Walk On The Wild Side”

Sharon Needles, the gorgeous winner Season 4 of Ru Paul’s Drag Race, did a perfect reading of “Candy Says”

Sharon Needles

Sharon Needles

The Black Lips seared the Velvets’ “Run Run Run,” adding some upside-down guitar riffing for good measure.

Black Lips

Black Lips

There was an was an epic, roughly 30-minute “Sister Ray” lead by Steve Wynn (Dream Syndicate) and featuring a shitload of other guitarists, including house band yeoman Lenny Kaye (Patti Smith Group) and Ivan Julian (Richard Hell & The Voidoids). And things wrapped up, of course, with everyone on stage for “Rock and Roll.”

"Rock and Roll"

“Rock and Roll”

As Barone told me, getting rights to the songs would be too difficult to make an album out of the performance. But there are plenty of YouTube clips, including these two: Barone’s sweet “I’ll Be Your Mirror” and Lucinda William’s “Pale Blue Eyes,” probably my favorite two Lou Reed songs. Most of the time.

Lou-TribMarquee

Springsteen on Suicide

photo by Bob Gruen

Suicide at CBGBs (photo by the unbeatable Bob Gruen)

Rolling Stone quoted Bruce Springsteen recently as saying “[Suicide] are underground masters,” and that “they should be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.”

That’s a totally awesome statement. Will it ever happen? One can dream.

This from the coda of Love Goes To Buildings On Fire, about a DJ set at an Animal Collective show (by selektahs Piotr Orlov and Andy Beta):

After an encore, as the revelers filed out towards the frigid night and the year ahead, the DJs slip on a gentle acoustic number: A cover of Suicide’s “Dream Baby Dream” by, of all people, Bruce Springsteen. Springsteen played the song as a coda to nearly every show on his solo 2005 Devils and Dust tour. This particular version, a hypnotizing mantra-cum-lullaby-cum-benediction, was released on an import-only compilation right around Alan Vega’s 70th birthday.

Springsteen had always liked Suicide: he was especially impressed by the story-song “Frankie Teardrop.” When he was working on The River in ’79, he and Vega crossed paths up at 914 Studios in Blauvelt, where Springsteen had recorded so much of his early work. Vega and Marty Rev were finishing their second LP, which included “Dream Baby Dream. Bruce and Vega talked about rock’n’roll, taking nips off Vega’s flask. “You know, if Elvis came back from the dead,” Springsteen said later, “I think he would sound like Alan Vega.”

The Lou Reed biography

Reed performing with the Velvet Underground in the mid-'60s

Reed performing with the Velvet Underground in the mid-’60s (photo by Adam Ritchie)

It’s official. From the item in the New York Times. Needless to say, I’m thrilled.

January 7, 2014, 3:05 pm
Will Hermes to Write Lou Reed Biography
By JOHN WILLIAMS

Farrar, Straus and Giroux has signed the Rolling Stone writer Will Hermes to write “Lou: A New York Life,” a biography of Lou Reed.

Mr. Reed, the singer and songwriter who first achieved fame as a member of the Velvet Underground, died on Oct. 27. He was 71.

In an email interview, Mr. Hermes said he planned to write a “full, definitive biography.” As for the subtitle, still tentative, he said New York City would “figure prominently,” in the book, “because how could it not? Reed loved the city deeply, based his adult life here, rooted much of his work here and was a huge figure in our cultural life. I think we have yet to fully measure the loss. He was one of the greatest artists of our generation.”

Alex Star, a former editor at The New York Times Magazine and The New York Times Book Review, acquired the rights to the book. Mr. Hermes’s previous book, “Love Goes to Buildings on Fire,” looked back at Talking Heads, the Ramones and other influential figures of the mid-1970s New York music scene.

And now: to work.

R.I.P. Lou Reed 1946-2013

Lou Reed with Patti Smith, John Cale and David Byrne at the Lower Manhattan Ocean Club, 1976

Lou Reed with Patti Smith, John Cale and David Byrne at the Lower Manhattan Ocean Club, 1976 (photo by the great Bob Gruen)

Reed performing with the Velvet Underground in the mid-'60s

Reed performing with the Velvet Underground in the mid-’60s (photo by Adam Ritchie)

Lou Reed died on Sunday morning. He was pop music’s Baudelaire – a game-changing modernist not just unafraid to go into dark places, but devoted to their exploration, which is distinct from glorification. He was a great artist, and his influence on pop music and culture is immeasurable.

