The fourth time I watched this, some problematic aspects arose. There are similarities between this and a rant I occasionally tried to put into the ears of others. That’s right…I wrote “tried” because I must move on from any fight that even touches on these issues. I leave my reader(s) with a couple of questions: By adhering to a 140-characters-or-less blueprint for the honing of craft, does this not promote the already-rampant illiteracy poisoning the target audience? Short attention span? That’s your fucking problem. If you can’t beat ‘em, cater to ‘em? I extend two middle digits to that solution. Keep ‘em flyin’!
I have to figure out a way to write an original, funny, and meaningful take on the “Why is music writing so bad these days?” mantra by next Friday. 140 characters? No, I have a word-count. A huge one…and I’m writing for one of my more recent heroes (in the writer-ville). The situation is both daunting yet plausibly-perfect (if done right). Work…it can be nice.
Perhaps you’ve heard of this new series. Of course you have…hopefully this blog is devoid of readers that speak the phrase “I don’t watch TV” (or its even dumber cousin, “I don’t own a TV”) out loud. It’s ok if you’ve shared air with one at a party, so long as you are not the pea-brained romantic quarry said loudmouth hoped to pick up with the Burning Man/Biafra-speak. Good god, I’m getting off track and have yet to finish four lines! Ok, about Memphis Beat….
I shouldn’t be bothered that Memphis Beat was shot in New Orleans. All of it. It was not shot in Memphis. Not one second of it.
Oh, I’m wrong? No, I’m right. I live in Memphis, therefore I’m all-too-familiar with our city government’s favorite thing to do to prospective film and TV projects when it comes to tax breaks: Turn the dial to “jailhouse-shower-rape” and watch the potential millions of immediately intangible/eventually-tangible dollars and the directly-unknown but massive cultural benefits take the 6.5-hour trip to NOLA. See, Memphis’ government is comically-misguided and out-in-the-open CORRUPT. That it’s 95% black only complicates things, to state the obvious, but you know what? I only wrote that sentence because it seemed like the correct thing to get behind a minute ago. Sure, it complicates things when I’m speaking with someone from California, Oregon, Washington State, New York City, Providence, and so on…that local Memphis history (and local D.C. history as well as local Detroit history) has dictated that local black politicians seemingly fall out of the womb with four mistresses, a full-blown coke problem, eight four-ton SUV’s with 24/7 porn playing on the 4,392 different custom TV screens, amazing ideas like “I’m sick of taking care of our city parks….nobody go to ‘em anyway….let’s just sell ‘em off and that’ll solve our city’s debt problems” (true story….I crap you negative)….oh, and let’s not forget that acute hatred of white people! Within the past 1 – 2 years, the latter reared its head in a manner that still drops my jaw. We have a white Senator named Steve Cohen. Note the surname. Steve has run for city mayor, plus two or three other offices, within the past decade. At least two of his ALREADY-ELECTED opponents, one of which was that fucking space alien Willie Herrington (see previously-mentioned city parks quote), spoke in explicit anti-semitic terms on their respective campaign advertisements. Seriously, these enemies-of-articulation played into the whole Jew-In-The-Weather-Machine or Jew-Behind-The-Curtain fear!
Despite my over-dramatic historical revisionism re: how black politicians fall out of the womb, not one racist word or sentiment has graced this post. These are facts. How does this tie into the alienation of the film/TV industry? Remember, the financial benefits are immediately-intangible but eventually-tangible. Meaning, of course, that the monetary benefits surface later on down the road. This is not some people’s first financial language, if you get my drift. Put diamond-encrusted rims on the 1998 Chevy Cavalier owned by the bubble-butt Pawn Dat Title assistant manager that just so happens to fellate a noted city official on his lunch break? Shit yeah you can film your stories up in here! They horror, right?
Wow…just call me Grand Wizard Earles…what has gotten into me?
To the handful (if three or four constitutes a “handful”) of readers that use firstname.lastname@example.org to get in touch or communicate with me: STOP…
Notice my middle initial ’s’ (for “Sudoku”……weird, huh?) is not present in the all-purpose gmail address. I don’t even want to think about how many important e-mails were lost in the void because the sender forgot the ‘s’….ok, I’ll think about it, and I might have missed four, maybe five, in the decade since creating that old Yahoo road-dog of an e-mail…I’ll miss you. No, I won’t. Yahoo bites it these days. Very USER-UNFRIENDLY.
