“In our time I do not think there has been a more obvious con, a more blatant sham, than the case of Proust.”
—Louis Aragon from “I Demolish a Dead Man”
“Are you able to listen?”
So what makes France any different from New York in my case? Well personality-wise, nothing. Just before my second set in Bordeaux, I blew up at Yuko and the musicians like a maniac. Severe temper tantrum. I won’t go into details. Though it miraculously didn’t diminish sales, it did ruin the rest of the night, resulting in no second set and the loss of a friend or two. Ditto Paris, where, after Austria, I forgot to go to a friend’s gig due to exhaustion and oversight, then several days later went to a gig I was asked to do, to find out the venue knew nothing about it. We did the gig anyway, but at the end, the completely mad organizer wanted a book each by Yuko and me and asked us to sign them. We did. She took them and then said she had no money to pay us. I took them back, screamed at her and said, “Now they are ruined.” She then swore that she’d pay us in a few days, and that if she did not she’d commit hara-kiri—her words, not mine. The next night I did two splendid sets with the great French clarinetist Sylvain Kassap. We were joined in the second set by American drummer Todd Capp and French alto player Cathy Heyden. Overall things went well, though my domestic disputes increased each day we got closer to coming home.
Now, enough about me and on to a few gig highlights while away, seen and unseen:
After a three hour ride from Angoulême, where I had met Kent Carter and done a gig at Philippe Leveraud’s exquisite place in Bignac, we arrived in Paris, went straight to where we were staying in Pigalle in the area filled with sex clubs and guitar shops (in fact the apartment was right above a bass guitar store and every morning I was driven mad by the same four or five bad, deep, loud chords), dropped the luggage, had a drink (of water), then metro-ed straight to Radio France where we caught, just by the skin of our teeth, a free live broadcast from baritone sax player Daunik Lazro, along with drummer/percussionist Didier Lasserre, who I had the privilege of playing with in Bordeaux and Bignac, and who, thankfully, is still my friend; bassist Benjamin Duboc, who I did two fine gigs with in Ivry and Lille; and clarinetist/vocalist Isabelle Duthoit. It was an exquisite match of voices, mixing sounds, emotions, and technical finesse. From there we metro-ed to La Java where I caught a band doing post-electric Miles. It was a gig put together by dear friend Gerard Terrones, owner/producer of Futura et Marge records, one of the pioneering independent labels in both Europe and the Americas. There, I met many Paris pals and was given lots of free drinks—searching for the one that they plied me with three years ago when I gigged there. Finally found it: Picon and beer, a French favorite, and voilà.
I was happily surprised to see Jon Irabagon there. He had come to do an octet project with French guitarist Sylvain Rifflet at the Dynamo involving the music of Moondog. I told them about some of the little known sordid details surrounding Moondog’s life in Germany and how his now-dead-and-good-riddance wife distorted his history and cut two of my friends, who were responsible for his emergence there, out of the Moondog legacy. Coincidently, one of those friends visited me in Paris a few days later and told me that for Moondog’s 99th birthday, events will take place all over Westphalia, and even more in 2016 for his 100th, and that the fighting over who “owns” Moondog still goes on even after his and his mean, possessive wife’s deaths.
Other gigs of note: Abdelhaï Bennani with Duboc and an American ex-pat drummer I had never heard of, Chris Peterson, who showboated, only knew time, and swung awkwardly. It was interesting to see Bennani and Duboc masterfully work within and around his energy with their own brands of free music, interpolating avant/free-bop improv into the mix. When Duboc took one of the best bowed “out” solos I’d ever heard, Peterson tried a Sonny Murray-esque routine that failed miserably. But I loved this set for its challenges and mismatches and how it turned into music of another kind.
