|17 – 23 May 2010||MagnetMagazine.com||–|
|Guest Editor pieces from MagnetMagazine.com by Jon Spencer.
View the complete entires with images and videos at the following addresses:
Joe Meek: …2010/05/23/inside-the-world-of-jon-spencer-joe-meek/
Spencer: I got into Joe Meek in a big way when somebody gave me a copy of a biography about him. He gets compared to Phil Spector, but I’m not a big fan. I prefer someone like Lee Hazlewood. Joe Meek was doing everything basically in his London bedroom. He was an engineer who pioneered the use of compression. He either built or hotrodded pretty much all his own gear. If it was something he bought, he would adjust it for his own use. He got tired working for different labels and went off on his own, recording and producing a huge string of U.K. hits. Supposedly, the Queen was a big fan of “Telstar” (a 1962 Meek-produced British and American hit by the Tornados). ProTools is wonderful, but there’s something to be said for just putting something together with whatever you have at hand. With his shoe in his hand, he would beat on the bathtub. People talk about how the Beatles pushed the engineers at EMI, but Joe Meek was doing stuff well before that. Other crazy things about Joe Meek: He was obsessed with flying saucers and aliens. He would make frequent trips to the graveyard to record sounds of the dead. He was obsessed with Buddy Holly and Eddie Cochran, rock ‘n’ roll stars who were cut down and died young. And he was a closeted homosexual. He became increasingly paranoid that his design ideas were being stolen. He was quite a tormented guy, but he was a real dreamer.
Spencer: I really like this Canadian artist that Heavy Trash has toured with a lot who calls himself Bloodshot Bill. He’s from Montreal and he’s a one-man band who plays rockabilly. He’s probably one of the only modern-day rockabilly artists I can stand. So many people don’t understand this beautiful music, rockabilly. They want to make it more like heavy metal. But Bill has a really great feel for the music and has a lot of Charlie Feathers in him. Unfortunately, he’s currently banned for five years from the United States. He was caught crossing the border without the appropriate papers. Bad news for Americans.
The Flamin’ Groovies:
Spencer: The Flamin’ Groovies‘ Teenage Head is one of my favorite records of all time. Probably one of the greatest-ever rock ‘n’ roll bands and criminally underrated. My favorite period was when they had Roy Loney, the earlier phase. I wasn’t so crazy about them when they went to England and hooked up with Dave Edmunds. I think they were carrying a torch alongside the New York Dolls. They were hip. I’ve never seen ‘em, they were before my time. I don’t know who turned me on to Teenage Head, but it was recorded in New York City, I think at Bell Studios, and Jim Dickinson played piano on it. I’m looking at this record and you begin to put things together. And it’s such a great sounding record. They’re really drawing on a lot of great roots elements: blues, rockabilly, country music, Stones stuff. That song “Slow Death”—that’s one of the best things they ever did. Also, the album cover from the version of Teenage Head that I had was the inspiration for the cover of Dial M For Motherfucker.
The Coen Brothers:
Spencer: I liked No Country For Old Men. And I also liked the one the Coen brothers did afterward, A Serious Man. I’d read reviews that said it’s just terrible. I watched it a couple of weeks ago, kind of preparing myself for the worst, and I really enjoyed it. Because sometimes they do that: come out with something really bad, like Burn After Reading. I thought that was terrible. But they definitely do great work.
The 80’s New York Art Scene
Spencer: When I moved here, it was because I was really in love with the music and art scene, bands like Swans and Sonic Youth. I loved the Swans, and when I first came here, I found out where they rehearsed in the East Village, near the corner of Avenue B and Sixth Street. I’d go by and be able to catch them rehearse. It was this totally boarded-up place, but they were so loud, anybody could just sit outside and hear them. They were such a great band. Extreme bands like that and crazy filmmakers like Richard Kern were what made me want to move here. There was music, there was painting, there was performance art. All sorts of stuff was going on, and if you wanted to be a freak, you could do it in Milwaukee or Providence, but if you came to New York City, you could get in touch with other like-minded people. It’s different now. I think you could go out in the country, and with the Internet, you’re a lot closer. It kind of plugs back into the worship and mythology of bands like the Velvets. Like Lou Reed was singing about: People come to the city to remake themselves and to find kindred souls.
Jim Dickinson is the other connection to those Panther Burns records. Jim produced and played on a lot of those records. Jim had such a long and storied career. He did so many crazy things. One of his early bands—I think they were called the Jesters—had one of the last singles on Sun, “Cadillac Man,” a great record. And he worked all the way through his life. You’ve got Jim and Alex Chilton and Tav Falco and Charlie Feathers and Rufus Thomas. All these people, they did their own thing. Even in the face of little or no commercial success, they stayed true to themselves. I did a record called Spencer Dickinson with Jim’s sons, Cody and Luther, in Coldwater, Miss., where Jim lived. They had a funky old barn there, very run down, which Jim had set up as a studio called the Zebra Ranch. He had acoustical tile in there that came from when they made the film Great Balls Of Fire!, which starred Dennis Quaid as Jerry Lee Lewis; Jim was hired as a technical adviser. In lieu of payment, he asked for a truckload of the acoustical tile they used when they were building the Sun Studio set. They got hold of some tile they used in the original Sun Studio, and it’s asbestos, which is illegal now. Jim attached great significance to these totems, almost like they’re religious artifacts.
