Daniel Handler: I am spending the last chunk of 2023 and the first of 2024 spelunking my way through some haphazard research into sculpture and other visual arts. Here are thirteen images I came across in my research.
Design for a castle, 1539:
Back view of the Great Buddha of Kamakura (built in 1252):
Brancusi, Three Penguins:
Callot’s etching of Two Pantaloons:
Claes Oldenburg’s Giant BLT:
Deakin’s portrait of Barbara Hepworth:
Designers of Lincoln Center with its scale model:
Frank Lloyd Wright’s redesign of Suite 223 at the Plaza Hotel for his own use:
Gilbert and George as the Singing Sculpture:
Illustration of Jupiter seated triumphantly on a bed of defeated giants:
1. Rochester, New York’s abandoned subway tunnels 2. Versus / Jawbox live performance at Le Poisson Rouge, July 21 — New York, NY 3. Katherine Small Gallery book shop — Somerville, Massachusetts 4. Death Records 5. Mickie’s Dairy Bar — Madison, Wisconsin 6. Garbage Plate at Schaller’s Drive-In — Rochester, New York 7. Gerard Unger — Life in Letters (book) 8. Folke Rabe — What?? (LP) 9. Theodore Shapiro — Severance (soundtrack album) 10. Severance (television program)
Ten Delightful Books of 2022 (or late 2021): Re-Sisters, Cosey Fanny Tutti Shy, Mary Rodgers This Time Tomorrow, Emma Straub Lookin’ for Lawrence, Lawrence The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity, David Graeber and David Wengrow Instant: The Story of Polaroid, Christopher Bonanos A Swim in a Pond in the Rain, George Saunders Essays Two, Lydia Davis Henry ‘Chips’ Channon: The Diaries 1918–1938 and 1938–1943
Cate Le Bon Bowery Ballroom 2/9 Kim Gordon Webster Hall 3/18/22 L’Rain BAM 3/30/22 Waxahatchee George’s Majestic Lounge 4/19/22 Linda Lindas Mercury Lounge 5/1/22 Sharon Van Etten Union Pool 5/7/22 Circuit Des Yeux Greenwood Cemetery 6/7/22 Phoebe Bridgers Prospect Park 6/15 Bikini Kill Pier 17 7/9/22 Soul Glo Knockdown Center 7/10/22 Wild Hearts tour Berkeley GreekTheatre 7/31/22 Porridge Radio Bowery Ballroom 9/24/22 Broken Social Scene (esp w Tracey Ullman and Meryl Streep) Webster Hall 10/17/22 Girl Scout Handbook/Dump/Jim Ruiz/Aluminum Group Chickfactor 30 Frying Pan 10/6/22 Nnamdi Baby’s Alright 10/30/22 Wet Leg Music Hall Of Williamsburg 12/17/22 Horsegirl/Yo La Tengo Bowery Ballroom 12/22/22
Nancy Novotny: Top Ten Reasons I Adored My Trip To Finland (Sept. 16-Oct. 2, 2022)
1. Seeing Richard Dawson & Circle perform (most of) their collaborative LP, Henki, live at a Psych Fest in Tampere. 2. Seeing Lau Nau perform live at an intimate venue in Helsinki. Also finally working up the courage to chat with her after the show. 3. Charity Shops & Flea Markets in Helsinki, Tampere, Rovaniemi & various small towns in Northern Finland. Holy crap, they’re great! 4. The Moomin Museum in Tampere. 5. My day trip to Tallinn, especially shopping for gorgeous/weird Soviet-era books and other treasures. And the Puppet Museum! 6. The beautiful, colorful autumn leaves. 7. Long drink! (Usually grapefruit soda & gin, sold in supermarkets & at bars. Helsinki Long Drink by the Helsinki Distilling Company was my clear favorite.) 8. Seeing reindeer along the road in Northern Finland. Also NOT seeing any reindeer roadkill. 9. Vintage shops in Helsinki. Special shouts out to Mekkomania (for vintage dresses by Marimekko, Vuokko, Pia & Paula, etc.), Lanterna Magica (for vintage photographs, ephemera & books), and Caratia (for vintage Finnish jewelry, especially mid-century silver and bronze design pieces). 10. Being able to watch Moomin cartoons on TV every night. Also seeing Moomin merch for sale literally everywhere.
