Friday, May 30, 2008

An Outer Space Music Fantasy

art by Ron 2008

Welcome to Meeksville.

“I hear a new world calling me. So strange and so real, haunting me. How can I tell her what’s in store for me? I hear a new world calling me.”

Let’s go ahead and get the tabloid sensationalism out of the way right now. It is not my goal to drag Joe’s name through the mud but facts are facts and Joe Meek was an oddball, a misfit, tone deaf, and unable to sing or play a musical instrument. He was gay, queer in those days, and a genius with electronics. Meek shot and killed his landlady at 304 Holloway Road before turning Heinz Burt’s shotgun on himself. There is endless speculation about the reasoning behind this and how the event actually went down but whatever happened the result was the death of Violet Shenton and Joe, age 37, on the eighth anniversary of Buddy Holly’s untimely death in a stormy plane crash, February 3rd 1959; a date that has come to be known as the day the music died. Indeed it was the day the music died, now doubled.

Meek, along with collaborator Geoff Goddard, was prone to asking Buddy Holly’s thoughts on records through séances and Ouija boards. If that’s not enough to get him an honored spot in the devil’s collection of 45s, certainly his incredible output as an engineer and independent record producer would. Robert George Meek could claim as much or more innovation than any five of his contemporaries. During his scant dozen years in the engineering and production of jazz, skiffle and pop records, Joe was involved with or directly responsible for more hit records than mere chance can account for.

Joe’s work is as impressive as it is quirky, from the in your face trumpet of Humphrey Lyttleton’s “Bad Penny Blues”, not to mention an opening piano part that served the Beatles so well on “Lady Madonna”, to the Riot Squad’s “Bitter Sweet Love” released just a month before Meeks’ unfortunate suicide. Nearly everyone familiar with pop music knows “Telstar”, a worldwide hit in 1962 for the Tornados, that has been covered but never equaled, countless times, most successfully by the Ventures. The shear audacity of that record changed the face, the sound and the very soul of pop music. The brilliance of that recording is almost entirely Joe Meek. It cements his star in the pop galaxy even if he had done nothing else. Joe sealed his economic fate when he passed on the Beatles and the “Beat Boom”. The royalties for “Telstar” were recovered only after his death.

While he proved to be “wrong” with his pronunciations that guitar music was dead, he has in the long run with hindsight proved to be prophetic. Guitar music was, essentially dead but it would take another 25 years for the kicking and screaming carcass of that crass hellion to be dragged away. I think I can still hear him sometimes, clawing that the back door.

But let’s go back a bit, to 1959 and Joe’s vision, the sound of a future in space, in an alien language; “I Hear a New World”. “Yes, this is a strange record. I meant it to be. I wanted to create a picture in music of what could be up there in outer space”. These explanatory words from Joe are taken directly from the sleeve of the original “I Hear a New World” extended play 45rpm record (Triumph RGX ST5000) released in March of 1960. The album as Joe envisioned it was never issued. It is a strange record indeed, strange and beautiful. There are actually two versions of the album available on CD today. The first, released by RPM Records in 1991 (RPM502) is an “enhanced” version that brings it up to the very dubious modern standards. The one I will deal with here was released as a companion piece to Barry Cleveland’s “Creative Music Production: Joe Meek’s BOLD Techniques” (MIX Books 2001).

Recorded in 1959 at his Arundel Gardens studio and possibly on the sly at Lansdowne, a studio he helped design and build, this version was taken directly from a “white label” test pressing for the LP, intended for release on Triumph Records (TRX-ST9000) in May 1960, plus the addition of an alternate mix of the title track. I want to say right up front that this “outer space fantasy” is as forward thinking as any piece of music ever recorded. It is an essential document, as are nearly all of Meeks recordings, that fore tells the true future of music.

The only fault I can find with it is an audible tape splicing glitch in track 5, “Magnetic Field”, that Meek would have likely “corrected” had his masterwork reached fruition.

In the summer of ’59 Gysin invents the “cut-up”. John Cage was reaching a level of acceptance. Burroughs published “Naked Lunch" in 1959. Johnny Cash releases his landmark LP in December ’58 on Sun Records. Cliff Richard and Lonnie Donegan were in the British charts. This recording was Joe’s way of saying your new world will be in stereo. It was an announcement and grand gesture t’ward everything from Pink Floyd to Brian Eno and beyond. Electronic music, sampling, use your imagination, it’s all there. Beginning with “I Hear a New World” the only semi-traditional song structure with those oddly open ended lyrics, quoted above, the space fantasy is constructed more in movements. “Glob Waterfall”, “The Entry of the Globbots”, “The Valley of the Saroos”, “Magnetic Field”, “Orbit Around the Moon”, “The Bublight”, “March of the Dribcots”, “Love Dance of the Saroos”, “Dribcots Space Boat”, “Disc Dance of the Dribcots” and “The Valley of No Return”. This music is quaint in a very appealing way and reminds me of days, now lost, when real imagination counted for something. There is something basic and organic about the way these “futuristic” sounds are sliced and diced together into something so basically human as to give pause, “How can I tell her what’s in store for me?”

