RIP Rowland S. Howard (1959-2009)

Toilet Guppies is dismayed at the news of the passing of one of the all-time greatest guitar players the world has had the pleasure (sometimes terror!) to hear. Besides playing the six-strings like no one else (combining sultry sexiness with urgent violence in a way that'd surely make Georges Bataille gush with admiration), Rowland Howard also possessed a voice and singing style unlike any other—a spitting, almost regurgitating sing-speak full of loathing, dejection or lung-black humour that would've been out of tune, had tune only had anything to do with it, and which perfectly conveyed the intense sincerity he seemed incapable of not channeling while performing. His almost deadpan delivery made him über-cool, while the evident sadness just cutting through the drawl provided substance. Crucially, the humour of his words ensured he never came across—or was—pretentious. His quivering voice and shaking hands (I thought he had Parkinson's, not liver cancer) didn't get in the way of his playing one of the best gigs at All Tomorrow's Parties on Mt. Buller, Australia last January, almost one year ago.

Howard's career was, probably to his detriment (and quite unfairly), overshadowed by his earliest achievements (which were considerable), when he defined the confrontational and completely uncompromising sound of legendary post-punk provocateurs the Birthday Party (go here for a free taste):

After the Birthday Party collapsed, Howard joined Crime & the City Solution, in which he got to display a quite frankly touching melodicism in his playing. (Which people tend to forget, impostors tending to plagiarise the feedback squall of the Birthday Party instead.) Their first few releases are mostly noteworthy because of his guitarslinging, as stand-out track «Six Bells Chime» (from Wim Wenders' overrated cult film Wings of Desire) proves:

He then went on to record some typically urgent stuff with his own outfit, the now largely forgotten These Immortal Souls. One of the high points in his entire back catalogue is surely this single, from Get Lost (Don't Lie!) (still available digitally, though shamefully long-out-of-print on CD):

After disbanding These Immortal Souls and collaborating with Lydia Lunch (check out «What Is Memory», off Shotgun Wedding), Howard recorded a couple of solo albums, the last one—Pop Crimes—just out in October. He produced HTRK's latest album, this year's Marry Me Tonight. (This track of theirs, though not produced by him, bears the obvious mark of his considerable influence.) A cult legend, he never quite got the recognition he was due.

Apparently, Howard's sources of inspiration were «Hanging out with girls, smoking, fraternizing with girls, talking to girls on the telephone while smoking, smoking with girls.» May he be sharing fags with seventy virgins where there's a light…


Net Nuggets 25: Team Plastique & the Revenge of the Golden Pineapples

Mmm… «neon lights» and «fishnet tights»… some of my favourite things… As is Team Plastique's live show. In a year that saw your correspondent witness the mighty Michael Gira spitting and stomping on an Australian mountaintop; fly to Brussels and back just to be hypnotised by Larkin Grimm's magickal mouth; to London and back for the sole purpose of experiencing the legendary Fall; and Oslo gigs by the likes of Animal Collective, the Dodos, Vetiver and not least the Walkmen, it was to be Team Plastique's performance at Sjokoladefabrikken in Oslo on the 28th of November that opened the long-clogged floodgates of bliss inside this blogger… We here at Toilet Guppies are loathe to sum up the year that's been, not least with pointless lists, but this was most assuredly the live experience of 2009. (Only Chopper Read & Anal Cunt's cancelled gig in Oslo could possibly have surpassed it…)

Say what you will of the whole Berlin electropunk/-clash/ -whatever movement, it reinvigorated rock at a time when it had become as humourless, self-important and conformist as the moody teen demographic literally buying into it. So anybody with a funny bone and a boner should be forever grateful to Peaches. But although Toilet Guppies would never—NEVER!—say a bad word about the only Peach with a hole in the middle, the Def Leppard schtick of her live show (although funny to those who got the references and the academically Feminist irony) never quite delivered on the raw emotional promise of «Fuck the Pain Away». (And don't get me started on the excruciatingly cutesy, aerobics-heavy, girls-just-wanna-have-fun light comedy show of the otherwise kick-ass, ball-breaking Le Tigre.) Enter Australian expat Berliners Team Plastique, for those of us who like our electropunk with a slice of Yoko Ono rather than Joan Jett… interactive absurdist spectacle rather than distant stadium rock poses… Team Plastique are to Peaches or Le Tigre what the Rolling Stones were to the Beatles and what the Stooges were to the Stones… what SWANS were to Sonic YouthSuicide to KraftwerkPeaches to Lady GaGa! Dear reader, Team Plastique delivers.

Now, certain people are singlemindedly oriented towards happiness. To achieve it, and to keep it. (You know the ones: they arrive at the club with their pretty friends and, regardless of the toxicity in their bloodstream, dance and squeal with glee and have «good, clean fun».) For some, there's a simplicity to this state of mind—it reduces an otherwise complicated existence to an (in a sense) timeless moment, unmolested by worry. (Worry being what carries over from the past, and what projects us into the future.) But such people don't really flee into the present moment; the simplicity they somehow manage to maintain in their lives—in their minds—doesn't give them cause for escapism. They're lucky to be more or less happy, and they don't feel the urge and certainly don't consciously consider pursuing anything but the Happy Medium. To those fortunate enough to be largely spared the wretchedness of bad DNA or shit circumstances, there's enjoyment on this side, and suffering on that. Cut and dry!

