K as in Knife

Unknown quantities, resonant frequencies, moving parts, and everything in between. Chosen and obsessively annotated by C. Mason Wells.

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music:

Captain Beefheart’s 10 Rules for Guitarists

1. LISTEN TO THE BIRDS That’s where all the music comes from. Birds know everything about how it should sound and where that sound should come from. And watch hummingbirds. They fly really fast, but a lot of times they aren’t going anywhere.

2. YOUR GUITAR IS NOT REALLY A GUITAR Your guitar is a divining rod. Use it to find spirits in the other world and bring them over. A guitar is also a fishing rod. If you’re good, you’ll land a big one.

3. PRACTICE IN FRONT OF A BUSH Wait until the moon is out, then go outside, eat a multi-grained bread and play your guitar to a bush. If the bush doesn’t shake, eat another piece of bread.

4. WALK WITH THE DEVIL Old delta blues players referred to amplifiers as the “devil box.” And they were right. You have to be an equal opportunity employer in terms of who you’re bringing over from the other side. Electricity attracts demons and devils. Other instruments attract other spirits. An acoustic guitar attracts Casper. A mandolin attracts Wendy. But an electric guitar attracts Beelzebub.

5. IF YOU’RE GUILTY OF THINKING, YOU’RE OUT If your brain is part of the process, you’re missing it. You should play like a drowning man, struggling to reach shore. If you can trap that feeling, then you have something that is fur bearing.

6. NEVER POINT YOUR GUITAR AT ANYONE Your instrument has more power than lightning. Just hit a big chord, then run outside to hear it. But make sure you are not standing in an open field.

7. ALWAYS CARRY YOUR CHURCH KEY You must carry your key and use it when called upon. That’s your part of the bargain. Like One String Sam. He was a Detroit street musician in the fifties who played a homemade instrument. His song “I Need A Hundred Dollars” is warm pie. Another church key holder is Hubert Sumlin, Howlin’ Wolf’s guitar player. He just stands there like the Statue of Liberty making you want to look up her dress to see how he’s doing it.

8. DON’T WIPE THE SWEAT OFF YOUR INSTRUMENT You need that stink on there. Then you have to get that stink onto your music.

9. KEEP YOUR GUITAR IN A DARK PLACE When you’re not playing your guitar, cover it and keep it in a dark place. If you don’t play your guitar for more than a day, be sure to put a saucer of water in with it.

10. YOU GOTTA HAVE A HOOD FOR YOUR ENGINE Wear a hat when you play and keep that hat on. A hat is a pressure cooker. If you have a roof on your house the hot air can’t escape. Even a lima bean has to have a wet paper towel around it to make it grow.

A perfect compliment to Jad Fair’s "How To Play Guitar"

Jim O’Rourke, “Pictures of Adolph Again” (2008)

This very O’Rourke cover of the Bill Fay classic was recorded for the soundtrack to Koji Wakamatsu’s UNITED RED ARMY, which will finally be seeing a belated theatrical release in 2011. This is only song proper O’Rourke performed for the film; the rest of his material consists of striking original instrumental numbers. O’Rourke currently lives in Japan and is quite the Japanese film buff (and film buff in general — a number of his LPs are named after Nicolas Roeg movies), so this collaboration shouldn’t be too surprising. What is surprising, though, is that O’Rourke is reportedly unhappy with Wakamatsu’s finished film; I think UNITED RED ARMY, while certainly less transgressive than the director’s subversive pink films, is one of his greatest.

Play count: 10

Two early music videos by Olivier Assayas

Todd, “Can’t Get Her Out Of My Mind” (1979)

It’s a clever ploy to write a song about romantic obsession and make it catchy as all hell — the person stuck in the songwriter’s head becomes the music stuck in the listener’s. Decades before Kylie Minogue pulled off that trick, a teenager named Todd did the same thing, crafting this hummable, triumphant, and sweet homemade number. Little is known about Todd (including even his last name) or his private-press LP “With Love… From Me To You” beyond a short entry in the Acid Archives, but this song, as charming and sincere as Daniel Johnston’s best, endures.

