Diario Del Alieno
part 2, 10/1998
Then suddenly, before I knew it, September loomed. This was to be a month of maximum action with gigs in N.Y. and San Francisco & environs plus an album to make with Brainville in N.Y., also PAID gigs in OZ on the way out and on the way back home! PURRRRfect!
My first gig was a $300 AUSTRALIAN gig (wonders never cease) at a noise festival in Sydney called WHAT IS MUSIC? This meant Sydney gig on the Thursday and then a double show in N.Y. on the Saturday. The gig in Sydney was REALLY interesting becos the noise scene is really popular there. The gig was in an ex dragqueen club in Sydney's Kings Cross which is actually more wildside & dangerous than anything in nyork. I popped into a seven-eleven store about sunset and some poor woman was lying on the floor by the drinks fridge having a smack frenzy with customers casually stepping over her to get their pepsi's. Normal. Outside and just down the street there were people falling out of dark doorways grabbing at yr ankles. Its that crazy! Smack is equiv a fiver a hit. Phew.
Meanwhile the noise fest featured:
- A Japanese guy doing a one hour guitar feedback solo.
- A two year old mentally defective Taiwanese baby playing with miked up flashing light toys mixed by parents from the stage
- Three guys playing electric guitars on a trampoline also wired for sound. Fourth guy playing drums fixed to ceiling which he can only reach at the top of his bounce. They ended by smashing all guitars and trying to smash drum.Whole thing mixed at max vol with extreme distortion.
- Woman with barbie mask dressed in black rubber singing nursery rhymes playing prepared toy-piano.
- Also lots of distorted voice poetry plus
- Two junky MC's pulled in off the street who kept insulting everybody while spasmodically passing out and throwing up in the audience.
On the second night my daughter-in-law Toni, (Orlando's partner) appeared to my surprise & delight with her new somewhat skeletal boyfriend. I hung with her and got news of her Sydney life and watched some wicked noise bands style of Jesus & Marychain but better. In the midst of this I played my gig: noisy guitar on v. loud drones. Did 'Poet For Sale' with ruff baxtape, went into audience with repeat echo microphone & had people singing with themselves. Ended with a surreal truncated one man version of 'Can't Kill Me' and 'Bullshit & Be'. Went down fine. Apparently there were Gongfreaks but I couldn't tell. There was such chaos backstage that it took me ages to pack my gear safely away. The suicidal driver person from the shapeshifter storybook appeared in the middle of this with some strong dope & got off my face very fast and this unleashed a lotta fun. Surprised at the number of truly original crazies there are in Sydney. Next morning flew to N.Y. Arrived to find Hu & Pip & I all staying at Virginia's & she on holiday thus home lots. Fun times -up till dawn rabbiting, jamming & being silly every nite. Next day: Two Brainville shows on one night me pumped up on 2000mg of Ginseng. This event kicked off a week of gigs at the Knitting Factory dedicated to the 'Canterbury Scene' (which of course produced Soft Machine, Caravan, Kevin Ayers, Robert Wyatt, Henry Cow, Hatfield and the North, Hu Hopper, Pip Pyle, brian damage & uncle job wobbler & all. Somehow I have been implicated in inspiring the whole caper by my fateful presence as the older beatnik outlaw poet & jazzer who innocently sabotaged their psychological programming with wild new ideas when they were in their impressionable last year of school). Everything including both our shows went out live on the Internet. Pity nobody told us till too late. At last! Brainville plus Kramer for the first time. No rehearsal at all. Excellent gigs: Sold 2 boxes of albums myself off front of sellout stage like an old arab hustler and together with gigmoney, earned enough to keep me fed for the whole month in the USA. (There are live recordings available -basically what went out on the Internet.)
