Bone Music

“Don’t move,” I think; “don’t breathe”.  Silence.  I’m lying face-down in garbage; food scraps, medical waste, the stench of rotting bile; a needle’s pricked my arm.  I could feel smooth cellophane squares, my prize!, at my fingertips, but “don’t move.”

I heard Fedya shout out, as soon as I jumped into the dumpster; I heard him running away, and the guards running after, shouting, “ Vnimaniye!  Stoy!

I waited breathless for hours, or seconds, I don’t know.  Finally I heard a slight tapping on the dumpster wall, our signal, “tat, tat…tat; tipper tap”.  I raised to a kneel, reached in and grabbed a good armful of reward – discarded x-ray films.  I raised the lid and climbed out.  Quiet.  Still not breathing.

Alexei mouth-whispers, “Let’s go.  Fedya’s nabbed by the guards.”

In the Soviet Union, when Western music was illegal, record bootlegging was a creative and perilous endeavor.  During the 1950’s, people learned to etch recordings into discarded x-ray material.  Hospital dumpster diving was an actual thing, and I tried to imagine what that was like.  The bootleg records were called roentgenizdat – X-ray publishing – or “bone music”.

This year, I celebrated record store day in Boise, Idaho, at the beginning of a road trip.  Coincidentally, I had been reading about Rostropovich and his relationship with Shostakovich, and when I saw this picture disc, I had to buy it, but I had no idea what I was getting.  Returning home from my road trip, I listened to it, and then I needed to know why there was an x-ray image on the picture disc. (It’s a beautiful piece; listen to it here Cello Concerto No.2.  I’m particularly drawn in at the 20:18 mark, with Rostropovich sawing away on a cello solo, and the conductor takes a rest to wipe his own brow.)

The recording is Mstislav Rostropovich and his world premiere performance of the Cello Concerto No. 2, composed by friend and mentor Dmitri Shostakovich, recorded live in the Great Hall of the Moscow Conservatoire. This is its first release on vinyl.  Ever.  What a wonderfully cherishable thing!

Upon reading about this record and Various-Artists-Red-Wave-4-Underg-477333about roentgenizdat generally, I was reminded of Red Wave, a double-vinyl record that I have from my college days.  It’s another example of bravery in the face of oppression, this time by American Joanna Stingray in the 1980s, who smuggled out cassette tapes of bands playing in Leningrad and arranged for the production and release of the album through indie label Big Time Records.  It’s all well documented on Wikipedia.  Here’s a taste of Aquarium.

Lastly, also on Record Store Day, I bought a 10-inch vinyl record from Vanishing Twin, called “Dream by Numbers”.  Again, I didn’t know anything about this, but the packaging was cool and I loved the visual description, ‘dream by numbers’.  I dream in color, don’t you?  I couldn’t go wrong for $9!  It’s pretty cool stuff.  Take a listen here with  Million Dollar Mermaid .  (I’d never heard of the vanishing twin syndrome; freaky and fascinating, I invite the reader to look it up and read about it.)

After a long day of driving, and a foray into record shopping, the iced coffee was delicious.  My Record Store Day was fabulous.  I’m interested in hearing from others how they spent the day, and what they bought.

Goodbye, Chris

I was never a Soundgarden fan.  I never saw them play.  From the late 1980s through the mid-1990s, I saw a bunch of Seattle bands play, but never them.  I remember I was in Madison, WI, when their record, Louder than Love was released, there was this huge display in the record store.  I knew who they were, but didn’t know them well.  I bought the CD, and it’s never made the rotation in my household.

As a matter of fact, grunge was a genre that rarely transferred to recorded media.  Those bands were incredible live.  How many people have heard of Cat Butt?  One of the single most enjoyable shows I’ve ever seen – at The Vogue – I still remember; loud psychedelic guitars, and a badass singer; drums prevented any voids in the wall of sound.  Their record sucks.  One exception was Nirvana; I’ve never felt so much energy in a room as when Nirvana played.  Physically daunting; unbridled joy, noise, and sweat.  And their records are good, too.

