Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Nature Prance: David Thomas' solo albums 1981-1987

Song of the Bailing Man and Vocal Performances

It was my intention to not delve into the minutiae of the solo Thomas oeuvre - b-sides, rare tracks etc - in these posts but rather to talk about individual album tracks. But things get messy, particularly as the uncovering of the tracks is something of a journey of discovery or rediscovery. I discovered the online Sound of the Sand outtakes a few weeks ago and figured I could hardly ignore them, particularly as they are legitimate releases. And I had been rueing the absence of my copy of the 12" Vocal Performances until, a few days ago - I found it. Both of these recordings are missing links of differing stripes. We need them to understand the bridges and chasms between Pere Ubu and David Thomas solo, particularly given the recording release schedules involved:

June 1980 release of Pere Ubu's The Art of Walking
March 1981 release of Pere Ubu's 390 Degrees of Simulated Stereo (archival late 70s recordings)
Jan 1981 first recording for Sound of the Sand (Atom Mind/ As Shoes Go By/Happy to See You)
October 1981 release of Sound of the Sand
August 1981-Jan 1982 recording of Song of the Bailing Man 
September 1982 release of Pere Ubu's Song of the Bailing Man
1982 release of Vocal Performances 
1982 release of Winter Comes Home 

I have to concede I cobbled the above list together from the internet grabbing every month/year release date I could - which probably in the scheme of things isn't such a reliable approach. Nevertheless these records had to be made some time and plainly there's a crossover between the first David Thomas solo forays and the 'last' Pere Ubu album (last for eight years, at any rate).

Sunday, September 21, 2014

having some work done

I always liked this concrete sewer cover with the old Broadmeadows City Council initials on it, smashed and useless and dangerous as it was. Well, that highlighting suggests to me that its days are numbered, and possibly numbered in less than four figures.
As for whatever's here - a bit of erosion by a kerb I think - it's obviously been given high priority status by someone with some yellow paint and orange plastic fencing material.
Shopping trolley for scale. It was hard to get it into place, and harder to take it back.
 Perhaps the next project will be the big concrete mushroom, who knows.
Barry having a larf. Or as autocorrect says, 'a lard' - cruel.
 Ferdy
 The gaily painted, um, sewer thing I suppose.
 What indeed
 This was the burnt patch from earlier this year. It looks almost fine now. Actually it looks like someone was buried there but I doubt they were.
 'Bye Ferdy

Saturday, September 20, 2014

walk to strathmore this morning




The wetlands area just south of the ring road, quite clogged with weed. 




I heard a bird making a grumpy sound and looked around and here it was. Not sure if you can see it though.
New graffiti at the point where Moonee Ponds Creek comes out from its short experimentation with undergrounding. 

Summer's on its way, someone washed their enormous pants.


Sex Pistols graffiti and even some vintage Foo aka Kilroy 
So many dogs to meet on this trip, I didn't photograph many interactions because the polite thing to do is stand around and look like a responsible dog owner.

These guys are such country gents
 Cool sculpture


And this is where my battery went dead. So much more 20 September, 2014 magic to capture! Well to cut a long story short, we went to Strathmore, I ordered a big breakfast at the Corner Cafe but they didn't give me enough toast (no-one ever does) and so I gave my poached eggs to the boys, win/win probably since I shouldn't really eat eggs and I don't even really like them that much, I was just too tired and footsore to start negotiating. We took the train back to Jacana and walked from there. Now they are s l e e p i n g.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

1969

It has occurred to me the last few days how entitled I really feel and how much I need taking down some pegs. It is true, as has been pointed out to me not a few times in the last year, that I have a tendency to tease and ridicule people around me. When I consider why this might be, well, of course in part it is down to being insecure - just like everyone is, to a greater or lesser extent, it's a holding position between fight or flight, isn't it.