Nancy is a musician, a karaoke queen, a DJ who does a show called Turtles Have Short Legs on XRAY FM, Portland, OR, and a CF contributor.
Nothing to do with 2022 I’m afraid… Top Ten Beatles Songs
1. Yes It Is 2. We Can Work It Out 3. Paperback Writer 4. Every Little Thing 5. Strawberry Fields Forever 6. Ticket To Ride 7. If I Needed Someone 8. There’s A Place 9. Fool On The Hill 10. Can’t Buy Me Love
Gail O’Hara (chickfactor / Enchanté Records)
Phone Voice, Cradle Tape Reds, Pinks & Purples, Summer at Land’s End & They Only Wanted Your Soul Horsegirl, Versions of Modern Performance Marisa Anderson, Still, Here Alvvays, Blue Rev Flinch, Enough Is Enough Aoife Nessa Frances, Protector Say Sue Me, The Last Thing Left Nina Nastasia, Riderless Horse Sinaïve, Super 45 t. Lande Hekt, House Without a View Jeanines, Don’t Wait for a Sign Artsick, Fingers Crossed Bill Callahan, YTI⅃AƎЯ Dot Dash, Madman in the Rain The Jazz Butcher (RIP), The Highest in the Land Seablite, “Breadcrumbs” The Umbrellas, “Write it in the Sky”
Old and fresh: Mimi Roman, First of the Brooklyn Cowgirls Joyce with Mauricio Maestro, Natureza Tia Blake & Her Folk Group, Folk Songs & Ballads Dotti Holmberg, Sometimes Happy Times Norma Tanega, I’m the Sky: Studio and Demo Recordings, 1964–1971
Sukhdev Sandhu (writer, professor, CF contributor!)
House of Edgertor. Every week a lifetime ago, when she was writing reviews for the Other Music newsletter, Robin Edgerton introduced me to treasure after treasure (Pauline Oliveros, Pascal Comelade, Tricatel and Millle Plateaux labels). Still a brilliant researcher and writer, these days she discovers glorious, distinctive apparel, sleuths its backstories, sometimes fixes minor blemishes. Then she offers it to the world. Really she’s a philanthropist.
Monorail Music. It’s 20 years old! Starting things – a club, a shop. a magazine – is easy. Plunging in, all hands together, the thrill of the news, our gang forever. Keeping things going is a lot harder. Holding on, moving forward, unchanging and changing at the same time. Glasgow’s Monorail does it – and how. As Stephen Pastel writes in a lovely ‘2022 Staff Favourites’ Risograph booklet, “Twenty down, twenty to come.”
Norwegian Seamen’s Church. It’s been there, on East 52nd Street in Manhattan, for years. Still, it feels like a secret. Spare, light-suffused, a place that feels like a retreat from the world. It offers free waffles with lingonberry jam. Free coffee too. The basement has an art gallery. Everyone who works there has an open face, the gift of easy friendship.
Kommuna Lux. My favourite music venue – KuBa (short for Kulturbahnhof) in Donaueschingen – is a cafe/ bar located on a railway platform in Germany’s Black Forest. Performances are often punctuated by the sound of incoming trains. This July, Kommuna Lux came to town to play what they called Klezmer, Odessa and Gangsta Folk. Think The Men They Couldn’t Hang. The all-age crowd, many of whom hadn’t been to a show in the last couple of years, didn’t – couldn’t – forget the terrible news headlines in the Ukraine. But they also whooped, jigged, knocked back Fürstenberg beer. That felt like its own kind of connection.
CARA. Its full name is the Center for Art, Research and Alliances; it’s on West 13th Street in Manhattan; it opened this summer. It has ceilings high enough to let you dream, light enough to think you may be floating, and Emmy Catedral who curates its public programs and is responsible for its dizzying bookshop, is a genius.
