Sunday, September 16, 2018

How I wrote the song “Black and White”

Mr. P's latest home recording is a song of defiance in the face of the "Swift-boating" of truth, happiness and the American way, penned during the summer of 2004, which, when you consider it, runs an ugly parallel to what is going on now, where a well-honed, well-funded right-wing propaganda machine props up another dubious (perhaps illegitimate) regime.

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HOW I Wrote the Song "Black and White"

ASIDE #1: Before I kick this off, I could’ve sworn I wrote about “Black and White” way back when I first did some roughed-up recording of the tune in 2004. But if there is an old recording with notes somewhere, it’s long lost now. So here’s the “How I wrote it” one more time (think of it as an encore!), with apologies if you’ve heard this one before.

Right. 2004. The presidential campaign. Bush v Kerry. It was painful that summer, watching John Kerry get Swift-boated by the proto-fascist cranky old white brigade marketed as the “veterans for truth.” Truth. Right.

In an ironic juxtaposition we had, in one corner, a multiple-decorated war hero who did his time a-soldiering in the shit storm that was Vietnam, and, in the other, a man who may or may not have fulfilled his military obligations with the vaunted Texas Air National Guard, scourge of bathers in the Rio Grande and cattle smugglers (presumably). Depends on which side you believe. Black. Or White?

I digress. What I saw that summer was that the fix was in, in as much that the Bush administration and its lackeys were going to everything possible within and without the “truth” to make sure to re-elect the boy-who-would-be-president. Including pillorying a war hero. No longer was it enough to be a decorated veteran. Now you had to be on the "right side" on the home front or you were a traitor. Kerry spoke out against the war he fought in, pissing off a bunch of apologists for war crimes committed during that war of choice. Yet Kerry was the bad guy. Black. White.

ASIDE #2: Do NOT even attempt to think of those days during Bush II ("The Return of the Nativists") as the good ol’ days, especially when comparing them to the catastrophe that is the current administration/Congress/proto-fascist regime. Those days were equally shitty in terms of bad actors grifting the American people to sell us wars we didn’t want, tax cuts for people who didn’t need them, more conservative wankers on SCOTUS, the deregulation of business, banks (that went well, didn't it?), Earth-killing industries, with a sprinkling of so-called compassionate conservatism tossed in to sweeten up the fact that these people gave not a damn for anyone but their own (wave to the nice people drowning in the 9th Ward, Mr. President) 

...Aw, hell, it was like a Trump regime in a Petri dish, an earlier version of what metastasized into today’s foul disease.

Where was I? Oh, yeah. This song. Anyway, I was growing despondent that any succor for the American people was being Swift-boated into oblivion, and I started to lose faith. But then I stopped wallowing and reevaluated the situation. And I got defiant. I thought, “You can do your worst, but I am still going to fight you. I'm still going to call you on your bullshit. I'm gonna vote.”

And that’s what “Black and White” is all about. No matter how crappy the situation, how long your shot is, how high the deck is stacked against you, against your beliefs, against the candidate you support, against common sense – you fight. You fight bigots and big-money and hypocrites and a system rigged to empower (old white male) assholes and you do it by voting. Don’t accept their bullshit. Speak out. And vote.

That is how this song came to be. In defiance. As a call to arms. 

“I won’t do what you tell me, and I’ll rub you the wrong way . For what you’re trying to sell me, I won’t pay.” Nope. Rather: “I’ll take up the fight.”

And vote.

Pledge to vote at the link below and see what you can do to help your local candidate get elected and kick those Trump apparatchiks and apologists into orbit. Maybe they can join the Space Force. 
Voter information:

Finally, a word about the way this recording SOUNDS. I didn't set out to make a Wall of Sound version of "Black and White," quite the opposite. But when the sounds you are making veer off in another direction, you best catch up before the damn song runs away from you! Plus -- and this is either creepy or maybe it was just my muse helping me out -- when I recorded the guitar solo, I did it without any effects. When I played it back to hear what I had done, the software had, on its own initiative, run the track through a pair of plug-ins I had never used before. The sound you hear is the un-edited version of a sound that appeared on its own

More songs, more info, more more more can be discovered here

Black and White
The newspaper came today, it was black and white 
And everything people say, it’s black and white 
Do I dare to differ? Do I dodge and defer? 
Would it make any difference if I let my voice be heard? 
Night and day, day and night, black and white 

I turned on the TV, it was black and white 
As far as the eye can see, it’s black and white 
Do I change the channel? Or crash out on my couch? 
Would it do that much damage if I passed out on my watch? 
Night and day, day and night . . . 

I know it’s a vengeful world, indignant, anaesthetized
Practically Medieval, but I’ve got a surprise
I won’t do what you tell me, and I’ll rub you the wrong way 
For what you’re trying to sell me, I won’t pay 
Day and night, night and day 

I’ll start revolutions, I’ll take up the fight 
And if your weak constitution needs a quick re-write
I’ve pen and paper, and a dose of Common Sense
You may like what you say, sir, but you’re only fooling yourself
Night and day, day and night, black and white 
Night and day, day and night, black and white

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

On hats

I notice that Il Dictatore sported a white “USA” hat in Corpus Christi today, rather than his usual red one.

But it’s a code, isn’t it?

The red one is the choice of the chair of the Committee to RE-Elect the President (that would be Il Dictatore). It’s the signal to the rabid, racist masses that the Fascist-in-Chief is gunning for the full two terms. Swoon! Oh, and it's for sale, because this regime is all about the grift:

The white one is somewhat more neutral, easily misinterpreted as inoffensive. Because it’s white. And this man likes the white. Uh. Well, that argument didn’t really hold up, did it? So; same message, more benign background, but just as racist:

But notice that on his way to Marine One earlier today he had BOTH in his little mitt. Yes, that is the red hat peeking out from under the white one.

Perhaps this was in case he discovered a rabid crowd of racists waiting for him in Texas, which, when you consider our legislative body and governing elected officials, isn’t hard to imagine. Yet somehow he managed to choose the less offensive hat (we are not going to begin to account for his wife’s choice of footwear…).

Ah, but another hat on display is Melania’s as she disembarks from Air Force One. Notice that her hat says “FLOTUS.” This is because she must be reminded that this is her lot in life, lest she forget that she is First Lady to the worst human being in the world.

I wonder if they force her to wear that hat. It doesn’t go with the snakeskin stilettos, but I’m no fashion expert, so what do I know?

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

August 2017 Newsletter (RP Update August 2017 vol 2)

Here is the long version of August's RP Update (vol 2).

Death Is a Laff Riot

One of the reasons I set up this semi-regularly updated mailing list is because I want to share the stuff I make with you. I suppose that’s obvious, but I have to say, it’s practically a compulsion for me. Why make something if not to share?

And it’s driving me nuts that one of the things I made is just sitting here on my desktop, unshared.

It’s a novel, a “soccer noir” (“football noir” for you what lives beyond the confines of the U.S.A.). That is, it’s a soccer murder-mystery. Set in remote Yorkshire. In 1978.

For years, I’ve sought an agent-editor-publisher for Death Is a Laff Riot to no avail. So, instead of waiting any longer, I’m going to publish the story in chunks on a specially dedicated blog.

Start by reading the book blurb on the Laff Riots Official Supporters Club blog.

Then, if your fancy is tickled, you can click through the story, chapter by chapter.

Each week, I’ll upload new chunks of eight to ten chapters until the thing is fully published (I reckon the whole process will take 10 - 12 weeks).

Plus, I’ll be adding bonus material: a playlist of songs mentioned during the telling of the tale and (in the works) an regularly updated narrative of all the coincidences surrounding the writing and (attempted selling) of the manuscript.

Feel free to share the link to the story with anyone you think might like it. Give the literary-minded soccer player in your life the gift of a footballing yarn, right as the new season kicks off in jolly old Eng-er-land.

And, if you discover you just can’t wait for the next installment but want to read the whole story in a single go, let me know and I’ll send you a PDF of the latest draft of the manuscript.