But there's a secret, ineffable, liminal something to partying, besides joy. In fact, joy has little to do with it. Joy is innocent, and there's nothing innocent about thrill. (Although there is enjoyment in there.)
This is something certain dope fiends and sex maniacs intuit, and it's what the song below, by electropunk cabaret trio Team Plastique, sparks up in the otherwise only faintly flickering synapses of a jaded, old hedonist trying to put into words what his brain sneaked past his thoughts:

It's what grinning people who think they dance exceptionally well on E's—or people who one day suddenly throw back a batch of magic mushrooms on a whim, only to laugh heartedly and without any existential dread whatsoever, or even a single wave of panic for the entire eight hours—will never know. It's the twilight rush from knowing, when braving a risk (whether it be a physical, biochemical, medical or a moral one), «This might not end well.» It's an unformed thought, sweeping the bottom of your consciousness like a feeling that's not been given a word yet, spreading across your body between your skin and flesh, making you cold to the touch, numb and electric at the same time. It's the boost of meth, it's the fear of AIDS, it's lust, it's transgression, it's adrenaline. It's pure instinct making you want to do things you know you need not to do. It's the pang of delight that accompanies the very moment you decide to go with whatever flow it is that just led you past the point of no return of some unsavoury act you know is wrong (and maybe a little disgusting), and which will blossom into fully fledged guilt, but that's later. For now, you're alive, and that's about as clearly and concisely as I can put it.

Like at any decent party, there's fun in Team Plastique's music. There's humour, there's sex. (My God, is there sex!) Hell, at their not-to-be-missed shows there are even pineapples, massacred and thrust mercilessly upon the audience… There are combinations that confuse you, with a pink-haired woman walking in the audience telling everyone she loves them while a kabuki-faced bag lady lies seemingly lifeless onstage. (The ol' Def Leppard'n'Feminist politics it ain't!)

Listen to the disharmonic guitar and synths on «Game Show Lights», and tell me there's not an undercurrent here—the aural equivalent to
the party animal's determined yet not clearly formulated intent to self-destruct… while having fun. By way of fun. And the vocals… well, for the verses it's a bit like the mumbled fantasies of a decadent model, only 14 and already jaded as she's seen it all, absentmindedly masturbating with not even her horniness up to alleviating the boredom… Ah, ennui!

Not to get too high fallutin' here, but if entering the club you feel like you want to lose yourself, this song reminds you that not only blue-eyed joy can provide transcendence. There are other avenues, whether it be the road of excess leading to the palace of wisdom, or just another royal road to ruin:

This and other mp3 samples of Team Plastique's cyberkabuki orgasmagoria may freely be downloaded from the band's website. For CDs… well, if you find any copies, buy one for me, too…


And Now for Something Completely Different: Love (Pt. 1)

… a new series in which Toilet Guppies takes a look at the finest in popular music love balladry. First off is Lou Reed's classic Velvet Underground & Nico tune «I'll Be Your Mirror»:

I'll be your mirror
Reflect what you are, in case you don't know
I'll be the wind, the rain and the sunset
The light on your door to show that you're home

When you think the night has seen your mind
That inside you're twisted and unkind
Let me stand to show that you are blind
Please put down your hands
'Cause I see you

I find it hard to believe you don't know
The beauty that you are
But if you don't, let me be your eyes
A hand in your darkness, so you won't be afraid

When you think the night has seen your mind
That inside you're twisted and unkind
Let me stand to show that you are blind
Please put down your hands
'Cause I see you

I'll be your mirror
(Reflect what you are)
If we could read minds and see completely into the inner sanctum of other people's nekkid selves, piercing their very being without averting our gaze, chances are we'd be scared. Scared or bored. (Or ashamed, should they happen to be better than us—or worse than us, yet not quite frightening.)

I don't know if it was fearlessness, a perpetual sense of excitement or stupid pride that enabled him to do it, but Lou Reed managed to imagine such a scenario and still salvage a belief in love—and convince us, too, which is the real feat. Perhaps sensing some of the hopelessly broken parts inside the heart & mind of his main squeeze at the time, Nico, he sought to assure her he would not avert his eyes in fright, boredom or shame should she drop her guard and reveal her true nature to him. It wasn't long after this, however, that the German chanteuse abruptly ended their liaison by casually announcing, to the Velvet Underground during band rehearsal, something to the effect that she had gone off Jewish cock. (Or so the gossip mill goes.)

This ultimate come-back aside, «I'll Be Your Mirror» is an enduring song of love and support that rings just as true between real friends as it does between sincere lovers. (Tolerance and acceptance are not yet romantic love, so it may even work better that way.) It also stands out by being, despite the clunky rhymes of its poetry and its lack of eloquence, an intelligent love song, which would be a dying breed if it weren't already just a curious anomaly occurring at intervals so few and far between they're all but statistically insignificant. Fools rush in and write songs about love for other fools to rush in to. But this song doesn't promise anything wild and crazy like everlasting love, or resort to pompous imagery and metaphors. «I'll Be Your Mirror» is pure, simple—too straightforward and sincere for poetry.

When a love song falls flat on its face, by failing to achieve for the writer what he intended it to do, it loses credibility, threatening to take Love itself with it. But despite the failure of Reed and Nico's affair, you'd have to be deeply cynical—damaged, in fact (or simply not very tolerant)—to scoff at the message of «I'll Be Your Mirror».

