Straight Outta Left Field (Part Three of Three)

Hip-hop is a form built on pre-recorded music, and so it was by nature a kind of fusion. Africa Bambaataa’s sampling of Kraftwerk opened up a world of endless possibility. De La Soul used samples from Cymande, Blackbyrd, Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, Bob Marley, Lou Rawls, Ennio Morricone, Serge Gainsbourg, the Doors, Tom Petty, Malcolm McLaren, Prince, Daffy Duck, and Fat Albert.

Dr. Dre has used sources as diverse as Led Zeppelin, Bill Withers, Quincy Jones, Joe Cocker, Grant Green, John Carpenter, and John Barry. Kanye West has recycled Queen, Al Green, Marvin Gaye, Queen, Gino Vanelli, Tommy James and the Shondells, Steely Dan, Mountain, Nina Simone, and Madonna.

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I loved hip-hop in the early days, but I drifted away from it when the themes seemed to swerve into braggadocio tinged with the forbidden. If I was interested in conspicuous consumption I’d just stick with the Robb Report. Hip-hop was great when it scared the shit out of people—like N.W.A. Who were, by the way, really creative in their sources, using Roy Ayers, the Honey Drippers, Brass Construction, Wilson Pickett, Steve Miller, William DeVaughn, Z.Z.Hill, the Pointer Sisters, and Charles Wright & the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band, among many others.

Now I don’t listen to a lot of hip-hop these days, but every once in a while something will sneak up on me and make it onto my heavy rotation, like Chamillionaire’s “Ridin’ Dirty.” Anyway, lately I discovered that there were a few things I really liked listening to that represented unlikely combinations. After listening to Ben Folds croon Dr. Dre’s “Bitches Ain’t Shit,” I found that I was likely to play the amazing bluegrass version of Snoop Dogg’s “Gin & Juice” recorded by the Gourds, an excellently soulful and literate alternative country band from Austin.

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After that I might put on Snoop Dogg’s tribute to Johnny Cash, “My Medicine.”

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And so I found myself wondering if there might be a sneaky little fusion going on hip-hop and country or bluegrass. I never thought much about bluegrass, except when I went to Ireland and found that the locals love it. I found myself sometimes thinking, wow, that’s pretty good. It’s almost like blues. And then of course there was the unexplainable fact that I saw the Coen Brothers’ “O Brother Where Art Thou” at least a dozen times and bought the CD the week it came out. Maybe there’s some important link, deep in the past, or maybe slightly in the future.

And then I found Rench. This guy is a player and producer who makes a lot of music. He’s up there on MySpace, where you will notice that he lists among his influences George Jones, Run DMC, Gram Parsons, Missy Elliot, Merle Haggard, Outkast, Otis Redding, Conway Twitty, Macy Gray, Lefty Frizell, Public Enemy… You catch my drift.

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Now Rench has made a lot of music, but that which most fully and astoundingly fulfills this fusion I thought I dreamed up is Gangstagrass. I played it for my eight-year-old and he was really impressed. He said, “It’s like hip hop and country at the same time.” Yeah, he’s right.

This music is now in full effect on my MacBook. Full-scale hip-hop emceeing over full-tilt country picking. Public Enemy meets Flatt & Scruggs. And the amazing thing is how natural the blend is. Like, how did we not know that bluegrass is funk? Rench and his Brooklyn-based crew make this absolutely clear. I particularly dig the tracks with vocals performed by Deep Thoughts. Check out “Going Down.”

This is about as American as you can get. In the good way. Makes you think that all those strange roots dig into the same rich earth, and you never can tell what kind of wild hybrids we got growing in the greenhouse.

Straight Outta Left Field (Part Two of Three)


Genres are the enemy. Especially in music. They lead to stupid radio formats and talented musicians repeating the same old same old. Creativity is often found in the seeming collision of genres.

Miles Davis pioneered what is called fusion, mixing rock, R&B, and jazz forms. This part of Miles's work has been derided by the likes of Stanley Crouch and Wynton Marsalis, but I believe the best of it holds up to the more universally acclaimed Kind of Blue and Miles’s cool-school breakthroughs with the likes of Gil Evans. Miles was inspired by musicians like James Brown, Sly Stone, and Jimi Hendrix, and listening to In a Silent Way, Bitches Brew, Jack Johnson, or On the Corner, you can get a real wake-up call from the seventies.

