29 February 2008

Oh, So That's What They're Singing

23 Adar I - Year 5768

Some clever cats have gone and deciphered the lyrics to Carl Orff's Carmina Burana. Check this out! That guy was waaaaaay ahead of his time. (Thanks to L-Dopa for the link)

25 February 2008

Seasons They Change

25 Vaisakha - Year 51 (Saka Era)

I received an e-mail from Singing Bear last night, telling me of his decision to bow out of "Blog Is Not..". He has been carefully ruminating on the topic for a few weeks. Ultimately, it is his choice to remain or not--and I stand by his choice.

He's had a rough couple of years and he has intimated that he's concentrating on his own spiritual journey more than anything else at the moment. It seems correct to me, that he would spread his wings and fly the coop to explore his own path more deeply. We wish the best to him and will support him whenever possible.

Pixie and I got to know Bear at the Flaming Lips BBS back in 2003 and he has been a great friend to both of us since. He was on the team of our last collaborative muso-blog, Pond Of Tunes and readily joined up at "Blog Is Not.." when I fired it up in 2006. I always enjoy his posts, filled with his wit and musical crits and observations. We will certainly miss him here.

The good news is, that Bear has started up a solo blog, called There It Isn't. It will chronicle his current adventures and interests and it can be found here.

That pretty much leaves me, my lovelies..MUAH-HA-HA-HA (*rubbing my hands together, mad-scientist stylee*). This blog started as a four-person collab., but quickly whittled down to two as Pixie prefers "The Bear Pit" and commenting here and Aloicious seems to have gone permanently a.w.o.l.--I kinda like having him as a 'silent partner', though, so we've kept his spot. The Bear and I kept the team spirit alive, but I suppose it could only last for so long...the only constant is change. I'll be back soon with more weirdness and nuggets from my noggin...check Bear's blog out!

20 February 2008

The Doctor "Is" Out....

Sweetmorn, Chaos 51, Year of Our Lady of Discord 3174

I was visiting the Maybe Logic Academy forum today, as I hadn't been there in a few weeks. It was a bit of a "catch-up" session--but no-one was around while I was scoping out the threads.

In one of the forums, Borsky (a MLA regular), had posted about Dr. Christopher S. Hyatt passing away. Apparently, he left the planet on the 9th of February, after a protracted battle with cancer. He was 64 years old. The news came as a shock to me, so I checked his site and, indeed, it seems true. Hyatt, born Alan Miller, kept a lot of the detail of his life secret--or at least clouded enough to not reveal very much. He did reveal some of the facts in a few of his books, namely Undoing Yourself and Rebels and Devils. His teenage years seemed quite rough and he left school at 17, allegedly expelled for "drinking and dealing". He joined the U.S. Navy, finished his stint, got married and quickly divorced, after fathering a son.

He attended college--swapping an accounting major for psychology. Hyatt also began studying the occult techniques of Aleister Crowley and subsequently met Israel Regardie, Crowley's former secertary and member of the Golden Dawn, in the early 1970s. Regardie taught Hyatt the therapy of Wilhelm Reich and suggested that he use it before embarking on a serious magickal venture. After that...well, Hyatt joined up with a few occult organisations, including Crowley's O.T.O. (the Ordo Templis Orientis) and a revived Golden Dawn. He developed a system of "energized meditation", based on various disciplines of yoga and exercise, realised a philosophy of extreme individualism, married and divorced a few more times.

Hyatt was instrumental in the formation of New Falcon Publications, an indie imprint dedicated to occult and speculative titles. He himself contributed several books, as well as published some by Regardie, reprints by Crowley and providing a starting point for authors like Antero Alli, Camden Benares and Lon Milo DuQuette. More importantly, for my own education and edification, New Falcon became the near-exclusive publisher for Robert Anton Wilson, releasing almost all of his books in the 80s, 90s and 'Noughties'--including his final title, E-Mail To The Universe. In the past few years, Hyatt founded the "Extreme Individual Institute" and published 6 titles connected with it, while also holding seminars. I never attended any, as they were quite pricey and I would've had to fly out to Arizona, where he was based.