Next day we tried recording but everyone was either very stoned or very drunk or very tired so the results were uneven. Then I had Shawn collect me to play two gigs shared with Roy Harper in Boston & Philly. Roy hid & I hardly connected with him. I mostly talked with his girlfriend Tracy who was younger than him and basically did what Britta did for me on my UK solo gigs. Only not as interestingly. Suddenly I started asking Shawn lots of pointed questions such as how come Roy was getting paid more than me when it was clear from my circuits round the bar that there were more Gong freaks flowing from Gong tour than Harper fans (Roy hasn't toured all that much in the US) though clearly all were charmed by both of us. It seemed that he was getting paid more basically because Tracy was a uncompromising biz-head & Shawn was a big fan of Roy. She probably also wanted to keep tabs on the roving Harper sexray. Oh well. His woman problem. My money problem. Curiously with Shawn, it mostly seems to work out that even if I am being paid, that somehow psychologically I am left feeling unsatisfied by moneydeals. Its a pity cos he is otherwise fun company. But it WOULD have been fun to have had Britta working with me had I the extra money to pay her. Still it was loadsa fun anyway & I was mightily impressed by Roy's live show. He is not the miserable old bastard I thought he was.He rambles on for hours between songs but has lovely dry humour & tho it may have been the dope, I did feel he belongs in the main bardic lineage. His teaching songs are very powerful & operate on multiple levels.
Tracy was impressed enough by my show to buy Dreaming a Dream immediately after my first gig, but Roy didn't come and listen to me till our third shared show. Maybe he had some kind of resistance to me based on hearsay or something. But I knew he would get around to it and he did. After the Philly show Shawn and I went back to NY on the very very slow cheap train (to symbolically save money) and then we stayed up all night drinkin' & smokin' & laughing a lot till he left to catch his plane home to Santa Cruz at 6 am.
Next night it was the Robert Wyatt tribute night at the Knitting Factory. During the afternoon Hu & I spoke to Robert in the UK & I told him I was going to try to get the whole audience to vibe his paraplegic pubic hairs to rise up in unison. Come the gig things were proceeding a bit conservatively. something that tends to happen to those nice polite middle class Canterbury boys. So towards the end of the night my three minutes of fame arrived & I managed to throw in the banana with an (ever by my standards) quite seriously demented rendition of the 'Capacity Travel' abstract oempoem off daevid Alien trio 63 CD. I followed this by playing on a CD player on stage, the track of that famous riot at the 1971 Soft Machine/Gong concert in Paris, ending with then manager Shaun Murphy screaming: "Fuck your policeman" -a track which luckily nobody in N.Y. seemed to have heard before. Then -before we played our obligatory Robert composition (Memories) -I got the whole audience screaming "Robert Wyatt's pubick hair rise up!". Quite pataphysical. It was actually Alfred Jarry's birthday that day I was told. Very fitting. We rounded it off with a version of 'Did it Again' for long enough to have the audience looking nervously at their watches which uncertainty finally got Kramer to quit the stage for fear of looking uncool. I gave him heaps of stick for this truancy. After all we originally used to play it for 50 minutes without cess. Extreme drinkin' and stonin' all night cos that night Pip was due to catch his plane at 6am and he has definitely given up not drinking.
Next day I was introduced to the tiny studio mixing suite two floors under the Knitting Factory club where I was to spend the next week working on the uneven beginnings to our first Brainville CD. I finished at 5am. Just in time to send off Hu to catch HIS plane to the U.K. at 6am. (Why was everybody flying out of N.Y. at 6am?). The following week wars spent doing daily Tai-Chi, meditating and locking myself in the studio obsessing over the seedling tracks & eating $3 Pakistani meals with Virginia. Then suddenly it was time to leave & I had to do some super rapid ruff mixes. Not at all doing justice to what I'd done. But then it wasn't final -this mixing- since Kramer has still to do his parts and then mix it properly. Then t'was farewell Virginia with huge thanks & off to do MY plane catching at 7am.
I arrived in SFrancisco at 2pm and was taken straight to a radio interview with friend Michael Clare who now be D-day DJ with the biggest student radio station in the city. This done I went straight to the club to do shared gig #3 with Roy. This was OK, Roy came out of his shell to listen to this one and made friendly noises. Lots of Sanfran friends in the audience so I had good fun at the bar. At 3am went straight to Santa Cruz to stay in luxury at Shawn's mums house. She is a univ lecturer and had vacated her room for me and it was SO comfy. YES ! I awoke to more radio interviews before breakfast then a quick medit and it was off to the club. Pretty chaotic situation and I had to do my soundcheck in front of a full house -but I did it in style. This was my best gig and at the back I could see Roy watching me with intense concentration. This was almost off putting. It made me laugh somewhat inappropriately (I was pleased he was finally really hearing me) in the middle of 'O my Poor Brothers. Oh well. It was another night of crazy conversations & bacchanalian revelry. What a crazy tour! There was a large drunken freemale there who, while trying to dance with Roy, rolled over like an amiable beachball clutching him to her bosom. Shawn got a photo of him lying on top of her with Tracy looming on the horizon to reclaim her man. Tracy it turns out is or was ALSO a nurse & thus of course knows how to deal with most red light emergencies.