Play count: 79

Trippy old Brazilian Shell Oil commercials, starring the great Os Mutantes.

Lucia Pamela was a musician with a long and bizarre career: she learned piano from her classic pianist mother, led Lucia Pamela and her Musical Pirates (reportedly the first all-female orchestra), formed the vocal duo The Pamela Sisters with her daughter (who would later own the Los Angeles Rams football team!), and apparently had memorized over 10,000 songs. But given all her other achievements (winning the “Miss St. Louis” title, working in vaudeville and Ziegfeld Follies, hosting radio shows in Kansas City and Fresno), she only ever got around to recording one LP: Into Outer Space with Lucia Pamela, a strange concept album about her trip to the moon (which she naturally claimed was based on true events). Included with the release was a coloring book drawn by Lucia herself — the entirety of which is available by clicking above.Lucia Pamela was a musician with a long and bizarre career: she learned piano from her classic pianist mother, led Lucia Pamela and her Musical Pirates (reportedly the first all-female orchestra), formed the vocal duo The Pamela Sisters with her daughter (who would later own the Los Angeles Rams football team!), and apparently had memorized over 10,000 songs. But given all her other achievements (winning the “Miss St. Louis” title, working in vaudeville and Ziegfeld Follies, hosting radio shows in Kansas City and Fresno), she only ever got around to recording one LP: Into Outer Space with Lucia Pamela, a strange concept album about her trip to the moon (which she naturally claimed was based on true events). Included with the release was a coloring book drawn by Lucia herself — the entirety of which is available by clicking above.

Lucia Pamela was a musician with a long and bizarre career: she learned piano from her classic pianist mother, led Lucia Pamela and her Musical Pirates (reportedly the first all-female orchestra), formed the vocal duo The Pamela Sisters with her daughter (who would later own the Los Angeles Rams football team!), and apparently had memorized over 10,000 songs. But given all her other achievements (winning the “Miss St. Louis” title, working in vaudeville and Ziegfeld Follies, hosting radio shows in Kansas City and Fresno), she only ever got around to recording one LP: Into Outer Space with Lucia Pamela, a strange concept album about her trip to the moon (which she naturally claimed was based on true events). Included with the release was a coloring book drawn by Lucia herself — the entirety of which is available by clicking above.

A handwritten collection of favorite songs from the great Tom Waits, as he tried to whittle down a tracklist for a Mojo magazine compilation CD.A handwritten collection of favorite songs from the great Tom Waits, as he tried to whittle down a tracklist for a Mojo magazine compilation CD.

A handwritten collection of favorite songs from the great Tom Waits, as he tried to whittle down a tracklist for a Mojo magazine compilation CD.

I met the cinematographer of FACES, Al Ruban, yesterday. He told me he didn’t know why anyone would speak to an audience before a movie was shown. I met his wife, too. She concurred. So, I’m respectfully asking that you not listen to a single word I’m about to say…

"Cassavetes movies often deal with opposite extremes. Love and hate, joy and misery, lust and repulsion, respect and derision. These feelings exist as one for Cassavetes. And these opposing forces are overlaid on the actors, so the actors themselves are double exposures.

"There is no symbolism or metaphor—everything is what it is. Cassavetes tries to show life and people for what they are—the true nature.

"And the result—the result is a Marx Brothers movie as re-enacted by the skinned, plasticized bodies of the Bodies Exhibit whose corpses are creeping around the country as I speak.

"Drama and film are also two extremes Cassavetes works with. One is physical, one ghostly. A lot of the earliest talking movies were plays captured onto film. The actors were just this—captured. You get mad when no one ever leaves a house and hops in a car and is seen driving away. Trapped.

"Cassavetes comes from a strong background of live drama and improv. In his movies he smashes through this wall between the physical and the ghostly, to make physical movies. Live movies. Movies that seem to be improvising anew with each viewing.