I did do the exercises in "Undoing Yourself..." for about a year and a half and found them very productive. I suspect they would have been more so, but I was only practising them once a week, instead of the three times suggested in the book. I only stopped because I decided to take up Hatha yoga and to do both three times a week would've been too much. I may start with Hyatt's energized meditation techniques again, when I've become more adept at yoga. I bought the Energized Hypnosis book, but I haven't read it yet. I enjoyed "Rebels And Devils", a collection of essays and artwork regarding the 'psychology of liberation' by Hyatt, Wilson and many others. I've also read The Psychopath's Bible, one of his more infamous titles. It makes for startling reading and does put one into an interesting head-space for a bit, but I'm not so sure about putting any of the techniques presented into action.

Hyatt did seem to have the ability to polarize opinions of him--some thought of him as a teacher and genius, others as a money-grubbing charlatan. As always with Aristotlean, "either/or" debates--the 'truth' may lie somewhere in between. For me, Hyatt was one of the lesser lights in the 'new era' counter-culture (with R.A.W. being my main influence)--but he has had an impact on myself and many others and for that I am grateful. R.I.P. Dr. Christopher S. Hyatt/Alan Miller--thank you for your words.

As a small post-script--there's a group who are dedicated to some of Hyatt's principles, though they are not actively affiliated with him. The group is called The Luciferian Society and their homepage is located here. I had a bit of a wander around and it seems like an interesting place. Be careful, though, they don't mess around with noobs--although they seem somewhat friendlier than the folks at the Principia Discordia forum. See you soon.

14 February 2008

New Blog

Whilst continuing my commitment to Blog Is Not A Four-Letter Word, I have decided to start a new blog that will probably be just for a little 'creative writing' I'm trying to do.

You will find me at http://thereitisnt.blogspot.com/

I will add other features like links and further info when I get the time.

Constructive comments, observations and criticism always welcome.

Please come and have a look when you get the chance.

13 February 2008

4 Years in Engerland...

13 Zeus - Year 87 (Poundian Calendar)

Seems really tough to believe...four years ago I boarded a plane at Logan Airport in Boston and roughly six hours later, landed at Heathrow Airport near London and never went back. Probably the bravest thing I've ever done so far in my fairly short lifetime.

Luckily, my Dearest was at the airport waiting for me and we embraced like we had when we first physically met just six months previously. I had my fiance visa and I was legal to stay in Britain...for six months anyway. We had to get married within that time, or I would have to leave again. We did and I'm still in Britain (with a 'permanent leave to remain' visa now--how's that phrase for a headscratcher?).

I had planned to escape from my birthplace, Connecticut, for quite some time. I grew up in East Hartford--a factory town just across the Connecticut river from the capital city. I suppose it was a nice town when I was very young--summer days seemed endless and the winters, though very cold, always brought plenty of snow for forts and sledding (or 'sledging' as it's known in Blighty). It was far from idyllic, but it was all I knew and so I tried to make the best of it. As I grew older, though, the town seemed to lose a lot of it's charm--this wasn't helped by the main employer, United Technologies/Pratt & Whitney, reducing it's workforce by a third. They would reduce it even further later on, effectively decimating the town's population as a lot of families moved away to go 'where the work is'. It's possible it wasn't that bad--as some of you may be picturing a Grapes Of Wrath scenario, but East Hartford just didn't seem the same.

My home situation occasionally became less than ideal as well--I won't go into detail, but I considered running away more than a few times. A couple of times I actually did, but only got to the next block before fear and the realisation that I didn't have any clue of what to do or where exactly to go, forced me to go back to the house to face my parents' jeering and the knowledge that I couldn't actually go through with it. In hindsight, I suppose that seems the wiser choice, as the horror stories of life on the streets abound and I probably would've ended up as just another statistic.

For a while in my teens, I planned to join the military and I figured that was as good as any plan to leave. I changed my mind, however, late in high-school and concentrated on college--preferably out of the country (the British Isles was my top choice). With my less-than-stellar academic record and non-existant portfolio (I was pursuing an architecture degree), I had no chance of getting accepted to Cork Technical College or a trade school in Dundee. I was accepted at Wentworth Institute of Technology in Boston and I decided to give it a shot. My father reluctantly agreed to pay for the first year only--but that was good enough for me at the time. Soon, I was ensconced in a cruddy studio apartment on Huntington Ave., with a room-mate from some small town in Massachusetts. For the first time in my life, though, I had some (relative) FREEDOM and it was such a liberating feeling. Whatever hardships I had to go through, at the very least I had no curfew, I could hang out with who I wanted and I didn't have to go to church on Sundays. That was a big deal to me then.

