susan anway: I’m presently listening to the wayward bus/distant plastic trees cd for the 1000th time – give or take a hundred. it’s the first magnetic fields collection that I fell in love with, and the record I’ve shared the most with close friends and passersby. (back in the day, I think I bought a handful and gave them away in an effort to impress its brilliance upon everyone I could.) susan anway’s voice was a huge reason why. like many fans, my introduction to the band probably came via the “100,000 fireflies” single. not long before – or after – I saw the ramshackle orchestra that was the magnetic fields live band at the time, with stephin singing. I remember really enjoying them, well enough to buy the cd when it became available and was completely blown away by the songs, the instrumentation, but most of all – feeling deeply moved by susan’s voice. she had the perfect mix of sweetness and world-weariness – so well-suited to the diversity of songs. it would be impossible for me to pick a favorite vocal performance from this record – all of it: the mournful appalachian ballads (“tar heel boy”), the synthetic disco pop (“tokyo a’ go-go”)…resonates equally. there’s magic in the songwriting and recording for sure – but for someone i’ve never met, the impression she left on me is deep and long-lasting.
michael nesmith was the singer of my favorite monkees songs (“don’t call on me” & “what am i doing hangin’ round”) – but I never heard those songs when I was young. the song of his I knew and loved best for years and years was his 1970 single “joanne.” I think mainly because I’ve always loved melancholic & melodramatic songs and singers – that song affected young me as much as anything by roy orbison. I don’t remember exactly how i got there – but at some point I discovered his 1972 album, archly titled and the hits just keep on coming. life is full of little sonic discoveries that leave you wondering how you had not heard a thing before now? from the haunting opening chords of “tomorrow & me” to the stomping closer “roll with the flow” – it’s a packed record in every way except for the instrumentation, featuring just michael and pedal steel player red rhodes. a record full of deep observations and seemingly simple songs that in a fairer world, would be given equal reverence to gene clark, or gram parsons’ best work.
The very existence of Mike Nesmith inspired me my entire life, whether I was aware of it or not, from the time I first heard “Different Drum” until I took an early retirement from PBS.
Mike Nesmith was a fearless visionary. He was not afraid to follow his whims, and he was not afraid to defend himself. If all he had done was compose “Different Drum,” he’d still be lauded, but for decades after writing the song that would put Linda Ronstadt on all our radar, he continued to experiment and invent delightful escapes into storytelling, whether through book, song, or visuals.
Little did I know in 1966, when I was 8 years old, I was completely swept up in boy-band-mania because of the excellent job NBC-TV’s PR team did when they launched The Monkees television show. TV Guide first introduced me to The Monkees and in short order, a magazine called Tiger Beat appeared out of nowhere and featured them all the time. I also didn’t realize that the publishers of Tiger Beat had a stranglehold on the teen “consumer” market and worked in lockstep with the television networks and record companies for mutual benefit. It makes sense now, and it also doesn’t matter because it was through the pop culture mill that I discovered the Monkees, the Brill Building songwriters, and Mike Nesmith, who passed away on December 10, 2021, just 20 days shy of his 79th birthday.
The TV Guide introduction to The Monkees set them up as a parallel to The Beatles, whose own image was turned into a cartoon series debuting on television one year earlier. The story had brief bios on each band member/actor, and to this kid, they all seemed bonafide. Clearly, the TV Guide writer and editor were copying the NBC press releases as they identified Nesmith as “Wool Hat,” which was not only a stupid nickname, but never caught on. Again, I realize this 50+ years later.
During my childhood and adolescence, all things Mike Nesmith slowly seeped into my consciousness and formed my artistic preferences. It was no mystery why I liked his Monkees songs the best. He wrote “Different Drum,” a hit song for the Stone Poneys that I cranked whenever it came on the radio. When I bought Monkees’ singles, I always preferred the Nesmith-penned B-sides, particularly “The Girl I Knew Somewhere” over the hit A-side, Neil Diamond’s “A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You.” And from this, I also learned about songwriters and the Brill Building, for in addition to Neil Diamond, Carole King and Gerry Goffin were supplying songs for The Monkees.