Fusion, however, got a bad name because the imitators could never come close to capturing the accomplishments of that small band of pioneers who worked the space between jazz and popular forms—like Miles, Tony Williams, Weather Report, Donald Byrd, Larry Coryell, and John McLaughlin.




A lot of the musicians involved in fusion were also interested in the fringes of rock. Tony Williams was Miles Davis’s phenomenon teen drummer, and his own group included the sometime rock guitarist John McLaughlin. When Eric Clapton’s jazz-influenced trio Cream broke up—a group known for extending heavy blues rock into Coltrane-type territory via extended jams—Williams recruited the bass player, Jack Bruce, for his electric jazz combo, Lifetime.


Not only was Miles Davis listening to Hendrix, Hendrix was listening back. One of the projects unrealized because of his death was a collaboration with Gil Evans, the jazz arranger best known for his collaborations with Miles Davis. But Evans took some of the ideas he had for the collaboration and made an extraordinary album called The Gil Evans Orchestra Plays the Music of Jimi Hendrix. Check this out:

Gil Evans had an apartment on 52nd Street in Manhattan during the time when that was the world headquarters for jazz, and between sets the musicians playing the various clubs would drift over to Evans’s place to smoke weed and jam. Evans intuitively grasped the possibilities of mixing things up, and his collaborations with Miles were about taking jazz into new territory. In Sketches of Spain that territory was the music of the Iberian peninsula, particularly the Spanish folk tradition, but also Spanish classical composition and even ballet.



In Quiet Nights, Miles and Gil headed for South America, giving us Davis’s take on the bossa nova sound. It has been blasted by critics, but most of them are probably retired now, and I find the soft and lush arrangements and the extraordinary musicianship remarkably contemporary. This music was made in the early sixties (the tapes had been sitting around for some time before the 1963 release). Today you can see this as the predecessor to the extraordinary and revolutionary space music that Davis introduced with the breakthrough album In a Silent Way in 1969.


This was the most influential record of its time. Hated by many, it got the fusion bandwagon rolling. But don’t blame Miles that thousands of inferior musicians took his idea into places worse than nowhere. Gil Evans was once asked what music had influenced him most and he replied, “bad music.”

The best of Miles’s electric albums still sound like the future.

I don’t like to think of music as progressive. It’s not science. But it is evolutionary, and the new bag that Miles fashioned with musicians like John McLaughlin, Joe Zawinul, Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Jack DeJohnette, Chick Corea, Airto Morera, and Mtume still stands today as an unsurpassed achievement—not just crossing boundaries but transcending them.

Straight Outta Left Field (Part One of Three)

When something in art or music is uncategorizable, that’s usually a good thing. It suggests unexplored territory has been reached by thinking outside the box, or the cube, or the envelope. It means it’s not part of a movement, which is usually composed of a few interesting explorers and lots of colorfully dressed imitators. Invention leads to convention, which leads to formula. Which is why you see people today dressed like hippies (original about 42 years ago) or punks (original about 32 years ago.) But all this is not to say that you can’t be creative within a tradition—or at least starting within one and working your way out of it.


It’s not? Yeah, right.

In some ways originality in our culture is forced, because of the funny ideas we have about modernism, and the idea that there is such a thing as “progress” in the visual arts or in music. Such beliefs should be confined to science (and even there with strict provisos involving the unintended consequences of progress). (“One step forward, two step forward inna Babylon,” as Max Romeo sang.) And then there’s the idea of progress that is spurred on by the profit motive. Musicians would avoid repeating perfect extant blues progressions, which probably come from old Africa, gratuitously altering them so they could make “original music” and collect the writing royalties. And so the magic got diluted.