John Darnielle (mind behind the Mountain Goats) on Fly Ashtray:
Word reaches us through the wires this week that Mariah Carey has been paid some twenty-eight million dollars to allow Virgin Records the privilege of not putting out any more records by her. It’s news like this that rankles even the most dormant class consciousness; who among us would not happily agree to stop showing up at work for twenty-eight large one thousand times over? Our employers, though — offices, libraries, restaurants, hospitals — do not stand to lose twenty-eight-million plus simply due to our incompetence. Ms Carey’s employers, on the other hand, looked at the balance sheet, got out the check book, and, by handing a failing pop star enough money to feed North Dakota until the Second Coming of Christ, saved themselves a bundle. Anyone so innocent that he doesn’t feel at least a little uncomfortable about this can safely be described as being in a permanent state of political bliss.
So then there’s Fly Ashtray. I guess there aren’t many contrasts sharper between two things than the resolution-shift between shiny Mariah Carey and grainy James Kavoussi, Fly Ashtray’s driving force. One’s so famous that even when she goes down in flames, there’s an amount of money too large for most of us to really comprehend waiting for her when she hits bottom; the other’s so not-famous that if you were to stop reading right now, there’s a fair chance that you’d never hear his name again so long as you lived. And I wouldn’t usually make a big deal about fame or the lack of it, either, except that Fly Ashtray’s ethos is largely grounded in a quiet resistance to the very notions of fame that kept Mariah Carey bankable for almost a decade; which notions of fame can see no use for her now, since she’s hardly worth a lousy twenty-eight million.
For the last week or two I’ve been pretty well addicted to Fly Ashtray’s most recent album, Sawgrass Subligette. It’s indie rock, so if you’re one of those people for whom an album’s cultural currency is the primary issue, you probably won’t like it. Here at Last Plane to Jakarta we have pretty much had it with cultural currency. We are rather more interested in broken machines, obsolete technology, people who move and don’t leave a forwarding address, and the New York Islanders. Given tastes like these, we took one listen to Sawgrass Subligette and were utterly smitten.
Where to begin with Fly Ashtray? They’re the only band left practicing the sort of guys-chasing-Roald-Dahl-through-an-airplane-hangar feel that’s their unique domain; the overall sound is vaguely evocative of a bunch of bands from the 1980s, some of them immortals, some of them vaguely interesting half-remembered outposts of unrealized potential. Name any one of these bands, though, and immediately you’re struck by the size of the gulf between the named band and what Fly Ashtray sounds like. They sound like Translator, they sound like pre-Murmur R.E.M . in a room full of nitrous with an aide from the U of G library improvising vocals while Stipe lies bound and gagged in front of a TV showing reruns of Lost in Space; they sound like Television with a vintage Danelectro and Verlaine’s guitar parts shipped over to Jamaica for reworking by Scientist, they sound like Pere Ubu minus the untenable ambition, they sound like the Ventures with nasty head colds and visions of the Pulitzer Prize, they sound like a bunch of guys using water bongs as musical instruments, they sound like the Ohio Express and the Thirteenth Floor Elevators collaborating on a never-issued collective response to Sergeant Pepper, Blonde on Blonde, Their Satanic Majesties’ Request, and George Shearing in Deep Velvet. No, they don’t. The don’t sound like any of that.
What they do sound like is the ideological opposite of the system that spat out Mariah Carey, first in the direction of the general public with a gleeful contempt for that public’s demonstrated desire to do exactly what it’s told no matter how humiliating, then in the direction of the four winds that play when the same public concluded that eight albums of riotously bad singing, dull songs, and mildly toe-tapping at best production was quite enough. How does one sound like an ideological position, and how many different shades of dull is it? Well, it’s not dull at all, actually, which brings us to one of the great secrets of the universe: ideology isn’t dull when it’s both passionate and playful.
Some of you’ve probably got the idea by now that Fly Ashtray sing about Vieques or the diminishing rainforest, which they don’t, though I do wish that those of you for whom decrying social and ecological injustice seems inherently “boring” would just swallow mercury right now and have done with it. No, Fly Ashtray’s ideology is rather the ideology of the pinball machine, or of the video game: the demonstration that a game in play is its own treatise on the nature of the world we live in and our interactions within it. Fly Ashtray’s lyrics are generally extremely funny, though how funny they are usually doesn’t dawn on you until the fifth or sixth listen, which makes quoting them fairly pointless. I got the giggles for fifteen minutes while washing the dishes after hearing the line “We’re poor/and have been up to heretofore” in Sawgrass Subligette’s title track, but you’d have to hear it yourself to see how communicative a line it is. Indeed, the whole album, and most of James Kavoussi’s other work, falls into the you’d-have-to-hear-it-yourself side of things. Most of the adjectives in my critical arsenal, set to the task of trying to say what Fly Ashtray sounds like, end up sounding like they’re describing something else.
John goes on to piece-out a Fly Ashtray song in the most surgical of methods, and I felt like writing about the reason I wanted to make this post in the first place.