Besides, Nico and Reed would sing this song again, together, many times. As evidenced by the rehearsal and live versions on this sampler:

1. The Velvet Underground & NicoFactory rehearsal
2. The Velvet Underground & Nico—alternate mix, from the Norman Dolph acetate
3. Lou Reed & Nico—hotel room tour rehearsal
4. Lou Reed, John Cale & Nico—live in concert
5. Atlas Sound—cover
6. Beck's Record Club—cover
In Norway, the most requested pop song by far at funerals is «Eg ser» («I See»). Bjørn Eidsvåg—the drunken, fornicating ex-priest who wrote the song—explained its popularity by reference to the fact that, in strife, what people want (or need) the most is simply to be seen. Recognition. In general, you could say it's the most basic psychological need for a mind.

Now, like you're not really crazy if you know you're crazy, you wouldn't be truly «twisted and unkind» if you were aware of it in your mind, and so the «mirror» Reed writes of will either show you that you're «twisted and unkind»—in which case you're not—or that you're not twisted and unkind. And so the mirror is the reason why love could be key, and could actually better a person. But that's not all.

Apparently inspired by Nico once telling Reed, «Let me be your mirror,» Reed set about writing this love song with its emphasis on non-judgment. That the song was intended for Nico—or that she had coined the phrase that inspired it in the first place—seems most fitting, seeing as Nico's music (The Marble Index in particular) does mirror any listener who has the fibre to not only hear but to properly listen to it. Acting as a mirror, her music gets as close as humanly possible to saying what cannot be said—to distilling and conveying what isolates each and every one of us from each and every other person, paradoxically almost transcending loneliness in the process, as if Nico's expression of the isolated nature of consciousness has carried us across the unbridgeable divide that separates us, by saying so completely and definitively, «I Am Alone»—the second most basic truth, unifying us all, following hot on the heels of that most fundamental human statement, the cogito ergo sum—until we realise that's like saying, «I Alone Am,» and we find ourselves back on our own distant shore again, staring over at someone equally alone, yet still isolated, only able to see them as a projected mirror image of our own hopelessly lonely selves.

Nico's mirror almost succeeds in transcending loneliness. «Almost,» because the mirror image doesn't bring the comfort to deliver us from our isolation. The comfort imagined by Reed. Reed, lacking the completely unflinching gaze of Nico, does not want to mirror the other person—unless his mirror is a fun house one, distorting the features (albeit favourably). Reed wishes to project the rose-tinted image of love he sees onto the other person, until even she sees that. Fair enough, and nice try, but Nico was no innocent school girl, starry-eyed and blind to the absolute difference dividing us.

The song goes, «I find it hard to believe you don't know the beauty you are.» Of course Lou Reed—being so familiar with loathing (self- or otherwise)—didn't find it hard to believe at all. But give him a break. Even he could be in love, and that's when your words go mad, delirious with loneliness like so many parched men in deserts spotting magnificent oases on the horizon.

«I'll Be Your Mirror» is a spark within this dark, and I'd never ridicule the sincere dream to which it (and most every one of us) aspires, but suffice it to say:

Mirror? Love is blind.


Rare or Unreleased 39: Flight Of The Conchords

Flight Of The Conchords & the Jet Set: «Mermaid» (live) [mp3]

The Conchords have just announced that their TV series—and possibly their act—flies no more. Good on them, quitting while they're still ahead. So to mark the occasion—and in memory of Jemaine and Bret of the series (but not Jemaine and Bret in real life)—here's a song that appeared in the first series, but not on the accompanying CD, the frankly quite hilarious ode to a fishy temptress of the sea, «Mermaid». Nauty.

The mp3 is the version of that song that features on obscure 2002 New Zealand-only live album, Folk the World.


Net Nuggets 24: M. Gira & Akron/Family

Today's the day Barack Obama, as we speak, is being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize here in Oslo. Now, I appreciate that when you govern the most powerful nation on the planet you can hardly afford to be a tree-hugging surrender monkey, but you'd be hard pressed not to see, not so much the irony as the logical contradiction in what basically amounts to a warlord being celebrated for contributions to world peace. (Something not lost on the US Commander in Chief himself.) And though Obama is hardly an Alexander the Great or a Napoleon, as 30,000 further troops are sent to Afghanistan and the US military presence in South America and Africa is escalated, I was reminded of some lines out of a song: «please remember as you kill us and cut us down / That time will not wash clean the bloody face of history / And someone will breathe here again and they will hate you for what you leave…»

And so it is to trusty Toilet Guppies faves Michael Gira and Akron/Family that we go, with live-in-studio recordings made on David Garland's show on New York radio station WNYC, Spinning On Air. Akron/Family's set was broadcast on 25 September 2005, Angels Of Light/Michael Gira later that year, on 23 October. For those not familiar with the artists, in 2005 Akron/Family—then a quartet—served as Michael Gira's backing band, together making up the vehicle for Gira's songs, the Angels Of Light. On tour Akron/Family would warm up for, then sit in with the Angels Of Light.

I once had the perverse delight of catching the Akron/Family/Angels Of Light line-up live, with the 50-something rehabilitated hippie and punk M. Gira riding the 20-something, frightened freak folkies like a horseman of the apocalypse. There he was, spitting and stomping, shouting at the bewildered young hippies as they tried to keep up with Gira's exorcism of all kinds of lugubrious little demons. With the band finally hammering out the minimalist riffs and noise with all their energy, Gira still seemed to demand more, always more, until the freaked-out drummer's eyes seemed to protest—impotently—that he was already beating the drums as hard as he could. Even so, Gira still managed to coax more out of him; a second sound that couldn't be heard but was evident to anyone in the room who could see the confused look in the skinsman's eyes, like a man who'd never known what depravity he was actually capable of, scared witless at finally being presented face to face with his own surprising actions and inner, unknown nature.