The Economist Christmas double issue. Page for page, it’s probably the best value magazine in the world. This year’s had articles on the myth of the holy cow, cricket’s increasing ascendancy over baseball, the future for the Baduy peoples in Kanekes (they’re a bit like the Amish of Indonesia), how the nitrogen cycle has shaped the world, a brilliant article on whether Tang poetry can survive translation. All that and a beautiful obituary of Daniel Brush, the private, almost hermet-like goldsmith in New York.
Sue Nixon, Homophone Dictionary. What a delightful book. Before she died at the age of 96 about three years ago, Sue Nixon, a former schoolteacher, decided to compile a book of homophones. She’d loved them all her life and had used them in class to teach her young pupils. They read like poems, lullabies, Molly Drake songs. According to her granddaughter Sarah, “Luckily the book was printed before she died: she was lying in bed, with her eyes closed but was able to hold a physical copy and commented on how thick and heavy it was.”
Air-India’s Maharaja: Advertising Gone Rogue. Air India had a mascot called ‘The Rogue’. He had a babu belly, a twangy moustache, and was endearing on the eye. He featured on any number of posters from 1946 through to the early 1970s – swapping turban for a beret and selling ‘naughty’ pictures of himself in Paris, dressed down as a Playgirl bunny in New York, donning monks’ garb in Rome. Poster House’s show devoted to Umesh Rao’s none-more charming creation was my favourite show of the year.
Paddington Railway Club. London’s black cab drivers deny it exists. But it does – and how.
Dovas, Cafe Giffi, Ronnells Antikvariat, Folkets Kebab, Herr Judit, Runstenen Wooden Horse Museum, Teater Tribunalen, Vintage Violence, Bacchus Antik, Cafe Tranan, Kurt Svensson Konsthandel, Kvarnen, Konstnarsbaren: Stockholm is such a lovely lovely city.
As always: Constantin Veis, ‘Memory-La’; Musette, ‘Datum’; Dr. Buzzard’s Original Savannah Band, ‘Dr. Buzzard’s Original “Savannah” Band’; Swing Out Sister, ‘Breakout’. But also: Wechsel Garland & World Service, ‘The Isle’; F.S. Blumm, ‘Summer Kling’; Plantar, ‘Forest, Sea, Harmony’; Penguins & Martingales, ‘What Might Have Been’.
Thomas Andrew – a certain smile/My Vinyl Underground
Top 10 things I wish were (still) in Philly now that I’m back:
1. the Snow Fairies (Neal come home)
2. Lil baby’s ice cream (vegan strawberry pink peppercorn was my whole damn heart, they are very sorely missed)
3. Red Square Records (i mean they left pretty much months after I first arrived in 2001, but still)
4. Spaceboy records (I owe John and Chris from that shop so much for the person I am today)
5. All my new friends from Portland! (This is why visits exist)
6. Brian from Pizza Brain, the shop still exists but Brian was the heart. (He does make Washington state that much cooler now though.)
7. A Popfest (who knows what may come though)
8. The Hollywood Theater/Movie Madness (one of the hardest things to leave behind in Portland, I’m hopeful to find something similar out here)
9. More damn pinball (I was spoiled for Pinball in Portland. Nowhere can compare)
10. Lilys (I mean there are enough former members in town to fill a small neighborhood, but to have Kurt here playing music on the reg would make my damn heart/brain explode with joy)
Evelyn Hurley (Cotton Candy) This past year, I watched and rewatched some movies from the ’80s, here are my highlights!
