…slow motion soundtrack is flesh.

—William Burroughs, The Ticket That Exploded

To continue with the subject of rock lit (see my April article): There were all these young poets/singer-songwriters who worked at the old Knitting Factory on Houston Street in the ’80s, many of whom eventually went on to achieve stardom. The two who immediately come to mind are people I actually gave poetry gigs when I was curating a series there: Jennifer Charles of Elysian Fields and Mike Doughty, a founding member of Soul Coughing. Doughty recently published his “memoir,” a fashionable word these days and a good way to get a book deal, particularly if the book deals with recovery. His is called The Book of Drugs. Ho hum. (I love ya, M., but couldn’t you think up a better name, like, say, Poems of Hashish, or Confessions of a Downtown Opium Eater, or I Was a Ritalin Baby, or The Trust Fund Baby with the Golden Arm, or how ’bout plain old Junkie?) Everything in Doughty’s life, from rise to fall, is in here—childhood, school, town drunks. What I most enjoyed reading about was his time at the Knitting Factory, where among other things he worked the door, let me in free, gave me drinks, and, as he states, “heard free-jazz prophet Charles Gayle every Monday” with the same 15 people. (Actually, I’m not sure there were even that many of us.) The book, from Da Capo Press, is a fun read, covering Doughty’s journey from obscurity to fame to the armpits of gloom to recovery and getting “back in the race” while still remaining pissed.

Lee Ranaldo at Other Music. Photo: Tom Choi.

Speaking of rock poets, Sonic Youth’s Lee Ranaldo has finally gone solo for real. Besides publishing chapbooks of his poems, he has released what he feels is his first genuine solo album, Between the Times and the Tides (Matador), which is beautifully packaged in both the vinyl and CD editions. For its unveiling, Lee did an in-store gig at Other Music. I hadn’t seen him in a while and was glad to be there for part of the set. The CD is very folksy and country in places, and to my ears has a twinge of the Byrds here and there. The themes range from love to desolation and back again. “Let’s turn off the lights now / And turn on the stars.”

Within the jazz world there is also a tradition of musicians being involved in art and poetry, which can go unnoticed by outsiders. No jazz musician practicing multiple disciplines ever gets as much attention as those in the rock world. Even the big names—Miles Davis, Marion Brown, Bill Dixon, Anthony Braxton, Dick Griffin, and Oliver Lake, to name a few—have sold paintings. As for accomplished poets, Oliver Lake, William Parker, Yusef Lateef, Marilyn Crispell, Thomas Chapin, Joe McPhee, Cecil Taylor, and Roy Nathanson are just the tip of the iceberg. Lake, whose recent gigs at the Stone’s Intakt Festival were outstanding, and whose CD Matador of 1st & 1st combines his poetry and music, recently published a new collection of poems and images, If I Knew This. The poems deal with music, Katrina, the memory of Lester Bowie, the choices we make, and the small and big absurdities of life. If you love this music the way I do, take a peek at the other work of some of these great artists.

Just when this old dog thought he’d never learn anything new, up popped the Fat Cat, a crazy jazz club-cum-pool hall, ping-pong parlor, and Scrabble joint. There it’s been all the time, a short walk from my apartment, open seven days a week till 5 a.m. at 75 Christopher Street in the West Village, with a snack menu, full bar, three sets a night (including jam sessions), an unbelievable cover of $3, and no strings attached except that there are no walls between the pool throng and the music, so there’s a lot of noise. I checked it out because I’d heard that George Braith, inventor of the two-horns-in-one Braithaphone, plays there one Monday every month. And there he was with a quartet that included Pete “La Roca” Sims on drums. I highly recommend this place, even as a side trip, just to feel it. It’s like being somewhere other than “here.” It’s definitely a local treasure of the more bizarre sort.

So, without sounding too intellectual, all I can say is that in a 12-tone scale all the notes have equal value. I have no idea what that means, but if you listen long and hard I’m sure you’ll be able to pick them out.


MAY 2012

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