When I was a boy, in the 70s, we all loved Monty Python (well, boys did. Girls often less so. Why was that?). I think I have blogged about this before. The misogyny in MP was one thing. But there was also a not unrelated element of MP which involved 'cutting through the shit' of politeness and pleasantness and being 'real'. The underlying - no, overlaying! - message of MP was that social intercourse was all platitudes and niceties, and what people really wanted to do was abuse and use each other. It was pretty 'punk' in that regard, and fairly nihilistic, unless I'm misunderstanding what nihilism is. From this I got a hankering to always imagine the worst-case-scenario of the social faux pas. What is the worst thing anyone could say to someone to either burst their bubble, or clear away the falseness?

I was talking to Danny Butt about this last night, in regards firstly to the Bulletin cartoons I blogged about a few months ago, and this reminded me in an atypical cultural-reference leap of the film Big, in which Tom Hanks' character Josh reveals the truth of his situation to Elizabeth Perkins' character Susan, that he is just a little boy. In the case of the Bulletin cartoons I wondered out loud, the first time I'd considered this, whether perhaps the reason white middle-class Bulletin readers found the notion of 'primitive' people putting forward 'sophisticated' ideas funny, was not that they hated Aboriginals (though undoubtedly they did) but that they might be attracted to the idea of themselves as, on some level, 'primitive' or base. In Big, Josh's protestation that he is just a little boy is interpreted by Susan as a ploy to get out of a committed relationship. But she also agrees that, underneath, we are all children. I've had the same feeling - particularly when talking to certain friends and acquaintances - that whatever the subtlety or nuance or even sophistication of their words, they are really just screaming 'me - me'. Of course, when people get drunk, it's even more the case. See it a lot.

Anyway. It has also become clear to me that what is tolerable, perhaps even appealing, in a 10, 20, 30, even 40 year old male, is perhaps less appealing in a 50 year old one. So behaviour modification begins today (actually, it began yesterday). I am going to put the anxiety over the possibility that I might appear less interesting or witty (ha) on the back burner in favour of being polite and encouraging. No-one really likes being teased, and of course I hate it pretty much more than anything you can imagine. It's a bad scene. 

What has this to do with 1969, you may ask. Well, it's the year my world turned upside down, and shortly after, the world turned upside down. My brother Michael was born in January 1969, and I was no longer the only child with all the attention of my parents, grandparents and for all I knew everyone else on the planet, bestowed upon me. I am glad I had that 3 years 9 months of the spotlight, I guess, although perhaps if I hadn't had it I would have a little more humility... who knows. But it was certainly character forming. Then later in 1969 the rest of the world got to know what I had been through, because you know, Altamont. Also, 1969 is an amazing song by the Stooges which I always enjoy. But it's only taken me 45 years to appreciate what impact 1969 had on me, and one of those impacts is to feel like I should be the centre of attention and always deflating those around me lest they suddenly seem more interesting to someone else or themselves. That's probably why I love blogging too, you have been warned. 

More confezzional character suicide later peepz. 

when life gives you lemons, make time to walk in the long grass with beagles




Nature Prance: David Thomas' solo albums 1981-1987


A few weeks ago I searched through the Hearpen records online releases looking for any David Thomas live recordings which might exist from this period (he was certainly playing live shows) aside from the Winter Comes Home album. I found the three-songs-for-two-dollars release of the above named songs, which don't really come under the 'solo album' mantle because they were only released a few years ago, and they're not on an album. However, it seems pertinent to discuss them here as they answer some questions (and raise a few others) regarding the period during which Sound of the Sand was recorded.

These are three songs, credited to Thomas, and which were recorded by the band Thomas would later (?) christen The Eggs. Only one of these songs finally emerged on Sound of the Sand; 'Happy to See You'. It appears here in a slightly different version from the cornerstone song on Sound of the Sand. The line-up for the sessions is Paul Hamann, Alan Greene, Ralph Carney, Allen Ravenstine and Scott Krauss. 

Hamann (and his father, Ken) recorded/produced a lot of Pere Ubu/David Thomas material. Greene is a well-known Ohio guitarist, who at this time was a member of a band called Breathless – hence his credit appended with ‘courtesy EMI.’ Carney was (and is) a member of Tin Huey (his intro really makes ‘Happy to See You’ the marvel it is). He and Thomas were also on a track called ‘Sunset Over Hibernia’ with other Tin Huey members, included on a kind of a compilation album called Bowling Balls from Hell; the lyrics on that track were re-used for another song on the Pere Ubu album Song of the Bailing Man.