That's Gira; while Nick Cave always does that same, routine kick at exactly the same mark during «Red Right Hand», every time, like a less nimble and funky James Brown intent on entertaining your ass, Gira doesn't put on a show. He's in it for the catharsis and the transcendence and the spit and the rumble of soundwaves crashing onto your helpless body, losing himself in lust and violence and the Holy Spirit or whatnot, expecting no less of those given the task of backing him up. And so he whips them, not so much into a frenzy as into submission, until they don't dare but deliver what we're all there for, anyway. He rips their youthful souls out of their bodies and makes them dance! Pure S&M.

That's not in evidence on these recordings, which focus more on the country stylings and balladry, like the cover of Bob Dylan's «I Pity the Poor Immigrant» and Gira's maudlin, but warm and uplifting homage to Johnny Cash, «On the Mountain» (a.k.a. «Let It Be You»). «To Live through Someone», too, is sentimental in its daydreaming reference to war «heroes» and the deceased walking on roses up in the skies above, but Gira reins himself in with a wordless twist at the end.

These radio performances certainly are schweet, but the sound quality isn't nearly as good as on the official releases, all of which are available on Young God Records if you like what you hear. And if you do, you'll love those records, so get off yer lazy blog-dwelling, freeloading, file sharing bum and spend a little well worth dough for once, over here. You know it's right.

That said, this sampler is justified by those performances that differ from the originals, most notably Gira's solo renditions of «To Live through Someone» and «Promise of Water», and Akron/Family's «Sorrow Boy». (Not to mention their unknown song, never given an official release.) The early sketch of the Angels Of Light's «Not Here/Not Now» is interesting, as is one of Gira's most enduring and most accomplished songs, «Blind», here given a solo acoustic treatment to replace the original's languid, melancholy flow with a less accessible approach, perhaps more fitting, if you consider the inconsolable words.

Michael Gira & Akron/Family Live on Spinning On Air [.zip]:

1. Awake
2. [Title unknown]
3. Running, Returning
4. We All Will
5. Sorrow Boy

6. Destroyer
7. Come for My Woman
8. I Pity the Poor Immigrant
9. On the Mountain
10. My Sister Said

11. To Live through Someone
12. Promise of Water
13. Not Here/Not Now
14. Blind

Studio versions of 1, 4, 7 & 8 can be found on Akron/Family & Angels Of Light;
studio versions of 3 & 5 on Akron/Family;
studio versions of 6, 9 & 10 and band version of 11 on The Angels of Light Sing «Other People»;
studio band versions of 12 & 13 on We Are Him;
original studio band version of 14 by SWANS on M. Gira's Drainland or SWANS' Various Failures (1988-1992).
Equally recommended is same-period Akron/Family mini-album «Meek Warrior».


Rare or Unreleased 38: Bob Dylan

Sat across the table, my friend told me how his girlfriend and he had just split up. Despite the brave face, it was obvious he was love- and
forlorn. Seems like an everyday occurrence—romance never being stable for anyone—but it was almost enviable how his heart could still break. Almost.

Days later, some beautiful stranger just passing through started me «daydreamin' 'bout the way things sometimes are» (to quote Bob Dylan). Looking back on the record that quote is from—the widely regarded Blood on the Tracks—Dylan once said, «A lot of people tell me they enjoy that album. It's hard for me to relate to that. I mean, it, you know, people enjoying the type of pain, you know?» What the man seems to be missing is that it's better to have loved and lost, etc. And so even the prospect of heartbreak becomes life-affirming, which may help explain why so many enjoy an album that, after all, celebrates the good with the bad. Like heartache, Blood on the Tracks is all about possibility: missed opportunities, current impossibilities… future prospects? If you can feel that ache, there's still hope. There are only other fish in the sea if you're capable of love, devotion.

Now, these days any bohemian songwriter with respect for him- or herself writes at least one relationship break-up concept album in the span of their career. But it wasn't always like this: In 1975—when Blood on the Tracks (the most famous work in that genre) came out—the only previous break-up album proper had been 1970's equally pared back vox, acoustic guitar, bass and harmonica vehicle, the by turns tender, bitter, funny (and totally underappreciated) Requiem for an Almost Lady by Lee Hazlewood. Save for the absence of humour, straightforward lyrics and quirky spoken intros, Dylan's landmark album is remarkably (almost suspiciously) similar. But no less impressive.

The original 1974 test pressing of the album's solo acoustic material was held back, with Dylan re-recording the longest tracks in incongruous «classic rock» band versions, finally releasing a new version of the album that lost in intensity what it gained in variety. Apart from «Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts», the acoustic versions that were replaced have since appeared on official Dylan anthologies—Biograph, The Bootleg Series, vols. 2-3
and the Jerry Maguire soundtrack(!). Some alternate acoustic versions, however, (as well as the solo version of «Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts») have only seen unofficial release on bootlegs.

So until the veritable goldmine of unreleased Dylan stuff is eventually exhausted, here you are: takes of «Tangled Up in Blue», «Idiot Wind» and «If You See Her, Say Hello» that differ from the renditions on The Bootleg Series—as
well as the acoustic take of «Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts» and Roger McGuinn's version of irresistably self-pitying Blood on the Tracks outtake, «Up to Me», recorded exclusively for Mojo Magazine's September 2005 CD give-away, Dylan Covered.