As I wrote in Love Goes To Buildings On Fire, a book in which his figure looms large, he grew up on Long Island. And when he was a teenage troublemaker, after admitting a sexual attraction to men, his psychiatrist got his parents to sign off on some rounds of electroshock therapy in hopes of curing him of his deviance. They were conducted at Creedmore, a huge mental hospital in Queens; I used to ride my bicycle past their creepy, fenced-off campus when I was growing up.

Maybe it’s reductive to make too much of this. But holy fuck. When a culture says its OK to strap a kid down in a psych ward and pump electricity into his skull because he likes boys and tends towards “deviant” behavior, is it any wonder said brilliant kid dedicates his art to setting deviance a place at the table, and chipping away of the hypocrisy of this brutish culture?

Thank you, Lou Reed, for keeping up the fight.

From Love Goes To Buildings On Fire:

Lou Reed’s Transformer, produced by David Bowie and Mick Ronson, was released in November ’72. It earned its name: it transformed him from rock musician into rock star. In early ’73 the single “Walk On The Wild Side” was a radio staple, reaching #16 on the Billboard charts despite, and because of, lyrics that peeped through a dirty window at New York City’s gender-melting underground. Reed biographer Victor Bockris called it “the no. 1 jukebox hit in America in 1973,” which may well be true; it was definitely worth a quarter to play it in a diner or pizzeria and watch heads turn. Most listeners had no clue that the song’s characters— Holly the transvestite, Candy the blow-job queen, Little Joe the gay hustler, Sugar Plum Fairy the Harlem cruiser, Jackie the speed freak—were actual people: Holly Woodlawn, Candy Darling, Little Joe Dallesandro, Joe “Sugar Plum Fairy” Campbell, and Jackie Curtis were all members of Reed’s extended artistic family at the Factory, Andy Warhol’s salon/clubhouse/culture incubator, which at the time was located on the 6th floor of 33 Union Square West, just across the park from Max’s.

Reed was born in Brooklyn and raised in Long Island. He was moody, pegged as a problem child, and the summer after he turned 17, a psychiatrist convinced his parents to send him to Creedmore State Psychiatric Hospital in Queens for eight weeks of electroshock therapy, intended to cure him of his homosexual and anti-social sentiments. He attended Syracuse University, played in a rock band, took drugs, and studied with poet Delmore Schwartz—who he called “my teacher, my friend, and the man who changed my life.” He moved back home to Long Island and got a job as a staff songwriter and session musician with Pickwick Records, where met John Cale, an expat viola player from Wales. The two became musical pals and drug buddies, and Reed moved into an apartment with him at 56 Ludlow Street, south of Delancey, in the old Jewish ghetto of the Lower East Side.

The two formed the Velvet Underground in 1965 with two other Long Island kids, guitarist Sterling Morrison and drummer Maureen Tucker. They were all fans of raw r&b: Ike & Tina Turner’s “It’s Gonna Work Out Fine,” Eddie & Ernie’s “Outcast.” Reed also loved Ornette Coleman; Cale had worked with John Cage and, when the Velvets came together, was performing screechy, hypnotic drones with composer La Monte Young in the latter’s Theatre of Eternal Music ensemble. Their band name was swiped from the title of a paperback about suburban sex kinks plucked from a Manhattan gutter, and they made music where primitivism camouflaged brainy underpinnings, playing Reed’s bad-trip rock songs about s&m and heroin at the height of international flower power culture. Of course, their city marched to its own demented drummer. As critic John Rockwell noted, “Psychedelic weirdness never caught on very firmly in speedy, street-oriented New York.”

The Lumineers cover Talking Heads

Check this out.

A cover of Talking Heads “This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody)” by nu-folkies The Lumineers.

What do you think?

A Ramones Revival

MarkyRamone

Marky Ramone, who played drums with The Ramones for 15 years after Tommy bowed out, just launched a tour with his world-class Ramones cover band, which is being ably fronted by NYC art-punk Andrew W.K.

I saw the latter last week playing free-jazz piano with Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon at the Brooklyn Masonic Temple, part of this month’s wild, polyglot Red Bull Music Academy series. In the words of Joey Ramone, which W.K. will no doubt be singing, New York City really has it all.

Keep the fire burning, dudes. Rolling Stone has more here.

DIsco babies: A nascent Chic


A 1976 clip of The Big Apple Band – basically Chic before “Le Freak” – attaching jumper cables to the nipples of The Bee Gees “You Should Be Dancing.” Awesome.