The money eventually ran out in my second year and I thought about staying on in Boston, trying to get a full-time job instead of going to school--but again, I wasn't sure where to stay and thought it best to journey back to the folks' place. All through my 20s, I would think of ways to get somewhere else. A couple of friends moved to Madison, Wisconsin and I briefly considered it, only the harsh winters put me off (one of those friends eventually moved back to Conn. himself). I thought about moving back to Boston, after finishing my studies for an associates degree and then remembered how expensive it can be. Another set of friends headed off to New York City and while that seemed exciting--the money factor caused me to hesitate (I also thought N.Y.C. might be a bit too crazy for me and I like trees too much to live there for any length of time). I really wanted to go to California, but I couldn't find anyone else to go with and found I was too cautious to sell all of my stuff, pack up the car and point it toward the West Coast. I at least managed to get out of my parents' house by moving into a series of apartments in East Hartford and Manchester with various siblings, friends and work colleagues.

I visited Ireland and England in the late 90s and rekindled my interest in possibly moving to either place, but the chances seemed very very slim. When the 'Noughties' rolled around--I found myself back in E.H. and back at the folks' house. Most of my friends had moved away or had got married and started families...even most of my siblings had left. I had that "down-and-out" feeling--the sensation of being stuck in a massive rut. I revived the California plan and was seriously thinking of putting it into action--when Pixie and I met (in virtuality).

Even then, I just thought "Oh, it'll be nice to have a friend in England, so I can go over and visit more often." Well, things worked out quite differently, I'm very happy to report and so I left to be with her 4 years ago. I thank her for choosing to remain in England--so I could get out of the U.S., though I would've stayed in Conn. if she had wanted to leave the UK. Of course, I would have wanted to leave Conn. eventually anyway--and hopefully she would agree to that.

So here I am - enjoying life in Britain. It was a bit of a learning curve and still is, in some ways, even for a self-confessed Anglophile like myself. That whole "separated by a common language" cliche actually does come into play at times. Perhaps I'll discuss that in another post...

08 February 2008

Ashes to ashes, bland & clunky, looks like The Guv's just a flunkie...

2nd Day, First Month - Year 97 (Year Of The Rat)

WARNING: Spoiler alert--the review gives away a lot of the plot, if you haven't seen the episode.

Pixie and I caught the first episode of the 'sequel' series to the often great Life On Mars, called Ashes To Ashes (see what they did there, another Bowie song title--I wonder if they'll make a 90s version next and call it I'm Afraid Of Americans...).

The verdict? For me, just...meh. The story this time around revolves around Alex Drake (played by a very posh Keeley Hawes), a police psychologist who was involved with Sam Tyler (the main protagonist of "Life.."), as his shrink. She's memorised Tyler's case details and in the opening scene, is going over it with her far-too-precocious-to-believe daughter, Molly, while on the morning school run. The usual police "situation" happens and Alex is ordered to the scene. A gunman has a hostage and, of course, a stand-off has ensued. Drake is supposed to talk the man down--but as she approaches him, he remarks that he knew her parents. His name is Arthur Leyton and he becomes central to the plot. In another moment of belief suspension, Molly runs out of the crowd as Leyton takes her mother hostage. Leyton grabs the girl instead and Drake pursues them both. She finds her daughter unharmed and they call it a day. I guess Molly earns a "get-out-of-school-free" card for being accosted by a crazed gunman. She takes off with some guy, I didn't catch who that is--husband, maybe?

Alex gets into her car--and who should be there? Yep, Leyton. The ol' hiding-in-the-back-seat ploy (I often wonder why people in cop shows never lock their car doors). She drives to the usual 'secluded spot', he frog-marches her somewhere else...there's a scuffle, the gun fires...and she wakes up in 1981. That's what we're meant to think anyway--she's surrounded by people with daft haircuts and goofy clothes. She makes an escape, only to be held at gunpoint by another lunatic. Luckily, this time--Gene "The Guv" Hunt (Philip Glenister) appears, cowboy boots and all..with a couple of his old cronies from Manchester and they save the day. It seems he's transferred down to The Big Smoke to battle the rising drug tide...or something. They all head down to the station house and Alex realises who they are. She's then convinced that she's tapped into Tyler's fantasy world and tries to figure out how to break out of it. Through the guy they've arrested, she finds out that Leyton is involved (small fantasy world...) and surmises that the key to get herself out of '81 is to arrest him.