  1. Tangled Up in Blue (alternate acoustic take)
  2. Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts (acoustic version)
  3. Idiot Wind (alternate acoustic take)
  4. If You See Her, Say Hello (alternate acoustic take)
  5. Up to Me (covered by Roger McGuinn)
Blood on the Tracks saw Dylan mature from the immensely talented, but ultimately immature wise-ass clever-dick showing off that very talent with self-indulgent, faux-Surrealist throw-away lines («All except for Cain and Abel / And the hunchback of Notre Dame / Everybody is making love / Or else expecting rain») into a mostly sincere and less defensive-aggressive songwriter. (Well, on this record, at least.) Blood on the Tracks features some of the most satisfying song structures Dylan has ever come up with, like the way he adapts the phrase «tangled up in blue» at the end of each verse in the song of the same name. And then there are the melodies, squeezed out of a drawl
that but for the urgent flow of pained words seems lazy, but is actually a minor revolution in phrasing, even for Dylan, carefully enunciating probably the best words he's ever written—all accompanied by his impelling, but always unobtrusive guitar strumming and Tony Brown's subtle, empathic bass for a backdrop. The old calculating people user, movement exploiter, media trickster and narcissist savant never sounded so truthful…


Net Nuggets 23: Animal Collective

[It all started so auspiciously, with life affirming rarities by the ever-ebullient Jorge Ben, but Toilet Guppies has since strayed and turned into a bit of a downer blog. So for today's post I've decided to put the «manic» back into «manic-depressive.» You're welcome!]

Animal Collective: «The Purple Bottle» versions [.zip]
  • The Purple Bottle (Stevie Wonder mix)
  • The Purple Bottle (acoustic live version)
In 2005, Animal Collective released one of those rare albums of perfection, consistently warm and touching from start to finish, Feels. One of the more up-tempo tracks—«The Purple Bottle»—originally contained Avey Tare singing a reference to the not-so-perfect yuppie stalker's anthem, «I Just Called to Say I Love You» by Stevie Wonder (real name Stevland(!) Hardaway Judkins). But the copyright gods wouldn't have it, so the collective released this particular mix of the song on a 7" only, limiting the run to 500 copies. The album contains an alternate, censored version, with no respect paid to outta sight Stevie. Who wants to be paid tribute to, I suppose, when they could be paid royalties?

While promoting Feels in Europe, parts of the 2005 AC line-up (Avey Tare and former múm frontwoman Doctess) performed some of the songs on French radio station Planet Claire. The stripped down version of «The Purple Bottle»—complete with any reference to one of the cheesiest songs from that cheesiest of decades excised—is intense, as I advise you to witness for yourself:

Enjoy the mania!


Rare or Unreleased 37: Nico Meditation Music

Did you ever fall asleep to an album by Nico, drifting in and out of slumber, only to find the same drone, different song? If not, then I've compiled some rare recordings made for the BBC in 1971 and '74. (In 128kps only. Beggars can't be choosers.)

  1. We've Got the Gold
  2. Janitor of Lunacy (1971)
  3. Secret Side
  4. You Forgot to Answer
  5. No One Is There
  6. Janitor of Lunacy (1974)
  7. Frozen Warnings
  8. The End

I'm reluctant to mention their names, so often do they overshadow that of Nico, but the German singer is an icon by dint of the mostly sexually oriented gossip surrounding her association with men: Andy Warhol, Lou Reed, Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Jim Morrison, Iggy Pop, Serge Gainsbourg, Andrew Loog Oldham and, er, Jackson Brown. Whereas some of these classic rock heavyweights (and the one modern art giant) are venerated as geniuses absolutely definitive of our modern Anglo-American culture, Nico is the model who gave Jim Morrison a blowjob in an elevator. Patronisingly, she's the «muse» of all these poets, rather than a poet in her own right. (The men are talking, Nico.) Yet Nico had her own muses: on this compilation alone there's Jim Morrison («You Forgot to Answer»), Brian Jones («Janitor of Lunacy») and, er, Richard Nixon («No One Is There»).

More recent generations will perhaps know Nico's music mainly through quasi-arthouse film director Wes Anderson's use of a song that she herself disowned, in the flaccid dramedy and unthinking man's existentialist flick, The Royal Tenenbaums, wherein Nico and Nick Drake alike are cast in the limiting pigeonhole of «suicide music». (Reducing their multi-faceted oeuvre to some kind of suicidesploitation—slaves to the cartoon-like image of their current legacy, as curated by mediocre critics and self-proclaimed connoisseurs more taken with inconsequential gossip and sensational morbidity than the actual contents of the work.)

Not that Drake can compare to Nico. Drake's songs, too, dealt with what one might pompously refer to as «emptiness.» But he filled it with self-pity. This is simply not on with Nico. Though many people take observation for moaning sometimes, you can take cold, hard looks without feeling sorry for yourself. Which makes it all the colder and harder. (And I mean that in a laudatory sense, not a pitying one.)

Laying aside the pop culture references for a minute, if you actually listen to Nico's music you'll find it so uncompromising and courageous you need to summon bravery and stamina just to sit through it.