The Hurt Locker:
I saw The Hurt Locker on an airplane flight and saw it again with my son, who’s 12. Normally, I’m kind of careful with what he watches, and if I can, I control what he watches. Not so much what he listens to. But I thought this would be a good thing for him to watch. I watched it again with him, and yeah, it was a very good movie.
I spend a lot of time in Spain because my wife’s mother is Spanish. Lot of relatives. I was married in Spain, toured a lot in Spain. But recently, I’ve been playing more and more in Portugal, even though it’s almost like a part of Spain, tucked into a corner. But it’s a very different place, a different vibe. A lot of the cities are old and funky and relatively untouched. There are a lot of beautiful little streets, and I love the shops. All the signs seem to be from the ’60s and ’70s. Even if they’re newer, they have this old feel to them. You go to London, Amsterdam or Berlin, you get the feeling this storefront was totally redone last year. Nothing wrong with that, but in Porto, even the fonts they use on the signs are things you never see anywhere else. The display windows, even in a plumbing shop, will have this incredibly elaborate and intricate display of faucets totally crammed in there. One of my favorites is the hardware store around the corner, Plano B, and the window has nothing but casters, wheels you put on the bottom of something. And that’s it, not like it has this amazing light show. It’s so thoroughly laid out and so full of casters. OK, I’m not looking to buy casters, but it’s just so great to see that, compared to, you know, a Starbucks.
Tav Falco’s Panther Burns:
I really got into Alex Chilton’s stuff through Tav Falco’s Panther Burns. Alex was in that band and played on probably the first four or five albums. Tav Falco combined funk and the blues, kind of like the Cramps and the Gun Club. People would ask me where the Blues Explosion was coming from, and there was a history there with those kinds of bands. The first Panther Burns record I heard was Behind The Magnolia Curtain, just a really, really great record. And there’s a lot of clues in there. Most of the Panther Burns records are all covers. So, like, what’s this crazy song? And then you could see who wrote it and find a record by that artist. I’ve met Tav, and I think he’s living in Vienna now. He’s either teaching high-school English or he’s teaching the tango.
I saw Todd Haynes‘ Dylan movie, I’m Not There, and I really liked that one a lot. I’m not a huge Dylan fan, but I’m becoming one more and more as years go by. Todd went to Brown University, so there’s a connection there. He was ahead of me, but I met him when I was there and have followed his career with interest. I’ve probably seen all of his films. My second favorite is Far From Heaven, with Julianne Moore and Dennis Quaid. That was his Douglas Sirk exercise: a closeted gay man from suburban Connecticut in the ’50s. I knew what was going on in I’m Not There, and, of course, I was interested because Todd was directing it. But it sounded like it might be a real disaster, having all these people play the role. But I also knew the film editor, Jay Rabinowitz, who has a child in my son’s class. Every once in a while, I’d pick his brain about the film at a school function. My worry was that it would be very dry and academic, but I found it very moving. Cate Blanchett was wonderful in that; I’ll watch her doing anything. There are some people who can truly act, and then there are others who are just celebrities, like Tom Cruise or Jennifer Aniston.
There’s a new series of Doctor Who. It’s a science-fiction program from the BBC that I fell in love with as a kid. They used to show it on the local public-television channel. It was off the air for a really long time but revived back in 2005. They’ve just recently changed the actor playing the doctor, something that happens every once in a while. I think Matt Smith is number 11. There was some worry because he’s only 26, but he’s turned out so far to be OK. It’s a new producer and script editor, but they seem to be doing a good job. My favorite Doctor Who was the one I was first exposed to, played by Tom Baker. He was probably the first one that Americans my age saw.
If you’re talking about greats, we lost a couple of them just this year. I’m referring to Alex Chilton and Jim Dickinson. Both amazing and beautiful people who had an impact on me. Very sad to lose them both this year. I was a big fan of Big Star and all the stuff that Alex did, even though that style of music is not really my bag. I don’t know what you want to call it. Power pop? But I also liked those weird solo things Alex did, like “Bangkok.” The Blues Explosion toured with Alex. We took him on as a support act in, maybe, 2000 with a rhythm section. He would play things like “Volare,” just whatever he wanted. And one Big Star song, “In The Street,” which was being used by That 70’s Show on TV. He would just go from gig to gig by himself in a big old American sedan. He really kept to himself. But they didn’t make arrangements to get into Canada. So he just checked into a hotel at the border, hung out for a couple of days and met us on the other side.
It’s getting to be rhubarb season. I like rhubarb a lot. It actually grows very easily and doesn’t take much care. It grows wild where I grew up. It’s kind of an early-summer crop. My favorite thing is a strawberry rhubarb pie. It’s something that my mother would bake. But I’ll take it any way, in a compote with anything, really. You just eat the stalks. I don’t know if it’s true or not, but I’ve heard that the leaves are not good for you.
Sun Studios and Alex Chilton:
I recorded an album at Sun Studios with the Gibson Bros. back in 1990. It’s hallowed ground, but it’s a tourist trap now. You go in there and there’s a big photo of Bono or the Edge on the wall. Bit of a drag. It is the same room, though. So we went in to record and it’s all modern equipment. Maybe it’s different if you’re U2, but when you’re in there to do a session, you’ve gotta start at 9 p.m., after the tourists. I’d like to go and record at Phillips (the studio late Sun Studios/Records founder Sam Phillips built after Sun). And it’s run by Roland James, Jerry Lee Lewis’ guitar player. Sam Phillips was a genius. I wish I could have heard him speak. I’ve had a lot of people tell me that he was a great speaker.