‘Atom Mind’ is a far more straightforward song instrumentally than most found on Sound of the Sand; it harks back to the earlier Pere Ubu material (eg, ‘Modern Dance’ – particularly the sound of the anvil strikes), harks forward, if such a thing is possible, to stabs at the pop charts like ‘Waiting for Mary’, as well as referencing songs like ‘Working in a Coal Mine.’ Devo’s cover of that song, incidentally, does not sound a million miles removed from this one: you could credibly describe Devo’s  ‘Working in a Coal Mine’ as a cross between the original song, ‘Modern Dance’ and a pre-rock syncopated song like, for instance, Elvis Presley’s ‘Wooden Heart’.

Alan Greene (presumably – and as an aside, I note that Thomas credits him under his ‘real’ name, Alan Greenblatt, on the download details) contributes the guitar figure that runs throughout the song, and Scott Krauss adds a very solid, four-on-the-floor beat; considering that when Pere Ubu, by contrast, made a single at roughly the same time it was the loping, sing-song ‘Not Happy’ – let’s just say that ‘Atom Mind’ is a disco sparkler by contrast. Had one heard songs such as this one as examples of David Thomas’ solo direction in 1981, the assumption would surely be that the new direction would be unchallengeably commercial. Of course, this was not to be, though whether personnel are responsible rather than concerted decisions on Thomas’ part is probably unknowable.

What is the song about? Very few snatches of lyric are discernable. The second verse seems to reference ‘River Deep Mountain High’, or perhaps it doesn’t. There is also some confusion about whether the song is called ‘Atom Mind’ or ‘Atom Mine’ (the lyrics are very topographical, and do seem to be essentially concerned with a mine rather than a mind, though there are lines suggesting – if I’m hearing correctly – that ‘in my mind there’s the name of a town…’

The second song amongst these outtakes is ‘As Shoes Go By’, a more ragbag affair that, like ‘Atom Mind’, references another element of pre-avant garde Pere Ubu, the first album and its associated singles, and winks in the direction of ‘Drinking Wine (Spodyody)’ too. Like a lot of earlier Pere Ubu songs, the other musicians (presumably – or David Thomas singing very conventionally) on the recording provide backing vocals, singing ‘who’s that, who’s that’. The song breaks down a couple of times to showcase what sounds like a piece of found spoken word. Ravenstine is very much in evidence on this track, too (not so much on the others). It’s upbeat and throwaway – indeed, ‘Atom Mind’ and ‘As Shoes Go By’ would have made a great single A- and B-side.

Which just leaves us with the ‘Happy to See You’ version. I am going to stick my neck out and say that in fact this is a rough mix – Krauss’ count-ins and the abrupt ending (common enough practice for a rough, when all you need is a general indication of how things will sound when it’s done properly). The count-ins initially struck me as a piece of good-humoured anti-percussion, until I was reminded of Ralph Carney’s testimonial that he was a late-in-the-piece overdub; if Krauss’ eight seconds at the beginning are attempts to start the song (more likely an indication that someone else in the band was not ready, rather than that Krauss was in error) Carney apparently begins at precisely the first count, suggesting that this was indeed a talented musician making the best use of a ‘blank’ space at the beginning of a recording to create an extremely powerful and exciting intro. The only other bits left in for this version that aren’t on the final are around the 2 minute mark, where there is some very subtle guitar/amp noise and more count-in.


If I may just propose one more possibility:  perhaps this was an attempt to make a new Pere Ubu after Tom Herman left but before Mayo Thompson joined? Imagine Alan Greene, who was perhaps trying out for the newly remade group, wanting to take the band back to its late 70s, far more rock ‘n’ roll, roots. I admit this theory would hold a lot more water if Tony Maimone, not Paul Hamann, was on these tracks. He isn’t.