Sunday, March 30, 2008

Ab-Normal Scores

Saturday my wonderful, dreamy boyfriend (can you tell he's writing this?) dragged me to Normal Books in Waverly to kill time before our dinner date with another couple later that night. And while there, I made two major scores - a local music CD by my ex-hubby Mark Harp called Mark Harp's Big Thing - Insane! (what are the chances?) and this incredibly rare book (with an amusingly long-winded title) about my peeps, We Japanese.

We Japanese: Being Descriptions of Many of the Customs, Manners, Ceremonies, Festivals, Arts and Crafts of the Japanese, besides Numerous other Subjects. Volumes 1 and 2.

Publisher: Fujiya Hotel Ltd. 1947.
Japanese binding, title label frontcover, 200 page book with 355 black & white illustrations, index. Printed on India paper. Hand Stiched cloth wraps with Japanese fastener, stitched limp silk with paper label to front, in tri-fold bone-clasp case.

Books 1 and 2 were written for H.S.K. Yamaguchi, managing director, Fujiya Hotel, by Frederic de Garis and Atsuharu Sakai, respectively.

This delightful popular encyclopedia of Japanese culture, history and society is a treasury of exotic facts and useful information, illustrated with line drawings and period photographs. Originally published in 1934, this is a later edition (1947). I picked it up thinking it was something my Dad would enjoy reading, but it's so fascinating that I'm gonna read it first. Sorry Dad, it's gonna be a while!

Mark Harp's Big Thing - Insane!

Mark released this one long after we split up, probably in the late '90s when he was in his heavy sampling phase, though I recognize some of the songs like "Show Me How To Bowl." When my wonderful, dreamy boyfriend asked me if Mark and I used to go bowling a lot, I had to explain that Mark was into the idea of bowling - the aesthetics of balls and pins, if you will - as opposed to bowling as a sport. And, of course, the fashion. As "Corky Neidermayer," Mark also wrote the bowling alley hit "Bowling With You."

My wonderful, dreamy boyfriend really liked the song "Why You Lousy S.O.B." He pointed out that it sampled Louis "Red" Deutsch, owner of Jersey City, NJ's Tube Bar, from the legendary underground phone prank tape, "The Tube Bar Tapes." I pointed out that the other sample in the song was of Ross Perot talking about extra-terrestrials. My wonderful, dreamy boyfriend loves these samples, which Mark looped ad infinitum; he was doing similar stuff with video and rues that he didn't collaborate with Mark. Great minds think alike?

Later that night, we went to dinner at Louis and Lisa Frisino's home in glamorous Glen Burnie. Louis was the original drummer in Null Set, a band my ex Mark Harp was in. How's that for synchronicity? After dinner, we sat around and watched a "Marble Bar Survivors" reunion video that was shot at the 8x10 Club in 1995. There were Louis and Mark onstage playing Null Set songs on the television, just like it was the '80s all over again. As well as another ex-boyfriend, singer Bil Dawson (I went out with him before Mark), all covered in tattoos and looking very much like Judas Priest singer Rob Halford. Weird.

Later, my wonderful, dreamy boyfriend sent me a link to Mark Harp's blog, King of Peru Lies. The last entry was Mark talking about eating meatloaf for dinner. It was posted November 14, 2004. I remember thinking how close that was to the end; Mark passed away on Christmas Eve 2004 (from complications unrelated to the meatloaf). But listening to Insane! made me realize that Mark is never truly gone as long as his music lives on.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Above Average Andy

I love Andy Partridge, so I had to post this article I ran across in The Guardian. As anyone who knows me knows, XTC is one of my musical Big Three (along with Elvis Costello and Queen!).

Above average Andy
Andy Partridge
by Will Hodgkinson
The Guardian (Friday, April 02, 2004)

Swindon is, according to one of its most eloquent sons, "Britain's cheap-joke town". Andy Partridge recently spotted mentions of his home town in four comedy programmes over the space of a single week.

Partridge, who with his band XTC, has made a career out of articulating the parochial essence of English culture, lives in a pocket of the old town that actually has some cobble-stone charm to it, unlike the mass of mini-roundabouts and company car-clogged A-roads that dominate the rest of Swindon. Partridge has lived there for most of his life, and it doesn't look like he's going to escape now.