The rest of the episode involves The Guv and Drake and the rest of the crew tracking down the drug ring and Drake gunning for Leyton. Occasionally, there'll be weird moments where a guy dressed like Bowie-as-clown on the "Ashes To Ashes" single appears and chases her. The climactic sting operation/shoot-out sees The Guv calling himself "The A Team" (a not-so-sly reference to..well you know) and commandeering a speedboat and brandishing an Uzi. Over the top? Yep.

Overall, I don't think it worked as well as "Life..." It just seemed too self-referential--with Drake somehow knowing that she was she's in a world of her own creation following her being killed (or nearly killed). It lacked that Philip K. Dick-ian ambiguity that propelled Sam Tyler's search to find out what had actually happened to him and exactly why he seemed to be in 1973. The writers have obviously tried to up the eye-candy quotient this time around as well. No more dowdy PC Cartwright--Drake spends most of the episode wearing a silk red top, a red leather miniskirt and black stockings. The Guv is reduced to a near-cartoon--just firing off macho asides and waving a 44 Magnum around. The attempts to set up some kind of Spencer Tracy/Kate Hepburn friction between them seem forced. It's almost as if a 16-year-old was given the script-writing task--"Let's see, the bird will be dressed like a tart, that Guv geezer can say lots of dead cool stuff and some posh twat will be the baddie...and the long-haired bloke can also be the bad guy...oh yeah, can we put The Guv on a speedboat?"

I also thought the way they weaved the title song into the script seemed a bit ham-fisted. Leyton sings the "I'm happy, are you happy too" bit early on--and Drake sings it to herself later in the episode. The appearance of the clown also references the tune. I don't remember anyone humming the "Life On Mars" melody in either of it's two series. The only time the song appeared was in the final episode. It's almost like they're building the show around the song itself.

Ah well, I didn't like "Life on Mars" at first either - but I think "Ashes To Ashes" is going to have to pick up the pace in a big way to match it's predecessor.

07 February 2008

The Other Side of The Mirror: Bob Dylan Live At The Newport Folk Festival 1963-1965

The Other Side of The Mirror DVD has been available for a few months now, so apologies for the lateness of this review. It is yet another artifact in the, seemingly, ever-increasing world of Dylan related archives: in recent months we have also had a mammoth three CD 'best of', a few more books to weigh the old shelves down and 'semi-legal' DVDs of TV performances. Even for the most die-hard of raving loony Boblings much of this stuff is entirely superfluous or, at least, not entirely necessary. The Other Side of The Mirror is, however, a different case altogether. Compiled by Murray Lerner from his seminal footage of Dylan performances at Newport, the DVD all too clearly exhibits Dylan's whirlwind development in two years from earnest 'folk-protest' Guthrie - worshipper to the coolest cat in the known universe, spouting surreal 'skippin' reels of rhyme' and shouldering an electric guitar. There's no narration: we are allowed to just watch Dylan grow through three festivals. I swear he seems to morph physically as much as artistically, during this blindingly brief spell, when he truly was the most important singer on the planet.

Dylan in 1963 is all working shirt and big boots. His hair is pretty short and Pete Seeger really seems to approve. We see him singing at a small 'workshop', with various very trad. musicians sat behind him looking like they just stepped down from the hills. Bob gives a rare live performance of 'North Country Blues' and then we are transported to the main stage for the evening show. This is where 'King' Bob is first seen accompanied by 'Queen' Joan Baez. There is something that always makes me feel like throwing up every time I see early footage of these two together. With the knowledge we now have of how things panned out, it seems obvious that Dylan never really wanted Joanie around and the way she just seems to appear at his side looks creepy in the extreme. It must be conceded that Dylan happily used Baez to get his career off the ground but you can always nearly see him thinking 'You again! Just go away, woman!' as she caterwauls along to 'Blowin' In The Wind' or 'It Ain't Me Babe' (didn't she get it?). Baez also has one of those voices that always has to be louder than everyone else's, even when she's singing harmony. It's like listening to an ego inflating. She was utterly horrendous. Poor Joan must be either one of the most forgiving people of all time or a total sucker when you consider how many times she reappeared in Dylan's career. I fear the latter is the case.