Then It was a colourful very late drive back to SF to stay with my friends Gay & Jail, sorry Jay & Gail who had generously offered to drive me up to my next day solo gig in Nevada City about four hours drive north east of SF. Colourful because this describes Gail particularly -she being a fine & dedicated painter but also prone to make sudden loud & sometimes too truthful judgements of anyone nearby. I love it myself but some find it challenging. Jay is a high tech computer programmer with considerable ability on guitar & is generally a sweet soft spoken southern gentleman relocated into silicon city. The two of them are old friends who did two of my three US workshops in the early nineties & they live in Pacifica just out of SF on the ocean. We also had collected my old young friend Walter Funk, an inventor of remarkably strange musical instruments who I invited to join me next night in an an aftergig jam. We got to their place at 7am so I had but four hours sleep and a brief burst of Qi-gong before hitting the road again for Nevada City, also the home of my old friend & original tapeloop guru Terry Riley.
We arrived starving hungry (again!) at the exact time I was due to play and I found myself for the second successive night setting up & sound checking in front of an expectant audience -on this occasion mainly consisting of glamourous young women. This gig had been set up by Jay Tausig recently migrated from NY. Jay, now recovered from the tragic death of his girlfriend just after the Canadian Gong gig two years ago, is himself a handsome young spunk & had drawn the audience from his circle of new friends. The gig ended with a general jam with everybody playing something and this then continued on with a smaller circle of women -one of whom seemed to be carrying Britta's eyes in her head. Every time I looked at these eyes it seemed to me she was there looking right back at me and I kept getting stuck looking into those eyes. She made a comment about this & I had to make an effort thereafter not to look at her too much. She was a violinist and we played together a little bit which she appreciated more than I. I knew it was just my projection but some of it stuck to her. We all met up next day for breakfast & I insisted on meeting her new husband who I had in fact met ten years before at a gig in Berkeley. They were clearly really happy together. I took this fact in very thoroughly & deliberately because I wanted to eliminate any illusion from this connection. But to go back to the night, after the gig, still hungry, we went to stay in this extraordinary old English style manor house with chandeliers, huge drawing room, servant stairways, and enormous bedrooms with high ceilings and all this surrounded by an immaculately landscaped gardener, with statues of deer, dogs and a pagan goddess. Jay shared the house with the glamourous young women one of whom he was utterly in love with, a fascinating raven haired half Japanese half Norwegian. They had great difficulty moving more than about ten feet together without falling into a furry tongue stirring embrace. Going somewhere with them meant progress was leisurely. Helpful to have something else to do while waiting. Eventually I was given Jay's personal room which was full of studio gear, paintings he had done & computer gear. I slept in my sleeping keg and dreamt I was back in my twenties making love to an equally youthful Gilli.
After breakfast, having visited the violinist we went to see Terry Riley I recognised the place though it was much expanded since I last visited in 1977. It was lovely to see Terry & Anne - such warm and enduring friends. He took us upstairs to his music room dominated by the omnipresence of his beloved and highly acclaimed Indian Raga singer teacher Pandit Pran Nath. It's instrumental centrepiece was a magnificent grand piano purchased from Chick Corea with electronic triggers for synthesised sounds built in to it. He amazed me with the news that another old friend from our early sixties Parisian days was living nearby. in an instant John Esam was on the phone & he was our next stop. One of my fellow poets from the William Burroughs performances, John in recent years had immersed himself in Gurjieff's Third Way teaching. Now he was a founder member of a thriving agricultural community dedicated to grounding this wisdom. Thirty minutes later he was showing my travelling companions and I around it. Set in low hills on red soil with a magnificent fountain surrounded by a thriving and carefully composed selection of herbs vegetables and flowers, the whole place demonstrates Gurjieff's theories in the most practical manner. John however seemed frail and not in the best of health.