"Actually, the irony of it is that I was born in Malta and beached up here," says Partridge, whose Thames Valley burr proves his long-term residential status. "To be honest with you, Swindon is a shithole. But it's 'Everywheresville' and that can be influential. They test things here because it is so average - community television in the early 70s and mobile phone technology today - and the average can be endlessly inspiring."

Swindon may be lacking in glamour, but the rolling Wiltshire countryside that surrounds it has a pastoral romance and, on an afternoon spent drinking almond tea and listening to whimsical English pop in Partridge's book-furnished living room, the allure of the former market town begins to unfold.

"XTC were clever and came from Swindon, so therefore we were crap," says Partridge, still bitter about the image he has of being a provincial smartarse. "I was always jealous of bands like Talking Heads, who were doing similar things to us but were from New York, and therefore cool. But the English don't like normal people doing intelligent things. They have the love of the poor penniless lord, but if you're a window-cleaner who makes £5m through your own sweat you're scum."

The house, or rather the shed at the bottom of the garden, has become the epicentre of a self-sufficient cottage industry Partridge has set up in order to escape the wider machinations of the record business. The shed contains a recording studio, and it was here that his latest project, a spoken-word version of the Orpheus myth made in collaboration with Peter Blegved, was made.

In an upstairs room of the house is an office for Ape Records, Partridge's own label, which releases his home recordings and CDs by bands he likes. "I've extricated myself from the evil clutches of the record industry," he says. "So I've started up a company with the explicit intention of not being evil."

XTC have not toured since 1982 because of the panic attacks Partridge developed on stage, but a few Swindon locals were recently treated to his first and only live performance since then. "I got unbelievably out of control on Courvoisier and dragged my son out for a walk around town on Saturday night," he explains.

"I looked through a window of a local pub where a band were playing. They saw me and told me to come on in and get on stage, so I did a version of Hey Joe while staggering around like a drunken bull, accidentally turning off all the effects pedals in the process."

Partridge has spent recent years delving ever deeper into the bottomless well of obscure psychedelic bands that mushroomed over Britain in the second half of the 1960s, and he has so many CD box sets of the non-hits of the era that it would take him about a year to listen to them all.

Bands like Wimple Winch, Jason Crest, Wild Silk and the Penny Peeps created brief, brilliant moments of psychedelic nonsense before dissolving back into the ether, only to be rediscovered decades later by people like Partridge.

"I like the fact that there are so many of them. I think it was Stalin who said that quantity has a quality all of its own," he says, ensuring that the 10 CDs in his Rubbles box set are in the correct order. "I can sit for hours and stare at catalogues of all the different things you can get, whether it be gardening tools, or shoes, or psychedelic music."

Many British bands of the late 1960s sang about a candy-coated world of school blazers, gob-stoppers and teacakes, and their childlike, LSD-induced whimsy was a world away from the dark excesses of American rock. "The British bands were about Alice in Wonderland, and the American ones were about Vietnam," says Partridge, just as Model Village by the Penny Peeps chimes to a happy end.

"The Americans, especially the Doors, were singing about napalm and heroin. I think the Doors are one of the most overrated bands of all time. Did you know that Jim Morrison had the smelliest trousers in rock? He had appalling BO because he refused to wash."

Let us hope the same could not be said of Syd Barrett, the immensely talented but damaged original lead singer of Pink Floyd. Partridge plays Scream Thy Last Scream, the intended third single by Pink Floyd that was never released, written at a time when Barrett's prodigious LSD intake was beginning to take its toll on his mental wellbeing.

"It's got wonderful nonsense lyrics about an old woman with a casket, it can be played at 33 or 45rpm, and it goes into a collegiate, Cambridge style at the end with church bells and choirs," he says. "It's brilliant."

Our afternoon ends with some quiet moments of reflection from Judee Sill, the Californian singer-songwriter from the 1970s whose tough life - her parents died young, she was a heroin addict and sometime prostitute - only added to the poignancy of her beautiful songs.

"She had about every problem going but she made fantastic music," says Partridge of Sill, who died of an overdose in 1979. "Her music sounds like JS Bach with a 12-string guitar, and her talent is up there with Brian Wilson's. My first girlfriend had her album in 1972 and it never left the turntable. My music would have been very different if it hadn't been for Judee Sill."

Useful Andy Partridge Links:
XTC official site
Ape Records
Chalkhills: XTC fan site

Pagan Origins of the Easter Bunny

If, like my boyfriend, you've ever wondered how Easter - the Christian holiday celebrating the resurrection of Christ - somehow became a crass commercial holiday associated with colored eggs, chocolate bunnies and marshmallow'll need to read all about its Pagan origins.