Celebrity death is always weird, with the clueless media providing empty words and hallow emotions.  What really bothered me in the wake of Chris Cornell’s death last week was the journalists that kept saying, “Now only Eddie Vedder is left”.  What the fuck does that mean?  Lots of people from the Grunge Era are still around.  Several are still working in music.  Mark Arm, godfather of grunge is still in Seattle; funny as ever, still plays, if not as prolific.  There were a lot of good and great bands in Seattle at the time, not all grunge, and they all deserve their day.  Because during and within an era, the importance is the community, not the few that break out to million$.  I mean, great for the few!  But, it took a community to grow them, as a flower sits atop stems and leaves and roots you’ll never see.

I wanted to share some of those guys, just because the clueless journalists pissed me off.   And because some of the unknown music is really really good.

Mudhoney – Touch Me I’m Sick

Weather Theatre – Helium Head

Sky Cries Mary – When the Fear

Tiny Hat Orchestra – Sparky’s Dream

Because what Seattle’s scene was really about was a bunch of people playing and a bunch of people listening, and everyone having a fucking great time.  Some folks reached stardom, fame and fortune: Kurdt Kobain, Chris Cornell, good for you guys!  Big deal.  The greatness was the everyday blokes that just played – Kurt Block, John Massoni, Roderick Romero, Scott McCaughey.

The Young Fresh Fellows – Rock ‘N’ Roll Pest Control

The Fastbacks – Wrong, Wrong, Wrong

There was this band, Freak Scene.  My friend, Kerri Ann figured out the lyrics (I’m aurally challenged).

Mother’s a test tube
Father’s a creep
Freak, freak, freak of nature
I am a freak, freak of nature

I’ve never forgotten that.

So, that’s your history lesson for the day.  Seattle’s grunge scene was much much more than the outer world will ever understand.

RIP, Chris.

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Photo credit, of course, is the great Charles Peterson.

Trilogy Haiku for Bruckner

The Seattle Symphony played Anton Bruckner’s Fifth Symphony.  I had previously been instructed to write haiku.  The two came together.  (Previously published with the Live Music Project, I’ll share it here.)


Trilogy Haiku for Bruckner
Thank You, Seattle Symphony!

Drums, little thunder
Roll, Roar atop sixty strings
Oboe gets a turn

Walking bass, slow plod
Careful, Jaws is afoot?  No!
A Swordfish Trombone

Tuba, Tuba Man
Big sounds, rich thuds aplenty
Heavy!  Put that down


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Bein’ Good Isn’t Always Easy

The assignment:  a playlist of the sultry, the lusty, the sexy.  Bein’ Good Isn’t Always Easy

Via social media, I asked friends to give me 3 songs they found to be “sexy, slutty, or, I guess, romantic. Any genre with words.”  I received some good responses, from which I selected some; responses prompted more ideas, and with a playlist structure put together, I filled in some cracks.  During the process, and after its conclusion, I wrote some words.

Pretty cool collaboration.  Let’s do more of this.

One striking theme is a sense of wanting, yearning.  From a person being 500 miles away to the begging “Call Me.”  Braggarts and bravado, certainly, and flat out nasty.  I’m digging the subtle, forbidden love, of “Son of a Preacher Man”.

  1. Marvin Gaye – Let’s get it on

Nick Hornby made this song OK for guys everywhere.  “There’s nothing wrong with me; Loving you, Baby, noooo

  1. The Temptations – My Girl

I love this era.  The pretty voices, the sweet dance moves, the icky uniforms.  Beautiful singin’.  Romance.

  1. Prince – Cream

Yikes – this is just nasty.  (Hooray!)  Diane offered this one up, and rightfully so.

  1. Roxy Music – Avalon

Another Diane selection.  Bryan Ferry, a voice could make boys cry.  “Much communication in a motion; Without conversation or a notion”  Yum.