But sometimes someone comes along who knows how to take a folk form and evolve it for the times, like what Jimi Hendrix did with the blues. His pop songs are fantastic, of course, but what he did in the direct line of Robert Johnson is astounding. I love the compilation of his blues tracks, appropriately titled “Blues,” which is available on CD, iTunes, and Amazon MP3 download. It expresses how music flows, from a place that is literally prehistoric, into the future through the musical magician in touch with his senses.


Much of the best of rock has involved English guys discovering Chicago Blues and R&B via Stax, Motown, etc. The Rolling Stones changed the world by mixing up Chuck Berry, Howlin’ Wolf, and Don Covay with chamber music, raga, and music hall. The Stones weren’t copyists. When they took something, they found ways to make it their own.

No. Not "Yes," No...

A few nights ago Teenage Jesus and the Jerks played New York, at the Knitting Factory. It was kind of like "old home week," especially if your old home was a home for disturbed children or the criminally insane. The place was packed with a multi-generational mob of black-clothed, dyed-black-haired, sunglasses-after-dark-wearing hipsters. They were here to see something you can't see anymore, and hear something live that lives only on record. And Teenage Jesus, headed by Lydia Lunch, this ancient, gnarly band of refusenik revolutionaries, unseen in these precincts for… could it be 27 years?… put on a show the likes of which belong mostly to memory and its dumb nephew, history.

The No Wave was back for a night, and it was a bad mother. There I was, watching a band I watched generations ago, in the company of a bunch of old people who look kind of like my friends of that period—Diego Cortez, Michael Zilkha, Seth Tillet. And there was Marty Rev of Suicide, and James Chance of the Contortions. It was like a reunion of legendary outlaws and their inlaws. And the band, well, this was no nostalgia show. They were really powerful, aged but unchanged, angry as adolescents, and out of step with the pop world as ever. It was a guilty pleasure. Or a guilty pain. Part triumph and part regret for the road not taken far enough. But some background…

Teenage Jesus was the original band of Lydia Lunch, a notorious performer historically linked with what is known as No Wave. And, at her peak, Lydia Lunch was more No than anyone, with the possible exception of James Chance and his girlfriend/manager Anya Phillips. Lydia was to entertainment's star system what black holes are to the astronomical star systems.

The term No Wave started as a joke on New Wave, a rather wimpy catch-all which I believe was created by a copywriter at Sire Records who perhaps felt he was stretching it to lump the Ramones and Talking Heads under the same category or rubric. Clearly Talking Heads and many of the other bands who played the C.B.G.B./Max's circuit did not wear leather jackets, play fast, or write songs about being sedated. So, New Wave, with its sexy French connotations of Godard, Belmondo, Anna Karina, Gitanes, and existentialism had a certain appeal. But it also seemed a little wimpy. What about the bands who were genuinely avant-garde and who came out of some weird fusion of pop art, abstract expressionism, serialism, film noir, rhythm and blues, free jazz, and juvenile delinquency?

Well, No Wave seemed like a fun thing to call the bands working the frontiers of bohemianism, and it caught on with the public, a rather small but determined public, mainly through Brian Eno's seminal compilation album No New York, which came out in 1978 on Antilles Records and introduced the talents of Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, the Contortions, DNA, and Mars. James Chance appeared on the Teenage Jesus tracks on No New York, and Lydia would appear on several James Chance tracks on his Ze Records album Off White, guest starring as vocalist "Stella Rico."

Lydia also worked with Michael Zilkha's groundbreaking Ze Records, making with house producer Bob Blank one spectacular album, the Queen of Siam LP. One of Lydia's best quotes is, "I would be humiliated if I found out that anything I did actually became a commercial success." Yet Queen of Siam flirted with popularity, playing up her extreme sultriness and ball-busting sexiness.

Where Teenage Jesus had made music with raw power and rough edges, Queen of Siam was polished and professional, with amazing horn arrangements by Billy ver Plank, and material like the classic Billie Holiday number "Gloomy Sunday" and the Classics IV's 1968 hit "Spooky." It was a record that said, "I could be a big star if I condescended to that," and proved that if Lydia didn't become a pop star it wasn't because she didn't have the chops.

In fact, although she was known for a very rough, anarchic vocal style, she could sing with edgy pleasantness, and her guitar-playing style was simply riveting. Two of the most interesting instrumentalists on the scene were women playing slide guitar: Lydia and Pat Place of the Contortions.