Check out: Ostara's Hare: The Pagan Origins of the Easter Bunny

I've reproduced this article below:

Have you ever wondered where the celebration of the Christian holiday celebrating the resurrection of Christ acquired its unusual name and odd symbols of colored eggs and rabbits?

The answer lies in the ingenious way that the Christian church absorbed Pagan practices. After discovering that people were more reluctant to give up their holidays and festivals than their gods, they simply incorporated Pagan practices into Christian festivals. As recounted by the Venerable Bede, an early Christian writer, clever clerics copied Pagan practices and by doing so, made Christianity more palatable to pagan folk reluctant to give up their festivals for somber Christian practices.

In second century Europe, the predominate spring festival was a raucous Saxon fertility celebration in honor of the Saxon Goddess Eastre, whose sacred animal was a hare. The hare is often associated with moon goddesses; the egg and the hare together represent the god and the goddess, respectively.

Pagan fertility festivals at the time of the Spring equinox were common - it was believed that at this time, male and female energies were balanced.

The colored eggs are of another, even more ancient origin. The eggs associated with this and other Vernal festivals have been symbols of rebirth and fertility for so long the precise roots of the tradition are unknown, and may date to the beginning of human civilization. Ancient Romans and Greeks used eggs as symbols of fertility, rebirth, and abundance- eggs were solar symbols, and figured in the festivals of numerous resurrected gods.

Moving forward fifteen hundred years, we find ourselves in Germany, where children await the arrival of Oschter Haws, a rabbit who will lay colored eggs in nests to the delight of children. It was this German tradition that popularized the 'Easter bunny' in America, when introduced into the American cultural fabric by German settlers in Pennsylvania.

Many modern practitioners of Neo-pagan and earth-based religions have embraced these symbols as part of their religious practice, identifying with the life-affirming aspects of the spring holiday. (The Neopagan holiday of Ostara is descended from the Saxon festival.) Ironically, some Christian groups have used the presence of these symbols to denounce the celebration of the Easter holiday, and many churches have recently abandoned the Pagan moniker with more Christian oriented titles like 'Resurrection Sunday.'

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Vintage Easter Greetings

I love vintage postcards from the Victorian era. On a recent trip to the Baltimore Museum of Art, I picked up a neat set of vintage Easter postcard reproductions. You can't go wrong with Victorian bunnnies!

For example, these futuristic bunnies look like they are turning DEVO!

Here's a German Easter card:

Herr E. Rabbitt

My boyfriend claims this is a vintage card from the 1930s and that it says "Off to the death camps!" I think he lies.

This isn't vintage, but here's a great contempo shot of a scary big bunny at Eastpoint Mall taken by Julie Smith:

That bunny looks like he's been injected with a steady diet of steroids. Check out more of Julie's cool pix at her ultra-nifty website Come on Down to the Clubbasement.

Oh, and Happy Easter everybody!

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Banished Words List

The Daedalus Books and Music MySpace blog has a post called "The Banished Words List," where you can share the words or phrases that drive you crazy. Daedalus is following the example of the staff at Lake Superior State University, who have been collecting nominations from people around the world and posting many of them on their website. LSSU's list, known officially as the "List of Words Banished from the Queen's English for Mis-Use, Over-Use and General Uselessness," has been around since 1977.

Anyway, since Daedalus Books and Music is now my new MySpace friend (yay!), I thought I'd respond in kind. And, in true democratic spirit, they added my most loathed words and phrases to the nominees for banishment. To wit:

RURAL - I hate that word. Whenever I say it I feel like I've suddenly acquired a speech impediment. I also hate the word "LINGERIE." It sounds pretentious and tawdry.

SEE-MY-SAYIN'? - A quickly spoken contraction of "See what I'm saying," an urban appropriation of "You know what I mean" favored by hip-hop artists and rappers. Plus, I never see what people who ask see-my-sayin' see.

THAT'S WHAT I'M TALKIN' ABOUT! - Used by every jock after scoring and every porn star after climaxing (or so claims my boyfriend who is, unfortunately, the subject expert). Actions speak much louder than unnecessary, self-evident words. Hmmmfffttt!

DISRESPECTING, DISRESPECTED - As in: "He disrespected me" or "She was disrespecting me." Can't we all just be DISSED and be done with it? I hate making a verb out of a noun.