Gary Lucas: Psychedelic primitive
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by Seth Rogovoy
(GREAT BARRINGTON, Mass., August 15, 2002) -- Guitarist/composer and former Captain Beefheart sideman Gary Lucas returns to Mass MoCA in North Adams (662-2111) on Saturday night at 8:30 for another evening accompanying silent film with live music. This time out, Lucas will perform his original scores for three early masterpieces of surreal cinema: René Clair’s “Entr’Acte” (1924), Fernand Legér’s “Ballet Mécanique” (1924), and Ladislaw Starewicz’s “The Cameraman’s Revenge” (1912). Lucas -- who performed his score to “The Golem” at MoCA two summers ago and who is a pioneer in the genre -- will also perform short sets of original music before and after the films.
In a recent Email interview, the Yale University-educated English major said, “I have been interested in the fantastic, the bizarre, and the outre since my earliest days as a child obsessing over Greek mythology and monster movie magazines. From there it was a natural progression to voraciously devouring science fiction, fantasy and horror literature, and growing out of that an interest in the avant-garde, the far side of culture, be it music (free jazz, electronic, Captain Beefheart) and cinema (underground films of the 60’s, horror and fantasy, silent classics by Melies, Murnau, Wegener, e.g. The Golem).
“These three short films definitely have those mind-boggling elements of strange new worlds, disconnected narrative visions, and unsettling visual beauty I have
admired and pursued since a child. And being silent, they were crying out for a score appropriate to them, although the two French films already had famous symphonic music written around their premieres in the Twenties by George Antheil and Erik Satie (‘Ballet Mecanique’ and ‘Entr’Acte,’ respectively).”
As to how he approaches scoring non-narrative film, Lucas, who has performed with Leonard Bernstein, John Zorn, Jeff Buckley, Nick Cave, David Johansen, Joan Osborne, Lou Reed, Patti Smith, DJ Spooky, Iggy Pop, Dr. John, Bryan Ferry, Allen Ginsberg, Bob Weir and Czech rockers Pulnoc, and whose variety of work is best represented on the terrific collection, “Improve the Shining Hour,” said, “I go with the flow, like a 1920s silent film accompanist, utilizing recurring motifs, popular music quotes, and lots of improvisation to fit the mood. My score for ‘The Cameraman’s Revenge’ is bluesy and down-home, played on National steel guitar alone; ‘Ballet Mecanique’ is for electric guitar and is very electronic and industrial-sounding throughout. The music for ‘En'tracte’ is giddy and lilting, for acoustic guitar and some effects.”
Mostly, said Lucas, playing music to these particular movies – which he has only done once before, at the Walter Reade Theatre in New York -- provides “a chance to do them in my avant guitar-rooted style, which I like to call ‘psychedelic primitive.’”
Garnet Rogers: Out from the shadow
There’s a heartbreaking song on “All That Is” (Red House), a recent collection of songs by Garnet Rogers, called “Frankie and Johnny.” It’s not the old folk song by that name, but an original by the Canadian singer-songwriter – who performs at the Guthrie Center in Housatonic (528-1955) on Saturday night at 8 – about two brothers. One lives, and one dies, and the surviving brother learns a secret about his deceased brother, and himself, when he reads some letters his brother wrote to him but never sent.
The song has a chilling coda, but it’s made all the more chilling because it is no secret that the deep-voiced Rogers lost his own brother and former duet partner, Stan Rogers, in an airplane crash in 1983. Since that time, Rogers has tried to carve out a career in the long shadow cast by his much-beloved brother.
“All That Is” was an attempt to rectify the inexplicable fact that none of Garnet Rogers’s many recordings were available in the U.S. until now. The singer-songwriter boasts a timeless voice and writes traditional-style ballads for the most part. Occasionally, his material veers into more contemporary territory, as in “Night Drive,” which is driven by a dreamy electric-guitar pulse akin to fellow Canadian Bruce Cockburn, and in its invocation of someone long gone (“You laughter echoes after all this time,” “They’ve lost sight of you as your legend’s grown”) also nods to brother Stan.
“Seeds of Hope” is classic folk-rock in the vein of the Byrds, and “Under the Summer Moonlight” is driven by hard-driving, accordion-inflected Cajun dance beats. But for the most part, Rogers favors acoustic guitars and violins, both of which he plays.
Eddie Kirkland: Birthday blues
If the liner notes to his CD, “Movin’ On” (JSP), are to be believed, blues singer-gutiarist Eddie Kirkland turns 74 tomorrow night. He was to have spent his birthday in downtown Pittsfield of all places, where he was scheduled to perform at Red, but that gig has been cancelled. The Jamaican-born and Alabama-bred musician has been playing guitar for 65 years, beginning with country and western music and slowly gravitating to the blues he heard played by local musicians and on his grandmother’s record player.
Kirkland’s first big break came in 1948 when he hooked up with John Lee Hooker in Detroit. The two toured and recorded together for several years before Kirkland’s own recording career began in the 1950s. Over the next few decades, he crossed paths with Elmore James, King Curtis, Ruth Brown, Little Richard, Little Johnnie Taylor and Otis Redding, but mostly he labored in the blues trenches, out of the spotlight, where he reportedly was still doing back flips and head-stands until just a few years ago.
Even though he’s probably one of the oldest players on the blues scene, Kirkland’s sound on “Movin’ On” is relatively fresh and up to date, from the Robert Cray-isms of “Rainbow” to the Stax/Volt-style soul of the title track to the B.B. King-style, big-band r&b of “Honey Bee,” which features Kirkland on clean, jazzy guitar and a mean mouth-harp.
According to his bio, Kirkland – who reportedly still criss-crosses the country at the helm of his own 1978 Ford station wagon -- has plenty to be blue about. He has survived being shot in the head and was officially pronounced dead of a heart attack several years ago before making a miraculous comeback. Also, several years ago his 15-year-old daughter Monica was kidnapped and murdered.
[This column originally appeared in the Berkshire Eagle on August 15, 2002. Copyright Seth Rogovoy 2002. All rights reserved.]
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