PRINT September 1996


Glenn O’Brien

Glenn O’Brien is a writer living in New York.


    Kaya, Confrontation, Uprising, etc. (Tuff Gong Records). Would you buy just some chapters of the Bible? Would you buy Beethoven’s greatest hits? Bob Marley’s life and work are a whole thing, a gnostic dig of the love light, a danceable emanation of godhead and god-body. Who feels it knows it. If you know what life is worth, you will look for yours on earth. Start looking.


    Bone Machine (Island Records). I was trying to think of what alternative music really means and then I just put this on and forgot about it.


    Kind of Blue (Columbia); Money Jungle (Blue Note). I was thinking of having a battle of the bands in the car.


    Slow Train Coming, Saved, Shot of Love, Infidels, etc. (Columbia Records). When I read about Dylan becoming a born-again Christian I thought he’d lost his mind. But then I started picking up all the Dylan albums I’d missed, and every one turned out to have a brilliant mind of its own. Why not own all of Bob Dylan’s recordings? Impress your friends, blow your mind and theirs too.


    Producer, director, writer, and host: Fishing with John, an underground outdoorsman series. Fishing-trip guide Lurie goes after the big ones with the likes of Jim Jarmusch, Tom Waits, Matt Dillon, Dennis Hopper, and Willem Dafoe, in exotic spots like Thailand, Jamaica, Costa Rica, Maine, and Montauk, Long Island, “a Hüsker Dü kind of town.” Many fish are called and few are chosen, but the wit sparkles like a bass lure and the dialogue often runs as deep as the tuna. Look for it at a nightclub, TV channel, movie theater, or video bait shop near you. You might catch it.


    Olé, Olé (Mango Records). Algerian-born, Paris-residing Rachid rocks through a range as formidable as the Atlas Mountains, singing in Arabic and communicating in a universal rhythm language that all pelvises intuit. By turns placid and fervid, Taha’s music is romantic, exotic, and profoundly sexy. Jon Hassell invented the term “fourth world” to describe the music that results from cultures in collision; Taha is fourth world at its best, souk soul appropriations from Motown, Bo Diddley beat with a bendir. A track called “Jungle Fiction” reprises Pulp Fiction’s Arab-tinged surf music; it’s Taha’s theory that surf music was invented by a Lebanese guy. Taha is actual Casbah rock, seraglio disco. His rockingness, his soulfulness, and his absolute flyness make him a potentially gigantic star, an enormous progressive force in areas now under control of the past.


    Everybody Digs Bill Evans (Fantasy). The serene genius as recorded in 1958, perfection in sharp focus for minutes at a time.


    Buy the Contortions, Off White, Sax Maniac (Infinite Zero/American Recordings). In the late ’70s and early ’80s, saxophonist and singer James Chance created some of the period’s most exciting and interesting music, first with Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, then with his own band the Contortions, the disco-oriented variation James White and the Blacks, and the sort of cold fusion jazz ensemble the Flaming Demonics. At that time the jazz scene was at a low ebb and Chance infused improvisational jazz with compelling dance rhythms and lyrical intelligence. His blend of fly funk, postbop jazz, narcotic lounge music, theater of cruelty, logical negativism, and mordant wit is demonstrated on these three impeccable reissues. Chance elevated bad attitude to a level of Buddha Annoyed. He’s been sulking ever since and why not, nobody’s ever come close to his level of funky cold defiance.


    Catalogue. I like this jeans company’s ads, like the kung fu family busting up the place, but their catalogues are a step beyond, proof that art can emanate from a big corporation. In keeping with big-board esthetic, there are no credits or human names on these excellent and amusingly off-key books, but I happen to know that they were conceived and designed by a guy in England named Brian Baderman and commissioned by avant-garde Swedish executives. It makes me think that even in my jobs writing fortune cookies or care instructions for lingerie I can be an artist.


    Let Your Mind Be Free (Mardi Gras Records). This ain’t brand-new (released 1994), but I’m just getting into this New Orleans brass band movement, which in a lot of ways represents the cure to what ails us. Soul Rebels is a nine-man brass band. Tuba plays the bass parts, there’s bass drum, snare drum, trombone, mute trombone, baritone, tenor and soprano saxes, trumpet, flügelhorn, and singing and rapping. Hip-hop came along when we needed it, reuniting the rhythm with its text as prophesied by Ishmael Reed in his novel Mumbo Jumbo, but it had a bad side effect of discouraging the use of musical instruments. Soul Rebels exemplifies the perfect potential fit between the testimony of hip-hop and the living spirit of jazz. Soul Rebels and their brothers and sisters in the brass band scene exemplify the extraordinary value of local music scenes. One of the greatest losses over the last few decades has been the local musical culture—the Detroit Sound, the Philly Sound. There have been holdouts like New Orleans, Houston, and Washington, D.C., but we need more than holding out, we need the revival of live music, live venues, local scenes, virtuosity, improvisation, disciplined and strong soul combos, preferably marching bands, marching jazz into the actual community. Think global, party local.