Click here to read the book blurb and begin Death Is a Laff Riot.

1999 Questionnaire

Death Is a Laff Riot may be constrained to the pages of my blog and not, alas, set free to collect dust on bookstore bookshelves the world over, but I have higher hopes for a different story, a second novel, this one set in Austin in 1999.

If you lived in Austin around that time, you can help kick-start my memory by answering a few survey questions about what you did for fun back then (it’s anonymous — I forgot to mention that in my previous email).

Take the survey here.

It’ll take all of five minutes; and if you answer the “personal question” at the end, I’ll put you in the book (if you don’t object, that is). Thanks!

[ samizdat ] Project Update

CDs of [ samizdat-001 ] Thug Nation are available for purchase via the Bandcamp music site or in person wherever you find me and my stealth supply (see Upcoming Gigs below). Wrapped in anonymous brown paper and unadorned save for the serial number, these little beauties have been specifically designed to keep you safe from the prying eyes (and ears) of the regime’s goon squads and censors.

Of the limited pressing of 200 CDs only 195 are left, so get yours while they last!

Order CDs here (CD includes the bonus track: Fleetwood Mac’s “Say You Love Me” the Zombie Love Song Version).

What’s the [ samizdat ] project again? For those of you still reeling from November’s shock and all the recent racist aftershocks, steady your resolve by visiting the samizdat ] project page.


Still reading? You are made of mighty stuff, or have too much time on your hands. Regardless, thank you! See you out there.


Upcoming Gigs

Listen to [ samizdat-001 ] Thug Nation

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Velvet Wonderland: A tour of New York City, circa 1967 (and today)

Recently, I got the opportunity to pen a piece for the Village Voice on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the release of one of the most influential albums of all time, The Velvet Underground and Nico. My assignment was to write short blurbs on 10 locations in New York that made the album what it is. My piece ran in the March 17 edition of the Village Voice, edited (so I was later told) by the legendary music writer Joe Levy

Reading the final, edited version I was aware it was, indeed, edited. That's cool -- there's a lot of stuff in the published version that will make Velvets fans and historians say, "ah, yes," with a sense of the familiar confirmed. Here is the version that appeared in the Voice.

Below is what I submitted, pre-edit. I went with the location-oriented "tour" idea pretty literally, which definitely is a diversion from the published VV version. 

Among the divergences: I included that uptown location at Lexington and "1-2-5," which was dropped from the final version in favor of the Hotel Chelsea. 

Oh, yeah. If you count, there are only nine entries below (nine-and-a-half, if the discover of the book in the Ludlow Street entry is worth something...). Sue me. 


*      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *

Reviewers and biographers of the Velvet Underground put it bluntly, “The Velvets are unthinkable without New York City…if Manhattan didn’t exist, neither would they.” So how did the city do its part to shape the iconic band? Where were those places the Velvets evolved?

On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the release of The Velvet Underground & Nico, we offer a brief tour of “Velvet Wonderland,” some of the most influential places in the story of one of the most influential bands in the history of rock-and-roll.

*      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *

Our first stop is Ludlow Street. The Lower East Side is popular with immigrants and artists hunting for cheap digs. One such building is No. 56, where Lou Reed, John Cale, Sterling Morrisson and drummer Angus MacLise live and rehearse. The loft fits the bill for affordability, the drawback being that there’s no bathroom. Or heat. Or electricity.

Power is “borrowed” via the adjoining building to fuel the activities of the loft’s burgeoning musical commune, among which are MacLise’s experimental band “Theatre of Eternal Music” and whatever Reed and company call themselves any given day, like The Warlocks or The Falling Spikes.

MacLise is also involved with the underground film scene and, in 1965, the nascent Velvets perform as part of a multimedia show at the Filmmaker’s Cinémathèque (on Lafayette Street) — a night of music, film, poetry, and dancers, which sounds like a prototype for Andy Warhol’s Exploding Plastic Inevitable, which we’ll get to a little later in our tour.