The original Teenage Jesus had a Japanese guy named Reck on bass (who was also in an early version of the Contortions); when he returned to Japan he was replaced by Gordon Stevenson on bass. Bradley Field was featured on "drum," (yes, not drums but drum) an instrument he sometimes played with the Contortions and James White and the Blacks. James Chance, aka White, of course, blew manic sax on the early tracks. Jim Sclavunos joined the band on bass after Gordon, and he stuck with Lydia through her other bands, Beirut Slump and 8-Eyed Spy.

They might not have gotten famous back in the day, but they were plenty infamous. It was the usual too-much-too-soon, ahead of the time, too smart for the room thing, wedded to a healthy dose of refusenikism. Lydia just refused to water herself down for general consumption, an act of integrity that few artists of the last half-century can lay any claim to. And she made spurning look sexy, in a sort of magnificently bitchy and cosmically unreceptive way. The No Wave was a joke, of course, but today it looks better than ever and my main reaction to seeing Lydia front a band in New York again was delighted laughter.

The occasion of Teenage Jesus and the Jerks playing New York was the publication of the book No Wave by Byron Coley and Sonic Youth guitarist Thurston Moore, who has also worked with Lydia on a number of projects, including a 1984 EP, In Limbo, a 1986 12" called Death Valley '69, and another 12" in 1987, The Crumb. I haven't picked up a copy of Thurston's book yet, but I read it at James Nares's apartment, and it's really good. I'm going to buy several copies. It is filled with delightful documents and information and is worth the price on the Robert Christgau/James Chance fistfight alone.

So anyway, it was only unnatural that the '08 version of T.J.&T.J. would feature Thurston on bass and Sclavunos on drum. I would have given anything to see the late, lamented Bradley Field, one of the great genii of the period, on drum, but I must say Mr. Sclavunos did a superb, almost flawless job with a drum, a cymbal, and two sticks. He was spare, elegant, and in time. Flawless wouldn't have been appropriate, anyway.

And the band's new bass player, Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth, gave this old-but-more-energetic-than-the-kids band its very powerful sound, modern but perfectly appropriate in power and edge. But there was no doubt who was the star of the show. Lydia brought a refreshing breeze of bile to a community where lilied livers are endemic.

I'm not going to do a play by play, but I had a grand time. I loved every second. Maybe I shouldn't have, according to some make-believe critics. I was picking up some paper to clean up after my dog on the street when I happened to find this from the New York Press, a rag that advertises massage parlors: "Just because Lydia can still kick out the classics, however, doesn't necessarily mean this show should have happened. No Wave, the movement, the people, even the music to some extent, has been retrospectively fetishized to the extent that any resurgence of its key players is bound to get tangled up in the tawdry middle ground between boho nostalgia and historical meretriciousness."

Got that, the show shouldn't have happened according to this theorist. Now let me see, the evils we would avoid thus are boho nostalgia and historical meretriciousness. Hmm. Those abstractoids almost sound yummy to me. Maybe that's why I had such a good time at the show. Boho nostalgia is so powerful at the moment that it would seem to be almost on the verge of giving the culture a boner. And meretriciousness is all about boners too, isn't it? And a historical boner is better than no wood at all, I'd say.

Dopes like this may be the reason Lydia lives in Barcelona, or someplace like that. But it was great, for one evening, to witness a replay of the fantastic promise of negation that Lydia and her erstwhile cohorts offered almost nightly. Those weren't the days. Neither are these. But it was fantastic fun and I must say the nasty old bitch looked gorgeous and sounded absolutely, terrifyingly right on. Twenty minutes. No encore. Perfect.

Help Make Compton Maddux Famouser

I met Compton Maddux through a Chicago poet named John Rezek, who speaks in a deep baritone, knows the difference between zeugma and syllepsis, and can recognize an authentic voice through a locked door. He figured I'd dig Compton, a musician/wordsmith who also has a very nice baritone and a deep sense of humor. He is what they call a singer/songwriter. Maybe he's a songwriter/singer. But, you know…he somewhat resembles Steve Earle genre-wise, although he looks nothing like him and tends to stay out of trouble. He's sort of urbane country. As my wife said, "You know why he's not famous? He lives in Nyack! He should live in Austin or Memphis or Nashville."