Room With a View This movie came out when I was a freshman in high school, but I don’t think I actually saw it until it came out on video a few years later. I have to say, I really loved it then, and I really loved it again on this revisit! As a 14 year old, I think I imagined myself in the Helena Bonham Carter character role, but on this recent viewing I found myself absolutely smitten with the Judi Dench and Maggie Smith characters, who are absolute delights to watch! The movie is romance in action, and the scenery, plot, costumes, and acting are pure magic. Grade: A+++
Witness Another blockbuster from 1985, Witness was a movie I might have actually seen in the theater, and since Harrison Ford was such a huge movie star, I’m sure the theater must have been absolutely packed. On my rewatch, I was amazed at how really good the film is; the plot is thrilling, and the acting is top notch, especially the beautiful Kelly McGillis. The city elements of the story are scary, dark, and thrilling, which is in stark contrast with the Amish elements in this film, which are bright and clean. The noir twist in the film is riveting, but my favorite surprise are the quick scenes with Patti LuPone who plays Harrison Ford’s sister, she’s so great. Grade: A+
Broadcast News I never saw this movie when it came out in 1987, but I remember everyone loving it. The tv commercials for it were constantly showing, and I liked the scene where Joan Cusack nearly runs into the pulled out file drawer but ducks under just in time. Unfortunately, the movie is nothing like this clip, and in my opinion and in the opinion everyone who was watching it with me, it’s a terrible, terrible, movie. Holly Hunter and Albert Brooks epitomize the annoying characteristics of yuppies from the ’80s; self indulgent, self absorbed, and conceited. William Hurt is supposed to be a dummy who gets ahead in the broadcast world solely based on his looks, but in all honestly, he’s the only likable person in the movie, and seems pretty good at his job. I can’t tell you how it ended because we turned it off and absolutely wished we had never seen any of it. Grade: F-
Body Heat This 1981 film also stars William Hurt, but I actually finished this movie. It’s also another neo-noir film, staring Hurt and the amazing Kathleen Turner, and while it was very good it wasn’t as good as Witness. Grade: B
Here’s to 2023, and all the movies that we watch!
Rachel Blumberg (Arch Cape)
Top Ten Favorite Shows I Played in 2022 in no particular order:
1. Agnes Varda Forever live film score collaboration with Kathy Foster – Holocene, PDX 2. Field Drums with Lunchbox – The Golden Bull, Oakland, CA 3. Arch Cape at the Arts Week Residency, Sou’Wester, Seaview, WA 4. Califone with BCMC, Judson and Moore Distillery, Chicago, IL 5. Encouragement Friendship Band w/Anis Mogiani & Laura Gibson – Mississippi Studios, PDX 6. Tara Jane O’Neil at Family Reunion Summer Fest – Kelley Point Park, PDX 6. Califone with Little Mazarn – Mississippi Studios 7. Old Unconscious with Fronjentress – The Fixin’ To, PDX 8. Linsday Clark with Michael Hurley and Luke Wyland – The Old Church, PDX 9. Field Drums with Party Witch and Desir – Mississippi Studio, PDX 10. Califone – Vickers Theater, Three Oaks, Michigan
Top Ten Favorite Native Plants in 2022
1. Thimbleberry 2. Douglas Spirea 3. Douglas Aster 4.Huckleberry 5. Sword Fern 6. Piggyback Plant 7. Wild Ginger 8. Osoberry 9. Vine Maple 10. Snowberry
Top Ten Dogs I Petted in 2022
1. Stella Bean, my sweetest heart, rest in peace. 2. Bella, my sister’s dog 3. Sal, Sam Farrel’s dog 4. Caramel and Ace, Rob and Melissa Jones’s dogs 5. Rankin, Vanessa Renwick’s dog 6. Dylan, Sheri Hood’s dog 7. Gladys, Scotty McCaughey and Mary Winzig’s dog 8. Sparky and Zoey, my dad and Phillipa’s (his lady friend) dog 9. Dizzy, Janet Weiss’s dog, and Rooster, the dog she is fostering 10. Sugar, our neighbor’s dog
Top Ten Shows I saw in 2022, in no particular order, and I doubt I am remembering them all…
1. Belle and Sebastian, Roseland 2. Slumberland Showcase, The Doug Fir 3. Cate Le Bon, The Wonder Ballroom 4. Yo La Tengo, The Wonder Ballroom 5. Quasi, Pdx Pop Now Fest 6. Ural Thomas and The Pain, The Good Foot 7. Lonnie Holley, Hollywood Theater 8. Magnetic Fields, Aladdin Theater 9. Horsegirl, Polaris Hall 10. Pavement, Edgefield
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
AS AN ERSTWHILE ASTROLOGER I AM EMINENTLY QUALIFIED TO GIVE ADVICE. THE BAD NEWS IS, MERCURY IS IN RETROGRADE FOR VALENTINE’S DAY. THE GOOD NEWS? THERE ISN’T ANY.