"FACES holds you down underground in a boozy night that never ends. And when it does end and sunlight hits Jeannie square in the face, she cries.

"Sunlight also finds Maria unconscious, as good as dead on the bathroom floor. But seconds later Jeannie wears the biggest smile in the movie. And minutes later, back from the dead, Maria is wanting a smoke.

"It’s this unbending voracity for life that hits the hardest.

—Bill Callahan (aka Smog, aka (smog)), introducing John Cassavetes’s FACES

“Nobody onstage can hear anything the audience doesn’t hear. No click tracks, no guides, nothing can be heard onstage that isn’t going to the front of the house. If it’s a synthesizer, you have to make that sound onstage happen with a synth. If it’s an organic sound, it absolutely cannot be put on a sampler. No ‘feeling it’. No sunglasses. No rocking out. No improvising. No noodling. No psyching up the crowd. No pretending you’re cool. I understand that if someone’s going to make me his idea of cool I can’t control that. But no wearing the rock-and-roll hat.”

— James Murphy, giving his rules for the LCD Soundsystem live show
Photographer unknown, The Buddy Bolden Band, c. 1905
The only known photo of the famed Buddy Bolden Band. The roots of ragtime and jazz can be traced back to Bolden’s reportedly wild style; since Bolden couldn’t read music, he adapted music by ear, reconfiguring the standard New Orleans band style to include elements of rural blues and gospel Church music. Bolden’s influence is largely the stuff of myth — before the rise of modern recording technique, he had to quit music at age 30 to enter a mental hospital, where he’d spend the remainder of his life. No known recordings of his band have survived.Photographer unknown, The Buddy Bolden Band, c. 1905
The only known photo of the famed Buddy Bolden Band. The roots of ragtime and jazz can be traced back to Bolden’s reportedly wild style; since Bolden couldn’t read music, he adapted music by ear, reconfiguring the standard New Orleans band style to include elements of rural blues and gospel Church music. Bolden’s influence is largely the stuff of myth — before the rise of modern recording technique, he had to quit music at age 30 to enter a mental hospital, where he’d spend the remainder of his life. No known recordings of his band have survived.

Photographer unknown, The Buddy Bolden Band, c. 1905

The only known photo of the famed Buddy Bolden Band. The roots of ragtime and jazz can be traced back to Bolden’s reportedly wild style; since Bolden couldn’t read music, he adapted music by ear, reconfiguring the standard New Orleans band style to include elements of rural blues and gospel Church music. Bolden’s influence is largely the stuff of myth — before the rise of modern recording technique, he had to quit music at age 30 to enter a mental hospital, where he’d spend the remainder of his life. No known recordings of his band have survived.

Human Skab, “Throwing Rocks at Windows” (1986)

When Travis Roberts recorded songs as Human Skab, he was just a 10-year-old kid in Elma, WA. He used pots and pans, pets and friends to bang out surprisingly rhythmic songs about his childhood. Like the Langley School Music Project, Roberts offers a pure glimpse into unaffected preadolescence, but his outlook is much, much angrier; Human Skab’s songs are loud, intense, catchy, and funny — about as punk as punk gets. His cassette has been passed around by DJs for years and remains an underground legend.

Play count: 29

One of my favorite music videos — for Deux’s haunting, minimalist synth-wave classic “Felicita.”

Kate Fagan, “I Don’t Wanna Be Too Cool” (1980)

A total blast from the world’s greatest city, this piece of clever, catchy Chicago new wave is from a 7” from Fagan, her only solo release. Her vocal delivery (Midwestern twang and all) sounds like a influence on fellow Chicagoan Lydia Tomkiw from Algebra Suicide.

Play count: 42
Leonard Cohen makes a sandwich. Photo spread by Chris Buck for FlauntLeonard Cohen makes a sandwich. Photo spread by Chris Buck for Flaunt

Leonard Cohen makes a sandwich. Photo spread by Chris Buck for Flaunt