Monday, September 30, 2013

A Walk Into the Sea: Danny Williams and the Warhol Factory (2006)

Who was Danny Williams and what happened to him at age 27 when he parked his mother's car near the Atlantic Sea next to a pile of his clothes? That's the question probed by Esther Robinson, in her documentary A Walk Into the Sea: Danny Williams and the Warhol Factory. Williams was her uncle and his disappearance after a family gathering in Massachusetts in 1966 was never solved. Most likely he did end up in the sea, (his body was never recovered), and this film sets out to find out what led to this tragic conclusion of a promising filmmaker.

Andy Warhol and Danny Williams

This summary on the film's website is excellent. I can't really top it. I'll just put in my own words what this film brings to the ongoing study of Warhol's Factory scene and how it remedies a very unfortunate oversight on the part of biographers and historians in regards to Williams' role in that chapter in America's artistic underground. One of the reasons Robinson made the film is because of the silence within her family about her Uncle, and the lack of information on him in Warhol documents. When 20 films by Williams surfaced in the Warhol archives and his family finally saw his work, Robinson felt this film should be made.

You don't get to see any of Williams' film work until about halfway through the documentary and when you do, you will understand what motivated his niece. Williams came from the Harvard crowd that descended on the Factory through Edie Sedgwick's friend Chuck Wein. They were already partying pretty hard before joining Andy Warhol in his creative endeavors, but once ensconced in New York City, there was copious amounts of speed-freaking. This started out as motivating and fun, but for many, ended in tears.

At age 24 Williams had already edited feature-length documentaries for the Maysles brothers, and had designed complex light shows for the Velvet Underground for Warhol's Exploding Plastic Inevitable. He was also Warhol's boyfriend for a time. Warhol described him as a "Harvard electrician," causing interviewee and Warhol cohort Danny Fields to sardonically ask, "What coinage! Whoever heard of an electrician from Harvard?"

Through interviews with Factory collaborators, including Brigid Berlin, John Cale, Gerard Malanga, Paul Morrissey, Billy Name, and Williams' mother, archival photos and a sure, artistic hand, Robinson creates an evocative portrait of her talented Uncle. Sadly, we will never see more of what his wondrous eye for light and shadow would have captured on film.

What led to Danny Williams' disappearance? Family conflict, drugs, depression, infighting for power at the Factory. Once someone got too strung-out or demanded some form of financial compensation for their work, the top-tier in Warhol's circle would cut them out, leaving behind people without a job, home, or social-support net. With strobe and high contrast, this pop-art scene, in all its manic creativity and psychological horror, is laid bare—haunting. Stills are from Williams' 16mm film Factory.

Warhol was a bit of a cult leader in the early 60s. Look at his halo.

Andy, like many quiet people, loved talking on the phone.

Billy Name, designer and photographer, at the Factory.

Brigid Berlin, on the pay phone.

Edie Sedgwick, living it up with painter Harold Stevenson and Brigid Berlin.

Harold Stevenson, glorified for his exuberance and physical expressiveness. You don't get this in a Warhol production with its indifferent camera-stare. This is clearly Williams' vision.

 A diabolical Henry Geldzahler. Like someone from David Lynch's world.

Lou Reed in what may be the earliest footage of the Velvet Underground.

John Cale, who gives good insight for the documentary on the cold, cold world of Andy Warhol.

Brigid Berlin's strobed hand—reaching out to dial the pay phone and make some conversational connection—is almost alchemical.

Factory excerpt, from the documentary.


Saturday, September 21, 2013

She Mob - All My Mycelium Friends

I fulfilled a lifelong dream and put together a music video using clips from Mantango: Attack of the Mushroom People, and now I can't post it anywhere due to copyright infringement issues. Fair enough, Toho Films. Just know that She Mob, the band (not the movie) will never make a dime off this nor do we intend to. We're just promoting the wonders of mycelium as it spreads its magical properties throughout the natural world. Hail, fungus!

And hail, Mantango—I tried re-imagining this bleak 1963 vision of radioactive slime-mold take-over on a deserted, rain-drenched Pacific Island, and make it all about...positive vibration friendship!

I also had to condense this down to tiny-file-size to upload here. Sorry about that. Be assured, the original file looks pristine and psychedelic. Song written and sung by Joy Hutchinson, who's also playing guitar. Featuring the wonder-drums of Suki O'Kane, Karry Walker on bass, singing  some fine vocal jams. I'm playing various percussive hand-held devices and shouting stuff in the background. I like doing that. And the voice of the mushroom person is a theremin that Karry and I took over in the studio. A theremin duet, if you will.

From the upcoming album "Right in the Head," available NOW as a digital download. I'll let you know when it's on vinyl.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Meditations for the Modern World

I've been studying up on mindfulness and trying to meditate a little each day in order to be in the moment, but it's difficult with all this modern life going on. It's a noisy, brash, attention-grabbing world out there. Perhaps I can modify my meditation to include some of the high-tech go-go 24-hour entertainment juggernaut we face each day. Come along with me—to a journey of self-exploration in a world gone bonkers.