For me, the most fascinating footage is from 1964. He's still strumming an acoustic, so the folkies still love him but the material is probably the most radical of all on the DVD. Lyrically, 'Mr. Tambourine Man' and 'Chimes of Freedom' were songs like no one had ever heard before. Guthrie had been replaced by Rimbaud. Dylan was also dressed noticably sharper in a very cool jacket, jeans and cuban heel boots. Still, the 'trads' were so dull they didn't mind at all because he was still 'acoustic'. They clearly weren't listening. Poor Bob still can't quite get away from Joanie, though. She's up on stage as he sings 'It Ain't Me Babe' and you can hear her say she doesn't know any of his new songs and it shows! Seems she never got the hint until she followed Bob to Britain in '65 and it was clear there was no way he was ever going to let her sing with him anymore. Life can be cruel. Dylan certainly could be cruel but he knew his art deserved better treatment than campfire singalongs.

By '65 Dylan's mind-set was million miles from that of the likes of Baez, Seeger and Lomax. He was just about to step into the vortex that wouldn't stop until he fell off his bike in '66: Dylan The Iconoclast was in town to stick it to the lot of them. He did sing some acoustic songs in the summer afternoon sun but we get to see some fans already beginning to moan that he's sold out to 'the man' and who needs him now? If only they'd had the wit to shout 'Judas!'. These sort of whingers have dogged Bob's career ever since. Good job he doesn't care. There's a nice bit where the electric band he has lined up for the evening show rehearse and the poor bloke from Peter, Paul and Mary (I know he's definitely NOT Mary), who seemed to always be trying to keep things together when mayhem took over at all these shows, begs them to shut up so he can test the mics. Dylan remains imperially aloof. It's like 'Who cares, man?' The evening 'show' of three electric songs that follows is the stuff of well trodden legend. For all those who now claim they didn't boo, the booing is all too clear. I suppose we don't really know what Dylan thought at the time but he happily went on to be booed all over the world after this! The performances we get of 'Maggie's Farm' and 'Like A Rolling Stone' are far from great musically but they were epoch making in so many other ways. After 'LARS' Bob eventually returns to the stage and 'Peter' or 'Paul' assures the crowd that he's getting is acoustic guitar. They were then treated to brilliant versions of 'Tambourine Man' and, tellingly, 'It's All Over Now, Baby Blue'. If they had been listening properly they would have noticed that Dylan, after all the booing, still had the iron balls to come back on and tell 'em to 'stick it'. They probably thought they'd 'won'.

There it is. Amazing footage of the most important musical artist of the last century or so turning into the singular person he remains to be. Long may he reign. This really is essential for anyone with an interest in all things Bob.

03 February 2008

Record Fayre Round-Up #693

27 Sh'vat - Year 5768

We had a small bit of spare cash left-over this month, so I was green-lighted to go the Record Fair at the Oxford Town Hall. It's been quite a while since I'd been--nearly a year, I think.

It's still being held in the smaller room on the first floor, as there aren't nearly as many sellers to fill the large room (where it used to be). In fact, there were even less tables than the last time I attended. I strongly suspect this has to do with "the intrawebs", as a lot of bootlegs can be had through bit-torrent sites like Dime-A-Dozen and Demonoid, including artwork. The amount of re-issues being released, especially by smaller labels devoted to exactly that purpose, which are easily ordered on-line, also contributes to the number of blokes willing to haul their wares around to small events. Sadly, it may spell the end of the monthly fairs held in Oxford.