We met during COVID, talked/texted for a few months and finally decided to just meet in person last September. She’s great, my age (mid-40s), goth (like me, although I might be more of a mod), smart, funny, likes good music, all the things. But she’s cripplingly insecure, in a way that I don’t know how to deal with? I’m divorced, was married 10 years. She’s the first person I’ve dated since getting divorced in 2018. I’m not a “rebound” kinda guy, I like real relationships. But due to her own bad experiences with past relationships, she has so many trust issues, even though it should be obvious that I don’t have a wandering eye and am totally into her. What can I do? How do I make her see that I’m not like her exes? — TVPs Fan SM: WOMEN CANNOT AND SHOULD NOT TRUST MEN. GET USED TO IT. ALSO, IF YOU DON’T KNOW IF YOU’RE A GOTH OR A MOD, YOU SHOULD BE SEEING A COGNITIVE-BEHAVIORAL THERAPIST.
I met someone online during COVID and we’ve never met in person. Should I propose? — Lockdown Princess SM: NO! PEOPLE ONLINE AREN’T REAL. GO TO A BAR, LIKE AN ADULT. MOST HAVE OUTDOOR SEATING. WEAR A UNION SUIT.
I have a Valentine’s Day date but the forecast is going to be 28º and cloudy so a bit chilly to eat outdoors. Should I invite them back to mine? Should I risk being exposed to someone else’s droplets and bodily fluids so we can have sex indoors? — Sweetheart of the Rodeo SM: WEAR A UNION SUIT. DO NOT MAKE A PLAN FOR AFTER DINNER, IT’S PRESUMPTUOUS AND GAUCHE.
My BF is addicted to Facebook. Even when we’re in bed he’s gazing into some left-wing FBK group and making snarky comments. Is there any hope for us? — Device addict’s BF SM: ONLY HAVE SEX OUT OF BED, ALWAYS, AND THEN YOU WON’T CARE WHAT HE DOES IN BED.
Is perfume passé? —Unscented SM: YES, IT’S HORRIBLE. ANYONE WEARING PERFUME IN AN ELEVATOR SHOULD BE ASKED TO LEAVE AT THE NEXT FLOOR.
We are stuck in our house with three children this Valentine’s Day. Do you have any advice on how we can find romance in spite of them? How can we keep them away from us so we can be intimate? — Spouse House SM: HAVE SEX OUTSIDE, LIKE ADULTS. PARKS ARE GOOD, CARS ARE GREAT. PUBLIC BATHROOMS ARE GOOD FOR A QUICKIE. GARAGES ARE AWESOME. I want to make my beloved a meal full of aphrodisiacs. What should I make? (We’re vegan) —Hungry for Love SM: CHOCOLATE, CHOCOLATE, AND MORE CHOCOLATE.
I’m a lifelong commitment-phobe who seems to attract other commitment-phobes. How can I stop the madness? —Pattern Breaker SM: YOU MAY NEED TO DECLINE TO DISCUSS YOUR RELATIONSHIP HISTORY, SAYING YOU’RE NOT PROUD OF IT BUT YOU HAVE CHANGED YOUR PRIORITIES.