Reality TV Meditation - Eyes Open
  • Find a comfortable position sitting in front of your television. 
  • Begin by flipping channels on your remote. 
  • Flip from channel 40 up to 250, depending on your cable package.
  • Now let your thumb relax and settle on a show.
  • Notice how the people on the screen scream or spew inanities at each other. The people change and the rooms change from show to show, but the shouting never ends. Be present in this moment.
  • Focus on the surroundings of the people but do not judge, no matter how cluttered, tacky or opulent—just notice their environments.
  • Do this for about a minute.
  • Now change channels, down the numbers, and back up again. 
  • Continue flipping up and down the cable roster of reality TV—notice the emptiness you are feeling. You should be feeling very, very empty.
  • When you come to Say Yes to the Dress, stop.
  • That's enough reality TV for today.

Miley Cyrus Listening Meditation 
  • Close your eyes and listen to the braying voice of Miley Cyrus as she applies herself to changing her image from Disney child star to brain-damaged sexy baby.
  • If your eyes open and you find yourself  focusing on the twerking or the licking of a sledgehammer, simply bring your attention back to her voice, which, after all, is her bread and butter.
  • Focus on the lyrics to We Can't Stop, particularly: To my home girls here with the big butt / Shaking it like we at a strip club / Remember only God can judge ya / Forget the haters cause somebody loves ya.
  • Feel the love flowing from Miley.
  • Feel compassion for all big butts and haters.
  • Continue to bring your attention back to Miley Cyrus, not that you have much of a choice in the matter.
  • Namaste

Smartphone Meditation
  • Be in the world. Notice the tops of everyone's heads as they hunch over their smartphones. 
  • If you feel envy or irritation, note that you are feeling envy or irritation, and let it go.
  • Feel compassion for the robotic nature of a plugged-in society.
  • Recognize that the concept of social skills is merely a concept.
  • Accept that we are a consumer society, concerned more and more with functions and apps and less and less with human interaction and listening skills.
  • If you find yourself  judging or labeling smartphone addicts, simply let go of those thoughts and look at some pretty flowers.
  • Do not reference the flowers—simply note them as if seeing them for the first time.
  • Resist the urge to punch the petals of the flowers with your thumbs, as if texting. 
  • Just be.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The Liverbirds Inspire Mystical Rock Ramblings

I never heard of The Liverbirds. I live under a rock. What kind of band calls themselves The Liverbirds anyway? I'm guessing they were from Liverpool. Yes, they were, and according to Wikipedia, they took their name from the liver bird, a fictional creature which is a symbol of their native home town. Charming!

An all-girl 60s Brit-rock band that made it big in Germany, if nowhere else (though they were deserving). Why, it's dark and cold under my rock—think I'll step out into the sunlight. Ahh, that's better. Facts are fascinating, but sometimes you just want to listen to the music man, And if the music moves you, then wiggle it, sister!

Stream-of-consciousness typing-while-listening follows.

Peanut Butter - Confession: I do like peanut butter. Do you like peanut butter too? Then you can sing its praises while Germans happily undulate all around you. Now you're living the dream. There STILL are hardly any all-girl rock bands. What the hell, girls? Step it up. Watch drummer, Sylvia Saunders, drum her happy heart out—natural Prozac. I also think flared pants make you feel younger. Try it.

Diddley Daddy - Why have I never heard this? It was their big hit in Hamburg. I used to play all kinds of garage-rock on my college-radio shows. Somebody must have forgotten to file the Liverbirds LPs into the correct section of the music library. Thirty years later, I will find that person and give him the what for. At 1:27, guitarist Valerie Gell GETS DOWN with a way-cool guitar solo that breaks into a rhythm jam before settling back into the perky chorus. Hard-rockin'.

Long Tall Shorty - These girls just wanted to rock. They have entered my heart, moved in, and are now trashing the joint. My heart will never be the same, yet it's better for the experience. Better late than never.

For Your Love - They are wearing SKINNY TIES and are covering The Yardbirds. This sounds like a band I saw last Wednesday at the Bottom of the Hill in 1988 that I never saw because they never existed, but they could have, and they would have BLOWN MY MIND.

Around And Around - Film clip from West Berlin with lots of edited-in screaming, waving, face-slapping, sideways-head-banging—60s style. Why didn't The Liverbirds tour the U.S.? Think of all the little girls they could have inspired. Some of them might have started their own bands instead of running after every mop-top import from the British Isles that came along.

Girls: it's not too late. Take up guitar, gather up your happy drums, Sing about your inner cravings and not in that breathy baby voice. Really belt it out. Feel it, express it. Make them scream for you.

Sunday, September 01, 2013

She Mob (the band) - What's Your Game? new song & video

She Mob's got a new album in the works, "Right in the Head," to be released on vinyl and digital download, for all your music-playing needs (pending Internet fundraising campaign). Our lineup has altered throughout the years (has it been almost two decades now? oh my). Currently we're stabilized—like a properly run nuclear power plant—with the band consisting of co-founders Joy Hutchinson, me, long-time member and super-accomplished percussionist/composer Suki O'Kane, plus fresh-faced Karry Walker on bass and keyboards—a multiple-album solo performer who asked to us to re-form the band in such a charming manner, we did.

What's Your Game? was actually recorded a few years ago when I was taking a band break. Joy, Suki and bassist and long-time She Mob member Alan Korn belted this out in fine form. I set it to 40s-era footage from the Prelinger Archives. And here 'tis.