Not merely for the sake of it, mind you. For all the emotional drain, there's a reward: truth, unsullied by sentimental flourishes to sweeten the pill. Typically, of course, truth is not only a reward, but also a punishment, so you better put yourself in the mindset of a masochist as well as a scientist before you sit yourself down to a session of Nico's unrelenting stare at what lies beneath our fickle, scuttering sentiments. You know, those things we use to distract ourselves from reality?

Unlike Dylan or Cohen, Nico doesn't turn to beauty or passion as effects to make what she sees clearer than most more palatable for the rest of us (or for herself). Upon first hearing the flat drone of her voice you may be mistaken for thinking she's cold. But you'll soon realise she's not; she's merely avoiding sentimentality. And that takes determination and concentration (not to mention guts).

Listening to her best albums, the thought might occur to you that Nico relied on yet another man, her usual arranger John Cale. Without devaluing his contribution to her classic albums, these solo recordings—made for John Peel at the BBC in 1971 and 1974, with only Nico's voice and harmonium (and without Brian Eno's dated and intrusive synths on the '74 sessions)—amply prove that she was a singular, self-sufficient artist of considerable greatness. For all their poetry, neither Reed, Dylan, Cohen nor Gainsbourg ever managed to create as piercing an effect as Nico did—achieving perhaps stolen moments of supreme focus in a couplet here and there, but never in their performances. (Warhol, Pop, Morrison and Taylor never even came close.)

Dylan and Reed, in particular, are always «recreating» themselves and restlessly trying something «new,» lest they stagnate. There was no such need for Nico (except for the financial need that made her play Velvet Underground classics to punks in the later years of her career). She merely kept on staring, her eye on the prize, never wavering from the most uncomfortable, yet ever-present that there is. Once you've hit upon it, there's no point in searching for truth.

The relentless monotony and repetition in Nico's music isn't due to lack of imagination, or to limited range or know-how. It's about concentration; about focussing on the supremely uncomfortable yet fundamental without once averting your eyes. There's no distraction in Nico's music. Nor is there any release. This is what makes it so unbearable, and this is what makes it so great: the true reality for any conscious being, in song format!

Welcome to the hole, without any of the numerous things we try to fill it with.


Net Nuggets 22: The Sister Grimm

Larkin Grimm: More songs, live on Airborne Event [.zip]

You said I am despicable, you said I am a whore
I am young enough to have it all, but I don't want any more
Dress me up in plastic and my skin is getting sore
I am wanking in the corner waiting for a nuclear war
Hoarding all the garbage and it's filling up my car
My suffering is meaningless, I'm stinking like the tar
That smothers all the grass and lets me drive you to the bar
And if you want to handle me just tell me who you are

My tits are made of silicone just like the earth and sea
I am swallering more estrogen so you won't pregnate me
Swarming, swarming little bratsies, hollering and mean
Eat your oily cereal and keep your nostrils clean
The chemicals are coming for you, keeping you alive
The bees are up and vomiting outside the old beehive
Swarming, swarming little beasties, sniveling and weak
The strong are taking everything and stamping on the meek

Baby, if you love me you should stab me in the lung
And let me strangle you before your breath blocks out the sun
You're going to die anyway so let me kill you now
I'll send you back to heaven cuz you're already in hell
You're going to die anyway so let me kill you nice
Everything is paid for and I'm puking up the price
My vomit is a rainbow-colored smörgåsbord of snurt
In every colored chemical that made my belly hurt

The macrocosmic spiraled eggs inside my uterus
Are sparkling and bursting with the greenest yellow pus
The milk that feeds my baby from my breast is flowing black
It looks like oil and smells like death and I can't hold it back
I fell asleep and dreamland panthers tore me limb from limb
My lover was a big black cat, I couldn't handle him
I wanted to get water from a soft and slimy stream
But all the critters by the river died inside my dreams

Floating on their backs they turned their bellies to the sky
I sprinkled black oil from my breast on each and every eye
I took a mouthful of the cheapest Dominican rum
And blew a ball of fire from a flame inside my tongue
All the bodies in the brine were quickly set alight
They floundered there and let their furry flames fire up the night
Patiently the panthers pieced me back together again
I woke up and I welcomed back the ugly world of men
The literary event of 2008 was surely Parplar, the album where Larkin Grimm graduated from the confessional Freak Folk of her signature whimsical hysteria to a furious conjuring of visionary, black magical realism—a vengeful psychedelia comin' atcha from the core of true femininity. (The kind that doesn't necessarily come with a vagina.) If Bob Dylan became «a column of air» with his speed-fuelled stream-of-consciousness ramblings in 1965, Grimm—with a tour-de-force highlight like «Dominican Rum»—is a geysir, shooting out rage and love, less concerned with bohemian poetry than destroying the selfish with care and understanding, but determination nonetheless. Nothing demonstrates the fine, but crucial difference between understanding and forgiveness like the tender brutality of Grimm's unforgiving anger, free from contempt, and therefore pure, cleansing the weak and evil with righteousness—truth, ugly and brutal—not for her sake, but for them and for everyone else, as well. Oh, to be punished by the Mother Goddess!