By this time there was ludicrously little time to get back to San Francisco for my next gig. This was to be a totally improvised gig this time with musicians ! had never met. Another challenge By some miracle we managed to get back to SF but again arriving at the precise time! was due on stage. A drummer bassist and a female keyboard player were waiting. Yet another rapid set up in full glare and we were off. I had not thought about this gig at all, nor did I think about it now I simply played with all my heart and it flowed marvellously. All of a sudden it was over and we had to get offstage as fast as possible to make way for the next band. By the time I was packed and had stashed my gear the band I had played with had vanished. On the way to the bar, people kept congratulating me on an excellent gig. Before I had time to think about this I was whisked away for a particularly strong joint. Oh well. No mind no worries.
Next day was a day in the studio with my D-jay pal Michael Clare on bass, an adventurous guitar player who remains nameless to me and our friend the 'innerstate' label man, Pat on drums. The studio was in an old collapsing theatre now a squat. We recorded in a similar way to the night before, no attempt at planning-just start playing and it goes on tape. We started early afternoon and finished round 1am. Next day was Sunday and I just had time to go back to that studio and improvise some vocals over the jam of the day before, get something to eat and race to the airport to get the midnight plane to Sydney. Two albums and 8 gigs later, thus endeth my hyperactive month of September. WOT A FUN TIME! It's a real buzz getting the midnight Sunday plane to Sydney from SF. Once you go thru immigration its as though you have entered a culture warp for suddenly you are in asia. Asian clothes, shops, magazines & people. I love it.
I arrived in Sydney 13 hrs later at 6am Australian time and got on the plane for the gold coast at 9am. Gilli & Jazzy were waiting and I was home at 11 am. The boys had the house looking clean & fresh and my room awaited me with a really friendly vibe. Great to be back. Two days later I packed again to drive 300km south to play the Bellingen World Music festival with Mark Robson & Russell Hibbs. I was still jet lagged & thoroughly distracted by the national elections which labour sadly lost by a very short neck. I was also constantly in the company of old friends who kept offering me pipes of very strong herbs and in the practically post tour swirl I abandoned what discipline remained and had a rewardingly great time but missed the star act being that which I most wanted to see: the Indian virtuoso guitarist: V.M. Bhatt who apparently played a blinder. Greg Sheehan genius of percussion (plays on 22 Meanings-Gliss CD005) was everywhere in evidence and played seven different types of music with seven different bands including UTUNGUN his own cluster of pan cultural rhythmic wizards amongst whom Matt Ledgar kangadrummer looms gleefully tall. Tone, (Orlando's other musical half), also demonstrated his monstagroove mastery playing bass while mixing Cleise Pearce's violin voice duets and Sheehan's fingertip tympanache from centre stage. Steve Berry was there with his jazz trio and played one gig that stood shed & holsters above his others Our gig was a bit of an anti climax coming at the end of the test and happening in a very small tent with a tiny tin pa but for meself it was mainly that Russell's songs were a bit too neat & inflexibly structured for me to flow & let fly with, coming as I was from totally trust inspired Yankee free radical jamtimes.
After the gig I wandered off looking for some real juice and ended up in the chai tent which was just kicking outrageously and jam packed with people on their way to an all night dance party in the rain forest. Mark's gig husbandry was somewhat 'organic', this means that he forgot to get the band's money till too late. To his credit tho he did really well to find us a gorgeous house to stay in and got Ruz & I a lift down with Robin & the girls. The lift back was worryingly abstract until I eventually lucked out a very enjoyable wandering & explorative scenic rideback with Ruz in Steve Berry"s car which took us thru a series of breathtaking vistas & wild life encounters & provided me with some beautiful white owl feathers from an intuitively found freshly killed owl. So now I am back & grounded, playing with big & littIe kids again and have finally actually found some time to attend to all the things' big and little that have been gnawing & nibbling at my conscience since June. So, Hi ya home I'm honey!
Originally published in GAS Magazine