  1. Pink Martini with singer Storm Large – Până când nu te iubeam

Garwood played the game, with several good choices.  Without help, I have no idea what Storm Large is singing about, but it sure sounds sultry, eh?  By the magic of Internet translation services, the Romanian title becomes “Before I Fell in Love with You”.  (Romanian!?)  Here’s the first verse:

Before I fell in love with you
My love, my love
I used to sleep like a baby
My love, my love.

From Portland, OR, Pink Martini is a band I’ve been meaning to learn for far too long.  I hope my readers dig into this one; they’re an original.

  1. The Cure – Pictures of You

It just wouldn’t be right if Robert Smith ever found happiness.

  1. The Makers

There was a time that The Makers were Seattle’s greatest live band; they didn’t even live here.  It was the post-Grunge era, before we completely collapsed in on singer-songwriter emo-esque boys.  Girls used to come to the shows, screaming, “Michael!”; “Oh, Michael, you’re beautiful.”  Lead vocalist, Michael Maker, was a Prince look-a-like, with giant, bug-eyed shades.  Hilarious.  Cool band.

  1. Guns n Roses – Rocket Queen

Ty played the game.  I feel bad for his young bride.

I’ve never been a Metal guy, save a few examples from high school, so I struggled to place this anywhere in the lineup.  Tension is one of the Haiku rules that I try to observe, which in my practice tends to be a sudden transition in mood or visual, or a comedic line.  I’ve said before that I question my segue skills– let the tension live.

  1. The Rolling Stones – Beast of Burden

You can’t really have a clutch of slutty songs and not have Mick Jagger singing – statistically speaking, I’d think it’s cosmically impossible.  Don’t you think he’s trying to be nice in this song?

  1. David Bowie – Heroes

Another Garwood selection, this is one of my favorite Bowie songs.  I’ve always imagined this as a wedding anthem, if I could ever indulge, “…nothing, will keep us together

  1. Bow Wow Wow – Louis Quartorze

I love these kids.

Louis, Louis’s locking my door, Louis’s serious, I’m delirious
No plays, he just doesn’t care, Louis Quatorze starts to undress me

  1. Andy Williams – Moon River

This was a group effort.  Thomas recommended other AW songs, but Diane recommended this one.  I struggled to fit this into the flow, but I think I’ve found a sense of Southern; I’ve really enjoyed the cohesion of the backend of this playlist.

  1. Peter, Paul and Mary – 500 Miles

Thomas also recommend this song.  I chose a different artist.  (I’m the editor.  I’m allowed to move in mysterious ways.)  This song reminds me of “Why I Live in Memphis”, which is a song I really like, but I couldn’t find a YT version that I wanted to use.

  1. Paul and The Broken Bones – Call Me

Some new-fangled soul from Alabama, and a return of that yearning theme – wanting, not having.  Local DJ once told Paul Janeway, “Dude, you could sing the phone book and it’d sound amazing.”  Yap.

  1. Dusty Springfield – Son Of A Preacher Man

Sweet taboo.

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Leonard Cohen – You Want it Darker

A poet consumed only honey and cigarettes, and after some years, he found a singing voice, raspy and Vegas-velvety smooth, a new medium to continue his teaching about love and religion, death and life.  Even more hoarse and silky at age 82, Leonard Cohen gave us You Want it Darker last year.  The title track opens:

If you are the dealer, I’m out of the game
If you are the healer, it means I’m broken and lame
If thine is the glory then mine must be the shame
You want it darker

We kill the flame

Hineni, hineni
I’m ready, my lord

[I looked it up so my dear readers wouldn’t have to – the word ‘Hineni’ means ‘Here I am’ in a spiritual sense, what Abraham says to God to indicate his readiness in Genesis 22:1. (thanks, Wikipedia!)  We’re a full-service organization at]

I’ve been wanting to write this piece about the forever-last albums that each David Bowie and Leonard Cohen gave to us before their deaths last year.  I wanted the timing to be apart from the events and the anniversaries; too much competition, too many empty accolades.  When I sat down last December to write, I involuntarily started cataloguing the deaths in my life, little vignettes about the sweet girl in high school, my dad, an aunt, my grandmother, my college comrade, John Lennon, a colleague’s suicide, cousin Herbie.  I once attended a funeral in New York, on vacation, for a man I never met.  Cathartic, maybe, but useless for this assignment.

The complexities of death are interesting, painful, full of life.  I’ve always leaned more towards Dylan Thomas’ way of thinking:

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

If you say “I’m ready” I’ll hope that you had a wonderful long life:  Do not Go Gentle into that Good Night.  If you’re unhappy, seek the wonders, not the pills.

Listening to Darker, I very nearly weep.  It’s beautiful, sorrowful, soulful, sexy.  Only Cohen could make pending death sound sexy, it isn’t, but that voice, my goodness.  I’m so happy to have this one last gift.

And I think that’s it.  He didn’t die in haste, anger, or fear; he was old and sick and had time to think this through.  He was at peace, offering one last gift to whoever was out there.  I think that’s the game: be at peace.

Writing up the Bowie album will have to wait.


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The Opposite Algorithm

What Brian Eno really wants is an “opposite algorithm” I think he called it, which says, I paraphrase, “if you liked that, this thing is completely different and perhaps you’d enjoy giving that a try.”

On New Year’s Day,  6 Music concocted a brilliant interview with Eno in the BBC studios.  Maybe a couple of hours long, they would play a track, they’d talk; Eno has an incredible knowledge of contemporary music and current music technology.  I wish I could find the interview somewhere to re-listen to it, but it’s gone, I guess, into the ether.

One thing he talked about, really sticking with me now, is how tiring the, “other people that liked this also liked this other…” buttons game that Internet sites play.  There’s nothing benevolent going on; it’s all about getting you to buy more, click-click-click stay on a website longer, or click there so somebody gets an advertising dollar.  (Plus, as a mathematician, I can tell you that these are stupid-simple algorithms, so that’s angering.)

Today’s article is dedicated to trying something else.  I’ve curated a small handful of things that I’ve come across; each has nothing to do with another.  I hope at least one of these is new-to-you and outside your normal.  It’s good for your diet.

  1. John Kessler, on our local Blues show ( plays this from time to time, and one night last summer, I was suddenly still, stunned by beauty.  There’s no better way to be stopped.  It’s the Dixie Cups – ­­­ “Iko Iko”
  2.  Rocking the Tigger jammies  You may actually have ­­seen this.  It hit me on FB, I don’t remember how, when B.B. King was in the hospital.  He did not get better.
  3. As long as we’re on the subject of kids freaking me out, one of my scarier friends posted this recently.  Angelina Jordan has a number of offerings on YT, here’s  “I Put A Spell On You”
  4. From the 2-CD tribute, A Chance Operation-The John Cage Tribute, John Cale and Yoko Ono team up for this,  “Georgia Stone”.  Remember not to have nightmares, that’s my recommendation.
  5. And finally, The Jackson 5.  One of my things when I go to the public library, after I’m done shopping for everything I wanted, I pick something up at pseudo-random.  “Jackson 5?  This is going to suck, but I can’t remember what they sound like. I’ll take this home.”  I’m agog — seriously cool stuff.  I’ve selected for you,  “Mamma I Gotta Brand New Thing”.

Want to find a rut? Continue on down a path of everything similar. Not just music, that’s sound advice for life.

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Happy Birthday John Cale

John Davies Cale turns 75 today.

Besides co-founding the Velvet Underground, he’s had an extensive solo career, moving around in classical, the avant-garde, and rock ‘n roll.  The drone that he gave VU with his electric viola is particularly contagious.

I was recently given the task of providing some sort of primer, an introduction, to his vast catalogue.  It’ll be a daunting task, but I’m up to it.  It’s going to take me some time, though.   I counted 23 albums that I own, and from his discography, I counted 36 studio albums, plus live albums, film scores, and collaborations.  He has produced at least that many records.  From his collected works, I’ll select 5-10 songs that help to describe his canon.  Until then, there’s this, John Cale – Paris 1919 (Live with orchestra).