A while ago, Toilet Guppies posted parts of a performance Grimm and John Houx did for WFMU. I don't remember why I left these other tracks out: «Blond and Golden Johns» (actually about Paris Hilton) could be read as one of the most interesting takes on prostitution, replacing the maudlin romanticisms of a Tom Waits or the clichéd empathy of a PJ Harvey with ecstatic truth. «My Justine» is another lyrical high point, with its steadily unfolding stream of dense imagery and disparate elements—nature and technology, pollution and purity, loss and peace—combining to create some sort of emotional sense out of intellectual nonsense. «Parplar» is Grimm's idea of where orgasms come from—another galaxy. (When she told this, ever so earnestly, to the audience at the Ancienne Belgique in Brussels earlier this year, the reaction of giggles and whispered ripostes—all the voices chattering in mistaken response to what they naturally assumed to be some sort of joke—seemed to alienate, disappoint and, perhaps, hurt her. But as she's explained in an interview, «A lot of girls, you know, they think about boys and maybe they’re masturbating. For me it was never that. I was always just thinking about stars. I was thinking about the universe and what’s beyond the universe.»)

Then there's «Dominican Rum» (lyrics given above), the words to which arrive at clarity through confusion. It's a marathon that never lets up or down, a singular piece of writing in rock that rivals a perfect set of lyrics such as «Mr. Tambourine Man», and coming as much from a column of air as that song. Its assured and flawless writing puts other songwriters to shame. For the ultimate version, purchase Parplar now, no delay!


One more sleep until kicks off. For those getting a Friday night head start, here's Noise Floor Crew's retooling of Portishead's no-nonsense kick-in-yer-conscience track off Third, the sublime and terrifying «Machine Gun»—remixed so you can dance to it!

For more existential dance, come early to hear Toilet Guppies' own Sheik Yerdix play a set tomorrow night at Sjokoladefabrikken. Doors open 22:00. 100 kr. entrance, 80 kr. before midnight.


Net Nuggets 21: Lose Control!

A while back, I posted Girls Against Boys' definitive cover of Joy Division's «She's Lost Control». You could read that song as an ode to party people's reckless and almost compulsive disregard for their own well-being—which, incidentally, is what this Saturday's Toilet Guppies-sponsored club night is all about. Punch common sense in the tits, why dontcha, and head down to Sjokoladefabrikken on the 28th of November! Toilet Guppies' official trash consultant, DJ Sheik Yerdix, may or may not play «She's Lost Control», but if he does, it'll probably be one of these versions:

Tronik Youth's metallic knock-out skullfuck remix of Joy Division's original, gradually reducing the track to its backbone, with only the frazzled, fuzzed-out drums left in the end, lingering like the buzz in your spine whenever N2O vibrates in your marrow:
Joy Division: «She's Lost Control» (Tronik Youth shred it edit) [mp3]

Then there's the new (and as-yet unreleased) BJM song, obviously inspired by the Mancunian post-punks' «She's Lost Control» (rhythm track) and «I Remember Nothing» (lyrics):
The Brian Jonestown Massacre: «This Is the One Thing We Did Not» [mp3]

Sjokoladefabrikken @ Stockholmgata 12, Oslo.
Doors open 22:00.
Entrance fee: kr. 100,- (80,- before midnight!)


Mp3 Killed the Vinyl DJ 6: HTRK, Team Plastique, and △

HTRK: «ksext» [mp3]
[Download disabled, due to inferior vinyl rip. New and improved rip here.]

As mentioned earlier, Toilet Guppies is an accessory to the forthcoming new club night in Oslo, . Until one of us «discovered» funtastic electropunk cabaret sensation Team Plastique, resident DJ Sheik Yerdix entertained grandiose daydreams of getting hate rock trio HTRK to play the event, with Jonnine Standish patiently pummeling the trendies to a pulp with her slow and brutal bass drum, teaching us all a lesson:

That's not going to happen. Still, as HTRK is an inspiration their music may serve as a taste of what attitude to expect from the barely controlled chaos that is, for want of a better word, . Hear, then, this instrumental hate rock track from limited edition vinyl-only split EP, «Keep Mother» #6. You know the feel of it, you know the smell of it, the taste of it, and the look of it; now hear the sound of sex. «ksext» may not have the hallmark decadent singing of Ms. Standish—a voice that simultaneously exudes horniness and boredom, in equal measure—but that guitar is pure swampy, sweaty lust. (I think Nigel Yang's guitar just had an orgasm.) For those of us too young to have witnessed Suicide, the Birthday Party, Einstürzende Neubauten, SWANS or Teenage Jesus & the Jerks back in their late '70s/early '80s heyday, HTRK represent a rare hope that all is not bland.

As do certain other in-yer-face artists—such as the tits-out electro splosher nudists of Team Plastique, to make their first appearance in Norway in just five days! So catch them while you can:

Sjokoladefabrikken, Oslo on Saturday 28 November, from 10pm til late. Suckers stay at home, and only neuters attend other nightspots.


Rare or Unreleased 35: Womanneed!

PJ Harvey: To Bring You My Love outtakes [.zip]

Today's Saturday, which means you could probably use some music to prep you for tonight and get you all psyched for its inevitable excesses, but more importantly: get you oiled up and ready for next weekend's electro cabaret bash here in Oslo:

1995 saw the release of PJ Harvey's seminal To Bring You My Love, the breakthrough and arguably most accomplished record of her career, with its varied but assured arrangements and ballsy, uncompromising delivery. Upon release, both album singles and a limited edition bonus CD featured radio recordings, earlier demos and outtakes from the recording sessions. These are now out of print, but worry not: TG brings to you the four To Bring You My Love outtakes that aren't commercially available anymore. (Completists: A fifth song, «Naked Cousin», is still available on the soundtrack to The Crow—City of Angels.)