On the other hand, it does mean that eventually, these guys selling boots will probably have to lower their prices. Remarkably, there were a few tables loaded up with them--going for £10-£15 a disc (£25 for double-disc sets!). The selection was the usual suspects--Beatles, Dylan, Floyd, Stones, etc. Some of the artwork seemed O.K., a lot were far worse than my home-made stuff. Sure enough, some people actually shelled out for them. I was tempted to tell one punter buying a few Beatles boots that that stuff was readily available on-line almost free, just a bit of internet time downloading a bit-torrent client and the cost of some blank discs--but I didn't want to be chased out of the hall by a mob of merchants. Plus, I thought, maybe he's not savvy to the bit-torrent revolution and he still thinks it's 1991, when the only way to get this stuff was through a bootlegger selling it.

Enough of that...I walked around and checked out ths discs and vinyl. Since Avid Records closed, I figured this may be the only way to score vintage prog and psych LPs. One of the 'regulars' always has a good selection, at not-so-good prices. He had a copy of Third Ear Band's second LP, the self-titled one (a.k.a. 'Elements'), priced at £35! It was in really good condition, but that didn't justify me spending over £30 for it. A couple of tables down, I found a copy of Tangerine Dream's 1971 album, Alpha Centauri, priced at £5. The sleeve's a bit battered, but the record itself plays just fine and it was a treat spinning it yesterday afternoon--a nice spacey soundtrack for a winter day. Sifting through the crates at the same table, I also found another T.D. album, Stratosfear, released on Virgin Records in 1976 (priced at £7) and one I've been looking to acquire for a long while now, Caravan's In The Land Of Grey And Pink--the Deram release with gatefold sleeve. The price tag on the Caravan was £10, but I tried to haggle the bloke down, because the sleeve is pretty beat-up (it turns out the record skips on the second side--but I didn't know that until later). He was reluctant, but eventually asked for £20 for all three, so I got a very slight deal.

After that, I checked out some CDs. I found the new Radiohead disc for £5, so I snapped it up. I bought Pixie a used copy of the double-disc Pulp compilation, Countdown 1992-1983, also for £5. It was priced at £6, but the guy let it and the Radiohead CD go for a tenner. I had another walk around--I passed the Rasta dude who's also there every month. I was tempted to buy a few dub discs from him, but he over-charges as well, as I learned the last time I bought from him. I stopped at the table of another regular who always has a full stock of psych and prog discs. Again, some of the stuff seems quite rare and possibly worth the £10 price tag, but a lot of it seems over-priced. I only had a bit of money left, so I wanted to make a decent choice. I ended up, after much inner debating, buying Atomic Rooster's debut album (first released in 1970), Atomic Ro-O-ster (don't ask me why it's titled that...). The one I bought is the '91 re-issue on Repertoire Records, which includes one bonus track. I only have one of their tracks as part of the Supernatural Fairy Tales box set, so I've been a bit curious to hear more. I'm told that their second album, Death Walks Behind You, "is" the best one--but I figured I'd start from the beginning. The debut is also the only A.R. album with Carl Palmer on drums, before he went off with those other two to start that other band. Vincent Crane, the group's leader and keyboardist, and Palmer were part of The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown, but defected to form Atomic Rooster in 1969. I haven't listened to it yet, but it'll be getting a spin this week.

There was another guy selling dance & hip-hop LPs and 12" singles--so I rifled through a few crates, looking for any of The Grid's albums but came up empty. I found a few Orb singles and even the ...Adventures Beyond The Ultraworld 2-LP set, but he wanted £20 for each--so that was definitely out. Lastly, I stopped at a table selling loads of used classical CDs. I searched for Stockhausen and Terry Riley discs, then realised that there weren't any modern classical CDs. I then remembered that I've been meaning to buy a copy of Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique. I found two different versions of it, but decided on the Decca Records disc with Zubin Mehta conducting. I found a Kronos Quartet disc, called White Man Sleeps, first released in 1987. It seems interesting and their quality control is usually pretty good. The seller with the classical discs had a small book rack at his table and just as I was about to leave, I spotted a hardcover copy of Nick Mason's Inside Out, his own recollections of being in Pink Floyd over the years. I had intended to buy it when it was first published in 2004--but as ever, never got round to it. I figured I'd have to try Amazon's used section and pay up the nose for it. This bloke was selling it for £12--but I asked to buy it for £10...we compromised at £11. Not bad, considering it was £30 when first out...and the copy I've got is in near-mint condition. I've already read through the first couple of chapters and the photos alone make it worth the money.

Well, I've got some reading and listening to do---be back soon.