Jacques Demierre did a concert at Instants Chavirés, the premiere improvising music club in Paris, with Axel Dorner on slide/valve trumpet, and accordionist Jonas Kocher. To use an antiquated term, the first set left me in a state of suspended animation, with Dorner doing double/circular breathing, like steam coming off a steam engine. All three used incredible extended techniques I’ve never experienced in an astounding mixture of sonic textures, musicality, spatial cohesion, and an improvised sense of sound-space variables from dense passages to soft silences. Neo-ambient waves of different energies containing shared languages/keys, some, at times, vaguely familiar to me.
Evan Parker played that same club a week later with two different combos. The first night included Benoît Delbecq and Toma Gouband, two new names for me. And the second had heavy hitters Paul Rogers and Mark Sanders, one of the most astounding, egoless drummers I have ever encountered. “Wow,” is all I can say. The first night Anne Waldman was reading near Bastille. I stopped by to say hello then rushed off to the Parker gig. The second night I did a short set at the best independent record store in Paris, Souffle Continua, with saxophonist Alexandra Grimal and two other saxophonists, then rushed off to catch Parker again.
Due to a conflict (I had yet another gig), I missed Michel Doneda and Lê Quan Ninh in a saxophone and percussion duo which was followed by John Cage’s Concerto for Prepared Piano and Chamber Orchestra (1950 – 51) and Morton Feldman’s Piano and Orchestra (1975), with John Tilbury on piano (someone I’ve never seen), at St. Merri’s Church, as part of the three day CRAK Festival. Though my four days of gigs went well, in New York at the same time I was missing Keiji Haino (again) at ISSUE Project Room, numerous other gigs I won’t go into, and the Nick Cave film.
I discovered Adolphe Sax’s grave in Montmartre. Funny thing is now Belgium wants him back.
If you’re in the Pigalle area there’s the Phono Museum on Boulevard Rochechouart, which is connected to the Phono Galerie. One shows LPs, phonographs, posters, etc. The other repairs, displays, and sells them. Good luck on catching them open.
Oh yeah. I was awarded a Chevalier of the Order of Arts and Letters but for some weird reason never had a ceremony and never got the medal. That’s another complicated story. It seems you’ve got to pay for the medal, then set up how to get it pinned on by a minister or another award-winner. They award it but you’ve got to do all the work to get it. Well, I did, at least, get a Xerox copy of the official certificate. I’ll fill you all in if there are any updates. And before I forget, that madwoman, an ex-Marc Ribot groupie it turns out, actually did pay me for those two books some four days later at a really fun book party that I read at, where a young Paul Verlaine look-alike told me, upon hearing that I liked Picon, that his grandfather died of it. Seems here in Paris everyone’s grandfather liked and/or died from drinking too much Picon.
As my ex-pat pal, Linda Cooper—who’s lived in Amsterdam these past 40 years—put it while visiting us in Paris, after I told her that I tried for years to listen to Steve Coleman’s music, “Trying doesn’t make listening. Listening makes listening.” So, as to Coleman, who just won a MacArthur, which, unlike my award, comes with lots of money attached to it, I guess I’ll just stop listening.
I’ll end by quoting Aragon yet again, from his book The Challenge to Painting: “Cracks had become rifts, the bourgeois world had split open giving rise to despotism and terror. Wicked was no longer in the air, it was on every street corner.” Sound familiar?
Poet/collagist STEVE DALACHINSKY was born in Brooklyn after the last big war and has managed to survive lots of little ones. His book The Final Nite (Ugly Duckling Presse, 2006) won the PEN Oakland National Book Award. His most recent books are Fools Gold (Feral House, 2014), A Superintendent's Eyes (Unbearable/Autonomedia, 2013), and Flying Home (Paris Lit Up Press, 2015), a collaboration with German visual artist Sig Bang Schmidt. His latest CD is ec(H)osystem with the French art-rock group, The Snobs (Bam Balam Records, 2015). He is a 2014 recipient of a Chevalier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. His poem "Particle Fever" was nominated for a 2015 Pushcart Prize.His most recent books are Black Magic (New Feral Press, 2017) and Frozen Heatwave, a collaboration with Yuko Otomo (Luna Bisonte Prods, 2017).