«Maniac» (with emphasis on «man»), «Harder» (with emphasis on «hard») and «Darling Be There» (with emphasis on «being there», frequently a requirement for the first, after he's been the second) are all
dripping with two kinds of womanneed. «Maniac» and «Harder» are demands to be dominated—to be obliterated by desire, the screaming plaything of passion at once in charge and submissive. «Darling Be There» names the price of the lunch. (As that adorably clueless socio Dexter registers, as he tries to make sense of the mess that are human emotions: «She wants something from me. Ever since the blow job she assumes we've taken it to the next level.») «One Time too Many» is Harvey at her most funky—and sassy, as she mocks a man who just cannot deliver. Hot.

Toilet Guppies-sponsored club night is only a week away today, and man are we psyched! It's mainly an electro night, with naughty cabaret thrown in for kicks, so don't expect to hear any PJ Harvey—although burlesque duo Femme Ferale are known to bounce, jiggle and writhe to raunchy rawk'n'roll. (And who knows? DJ Sheik Yerdix has a tendency to lapse back into R'n'R whenever he feels the proceedings need to be injected with a little soul.)

Whatever the music, it's just that attitude; some of Harvey's songs here are among the sexiest ever put to tape, and her sassy-lassie fire-down-below swagger seems perfectly in keeping with Femme Ferale's trashed-up burlesque. Brazenly, Harvey bypasses sultriness altogether, going straight for unbridled lust. As both PJ Harvey's music and Femme Ferale's tattooed punklesque(?!) prove, snarls and pouts will always be hotter than innocent smiles, however teasing or inviting.
Crawling, too—one of Femme Ferale's past-times—is sexier than even a long-legged strut down the catwalk.

So do yerself a favour and come on down to Sjokoladefabrikken next Saturday (28 November) for some satisfaction action to make your liver quiver. I certainly wouldn't miss the opportunity to witness firsthand a burlesque act that's a little less vanilla than the strictly retro (and mostly cute) performers of this town. You see the pictures. Free psychiatric assistance to anyone who feels they're able to resist…

Signing off now with a choice YuoTube moment. Guys, get ready to be reduced to a pathetic pulp of pulsing manneed:


Mp3 Killed the Vinyl DJ 5: Mae West & Other Feral Femmes

While many Feminists seem to believe that sexuality caters to men, not women (because being an object of desire is seen to have less to do with desire, and more to do with being an object), some women embrace sex not because they're victimised or weak—or even because they want to exploit men's weaknesses—but simply because they're randy. When Mae West wrote her play Sex, landing her in court on obscenity charges, she didn't do so because sex sells. She was just a sexpot. The girl couldn't help it, and damned if she'd let some boring old farts—fragile, male egos and jealous female egos, both intimidated by a woman's sexual freedom and demands—stop her. What they objected to, of course, was that she went from being an object of desire to being a subject of desire. Worse: both at the same time!

Nothing can be hotter, of course, and no rhetoric from insecure patriarchs or puritanical Feminists will ever change that.

Toilet Guppies is currently in on organising a sexedelic electro burlesque event in Oslo (the first night to be held on Saturday 28 November), and certain locals—clubbers, trendies, party youths, no less—have voiced their disapproval at the news that a burlesque duo will be performing, perhaps baring it all. The effortlessly titillating Chiquita Bonita and Lucrezia La Bomba of Femme Ferale, who won Best New Troupe at the 2008 London Burlesque Festival, have agreed to entice and tease us with their playful and modernised burlesque act. Apparently, even the innocent tease of vaudeville strip is too much for the fragile egos of many young Norwegians…

But Femme Ferale have embraced their beauty, flaunting it as they have it, and have chosen to cultivate their self-esteem and -possession. They don't rely on the scraps thrown their way by sexually frustrated businessmen whose wives don't understand them, nor are they in any way limited by the violent control of brute mafiosi. They're merely sizzling hot. Why hide behind false modesty? So that their «sisters» won't feel so unappealing, boring and sexless as Femme Ferale command the stage? It's high time the general population of Norway is not hemmed in by some people's neuroses…

As with burlesque acts, Mae West was full of humour. Sex was about fun, pleasure, life, not about politics—unless we're talking the politics of fun, pleasure, choice. And so it is that one of the club night's resident DJs, Sheik Yerdix, has provided Toilet Guppies with a selection of 1966
recordings made by a 74 year-old West, backed by a teenage garage sensation (the aptly named Somebody's Chyldren!). Femme Ferale aren't your average burlesque troupe, residing in a nostalgic fantasy-land of safe tease, soundtracked by the same old exotica or '30s jazz, yet there's something of Mae West's assured attitude present in their slightly punked-up burlesque, so here you go. These are the highlights from Mae West's rare Way Out West, an album full of Dylan, Beatles and John Lee Hooker covers, as well as various garage standards—an album considered so negligible that it's never been reissued. But as these four tracks—and the obscene price Sheik Yerdix had to shell out for an original vinyl copy—prove, the combination of a sexed-up septuagenerian bombshell and a band of hormonal teen boys is as good an idea on vinyl as it was on paper.

Lighten up, Oslo, and prepare yourself:

Mae West & Somebody's Chyldren: Selections from Way Out West [.zip]

1. Treat Him Right
2. Boom Boom
3. Shakin' All Over
4. Mae Day

@ Sjokoladefabrikken, Stockholmgata 12, Oslo,
on Saturday 28 November.
Doors open 22:10. Entrance kr. 100,-.
RSVP Facebook.