The loft on 56 Ludlow Street is where the quartet record their first demo in July ’65, some of which finds its way onto The Velvet Underground & Nico the following spring.

A side note: Look to the west and Bowery Street. That’s where Tony Conrad finds the cheap paperback from which the band takes its name. “The Velvet Underground” is supposedly a shocker about sado-masochism and sexual corruption. In reality, per Morrison, despite the whips and chains on the cover, “it was basically about wife swapping in Suburbia.”

The Ludlow Street lofts are now home to a software company, a recording studio, a magazine publisher, and others who must have figured out how to wire the building for electricity.

*      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *

The next stop on the tour is 106 West 3rd Street and Café Bizarre, which in its heyday hosted folk icons and Beat poets. By late 1965, its better days behind it, the venue sells a faux Greenwich Village experience to tourists who didn’t know any better. (“It was a dump,” according to Reed.)

But the Village is a draw for new acts, so the Velvets accept a December residency at the café for $5 each, plus dinner. The club’s “anti-rock group” policy means Maureen Tucker is not allowed to play her drums; she bangs on a tambourine instead.

The group performs on the small stage at the back of the café’s long room to practically non-existent audiences who pay little attention to the experimental sounds.

Fed up with the gig and the venue, the Velvets perform “Black Angel’s Death Song” — banned by the club’s owner — and are promptly fired. Which is fine by them.

Even better, during their residency, filmmakers working with Andy Warhol bring him to see the Velvets perform. He loves how the audiences leave the too-loud, too-insane performances “dazed and damaged” and offers to manage the band. This changes everything for The Velvet Underground.

Café Bizarre is long gone. Now, the east corner is a JW Market; NYU Law School’s Faculty Club takes up the rest of the block between Sullivan and MacDougal.

*      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *

Next, we head up Park Avenue to the Delmonico Hotel, where, in January 1966, the Velvets play another gig for an audience ill prepared for what is to hit them. Warhol, invited to speak at the annual dinner of the New York Society For Clinical Psychiatry, asks for and is granted permission to show some of his films rather than speak.

Imagine a room in post-dinner chic: white tablecloths, demi-tasses, and assorted drinks well drunk, salvers of cookies, ashtrays of cigarettes, and a posh crowd of doctors and their wives. Front-lit from below and casting sinewy shadows, the Velvets crank up the volume on “Heroin” as Barbara Rubin bursts in, filming the well-heeled audience while asking them embarrassing questions about their sex lives.

As the Velvets play and astonished guests bolt for the exits, whip-wielding dancers perform while a film of a man being tortured is projected on the wall behind the band. Warhol delights in the scene and the attention. Even the New York Times covers the “short-lived torture of cacophony” and “spontaneous eruption of the id.”

The building is now the Trump Park West.

*      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *

A little way from the Delmonico Hotel is Andy Warhol’s art studio and hangout, the Factory, located in an old industrial building near the United Nations. Here, on the fourth floor of 231 E. 47th Street, Warhol oversees the making of his silk screens and collages and revels in the perpetual party of people coming and going — drag queens, junkies, filmmakers, journalists, paparazzi, and hangers-on of all sorts. The Velvet Underground practices there daily from 1966 – 1968.

According to Ken Pitt, to access the floor you ride a rickety old elevator more like a cage than a proper elevator. Open on three sides, the thing offers a harrowing view of the sheer drop as you ascend.

Demolished in 1968, the building is a car park now.

*      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *

Next the tour heads back to the East Village, where, in the spring of 1966, Warhol and filmmaking accomplice Paul Morrissey seek a venue for the Velvets as part of a new Warhol-esque multimedia show that includes film, dance, lights, and music — his Exploding Plastic Inevitable. Shut out at the last minute by a spot in Queens, the pair are alerted to a ballroom in an East Village hall at 23 St. Mark’s Place. It’s called the Dom, an abbreviation of Polsky Dom Narodwy, or Polish National Home, the organization that owns the complex.

They rent the ballroom for the month of April and, after a flurry of lease-signing and venue decorating, the Dom opens its doors to the Exploding Plastic Inevitable — the Velvets’ most legendary residency, on par with the Beatles at the Cavern or the Doors at the Whiskey A Go Go.

When the band returns from a California tour, however, they find their lease ripped up and the room under new management with a new name: the Balloon Farm. Still later it becomes the Electric Circus. The band plays both in time, helping to transform the neighborhood of Polish dance-halls and burlesque bars into a hip, if sleazier, destination.
Today instead of a Polish dance hall, there’s a Chinese restaurant, a tattoo parlor and, under the remaining arched façade at No. 25, the entrance to the punk rock apparel shop, Search and Destroy.

*      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *

Back uptown at 254 West 54th Street, we come to Scepter Studios, where the Velvets make their recording debut in April 1966, laying down tracks over several days that will become The Velvet Underground & Nico (though the release of the finished album won’t happen for almost a whole year).

The run-down recording studio takes up space in a building that CBS calls Studio 52, the hub for the network’s radio and television broadcasting. Scepter is “discovered” by Columbia Records executive Norman Dolph, an early supporter of the Velvets.

The building will later house the iconic ’70s nightclub and discotheque, Studio 54. Nowadays, the Roundabout Theatre Company runs the place, though you can still enjoy a nightclub scene in the basement dinner club.

*      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *

The tour now takes a serious detour up to Lexington and 125th Street, the corner where the narrator in “I’m Waiting For The Man” goes to score drugs.

Unlike standard pop music lyrics of the era, with their sugary love stories, Reed’s songs take the listener to seedy, even dangerous New York City streets. In this case, the destination is a decidedly un-touristy part of Harlem, frequented by folks down on their luck, transients and addicts.

Once he’s there, Reed heads “Up to a brownstone, up three flights of stairs” to buy drugs. The song is an unemotional and honest description of Reed scoring (and, in a later track on the album, “Heroin,” using) drugs. He’s interrogated about his motives by local black residents, he describes his dealer’s dress sense, and he explains how, once inside that brownstone, everyone knows why you’re there, but no one gives a damn, because they all want their stuff, fast, so they can high-tail it back to get high in the relative safety of their far-away lives.

Maybe today those three flights of stairs take you to rooms above the McDonald’s that anchors one corner of that busy intersection.

*      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *

In April 1967, the Velvets play a series of gigs at our next stop, the Gymnasium, 420 E. 71st Street on the Upper East Side. These gigs follow the long-delayed release of The Velvet Underground & Nico.

The delay between the album’s recording and release means the Velvets can’t take advantage of their 1966 notoriety. Worse, at the time of its debut, The Velvet Underground & Nico was ignored by the critics and was seen as a bit of an anti-climax to many of the band’s fans. It didn’t help that it was a commercial squib, too.

The effect on the band is to dampen their enthusiasm for performing, so Warhol, in an attempt to rekindle the energy of the band and the equally flagging EPI, arranges for a series of gigs in the spring of 1967 at the Gymnasium in Sokol Hall.

It’s a real gym, complete with barbells, weights, parallel bars, even a trampoline that kids leap onto from the balcony where Warhol’s projectors live. Despite the enormity of the space and the distance from the Velvets’ Village haunts, they maintain their residency for the rest of the month, playing to small crowds and sniping critics.

Hopes for the Gymnasium to become another Dom don’t work out, but you can still get your sweat on in Sokol Hall.

*      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *

Our next stop takes us to West 46th Street and Steve Paul’s Scene, where Andy Warhol and club owner Steve Paul host an “underground amateur hour.” A block west of Broadway and down some dicey stairs, the Scene advertises appearances by “stars of The Chelsea Girls” as well as “gurus, creative people, pop celebrities, society submergers” and the Velvet Underground.

The Scene is the last place the Velvet Underground play as part of the Exploding Plastic Inevitable; soon after, they cut their ties to both Warhol and Nico. They won’t play another gig in New York until 1970.

You’ll note this space is under construction. Watch your step.