I have a crush on someone whose musical taste could be improved. How can I “help” them improve it? Should I make a mixtape? What should I put on it? —Ear Candy SM: MIXTAPES ARE GREAT, BUT MAKE SURE YOUR CRUSH KNOWS THAT THE LYRICS ARE NOT MEANT TO BE LITERAL MESSAGES. (OTHERWISE IT WOULD TAKE FIVE YEARS TO MAKE THE RIGHT CHOICES.) ALSO, BE OPEN TO LEARNING WHY THEY LIKE WHAT THEY LIKE…WITHIN REASON! I ONCE DECLINED TO DATE AN OTHERWISE WONDERFUL GUY BECAUSE HE WAS INTO JAMIROQUAI, AND I DO NOT REGRET THAT DECISION.
I’ve basically been living in slankets and shackets for a year. What should I wear on V-day? —Athleisure Annie SM: NOTHING!
I have spent all day trying to absorb the death of LD Beghtol, with whom I shared a stage and a cognac many a time. His extravagant voice and personality lent charm and drama to his bands Flare, The Moth Wranglers, and the New Criticism, as well as his unforgettable vocals on The Magnetic Fields’s 69 Love Songs. In lieu of a photograph I am posting what may as well have been a portrait, from a book by Edward Gorey we both admired. Listen to something gloomy tonight, with a touch of melodrama and panache, to remember a man who turned every room into a velvet-draped literary salon. Mr. Beghtol, the world is diminished.
What I keep remembering is at the first Three Terrors show, where Stephin, Dudley and LD were singing the saddest songs they could think of. LD sang “Pretty In Pink” with me on synthesizer and I screwed up the intro, so he only sang a few words and the we had to stop. But the few words, “Caroline laughs and it’s raining all day” gave away the surprise. So the start-over was particularly awkward. LD waited for the murmurs to die down—he did always hate a chattery audience—and then we started again and his vocals were so sad and relentless that everyone was transfixed. Everyone made the journey with LD to the place where this was indeed the saddest song. That’s what he did: he brought the theatrical moment, the drama, the gesture. And he could transfix you.
Dana Kletter remembers her friend and collaborator
When I met LD, I felt he knew me, and I think he felt I knew him.
The first time I recorded with him he instructed me to be the murdered girl.
He was a great writer of some crazy antic fiction.
“Maybe this time, you think to yourself: ‘Lady peaceful, lady happy.’ That’s the new me! Giddy with it all, you plant a big wet kiss on Not-So-Little Red’s startled, becollagened mouth, pinching what’s either a third nipple or an ill-concealed on/off switch slightly misaligned on the bead-encrusted bodice of the creature’s gaudy gown as a fan organ wheezes soothingly above the thrum of hypnotic snares.”
When I told him I found a new psychiatrist, he wrote, “I sometimes wish I were much more fucked up so I could do that.”
He was the most cynical romantic I’ve ever known.
He meant to make a record this summer but was thwarted by everything. He sent me some demos for possible songs. Hell is other people’s boyfriends, one began.
We texted and called each other regularly. I’m sorry I cannot text him now to complain about this.
I loved him dearly and will miss him forever.
Photo by Dana Kletter. Taken while we were in the studio recording “Morgantown.” Listen to the song here. Recorded San Francisco, 2012, Doug Hilsinger on guitar, LD and I on vocals, and backing tracks LD brought from New York. Mixed by Kramer.
Oh LD. I don’t remember exactly when I met LD but he just twirled into the Magnetic Fields universe around the time that 69 Love Songs was being designed and recorded. He was in a band called Flare. He sang on 69 Love Songs. He was a graphic designer who became instrumental in bringing chickfactor’s design to another level; his photoshop expertise also elevated the quality of my photography in the print publication. He became our designer in chief; I usually chose the art but he made it all work in chickfactor issues 12 to 15, our chickfactor mixtape, many event posters, and even a book of my photography that was published (limited edition, 7-inch size) in 2012.
When the rest of the city left town on holiday weekends, LD and I would hole up in my Manhattan apartment and/or his office on 23rd street and work work work on chickfactor. We would spin many singles. We would sit on the floor eating pad thai. We would plot upcoming shows. We both had extremely busy day jobs and yet we were productive AF during all of our free time. Other times we’d be communing with Stephin at St Dymphna’s over tea (Stephin’s chihuahua Irving Berlin would often eat the entire Irish breakfast) or later at Dick’s Bar on Second Avenue or the Phoenix where we would watch show tunes, sip Courvoisier and talk endlessly about people and music and art and life. I would often try to leave to go home and the boys would buy me another drink and set it in front of me.