“At first I was going to make a record with music that was completely out of this world, but realized that it would have very little entertainment value, so I kept the construction of the music down to earth and wrote tunes that I hope you will grow to like.”

Joe’s last words, scribbled on a little piece of paper and handed to Patrick Pink were: “I’m going now. Goodbye”.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

sometime in Raleigh, NC

Occasionally we like to get out to a new restaurant so we ventured into the wilds of downtown Raleighwood the other night to check out Dos Taquitos Centro. This was a Thursday night and the first thing we noticed was the dining room was understaffed. Perusing the menu revealed that, in yupster talk, it is a bit "pricey". We ordered a couple of Dos Equis, $4 and they came quickly enough but with no glass. I fetched "glasses" from the bar which were like Mason jars with handles. But they are "festive" so, ok. My host commented that when paying in excess of $40 for dinner one should expect a glass with the beer. There's no draught beer, not enough room.
My partner and I decided to share a salad, Ensalada Frida on the menu, that had tomato slices displayed prominately at north, south, east and west. Shortly the facilitator was over to inquire about our thoughts on the salad and we told her that the tomato was terrible. It was pithy and tastless, basic hopelessly bland grocery store variety, and they asked. She seemed taken aback. We repeated this to the waiter after he inquired a second time about our evaluation of the insalata and then tells us "it's only May". Not long after the manager, I guess, came out and tells us that they were using "heirloom" tomatos but they had become unavailable and so now they were using what they could get. We told her that the greens were impecable, the dressing was amazing and that the lousy tomato detracted from an otherwise delicious dish. It was pretty small to be priced at $12.
The entres came. Mine was the Mole Manchamanteles, $23. The grass-fed pork was very dry.
Carnitas at the local Mexican eatery is vastly superior. The mole was good if overpriced and sweet. My companion got the Poblano Relleno de Primavera. A single stuffed pablono, $18 was excellent but 2 would have been more appropriate at those prices, as in dos. We opted to share the Capirotada de Higo, $6, and while tasty was also very dry. I've never had a bread pudding that was so dry. The ice cream saved it from being a disaster.
My overall view is that this place is long on pretention but short on delivery. Ambition hasn't caught up to image. I saw nor tasted anything that could justify the pricing scale. Nothing was offered in the way of compensation for the tomato debacle. I doubt we will return.
It seems the Creedmoor Road Dos Taquitos still has a more reasonably priced menu and I have enjoyed past meals there. Haven't been recently though.

Dos Taquitos Centro
106 S. Wilmington St., Raleigh, NC, 27601
(919) 835-3593

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

fire pink

Thursday, May 22, 2008

what is it?

Thursday, May 15, 2008


Thursday, May 08, 2008

do you believe they put a man on the moon

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Anarchy in the Piedmont

this spot has been suffering from neglect lately. I have been concentrating on pdqAudio. pdqAudio is my lo-fi "label". I have been digitizing some old cassettes that have been lying around for thirty years. this project is working for me in three ways. I get to hear stuff that's been languishing for years in boxes, I get to learn a new program (DC7) and I get to share the result with whomever is interested. and I hope you are.

Since my last post I have seen a few of the locals working out on various stages, mostly Sadlacks. I saw Kenny Roby do a nice set at the Capitol City Grocery and afterwards broke bread at J Betski's. You can't go wrong with either. Dexter Romweber played one of his usual energetic set at Sad's and you just know I gotta see Dex whenever possible. Dex is the "real thing". also caught Suburban Sweethearts and the T's at Sad's. I forget the dates of these shows but you can look 'em up if it matters. picked up the T's new CD and there are four really good cuts on there. Suburban Sweethearts had Kiss' pictures painted on the drums. that was telling of their sound.

this passed Sunday Sadlacks held a benefit, rescheduled from May 4th, for Drew Glackin whose recent death left medical bills. I was there for the first half of the show and it seemed that Kenny Roby played with everyone there. It was great to see Kenny get a little looser than he does for his acoustic shows.