I had Mr. Maddux on my old cable show TV Party several times, and he appears in the documentary about the show that's available on DVD (and which Jerry Stiller says "belongs in the Smithsonian Institution.") He dressed in surgical scrubs and sang a couple of great songs—"I'm a Clone of Myself" and "Ka Ka Disco"—backed up on vocals by me and Debbie Harry. He put on a great show. (He also put in a great comic turn playing the celebrity chauffer in the film Downtown 81 starring Jean-Michel Basquiat.) I think the problem with his career was that he was sort of a man without a category—he was country, funny, new wave, singer-songwriter. Since then, Compton has countrified considerably, digging into the music he loves, but still he is not a household word. Talent is not enough, my dear readers, oh no. Other factors abound such as luck, the stars, suffering, chance, synchronicity, payola, truckling, and toadying, etc. If it were just talent and persistence, well, this guy might have come in as Mr. Congeniality in the Sexiest Man Alive competition.

Maybe the wife is right. Compton lives in Nyack, where he makes better and better music and maintains an expertise on many things. For example, he came over to my place and explained why the "Decorator White" oil-based paint on my doors and windows was turning yellow. Then he gave me his CDs "Feats of Clay" and "Dirt Simple," and then he fixed my trim. It was strange. It felt like having John Hyatt help you move or Bonnie Raitt give you a haircut. But talent knows no bounds. Nyack, however, does. I have told Compton that if he moved to Austin, the live music capital of the world, he would probably make it big. But he expects me to drive him.

I've got Compton's music on my MacBook now, in heavy rotation along with Jarvis Cocker, Duke Ellington, Lee Perry, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Lou Rawls, the Brian Jonestown Massacre, King Pleasure, the Gothic Archies, Dean Martin, and Sam the Sham and the Pharoahs. Since the radio turned to trash I pretend my computer is a radio, and WGOB plays a heady mix of reggae, soul, funk, disco, singer-songwriter, and jazz, attempting to achieve absolutely zero format. So Compton fits right in, right along with all those famous artistes. The guy writes gems and performs them delightfully. But he's way underfamous. That's what happens sometimes when you don't do the obvious thing.

Compton Maddux was born in New York City. The country in him comes straight outta Compton, right from the DNA. He is country because country is white blues. He is a true country singer from the most urbane and densely populated area of the nation. This would seem to be a disadvantage, as Gina points out, yet Billy the Kid was born on Allen Street in Manhattan, and I believe that coming to country from the outside is exactly what gives Compton rare perspective and trenchant irony. See, he's also a poet, having studied with Ed Dorn and Stephen Spender and Tony Hecht. But of course being a poet is, professionally, in the same category with being a lutist or a shepherd—no, actually there are less openings—so he starting playing music and writing songs. Often they were humorous, which can be the kiss of death. And often they were exquisitely sincere: ditto. But as we all know, suffering and struggle is supposed to be great for artists and poets, so Compton now has a tremendous advantage, having put in years of both. Check out the lyrics:

She's half saint and the part that ain't
Is the part that's good to me…

That's from the song "Designated Driver":

She's my designated driver
she drives me to the Bar
she drives me to drink in her car

And I love "Bible Belt":

I'd swear a month of Sundays
This sorry hand I'm dealt
Deep down low she hit me
Way down low
Below the Bible belt

Both of Mr. Maddux's discs stink of excellence, including the musicianship, which features the fine guitar licks of Jeff Golub and Jim Lauderdale on "Feet of Clay" and the brilliant fiddling of Allison Cornell (Shania Twain) on "Dirt Simple." Help me make this fine songwriter famous and, well, not rich, but comfier. I think he could be New York's answer to James Hand, the great soulful country singer from central Texas who released his first album last year at the age of 53. (And check out Mr. Hand, please! The Truth Will Set You Free (Rounder Records) is produced by the eminent Lloyd Maines, producer and father of one of the Dixie Chicks.) His albums are available on, singles through iTunes.