LD was a force of nature. If he loved you, he *REALLY* loved you. But if you crossed him, it was murder. If he cared about you, his loyalty knew no bounds. He once wrote a set list that was built to torture a certain musician who LD believed had wronged me. He felt everything extra deep. Some of his creative partnerships didn’t last: If he burned the bridge, that was it. But he lived a creative life through and through; whatever day job he was doing, you can bet he spent every free moment doing a million small creative things. His grand moments in the spotlight with the Magnetic Fields in New York and London were among his proudest moments; as a featured singer he would come out with all the drama one would expect in such moments. He made you believe he *was* the King of the Boudoir all right.
Our relationship was complicated but we mostly got on like a house on fire. He found community with both the Magnetic Fields and chickfactor (among others), along with New York music culture in general. He and Dudley and Stephin were like a trio of charming, sulky sweethearts, and LD was like a bitchy-diva sibling to me. We mostly got along well but struggled with creative differences. Although the vile and brutal year 2020 took him along with many other cultural icons and American lives, his art will live on, and you can bet he had a million new projects simmering away that we’ll never get to see. I wasn’t ready to say goodbye, but I won’t forget him because he was unforgettable. RIP, LD.
interview and photograph are from chickfactor 15, 2002, by Gail O’Hara
songwriter’s best friend: a portrait of the smallest member of the magnetic fields
Irving Berlin Merritt was a wee six-month-old pup back in 1999 when the Magnetic Fields’ epic triple album 69 Love Songs was released and when we started filming. In those days songwriter Stephin Merritt would carry Irving everywhere with him in a red felt tote bag. Merritt kept him in the bag during a meal in Boston once (around the time he was in this photo), feeding Irving barbecued ribs one by one, while Irv never let out a single peep that would alert restaurant staff and have us all removed. I spent some time backstage with Irving at the Middle East in Boston — not a very charming room. If I let Irving alone back there, he would bark loud enough to disrupt the whole show (why we didn’t leave him back at Chris Ewen’s Cambridge apartment with other chihuahuas I will never know; oh yes, it was because Stephin wanted to bring him to the show). Luckily Claudia’s sister JJ came to my relief so I didn’t have to spend the entire evening *not* watching the show.
Back in New York, Irving accompanied Stephin almost everywhere. He could be seen at Dick’s Bar (where, as Stephin points out in Strange Powers, half of 69 Love Songs was written) barking at most everyone who came in (especially gents in hats and those with beards) and listening to the new wave jukebox or watching Xanadu (or porn) with the rest of the gay men. He could be seen at chickfactor parties at Fez—I remember watching Irving lick the plate on which a “Sorbet Sampler” (a typical Merritt dish) had been served and praying that the health department would not close down the venue. Irving came with Stephin, in the bag, to a Tibetan restaurant in the East Village once but was discovered and asked to leave well before mealtime commenced. And he spent many hours at St. Dymphna’s, the Irish bar where Merritt used to meet with Daniel Handler to brainstorm over pots of green tea and full Irish breakfast (mostly consumed by, yes, you guessed it, the wee Irving).
Irving was one of those chihuahuas who probably needed to get out and race around like a madman, to get those ya-yas out, which is hard to do in Manhattan (though in recent years he had a yard, where Irving got to spend much time chewing on his chicken). He also loved riding around in the Mini Cooper. How Stephin has managed to do so much recording in his apartments and houses without having Irving disrupt the proceedings is a mystery. One has to wonder if Irving could hear at all, after all the gay bar crowd noise and soundcheck shenanigans he has been exposed to. He was Stephin’s primary companion for the past 14 years and will be missed, especially by those who knew him over time.
Irving Berlin Merritt passed away August 2013. RIP little buddy.