I seem to remember coming up with some stupid name for my prospective label, but that’s history. Also around that time, I had settled on ‘Andrew Earles Productions’ and this is the name that just so happpened to be what I favored when….
….Fly Ashtray was designing the front and back to their new 7″. So yes, my inaugeral release will be two songs by NYC’s preimminent purveyors of off-kilter pop and brain-branding hooks. The A-side is called “Mindpants” and it appeared on their most recent full-length, Reports, which was released on CD-only in 2008. The b-side is called “Hole in the Wall” and it was circa Y2K. Here’s the band’s self-penned history, something I consider rather important due to the unbelievable caliber of songcraft F.A. is capable of combined with how far they’ve flown under the radar (for over 20 years).
[not sure which band member wrote this]
Fly ashtray was formed in 1983 in the Bronx by Chris Thomas, James Kavoussi, Eric Thomas, John Beekman and Mike Anzalone. See the discography for nitpicky details about recordings. At some point, Eric Thomas and Mike Anzalone left the band which put John Beekman from lead vocalist to bassist/guitarist and then James Kavoussi switched from keyboard to guitar. Oh, and the mighty Glen Luttman came aboard on drums. Here might be a good time to mention Spoog, the side project that resulted from impromptu gigs when one or another member of FA was out of town. Also should mention that Mike Anzalone and James Kavoussi also played in Uncle Wiggly with Wm Berger, although chances are if you’ve gotten this far you know that. And if you know that you also know that James also makes records as pHoaming Edison. Enough digressions. The line-up of Thomas/Kavoussi/Beekman/Luttman was stable for a good long stretch until Beekman’s duties were taken over in 1998 by yours truly, Dave Abel, aka laziest webmaster ever.
In 2003, Glenn Luttman requested a leave of absence from Fly Ashtray, and in the same year Eric Marc Cohen took over drum duties. Filling the shoes of the mighty Luttman is no easy task, so if you see Eric and he looks tired, it is because he stays up to all hours of the night thinking about Fly Ashtray’s intricate time signatures and rolly-polly beats.
The band released two records on shimmy disc and have revealing but hardly unique stories about working with Kramer.
The band’s 10-inch record on Hemiola, Let’s have some crate, is really excellent and hard-to find, but we can get you one if you contact us.
FA’s old home is Dark Beloved Cloud and we found it to be a snuggly, warm kind of place. Thus far, we have two releases on DBC (two and half if you consider the Doonat Mahadeo mini-CD.) Currently, we are releasing CD and records on our own Marble Moat imprint, but we are not adverse to the iddea of others releasing our records.
What distinguishes FA from other bands is their tenacity and their unbelievably silly song titles.
||The day I turned into Jim Morrison b/w Eat at Joe’s & Drill Sargeant 1987Very Rare and very silly|
||President Stoned/My teeth are looking at you and they are smiling 7″ 1990.Also rare but 100,000% classic|
||Soap/Bip/Feather 7″.1991if you haven’t heard this you haven’t lived; therefore you are dead…therefore you are a zombie with a computer and an internet connection.|
||Clumps Takes a Ride CD/LPThe album that put FA on the map as it were. The CD has extra tracks. This is also 100,000% classic. Holy crap is it good.|
||Tone Sensations of the Wondermen CD. Classic and Kramer-adelic. I think you can even buy this one on Amazon.com and I also think that’s weird.|
||Let’s Have Some Crate 10″ 45 rpm EP. HemiolaIf this record was a candy bar, it’d be a zagnut. Chock full of sweet, gritty, nuttiness.|
||Flummoxed CD. Dark Beloved CloudOur first for DBC and the proud home of “Moist Floor Ruined my Bad Idea” as well as some secret songs at the end…..shhhhhhh|
||Sawgrass Subligette CD Dark Beloved CloudA long-playing, densely layered masterpiece that embodies the ‘rubulad’ years of FA. If you’re like me and like your pop music to be confusing you’ll like this.|
||Stop the Zockos (Ryhmes with Tacos)Intended release: 1995 fifth beatle records. Arrival of master tape and artwork into our hands: 2002|
The discography stops short of Reports, which can be read about via their MySpace profile. We (the band members and myself) touched on the prospect of releasing the vinyl version of Reports, but I suggested we do the ol’ toe-dip with a 7″ first. That’s using the noggin, Earles! Anyway, here’s the working cover art as designed by Fly Ashtray drummer, Eric Cohen.
Ok, I’m stuck with ‘Andrew Earles Productions’ so if readers have any complaints, please send them to email@example.com
Fly Ashtray’s “Mindpants” b/w “Hole In The Wall” 7″ will be officially released in August 2010.
I’ve got other releases in the pipeline, but I’m not ready to reveal and didn’t feel like deviating from the subject at hand. Stay tuned!