Young whippersnappers have nothin' on these ripe type cats who have been working hard at it a shy lifetime. Mr. Compton Maddux will be playing The Turning Point in Piermont, N.Y., Saturday, May 26th at 9:00PM. Call (845-359-1089) for reservations.

A New Voice in My Head

I never thought I would get into MySpace, anymore than I'd get into Friendster. I have more than enough friends. I mean, I'm always open to a new one, but I'm not out there looking for them. But then my friend Chris Stein, the famous guitarist from Blondie, signed me up for MySpace to promote our old TV Party DVDs. He put a twenty-year-old picture of me on it, and now I have lots of young girlfriends from all over the country, as well as lots of band friends. I think it was really bands who made MySpace such an interesting phenomenon. You can put music and videos up on your home page and the music spreads—I'm not crazy about the term, but you know what I mean—virally.


I don't know how to put music on my page, and I'm sort of too busy to deal with it, but I love how it works. Lots of MySpacers demonstrate their cool by displaying their curriculum vitae to their favorite soundtrack, either original or borrowed. Every time somebody asks to be my friend and they happen to be a girl I actually go to their page to make sure that she is not fronting for some corporation trying to sell me something, and that she is not offering to show me naked pictures. Please! I've got work to do around here, and I'm not Terry Richardson. Anyway, a sweet young thing asked to be a friend the other day and, when I clicked on her page, this great voice reached out across the Internet and spoke to me. It was a song by the Gothic Archies, called "Shipwrecked." It sounded like a collision of Tom Waits and Merle Haggard doing an impression of Cole Porter. The voice was that of Stephin Merritt, a great genius songwriter and performer, as I would soon discover.


I had some Magnetic Fields tracks on my MacBook, like the poignant, curmudgeonly, dark broken-heart anthem "I Don't Want to Get Over You." Or "Papa Was a Rodeo," a sort of perfect meld of Johnny Cash and Morrissey. But I hadn't focused on them or made the connection or really understood the gravity of this guy and his many creative fronts and/or sides, which also include Future Bible Heroes, the Three Terrors, and the 6ths. Now I see there is much to be listened to from this artist and, so far so excellent.

I guess I'm starting out with the three-volume set 69 Love Songs, which seems to provide much food for thought and tinder for feeling that should carry me well into the heat of summer. I'll let that stuff wash over my head and headquarters and then I'll still have the Gothic Archies to look forward to. I have noted from Mr. Merritt's website that "What makes this band different from The Magnetic Fields is that any glimmer of hope is absolutely extinguished." Sounds perfect for September. And just the idea of Gothic bubblegum makes me invisibly happy.

It's always inspiring to find an artist who uses words brilliantly and unexpectedly, expanding the language like lungs. Lines like, "You know you enthrall me/and yet you don't call me/It's making me blue/Pantone 292." That's a gem. Or, "I see that kiss-me pucker forming/but maybe you should plug it with a beer." This cat could be the Kaiser Soeze of lyricism.

Dressed for Action

I'm an urban automobilist. I have a really nice car, a Mercedes E500 station wagon with all-wheel drive, and I love it. It's got a power rear door, satellite radio, sun roof, all the goodies. It might look bourgeois and suburban, but trust me, it will blow away most sports cars I encounter on the parkways. If necessary. Having a car in the city is tough. No matter how careful you are, you get dinged. I park in an alley space behind my building, and every few months I find some strange tattoo on my car, a scar from life in the asphalt jungle.

The only cure is having a great body shop and I think I found the best when I ran into the guys from Parkway Collision. They do great work, they are gentlemen, their prices are competitive, they pick up your car, and they do so in a sporting manner. The way they do it: by bicycle.


My man Brian is a fitness freak, and he doesn't do spinning classes. He picks up fine cars with problems on his racing bike, collapses the bike, puts it in the cargo space, and away he goes. And he's no fair-weather cat. He observes the same foul-weather imperatives as the U.S.Postal Service, more or less. And if you're interested in two-wheeling, you'll see what the climate-appropriate bike gear is when Brian shows up.