In the situation comedy itself, while we’ll never know if the screenwriters crafted the TV Monkees’ personalities to match the real-life Monkees’ personalities, Mike always came across as the normal one and the one true musician. Mike Nesmith set the bar for 8-year-old me and how I would evaluate musicians in the future.
During the year I started working at PBS, the organization made a deal with Nesmith’s prescient video production and distribution company, Pacific Arts, to distribute PBS produced programs (most notably Ken Burns’ The Civil War, as well as a slew of other less noteworthy bulk). At a point in the relationship, things soured, and my employer was so clearly in the wrong. When you work in law firms or corporate legal departments, you work to develop a clear separation of how you feel versus the job you must do. But this one was impossible to rationalize. My relationship with PBS lasted as long as Nesmith’s. While his relationship was filled with lawsuits and trials (in which he prevailed, and gloriously), mine was an easy exit. As a government-funded entity that must have its operating budget reauthorized by Congress every three years, many of the stations made attractive early retirement packages for employees. I took one the year that the Pacific Arts relationship crashed. Although I was a member of the legal department, I was not involved in the Pacific Arts deal. But due to my membership on this team, I was peripherally part of the ruination of Mike Nesmith – my childhood idol – and his pioneering media company.
However, by also seeing peripherally into what Mike Nesmith had forged in the media landscape brought me back to punk rock and DIY. Mike didn’t invent punk rock, but he most certainly took DIY to new heights at a parallel time. I’m sorry I never saw a Monkees reunion show, but I cherish my old 7-inch singles and will continue to travel to the beat of a different drum. I thank Mike Nesmith for putting a name on it.
I still remember where I was when I first heard “100,000 Fireflies” in 1991. I remember my first Magnetic Fields show at CBGB in 1992, when I was confused by the fact that Susan Anway wasn’t singing. I grew to love all the other TMF singers but there is something calming and otherworldly about those first two albums, perhaps made more mysterious by the fact that we didn’t see her perform.
I (or we) tried to interview Susan Anway a number of times for chickfactor and the documentary Strange Powers, but it never quite came together. I was more in touch with her in the 1990s, when I was the Music Editor at Time Out New York and assigned her to write reviews of Celtic albums. She never performed live with the Magnetic Fields. Susan was honored to be associated with the Magnetic Fields but was also very busy with her “powerful atmo electropop” project Diskarnate, which featured German composer-producer Armin Küster and her partner, Jack Andrews. After decades living in Arizona, she was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2015. She died on September 5, 2021. This brief interview is from 2011.
chickfactor: How did you first get involved with the Magnetic Fields? Susan Anway: Claudia called me and said she and Stephin had heard my extreme psychedelipunk band V; and did I want to audition? She sent me a tape of “Crowd of Drifters”—Stephin said it was a song about vampires. First listen I thought, O NO-O, this sounds like a Kris Kristofferson song, a Kris Kristofferson song…ABOUT VAMPIRES! I actually laughed. Joke’s on me. How am I supposed to interpret this? But at the same time, it had a strange and wonderful quality I had never heard before and I fell in love with it musically.
The audition was in Stephin’s Boston apartment. The room was pretty bare except for a lonely mic stand, keyboards, MAC, rug and HP Lovecraft book on the floor. I thought, He is going to hate what I did to his song, I sound just like a Judy Collins clone. But after the first few lines, he stopped me, and we started working on realizing the song together. Just a typical day in a studio, like we had done it for years. Kismet.
Describe a typical day recording with Stephin back then. When we recorded Distant Plastic Trees, Stephin seemed to be living on chocolate milk, cigarettes and bagels. I was commuting from Arizona, so we were fairly disciplined. We put in a typical eight-hour day, broken by a walk to Kenmore Square for “lunch bagels” and more chocolate milk. Sometimes we went out for supper afterward, because there are only so many bagels you can eat in a week.
In session I was always testing a variety of voices—Shirley Bassey, Debbie Harry, Aretha, Mary Travers, Mary Black, too many to list, even Sinatra. Vocalists often sing in character. There has to be some kind of back story. Stephin would say, “Don’t sing like you know how.” That was new. And it worked. But I still had to visualize. I think you can hear it most in “100,000 Fireflies,” “Candy” and “Tokyo A-Go-Go.”
Little-known secret: in one session Stephin handed me a hand-written lyric sheet for Tangerine Dream’s “(Further Reflections) In the Room of Percussion” and asked if I could sing it like Marlene Dietrich! I did. It was off da chain! Wish we had done it. “My god! the spiders are everywhere!” LOL Verzeihen Sie mir, liebe Marlene.
What is Stephin really like? When Ridley Scott was directing Gladiator, someone asked him if it was true that Russell Crowe was difficult to work with. He laughed and said: “The good ones always are.” Stephin is not difficult; he is simply a maestro. When you work with a maestro, you must view yourself as an instrument. The mutual goal is the execution of a shared musical intent, beautifully and descriptively, shaped by the choice and nuance of instrumentation. Ego falls away. It’s all about the music.
What were those early shows like? And the Boston/Cambridge music scene in general? Ican’t speak about the early shows or the Boston scene in the ’90s because at that time I had moved to Arizona, and was starting my love affair with EDM/electro/industrial/Europop.
Have you seen Strange Powers? I finally got a chance to view the film a couple of nights ago! I enjoyed it greatly. You might be interested to know that when the clip of “100,000 Fireflies” came on, the whole audience started singing it—including me! The film has some wonderful rehearsal/ arranging scenes and, of course Stephin’s (and Claudia’s) wry comments.
Thank you for all your many kindnesses re: TMF and my contribution to the early band sound. I am happy my disembodied voice is in the film. As a vocalist, I feel in some ways that’s perfect.
These responses were for our 20th anniversary issue (CF17, 2012): What was the best record / live show / artist in 1992? Record (other than The Wayward Bus) Magnum Force Performance: Sielwolf
What is the best record / live show / artist of 2012? Record: looking forward to Delerium’s Music Box Opera. Performances: The Roots & Combichrist, for sheer sustained intensity and crowd motivation
When I got the text, like so many of my friends, I didn’t actually believe it.
I was instantly back in my apartment above Drees, hearing him call up, “Pat! Pat!” to the open window, holding a 12-pack of whatever was on sale at Safeway. “I’ll come down and open the door, just a minute.”
“Oh, you brought us beer,” I say to him, smiling, as I push open the heavy glass door open and let him in.
He looks at me, sheepishly and fully Vern-ly, with that smile he had where his jaw would clench a little and his cheek lift, “oh, um, this is just for me.”
Vern meant so much to so many people, and as I think now about never seeing him again, I realize completely how much me meant to me.
I am crying, playing the Long Hind Legs self-titled, thinking about how easy he was to just sit next to for hours. How good of a dude he was. How we could keep pace drinking cheap beers and working on album covers, talking about the everything and the nothing of our lives.
I think about seeing him play music a million times.
I think about visiting him out on the farm, pulling up in the dart after following his directions and wondering “where the hell am I?”
I think about the life he lived and all the people who’s lives he touched. I feel for the ones who loved him more and closer than I was ever able to.
Vern wasn’t without faults, he’d be the first to admit it, but that was the Olympia in him — that is that bit of Olympia in all of us who were there.
We were an incredible cast of misfits and outcasts, living under the constant grey clouds of the ’90s. Living with a constant drizzle and dampness of the same three square blocks that circled from the Reef, to the Capitol Theater, to our walk-up apartments or punk-named houses.
The magic of Olympia was never the place — it was the people we knew then. It didn’t matter if you were friends or enemies or eventually both; all of us where an alchemy for each other, something that permanently touched and changed each and every one of us; that turned us from teenagers to adults, with a lot of stops and starts in-between.
I can feel it in me, the Olympia, even twelve years after I moved away.
We lost a part of Olympia today. Vern took it with him.
Vern Rumsey was best known for being the bassist in the Tumwater, Washington post-hardcore (we still called it grunge back then) band Unwound. He passed away August 2020. Proud to call him a friend, I helped do several album covers of bands he was in. He will be missed.
What I normally remember about touring: great crowds (Detroit dance party! Edgar & Rogilio at Rice University! Fireside Bowl every time!) and the disaster nights with hosts who had 14 cats and creepy collectibles. But one night on tour burns brightest to me for being so exhilarating and fun. Lois and Lync were touring together, and the first leg was pretty grim: $11 at the door in Missoula and maybe those 14 cats in North Dakota. And, even when we got to Minneapolis, the club (NOT the Fireside Bowl!) said Lync couldn’t play because Sam Jayne wasn’t 21 yet.
So Sam and James and Dave sat outside, looking in the picture window to watch Lois & The Hang Ups and then after the show we were all invited to Julie Butterfield’s house for a party. (She had lots of epic parties in Minneapolis and Olympia. I hope she writes her memoir some day.)
Anyhow, it was a fun party and it went on late and nobody left. At some point, several revelers noticed that they had run out of cigarettes and I volunteered to march down to the all-night convenience store, collecting three dollars from each of the smokers-in-need. The real reason I wanted to check out this little market was something I had noticed on the drive to Julie’s—there was a lit sign that advertised Fresh Cotton Candy. I was about to start out when Sam Jayne offered to walk there with me. Sam Jayne was not just a gallant buddy, I’m pretty sure he wanted in on the cotton candy too.
And the convenience market was open and they fired up the cylindrical cotton candy machine and we bought four packs of cigs and three cotton candies that looked like sparkling pink turbans atop long paper cones. We paid up and Sam asked for the change in quarters. I thought he might need them for parking meter change.
And did I mention that this convenience market was located next to a self-service car wash? The kind that has the long jet hoses in holsters in each of four concrete stalls? That was where those quarters were headed. Sam flashed his notorious, snaggle-toothed grin and ran for the nearest jet wand. I knew that I was in for a soaking, so I took up a position in the next stall and I fished a quarter out of my pocket. We ran the hoses out to their ends and sprayed water at each other and cackled and tried to avoid getting hit with water and mostly failed. Then we walked back to Julie’s, utterly drenched, with soggy packages of cigarettes and three wet paper cones. The cotton candy had disintegrated in the first blast of spray.
The party had mostly evaporated by the time we walked back and the smokers had given up on us and gone home, sparing us the contrition of delivering damaged goods. The last guest was about to leave, lacing up his roller skates for the roll home.
It’s a golden memory. I think about it regularly and when I heard Sam Jayne was gone, I knew he would always be with me. Going for cotton candy.
One year ago on January 4, 2020, chickfactor put together a show at bunk bar in Portland, Oregon, called Bike Chain Rain where friends and fans could remember David Cloud Berman on what would have been his 53rd birthday. today (January 4, 2021) he would have been 54, and he probably would be pretty horrified at the state of things. here are some photographs and videos of our event at bunk last year. We also gave all the proceeds (save for a few expenses) in support of Moms Demand Action and Write Around Portland. On the TV during the show the Titans stunned the Patriots.
• Jon Raymond read “A Letter From Isaac Asimov to his Wife Janet, Written on his Deathbed?”
• Lance Bangs read “Hieroglyphics, Notebook # 5”
• Sophia Shalmiyev and Kevin Sampsell read “Self-Portrait at 28”
• Chelsey Johnson read “Cassette County”
• Portland guitarist Marisa Anderson played her own instrumental song
• Portland band A Certain Smile played “Wild Kindness”
• Franklin Bruno played “The Frontier Index”
• Oed Ronne (the Ocean Blue) performed “I Loved Being My Mother’s Son” with Nancy Novotny and HK Kahng
• William Tyler performed “Tennessee”
• Clay Cole performed “We Might Be Looking for the Same Thing” and “Only One for Me” with Rebecca Gates WATCH HERE
• Rebecca Gates performed “Snow Is Falling on Manhattan” (WATCH) with William Tyler; and “Albemarle Station” (WATCH)
• Stephen Malkmus & Bob Nastanovich performed… “Secret Knowledge of Back Roads” “Buckingham Rabbit” “Advice to the Graduate” “Random Rules” “Welcome To The House of the Bats” “Trains Across the Sea” WATCH THE FULL SET HERE
Philippe Auclair (Louis Philippe) reflects on the year
This truly has been the strangest of years for me, a year which started in uncertainty and ended with my adopted country’s final act of severance of its links with the European Union, something which has been a source of deep, in fact life-changing sorrow for me and so many of the people I call my friends here in London and elsewhere in England. I daren’t say more on the subject.
But then, sorrow and grief have been all-present throughout these twelve awful months. I said goodbye to far too many people who were dear to me. My beautiful friend Ken Brake finally succumbed to the cancer which had plagued him for several years, long before his time. I still find it very difficult to use the past time to talk about the musical accomplice of nearly three decades, the man with whom I shared more jokes and cups of Darjeeling tea than I did with anyone else during this time.
We made so much music together in his immaculate studio in Primrose Hill—just the two of us, or with Alasdair, Lupe and The Clientele, or Louise Le May, or Mari Persen, or Jonathan Coe, or, especially, our beloved friend Stuart Moxham. A small consolation is that Ken lived long enough to see the release of the album the three of us recorded over a period of years, The Devil Laughs, which, at times, I’d feared would never see the light of day—or not soon enough. Thank goodness—and thanks to John Henderson of tinyGLOBAL—The Devil Laughs was released in June, immediately earning the kind of critical acclaim that Ken so richly deserved to be associated with. Small mercies. Very small mercies.
So The Devil Laughs has to be on top of this list. Sadness tinged with hope and joy—that was 2020 to me, as to so many others. The joy came from music, first and foremost. Without it…
But there was joy too.
In music, to start with. It was a time of discovery and re-discovery.
The discovery of Igor Levit, for example, thanks to his astonishing interpretation—all eleven hours of it—of Erik Satie’s Vexations, which was streamed live on YouTube and was one of the most transcendent musical performances I’ve ever witnessed. A single page of music, which must be played 840 times in succession, was transformed into a genuine voyage of exploration, tender, angry, hypnotic, magical.
Christophe Chassol, a composer and instrumentist who inhabits a universe in which classical music, minimalism, retro-futurism and sunshine pop coexist in (beautiful) harmony, gave us his Message of Xmas (on Bertrand Burgalat’s label Tricatel), a musical UFO of the kind I wish visited our sorry planet more often.
I know absolutely nothing about another Frenchman, another Christophe too, called MOTTRON, whom I came across thanks to the recommendation of Chris Evans, the presenter of “The Curve Ball,” a show which plays the kind of music you won’t hear anywhere else, but which, in a better world, should be our lives’ sonic landscape. It is totally original. It also completely disappeared under the radar, and I get the feeling Mottron himself doesn’t mind it that much. Give it a chance. It’s on Bandcamp. “Indecent,” the third track on his debut album, Giants, is breathtaking.
I had no idea that Petter Herbertsson of Testbild! had another parallel project, Sternpost, or that he’d released Statues Asleep on the Kalligramofon label. This is Petter at his most cinematic and melodic best, with vocal textures which are unmistakably his and his alone. He has a way with harmony which is also entirely personal—now how many musicians can you say that of?
The song I listened to more often than any other in 2020 was Lô Borges’s composition “O Trem Azul,” as sung by Milton Nascimento on their Clube de Esquina double album, a record that will soon be fifty years old, and is yet unsurpassed. It is the song that the Pale Fountains, Everything But the Girl, Aztec Camera, Prefab Sprout, every Sarah band (and myself) have been trying to “find” throughout, the absolute matrix of perfect pop. Paddy did. It’s only taken me something like twenty years to realise this.
I’ve still got four spots to fill. I’ll put the lid back on the record player, then, and go to the bookshelves, where four Japanese authors are waiting for me, all of whom I discovered in this shit year. All of them are women. One of the many wonderful things about late 20th-century and 21st-century Japanese literature (and manga) is that so much of it is— recognisibly—the work of women. I wish so much more in this fucked-up world were the work of women. There’s Natsuo Kiriko, whose brutal Out shook me to the core (Grotesque and The Goddess Chronicle popped in the post this morning). Sayaka Murata’s Earthlings is another genuine shocker. There’s Yoko Tawada’s dreamlike, strangely tender, dystopic novel The Lost Children of Tokyo. And, more than anything else, there is Yoko Ogawa, whose The Professor and the Housekeeper I would place alongside Tanizaki’s Makioka Sisters and Naguib Mahfouz’s Cairo Trilogy at the top of my literary pantheon. Its last chapter (and so much beforehand) moved me to tears.
This is the pain that does us good, as Léo Ferré put it. How we needed it in 2020.
I cannot remember meeting LD. Suddenly I just knew him, and he knew about all of my geeky preoccupations: the Mitford sisters, the Bright Young Things who lent their glamour to post-war Britain; Henry and Alice James; where to get proper grits in Manhattan. If we see our best selves reflected in our friends, then LD had a knack for not only forcing me to see myself more clearly, but also to love myself a little more.
He was that kind of friend—the one who could make you feel like the most fascinating person at the party. Loyal. Passionate. The kind of friend who pretends to be your new boyfriend in the middle of the front room at the Knitting Factory. LD loved revenge.
When I got the news I was reading through my students’ response papers on Sontag’s essay “Notes on Camp.” My students found Sontag’s ideas so fresh and knowing they wanted more of her. As a teacher, it was a proud moment.
I remembered, after I got the news, going back to class and feeling like I could never read Nancy Mitford or—god forbid—Susan Sontag again. We discussed both of them at length. Other things too: Oscar Wilde, Low, Memphis barbecue, his beloved Lucia books.
LD was singular. There will never be another one—how could there be? I hope he knows about my present-day life, so different from when I knew him in NYC. I hope he knows how much I valued him as a friend and a fellow lover of research holes and internet dives.
I won’t sing the catty part of just any song for just any band: only for the Moth Wranglers. Only for Chris and LD. LD loved and understood beauty. The world is a little less beautiful without him in it.
LD Beghtol and I became friends during the recording of The Magnetic Fields’ 69 Love Songs, and I shared the stage with him once, when TMF played Lincoln Center. I had the good fortune to see him live so many times, always brilliant. A standout was one of The Three Terrors extravaganzas in New York, with Dudley Kludt, Stephin Merritt and Kenny Mellman. It was outrageous fun, and I made many lasting friends on that memorable evening. He interviewed me for his book 69 Love Songs: A Field Guide (33 1/3), and I was so honored when he asked me to contribute some theremin to a track on Moth Wranglers’ “Never Better” mini-album.
Rest in Peace, dear LD—you were a force to be reckoned with—a genius, a diva, a gentleman, and a unique talent I’m grateful to have known as a friend. I’m so fortunate that you graced my life with your larger-than-life presence.
I first met LD when he wandered into my office at Cat’s Cradle in 1999 when the Magnetic Fields were playing Merge Records’ 10th anniversary music festival. Back then, I was the art director at that famous North Carolina music venue. He looked at what I was working on and gave me a nice compliment on the Billy Bragg flyer I was designing, handed me his card, and told me to look him up if I was ever in NYC and looking for a design job. 12 years later I found myself in NYC, and very randomly met LD for the second time, through our mutual friend Scott Sosebee. We all started playing music together soon after, in a new outfit called LD & Co. Over the past 7 years, we’ve played shows at some pretty outrageous events and even a highly regarded satanic metal club in Greenpoint. We’ve been in the recording studio countless times, and were on the cusp of finally releasing our first vinyl single (on a clear flexidisc no less) from what will hopefully surface some day as a posthumous LP.
Over the years, LD and I have laughed a lot, butted heads on musical differences in the studio, and rambled over beers and the occasional Lime Rickey. He was hilariously full of himself but also always looking out for his friends, trying to move them forward or help them find new happiness in their lives.
True to his word, LD got me in the door at two different agencies in the past 5 years. He was incredibly kind to me. I cannot believe he is just gone.