Anyway, if you ever need a dent fixed or a wreck appraised, call my boys at Parkway, or e-mail

R.I.P. J.B.


To call James Brown the Godfather of Soul and the "hardest working man in show business" is an incredible understatement. He was a true culture hero and a great musical genius, one of the musical titans of the twentieth century, not to mention ever. Brown couldn't read a note but that didn't matter a bit, because he always had great musicians around him to execute his revolutionary dictates, deep concepts that came from the divine oracle of funk within his soul. He did revolutionize music, every bit as much as Charlie Parker or Miles Davis or John Coltrane. The funk came through him and it was not just knee-deep.

That none of his seventeen R&B number-ones ever went to number one on the pop charts in America is a cultural disgrace. He was the Einstein of rhythm.

To call him a popstar is to underestimate his greatness. James Brown was a jazz musician, but like Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington, he understood that the roots of jazz are in dance music, and at its peak of power the music must move the body as well as the soul—and so he created a new ultra-modern sound that reconciled the head and the body, the heart and the mind, the past and the future. And so James Brown created The Funk. He put the beat on the one, and as George Clinton said, "the one giveth and the one taketh away." His legacy is all of the P-Funk pure, uncut funk and the best of hip hop.

James Brown's funk combos, the Famous Flames and the JBs, created a brand-new bag, a totally new sound that remains unsurpassed. I think that the body of work Brown produced from "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag" (1965) up until "Get Up Offa That Thing" (1976) stands as an unequalled revolution in music.

I saw Brown perform many times and I was never disappointed. I also had the honor of interviewing the maestro in 1988, on the occasion of his collaboration with Afrika Bambaataa and Soul Sonic Force. Maybe I'll reprint some of that interview one day soon. Anyway, it was like interviewing a king or a roman emperor or something, just the sheer presence and gravity of the man. He took the questions and answers seriously. A few days after the interview was published I was sleeping late when the phone rang and woke me.


"Glenn O'Brien?"


"James Brown."

I was stunned. I fumbled for something to say.

"How are you?"

He paused a moment.

"I feel good!" he crowed.

And I knew that he did.

His gracious, gentlemanly thank you was one of the greatest honors I ever received, and today I have a gold frame on my kitchen wall with large letters in James Brown's hand: "Get on the good foot and take it to the bridge. God bless! James Brown."

God bless James Brown!


I used to hang out at CBGB. I met many, many good friends there and some nice girls, too. I played there several times with my band Konelrad. Once some girls threw some drinks at our handsome guitar player and, unfortunately, those drinks belonged to some Hells Angels, who began wiping up the place with the girls and their entourage. It was a great moment for me. I did my best Mick Jagger imitation, shouting into the microphone, "Brothers and sisters, brothers and sisters, why are we fightin'?"

I saw amazing shows there: Blondie, the Ramones, Suicide, Television, Talking Heads, the Patti Smith Group, the Dead Boys, the Dictators, Jayne County, Tuff Darts, Robert Gordon, the Heartbreakers, Mink DeVille, the Fleshtones, the Marbles, the Mumps, the Kojaks, the Damned, the Jam, Erasers, the Sic Fucks, Steel Tips, Richard Hell and the Voidoids, Walter Steding, and Zev, just to name a few. I even saw AC/DC there.

It was a great place because it was big and loose. And it happened completely by accident. The owner, Hilly Kristal, got fantastically lucky. He opened the place as a venue for country and bluegrass; then, one day soon afterward, the guys from Television were walking down the Bowery, went in, saw the P.A. system, and asked if they could play there. The rest is history. I saw Television there, maybe at their first engagement. The place was a hellhole, but the bands were great.

Hilly was nice. I don't think he knew what was going on, but he knew a good thing when he saw it. Photographer Roberta Bayley was the maître d' during the good old days, and she saw everything. Right across from the front desk where you paid was a check room. Nobody checked their stuff. That's where Hilly "walked" his dogs. It was not a place to order a hamburger, but it boasted one of the largest bars in New York City, along with décor that was totally anomalous and weird, but which was eventually subsumed by graffiti and volcanic ash from nearby Pompeii.


I think it's great that CB's hung on for all that time. It gave a lot of bands a place to grow up. But CB's should have known when to O.D. I hated all the whining and posturing of the last few years. This is New York, not a socialist country. Pay the rent or move somewhere else. Hilly didn't pay his rent for years, then acted like he was being treated unfairly for political reasons. And, of course, the club became a poster child against the development of the Bowery. As someone who lives a block away from the Bowery I'm all for the new hotels and the New Museum and the new Whole Foods on Houston Street. I may someday miss the unbelievable architectural eclecticism of the Bowery, but having a good memory of being chased by guys with knives there may make me view the gentrification of this ancient neighborhood with some optimism.

CB's had a great run. Its closing is not Bloomberg's fault, or Giuliani's. It's the way things are in New York. I am more concerned about losing all of our parking lots and gas stations to condos for the rich.

Hilly has been talking about moving the club to Las Vegas. It sounds good to me. I would love to be able to go to Vegas and see Patti Smith. In fact I think that's where she belongs. I miss young artists living in New York, but Manhattan's for rich people now. I always laugh when I hear Giuliani take credit for the drop in crime. Hey, all the criminals had to move out. Except the white collar guys.

Lily Allen: You Heard It Here First

The tastemakers were out in force for the U.S. debut of Lily Allen on Tuesday night at the Hiro Ballroom, the big Tokyorama space at the Maritime Hotel. Lily Allen is an adorable, smart, and musically provocative young singer from Britain who's the real deal, and the notables were out in force to validate the positive vibes that have been shaking the grapevine. Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth, the Talking Heads who became Tom Tom Club, were there to check out the 22-year-old, as were Michael Zilkha, the founder of Ze Records, already an enthusiast, and his daughter Lucinda, who's the same age as Ms. Allen. Punk rock photography's éminence grise Bob Gruen was in attendance with his wife Elizabeth. So were Aaron Hicklin of Out magazine and David Hershkovits of Paper; artists Tom Sachs and the Neistat Brothers; former Island Records chief Hooman Majd, who's now covering the Tehran beat for The Huffington Post; legendary British rock scribe Vivian Goldman; and Sean McPherson, the guy who owns the place. All were skanking to the beat.

Hiro was packed, and it was a curiously happening scene for the debut of a relative unknown. There was a sort of momentous electricity about the gig. Zilkha said it reminded him of seeing Bruce Springsteen open for Larry Coryell, auditioning for John Hammond of Columbia Records. Wow. Zilkha doesn't look old enough to remember Bruce as an unknown. And aside from the credentialed cognoscenti there was a big, hip crowd representing everyone from the My Space Cadets to the Bad Rad Fashionistas.

Lily Allen was delightful. She reminded me and my pals of Althea and Donna (whose reggae lilt "Uptown Top Ranking" hit number one in the UK in 1978), and also the Waitresses and Neneh Cherry, but she was also totally original. She's reggae- and ska-inflected but with a sweet, silken pop vocal style and witty lyrics. It's not like a Gwen Stefani gig. This is more rootsy and more witty, and there's something jazzy and weirdly early Peggy Lee about it.


Lily's band was terrific and they all looked to be in her young-adult demographic, but they played the hell out of their instruments like session vets. They're an odd combo, with a keyboard whiz, a bass player, and a three-man horn section. They put out a big, body-swaying sound with no drums and no guitars. You don't miss them. Drum machines can do a lot these days, and the horn section was tight and nuanced and the music danced around the room, getting the kids skanking with delight. Maybe jazz singers are coming back with sass and a backbeat.

Her album will be out in January, she said, but in the meantime you can check out tracks from her UK EP, including the UK number-one hit "Smile," in the iTunes Store.

Tom Tom Club (Chris Frantz, left, and Tina Weymouth) and Mr. Ze Records, Michael Zilkha:


Reggae journalist legend Viv Goldman and Hooman Majd:


Lily wore home-girl gold jewelry and a fifties-style dress that was quite adorable, but the foot fetishists in the audience couldn't keep their eyes off the monitors: