Thursday, May 31, 2012


I’m continuing on in my Ingmar Bergman studies with an ultimate goal of devouring the man’s complete filmography, and as such, took in what critics believe to be his last “comedy”, the 1955 “SMILES OF A SUMMER NIGHT”, the other evening. I enjoyed it immensely – it’s one of those “foreign films” that helped put foreign films on the map for legions of 1960s college kids, film studies clubs and so on. Expecting it to be exceptionally different from the inward-looking, relationship-dissecting, talk-heavy Bergman films that make up many of his most famous works (PERSONA, WILD STRAWBERRIES, SCENES FROM A MARRIAGE etc.), I instead found a heavy commentary on male and female relations masked in a very light, deft, airy touch.

“Smiles of a Summer Night” is set at the fin de siècle of 1900 or so, which would explain the fluffy dresses, horse-and-carriage mode of transportation and so on. If Bergman is to be believed, turn of the century Swedes were very open in discussing sex, adultery and feelings of passion and loss with friends, lovers and even with their mothers. The film features four incredibly beautiful women, including Eva Dahlbeck as Desiree Armfeldt, a sort of “mother hen” who’s both lusted after by every man in the film and who also cunningly puts relationships together, “Amélie”-style. It also has Harriet Andersson, who was one of Bergman’s lead actresses up into the 1970s, as young Petra the Maid, herself a figure of lust and comedy at every turn, especially when she seduces a young would-be minister. A farce ensues rather quickly, when it becomes obvious that each of the couples in the film is matched with an inappropriate partner that they’re either bored with or can’t stand in the first place.

This being an Ingmar Bergman film, it doesn’t always have the clipped, fast-paced dialogue of a typical comedic farce. A scene might start that way – say, the flirtation between Armfeldt and the male lead, a wealthy rogue played by Gunner Bjornstrand who was once her lover and would like to be her lover again – but then evolves into theoretical, intense discussions on the nature of love, of men and women and of life itself. Cameras pan into warm, beautiful faces, particularly at moments of shock and surprise – a method of emotional manipulation Bergman perfected in the 1960s and was once just getting off the ground here. Yet the music, the pacing and much of the acting is fun, light and even silly, so even when the film is weighted with a certain heaviness of dialogue, one still feels like wacky hijinks are about to ensue – which they do, including a mechanical bed that conveniently appears with a beautiful sleeping woman on it when a lever is pushed, just in time for the minister to “consummate a relationship” with her. You’ll have to watch it see what I mean, but it totally works.

It’s easy to see why Sweden was thought of by so many Americans around this time as a land of free-spirited sin and vice. While exceptionally tame by today’s standards and even by those of fifteen years later in the US, “Smiles of a Summer Night” reflects a certain Swedishness which is carefree, libidinous and extremely intellectual. It’s also a lot of fun in its way – something I’m not sure I’ve ever said about an Ingmar Bergman film.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012


I can see a lot of hands out there – such is the wonder and the glory of the palate-wrecking Imperial India Pale Ale revolution in America, in which rogue brewers nationwide have aggressively worked to outdo each other in mouth-scraping, high-alcohol, hardcore-bitter hop monsters that will repulse 90% of the ale-drinking population. For those of us left standing, it has been one of the finest developments of the past six/seven years. There are aggressively-hopped west coast IPAs, “the San Diego Style”; “the Pliny clones”; aggressively-hopped east coast IPAs; aggressively-hopped Midwest IPAs and so on. The shades between them may be slight, but hop lovers know a masterpiece when they see one. I’m still partial to MOYLANS’ “Hopsickle” as top dog in this crowded field, but I’ll gladly drink at least 100 different pretenders to the throne, gladly and with extreme prejudice.

So here’s yet another big IPA from the excellent GREEN FLASH BREWING out of San Diego, a brewer with no need to prove their IPA bonfides, having done so with West Coast IPA, Le Freak and Imperial IPA, among others. This PALATE WRECKER – no need to beat around the bush – was brewed for Hamilton’s Tavern in San Diego before the people up-n-demanded that it become a full-time bottled thing, to be shared with the rest of the public. Ain’t people great? Palate Wrecker’s a 9.5% alcohol imperial IPA, to say the least. It pours a lush, deep orange with some foam that sticks around about as long as you’d want it to. Decidedly piney, but not one hint of citrus – no matter what the label says. It’s hoppy, oh yes, but Palate Wrecker is not a dry one – in fact to my pleasure it’s big, aggressive and definitely attacks with some alcohol burn on the finish, and yet it’s still quite easy to drink. Perhaps when all of your taste buds have been seared off and washed down your throat with the beer, there’s really nothing to complain about, am I right? 8/10.

Friday, May 25, 2012


Fat City (1972) - directed by John Huston
The very first web page I ever created was a pseudo-blog post around 1998 or 1999 listing the 50 Best Films I’d Ever Seen, which as you’d imagine contains a lot of overlap with THE HEDONIST JIVE CINEMATIC 75. I had just switched dial-up providers from “The MSN Network” to “Earthlink”, and as part of my package I got a hideous set of templates and tools with which to create a single page of content. I chose a film list, if only to settle the score in my head. It disappeared years ago, but I kept that list stored away in my cranium. Over the years I’ve had a raging battle playing out internally about the “greatest film of all time”, and in my rank-ordered, meticulously-cataloged brain, it’s not even a question to just leave it to the standard, “Ah, well, I have a lot of favorites” sort of list the way normal people do.

When I was a teenager, the greatest film I’d seen to that point was “MARATHON MAN”, the thrilling 1976 John Schlesinger adaptation of William Goldman’s novel about a man’s chance (or is it?) run-in with an ex-Nazi murderer, hiding in plain sight in New York City. I could still watch that one any time, any place. Then I saw “CHINATOWN”, and for many years that was my favorite. At various times that was replaced in the subsequent two-plus decades with “Apocalypse Now”, “A Woman Under The Influence” and, now, “3 WOMEN”. (Note a bit of a 1970s bias here? Guilty as charged).

I’ve seen Robert Altman’s 1977 “3 WOMEN” four times now and I never finish it short of amazed, invigorated and even a little baffled. For the life of me, I can’t figure out why it doesn’t get more play from both Altman lovers and film lovers in general, except for the fact that until recently, it was extremely hard to see (It’s now available in a fully-restored print by Criterion). It is a surreal combination of dreamy mood, avant-garde music, comedy, tragedy, setting (the California desert), story (an homage to “PERSONA”, my fourth-favorite film), feminist statement and two career-defining acting performances by Sissy Spacek and Shelly Duvall. A masterpiece in every sense of the word, and I guess I’ll call it the greatest film ever for now.

My list, which is only a mere 75 films, heavies up on certain directors – Altman, Bergman, Cassavetes, Scorsese, Coppola, Hitchcock. Polanski shows up twice, as does Paul Greengrass (!). Because I’m not a film critic, and because I’ve seen only a mere fraction of the films I want to see, this list obviously shortchanges many great directors and films that I simply haven’t seen yet. I’m embarrassed – embarrassed – at the almost complete lack of film from the 30s, 40s and 50s. As an argument-settler, well, this doesn’t quite cut it. You may have to supplement it with other lists. Yet I hope that you’ll find a place in your queue, or however it is you choose to watch film in 2012, for some of these that you haven’t seen. Every one of them blew me away the first time I saw it, and every one of them is on my list to watch again. 

    1. 3 WOMEN  (1977 – Robert Altman)
    2. APOCALYPSE NOW (1979 – Francis Ford Coppola)
    3. CASABLANCA  (1942 – Michael Curtiz)
    4. PERSONA (1966 – Ingmar Bergman)
    5. THE DECALOGUE (1989 - Krzysztof Kieslowski)
    6. SCENES FROM A MARRIAGE (1973 – Ingmar Bergman)
    7. A WOMAN UNDER THE INFLUENCE (1974 – John Cassavetes)
    8. MEMENTO  (2000 – Christopher Nolan)
    9. NASHVILLE (1975 – Robert Altman)
  10. CHINATOWN  (1974 – Roman Polanski)
  11. THE CELEBRATION  (1998 – Thomas Vinterberg)
  12. TAXI DRIVER  (1976 – Martin Scorsese)
  13. MARATHON MAN  (1976 – John Schlesinger)
  14. RESERVOIR DOGS  (1992 – Quentin Tarantino)
  15. BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS  (1970 – Russ Meyer)
  16. THERE WILL BE BLOOD  (2007 – Paul Thomas Anderson)
  17. FAT CITY  (1972 – John Huston)
  18. BREAKING THE WAVES  (1996 – Lars Von Trier)
  19. McCABE & MRS. MILLER  (1971 – Robert Altman)
  20. FACES  (1968 – John Cassavetes)
  21. CITIZEN KANE (1941 – Orson Wells)
  22. CAPTURING THE FRIEDMANS (2003 – Andrew Jarecki)
  23. DOG DAY AFTERNOON  (1975 – Sidney Lumet)
  24. DAS BOOT  (1981 – Wolfgang Peterson)
  25. UNITED 93  (2006 – Paul Greengrass)
  26. CONTEMPT  (1963 – Jean-Luc Godard)
  27. THE EXORCIST (1973 – William Friedkin)
  28. BREAKER MORANT (1980 – Bruce Beresford)
  29. THE LAST PICTURE SHOW  (1971 – Peter Bogdonovich)
  30. NAKED  (1993 – Mike Leigh)
  31. GIMME SHELTER  (1970 – Albert & David Maysles)
  32. BLOW-UP  (1966 – Michaelangelo Antonioni)
  33. BLOODY SUNDAY  (2002 – Paul Greengrass)
  34. PARIS, TEXAS  (1984 – Wim Wenders)
  35. THE PANIC IN NEEDLE PARK  (1971 – Jerry Schatzberg)
  36. CRIES AND WHISPERS (1972 – Ingmar Bergman)
  37. DUEL  (1971 – Steven Spielberg)
  38. VERTIGO  (1958 – Alfred Hitchcock)
  39. THE KING OF COMEDY  (1983 – Martin Scorsese)
  40. MEAN STREETS  (1973 – Martin Scorsese)
  41. CHILDREN OF MEN  (2006 – Alfonso Cuaron)
  42. THE BIRDS  (1963 – Alfred Hitchcock)
  43. KLUTE  (1971 – Alan J. Pakula)
  44. THE BATTLE OF ALGIERS  (1966 – Gillo Pontecorvo)
  45. BLACK SWAN  (2010 – Darren Aronovsky)
  46. THE DECLINE OF WESTERN CIVILIZATION  (1981 – Penelope Spheeris)
  47. CARNAL KNOWLEDGE  (1971 – Mike Nichols)
  48. THE GREAT SANTINI  (1979 – Lewis John Carlino)
  49. L.A. CONFIDENTIAL  (1997 – Curtis Hanson)
  50. PAYDAY  (1973 – Daryl Duke)
  51. THE CONVERSATION  (1974 – Francis Ford Coppola)
  52. OPENING NIGHT  (1977 – John Cassavetes)
  53. INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS  (2009 – Quentin Tarantino)
  54. THE SWEET HEREAFTER  (1997 – Atom Egoyan)
  55. MIDNIGHT COWBOY  (1969 – John Schlesinger)
  56. THE GODFATHER  (1972 – Francis Ford Coppola)
  57. NORTH BY NORTHWEST  (1959 – Alfred Hitchcock)
  58. THE SEVENTH SEAL  (1957 – Ingmar Bergman)
  59. ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST  (1975 – Milos Forman)
  60. AFTER HOURS  (1985 – Martin Scorsese)
  61. LOVE STREAMS  (1984 – John Cassavetes)
  62. BONNIE AND CLYDE  (1967 – Arthur Penn)
  63. NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN  (2007 – Joel & Ethan Coen)
  64. CITY OF HOPE  (1991 – John Sayles)
  65. GHOST WORLD  (2001 – Terry Zwigoff)
  66. ANNIE HALL  (1977 – Woody Allen)
  67. BADLANDS  (1973 – Terence Malick)
  68. REQUIEM FOR A DREAM  (2000 – Darren Aronofsky)
  69. NOBODY KNOWS  (2004 – Hirokazu Koreeda)
  70. REPULSION  (1965 – Roman Polanski)
  71. FARGO  (1996 – Joel & Ethan Coen)
  72. Y TU MAMA TAMBIEN  (2001 – Alfonso Cuaron)
  73. PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK  (1975 – Peter Weir)
  74. EATING RAOUL  (1982 – Paul Bartel)
  75. HUSBANDS (1970 – John Cassavetes)

Thursday, May 24, 2012


I swear, all I knew about THE LOUVIN BROTHERS aside from their amazing country/harmony/bluegrass duets from the 50s & 60s, I learned from this Mark Dancey comic in Motorbooty some years back (you’ll need to scroll at the bottom to read the comic’s four pages). Then I saw this hardcover book by CHARLIE LOUVIN (née Loudemilk) that recently came out, and the impulse to dig deeper into his and his brother’s dirty hillbilly laundry was too much to resist. The two brothers, who amassed a fantastic catalog of beautiful gospel and traditional country music right up until the form commercialized and left its roots, are ripe for all sorts of metaphors should you choose to apply them: Darkness and Light, Heaven and Hell, Sobriety and Drunkenness and so on – at least if you believe Charlie’s telling of their pained and somewhat tragic story. He wrote this book just months before he died in 2011, so it will likely stand as the final word on how these brothers climbed their way from poverty to show business royalty, and the many troubles they encountered on the way.

The book’s core is very much about the relationship of Charlie Louvin to his mandolin-playing brother Ira, and about how Ira’s demons (alcohol, womanizing, a complete and utter lack of outward humility and a paralyzing ego) did the duo in. It’s also, I think, Charlie’s big catharsis. He obviously spent most of his life feeling a bit like a doormat to his brother, who wrote most of their songs and who could easily command Charlie to do his bidding, whether it was to chop down a persimmon tree and risk a beating from their sadistic father, or to have Ira’s wife committed to a mental institution. Charlie plays himself off as the strong, responsible and somewhat silent half of the duo, who suffered much inner turmoil trying to keep his wild and unpredictable drunken hypocrite of a brother in line and their career going.

Funny enough, and yet totally appropriately, the book is written in Southern dialect in many parts. After a while you get used to this autobiography and its “We was traveling to Memphis and I was fixing to eat a hamburger”-style colloquialisms, and accept the deeper truths that are latent in the telling. Ira Louvin left a long, dark scar on this poor man’s life, and loomed exceptionally large in it until Ira’s death in 1965 (ironically, in a car accident in which the other driver was drunk). Yet you get the sense that Charlie, once freed of the burden of his joined-at-the-hip brother, really got to experience growing up and the liberating freedom that comes from embracing personal responsibility. I think Charlie had to overcome a bit of an ego problem of his own, in that he’d always been told by his brother that it was Ira that made the duo what it was, that it was really Ira’s group – and thus toward the end Charlie makes it abundantly clear how proud he is that he “had more Top 30 country hits” personally, in the years after 1965, than the Louvin Brothers ever had when they were together.

Along the way there are many great anecdotes told in short, 4-5 page chapters. There’s the famous one in which Ira calls Elvis Presley a “white nigger” to his face in a weird fit of drunken pique, and therefore cheats the band out millions of potential royalties had Elvis (a huge Louvins fan) ever covered a song of theirs – which he didn’t, after Ira’s unfortunate rant. There’s a bit about how they got on the Grand Old Opry after years of trying through a clever bluff, and how Charlie hates the Opry people still running the show in 2011. Their decision to “go secular” from their gospel roots is interesting, as is the great story of how they created the record cover (and now book cover) to the amazing “Satan Is Real” – one of two totally essential records of theirs in my opinion (the other is “Tragic Songs of Life”; you might want to pick up the “When I Stop Dreaming” collection as well).

One of the constants from so many memoirs I’ve read is, unfortunately, parental or domestic abuse – see the recent memoirs I reviewed by Alice Bag and Dan Fante. Well, the Louvins’ father beat the crap out of them as well, especially Ira, and Charlie believes it cast a huge shadow on them subsequently: why they left home to be musicians so early; why Ira was so insecure; why Ira was such a hideous drunk, and so on. It reminds me of a terrific Dan Carlin podcast from a couple years ago in which he theorized about the cumulative effect on history, and on historical figures, from centuries of child abuse and child neglect. In our slightly more enlightened age – which has really only taken hold in the past 1-2 generations, in which, in the west at least, child beatings are looked askance on – what will be the (presumably positive) effect on the children of today as they grow into adults? It’s a worthy aside, and one that I can’t help thinking about when I read about the torture past generations of children such as the Louvins had to endure.

“Satan Is Real: The Ballad of the Louvin Brothers” is a quick and very straightforward read, and captures a snapshot of Southern Americana as it existed in the 1930s, 40s, 50s and 60s. It’s certainly fortunate, and not a little bit lucky, that Charlie Louvin completed this memoir only just prior to his death, and we’re all the better for it because he done did.

Friday, May 18, 2012


I’m sometimes more impressed with music curators than I am with music-makers themselves. I’m referring to those semi-selfless, only partially ego-driven individuals who make it their life’s work to bring the best in neglected sounds and buried musical gems to the people. Having spent a good portion of my own life trying to be one of those curators, of course I’d say that. I have my own curators as well that I rely on to stay with-it in the NOW scene – and the most impressive one this past year by a mile has been ERIKA ELIZABETH, a college radio DJ on Amherst, MA’s WMUA. She hosts a weekly Tuesday night show called “EXPRESSWAY TO YR SKULL”, and I won’t miss a week of it lest I also miss several important new musical discoveries.

Erika, whom I discovered via a variety of chance links on the internet, is one of those people who just flat-out knows more than you and I do. My kind of person. Her record collection, and her ability to wield it like a weapon of knowledge and truth on-air, is phenomenal – and it’s all employed at a perfect intersection of deep-underground pop; 70s-80s British DIY and postpunk; 90s shoegaze and twee (stuff from lost 45s and cassettes that no one’s heard for two decades, I’m serious); garage punk; and a lot of noisy girl-helmed bands that had been lost in a patriarchal fog of several decades of disregard.

I had this notion for a few weeks of starting a print fanzine called The Hedonist Jive, and I asked Erika if she’d wanna do an email interview for it, as a means of getting a pulse on what it’s like  in 2012 to do a traditional, button-pushing two-hour college radio program in an age of Internet insta-mixes, Spotify and the like. When my own sanity prevailed and I decided to stay digital, Erika was still kind enough to agree to the interview. We talked via type about her “journey”, her past, her present, her records and her fantastic radio show – among other things. Take a gander here, and definitely head over to her web site and start downloading a few of those shows. I assure you, you’ll find 3 or 4 things every week that’ll knock your shoes off your ass.

Hedonist Jive: Let's start with some basics about the show you're doing on WMUA. How long have you been doing it; is it your first stint in college radio or have you done more; and how has the show changed or morphed in the years since you started it?

Erika Elizabeth: WMUA has been my first/only stint in college radio. I started doing a show there in the winter of 2005 & it's definitely morphed quite a few times since then. Initially, I did a show all by myself, but a few semesters later, I met a new DJ-in-training named Sam (he was wearing a Black Flag shirt) & we hit it off right away, so I asked him to co-DJ a show with me. That incarnation was called Awkward Noise - it was an interesting balance between my love for lo-fi indie pop/fuzzy garage rock & Sam's love of the Melvins/the '80s SST Records catalog. We did that for around a year, but then Sam left to study abroad in Argentina (and never came back to Western Mass, which was a little heartbreaking), so I went back to doing the show solo for a few months before teaming up with my friend Eric, who had been doing his own show at the station. That's when the show became Expressway To Yr Skull & we kept that up for another year, until Eric moved to Providence, Rhode Island. I decided to keep the name after he left & the show has been in its current form (back to me doing it solo, minus the occasional guest) since 2008 or so.

Hedonist Jive: Where do your musical interests start and end; in other words, I've heard you play a bunch of 70s UK DIY of the "Messthetics" ilk; 60s girl group garage and stretched-out noisy pop from all eras. Do you have a set of "anchor" bands that would help us understand where your tastes lie & what your show seeks to expose?

Erika Elizabeth: Those are definitely three genres that I lean on fairly heavily, in addition to the minimal/angular '70s post-punk, Nuggets-style garage rock, C86/C86-worshipping bands, jangle pop in the Flying Nun Records school, French ye-ye, fuzzed-out shoegaze, scrappy power-pop & lo-fi indie rock that I love. In terms of "anchor" bands, it gets a little more complicated. I try not to play the same bands too often on the show (to the point where if I noticed that I played a certain band a few months back, I'll probably hold off on playing them again for at least another couple of months), but if you look through my playlists, there's definitely some staples that I like to revisit - The Fall, The Wipers, Yo La Tengo, The Clean, Husker Du, Beat Happening, The Monks, My Bloody Valentine, to name just a few.

Hedonist Jive: You've obviously got a pretty deep affection for lost and/or unheralded pop and noise from the 1990s, with a perceived (mine) emphasis on shoegaze, C-86 freaks and general independent 45s that most folks have never heard. Is this when you "came of age" musically, and how did your journey into these sounds start?

Erika Elizabeth: I'm definitely a child of the '90s. When I first started listening to music with any sort of seriousness, I was probably around ten or eleven, which would have been in 1995 or so. I was listening to the generic "alternative rock" radio station in Houston a lot, but the bands that I ultimately gravitated toward tended to be on the weirder end of the spectrum & luckily, the mid-'90s were a pretty amazing time when it came to being able to hear challenging, interesting music on mainstream alternative rock radio - I remember talking to my friend my friend Charlie, who is the same age as me, about our shared musical upbringing & the point we both used to illustrate how weird & wonderful the '90s were for budding music geeks like us was that Shudder To Think had a hit single a year before either of us were in junior high. In particular, there was a show that would air really late on Sunday nights called Lunar Rotations & it was basically devoted to playing things that you would rarely, if ever, hear in regular rotation at the station - that's how I was introduced to things like Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, Sebadoh, Helium, etc. So you could say that was my gateway drug. Pretty soon, I stumbled on the local college radio station (all love in the world to KTRU at Rice University) while twisting the dial at random & you could say that it was all over after that. I would stay up until 4am with a stack of blank cassettes, taping as many shows as I could & transcribing the set lists into a series of notebooks. Pretty much every spare waking hour I had was spent listening to KTRU - on my Walkman, on the junky little stereo in my bedroom, in my car once I got my driver's license... my life's goal for years was basically to be a KTRU DJ. My current tastes have definitely been influenced in a major way by what was in heavy rotation on KTRU in the mid-to-late '90s - obscure pop, shoegaze, post-punk. 

Hedonist Jive: When did you leave Houston for Amherst, and why?

Erika Elizabeth: I moved to Northampton, MA in the summer of 2005. I had lived in Houston for my whole life at that point (twenty years) & was feeling really unhappy with the city, feeling like I had accomplished as much as I was ever going to there. Houston has a lot of great things going for it, but it's also a huge, sprawling mess of a city, which has a way of making you feel very isolated from other people, even when you're a part of a relatively small underground/DIY community like I had been. Someone put out a compilation of Houston bands not long before I left called I Hate It Here, I Never Want To Leave, which as a phrase is really a perfect encapsulation of life in Houston. You operate for a while under the mentality that the best thing you can do is stick around in this weird, fucked up city & try to do things to make it more tolerable - in my case, I booked shows for touring bands who might not have ever wanted to step foot in Houston & put out records for my friends in local bands who were kind of shut out by the Austin-centric view of the Texas music community - instead of bailing out for someplace more "established". But eventually, it got to the point where I was really depressed & I knew I needed to uproot myself to make a change, but I really had no idea where I wanted to go, so deciding on Western Mass after some encouragement from a few friends I knew there was pretty spontaneous. Despite being a relatively small town, Northampton had the benefits of living in a city (independent record stores, a strong DIY community, good vegan restaurants) without the things I had grown to hate about living in Houston. It also felt like less of a cop-out to me than just moving to Austin or Brooklyn or something, because I definitely wanted to be someplace where I could still feel like I was making a needed contribution to the local scene. I figured if I was still miserable after being there for a few years, I could always move someplace else, but I've been here for seven years now & it seems to be working out.

Hedonist Jive: Besides your Tuesday night radio programme, what else defines Erika Elizabeth's life? Work, school, other music-related activities?

Erika Elizabeth: In terms of defining my life, my other music-related activities are definitely the most important to me. I work at an incredible record store in Amherst (shout out to Mystery Train Records), I book shows & serve on the board at a local non-profit DIY space (shout out to Flywheel Arts Collective) & I play bass in a couple of bands. In terms of what seems to take up most of my non-radio time, I have two other part-time jobs (at a vintage clothing store & a library) & I'm a few months shy of finishing grad school for my masters degree in library science. Also, sometimes I sleep.

Hedonist Jive: How do you gather material to play on your show, given how deep and obscure most of what you play is? Are you a fanatical music accumulator, and are you partial to vinyl or digital at this point?

Erika Elizabeth: Vinyl all the way - working at a record store helps in that department. My record collection is very close to taking over my bedroom & no matter how many times I try to thin it out, it just keeps regenerating. I've gotten more comfortable with tracking things down digitally, though - there's a handful of blogs that I follow that post lots of great rare singles or tracks from new bands, so I make a point of keeping tabs on that stuff & if it's something that turns out to be up my alley, I try to get my hands on it in a physical format (money permitting). When I'm trying to pull together material for a show, my methods can be pretty diverse. I'll flip through my records, obviously, but I'll also comb through things I've downloaded from blogs recently, I'll dig out some of my old music zines & get ideas from the review sections (the copies of the Big Takeover that I bought in high school have been particularly good for this), I'll remember something that someone put on a mixtape for me a few years ago & I actually still have notebooks of handwritten playlists that I copied down while listening to KTRU as a teenager, which I reference sometimes for ideas for my show now... basically, yeah, I'm totally a fanatical music accumulator (and retainer of arcane music knowledge).

Hedonist Jive: Is most of what you play from your collection or the station's?

Erika Elizabeth: I'd say that 95% of it is mine, but the station's collection has been really important, too. When I first got involved at WMUA, I spent hours digging through the stacks, pulling out copies of albums I had tried to track down for years or things that I was curious about & I've gotten ahold of a lot of those albums for my own collection now. I was also music director at the station for a year, so I got to know the library well (probably too well) as a result of that. The station's collection does have two major drawbacks, though - it's limited to what labels send us as promos (which excludes a lot of smaller/more obscure labels) & it's taken a few hits over the years by less than insightful weeding decisions (sometimes I don't want to even think about all of the great discarded records with WMUA scrawled on the cover that turn up at the record store). But really, doing a radio show helps me rationalize buying so many records, which may or may not be a good thing.

Hedonist Jive: WMUA for years has been known as one of the US's best stations for uprooting weird and new music. I've never been to Western Mass but even I'd heard of its greatness back in the 1980s. How did the station earn this reputation and how does your show fit into its lineage?

Erika Elizabeth: I wish I knew more about WMUA's history & its role in the American underground music community throughout the years. Honestly, when I moved to Western Mass, I knew nothing about WMUA, but sought it out specifically because I had wanted to be involved in college radio so badly, but didn't stick around in Houston long enough to do it at KTRU. Actually, the reason I wound up going to UMass had less to do with academics & more to do with the fact that they had the most prominent college radio station in the area. I think in general, Western Mass has always been a fertile ground for people doing creative things in the DIY scene - Dinosaur Jr. & Sebadoh started out here, Byron Coley & Thurston Moore run Ecstatic Yod/Ecstatic Peace here, etc. - so I think WMUA has been able to attract some really amazing DJs who have been a part of that scene. When I first started doing a show there, things had definitely become less focused on "underground rock" (broadly speaking) & a lot of student DJs were coming in looking to play fairly mainstream music (most of them were communications majors who you could tell just wanted to get their feet in the doors at commercial radio stations), so I felt a little out of place doing a show that was so unapologetically clinging to college radio from the Bill Clinton era. But the longer I did the show, I was able to meet some former WMUA DJs still in the area who did shows in the late '80s/early '90s who have told me how much my show reminds them of WMUA "back in the day", which was a really high compliment & made me feel a lot better about my show's place in the greater WMUA lineage.

Hedonist Jive: OK, so I haven't done a college radio show myself since 1991, when CDs were not even part of my repertoire yet. Please walk those of us who don't understand how it works these days how your college radio set-up works. Are you running turntables, CD player, cassette player and a laptop? Does a "cart machine" exist anymore for playing station promos? How do you transition, say, from playing a vinyl 45 to playing an mp3 from Bandcamp?

Erika Elizabeth: Honestly, I'm a fairly recent convert to using computer-based resources during my show. I used to rely strictly on LPs, CDs & the occasional cassette, but it got to the point where I was coming across a lot of material in a digital format that I wanted to play on the show - bands sending me mp3 files, stumbling across demos on Bandcamp pages, finding digital conversions of super-out-of-print records, etc. So I had to stop being such a Luddite. I do a lot of transitioning between all of those formats in any given show - I'll be playing a 7" on one of the station's turntables, then cue up something in a CD player, then maybe play an mp3 from my laptop. Luckily, we have enough channels on our sound board that it's relatively easy to do that. We don't have the fabled "cart machine" at the station anymore; it's all digital now. All of the PSAs & station IDs are stored in mp3 format on the computer in the studio, so all I have to do is click a few buttons to cue something up.

Hedonist Jive: What do you say to folks who see traditional linear radio as anachronistic, in an age of programmed playlists (a la 8Tracks), podcasts and 1-click downloadable mixes?

Erika Elizabeth: I think linear radio can exist side-by-side with podcasts & digital playlists - I definitely find out about a lot of music through those formats, even though I'm a hardcore college/non-commercial radio supporter. Personally, I think that radio has a human element that just can't be replicated in a downloadable mix hosted on someone's blog. When I started getting really deeply into college radio, there were certain DJs who I would go out of my way to catch on the air because I felt a connection to them based on their shows & part of that was the feeling of spontaneity you get from a really good radio show. Online playlists are so rigid & you're not going to have a DJ blow your mind when they decide at the last-minute to throw on some single that you become obsessed with. The pressure of being in a tiny basement studio surrounded by stacks of records, trying to decide what to play next based on what record you have playing on the turntable at the moment - you just can't replicate that when you're dragging mp3 files into a digital mix.

Hedonist Jive: With the guarantee that this number will easily quintuple after publication of this interview, do you know how many people download the show every week? How does this compare to your number of real-time listeners? And would you still be doing the show if it couldn't be heard by people outside of Amherst?

Erika Elizabeth: I wish I knew! The way I have the show sound files embedded in my blog, I think they get "downloaded" any time someone opens the webpage, so it's hard to tell how many people have actually downloaded or streamed the shows for the purposes of listening to them. Based on feedback I've gotten from people via email, the number of people following the blog & my own completely unscientific guesses, I'd say there's maybe fifteen or twenty people who regularly download the shows every week. Real-time listener counts are sort of unpredictable, too - I have the ability to see how many people are listening to WMUA online while I'm actually doing the show & that number usually hovers somewhere between two to eight people. I'd like to believe that there's more people than that who are listening in their cars or on actual radios in their homes - I know one of the local liquor stores in Amherst tunes in every week & plays the show in the store! They're single-handedly responsible for all of those requests for the Kinks & Devo that show up on my playlists. I really enjoy getting to share the shows with people outside of Western Mass, though & it definitely motivates me to keep doing the show, even if it doesn't seem like anyone is tuned in when the show is live on the air.

Hedonist Jive: You're always asking for requests on your show, but how do you deal with "bad" requests? I was college DJ-ing in an era when speed metal was ascendant, and got more requests for Anthrax and Megadeth than anything else. It was usually, "Yep, I'll see what I can do", and then of course never play it.

Erika Elizabeth: I get plenty of "bad requests" & I'm a little embarrassed to say that I resort to the same response you just mentioned. I do end up playing certain things that people request that I'm not super into, but that I can at least tolerate - the Dead Kennedys don't really fit into what I usually play on the show, but I appreciated that someone was both 1) listening & 2) cared enough to call me to request them, so I threw them on a few weeks ago for a regular listener. If it's something really unsuitable (like the call I got for My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult - really?), I'm just going to "forget" to play it.

Hedonist Jive: Finally, please provide a snapshot of what you're listening to now, particularly new bands/artists and or things you've recently discovered, as a means of illustrating what all your soon-to-be-new listeners can expect each week.

Erika Elizabeth: Yikes, let's see. Lots of recent '80s post-punk reissues at the moment, actually - the reissue of Tronics' Love Backed By Force LP on What's Your Rupture?, the Oh-OK anthology that Happy Happy Birthday to Me just put out on vinyl & the Trypes collection that Acute Records just released, for starters.  As far as things that are actually new go, there's this band called the Maxines who are from Olympia & put out a really great single on K Records not too long ago - their guitarist was in some of my absolute favorite Houston bands back in the storied '90s/early '00s (Junior Varsity & the Ka-Nives) & it totally picks up from that lineage of wild, fun-as-hell girl group-influenced garage rock. Other newer things getting love from my turntable lately - Sourpatch's Stagger & Fade LP, the Grass Widow/Nature split 7" & Brute Heart 7" that M'Lady's Records recently put out, the new LP (All Day, Alright) that my local friends Bunny's A Swine released not too long ago & this new album by an Italian shoegaze band called Sea Dweller.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012


The four CDs that make up this new compleat box set from Australia’s feedtime cover the band’s career from 1985-1989, which just happened to be the same four years I was attending college, and was totally immersed in this band and their brethren from down under. Around 1986 and continuing for a couple of years, my friends and I were buying 45s and LPs from all manner of ugly, noisy and thrashy bands out of Australia, heading down to Los Angeles to buy the new singles etc. on Au-Go-Go, Waterfront, Aberrant, Black Eye and other labels of the time. My tastes at the time ranged from the Birdman/MC5 punk stuff a la The Celibate Rifles and New Christs to the weirder, darker mystical stuff on the “Waste Sausage” and “Leather Donut” compilations – none of which I can even listen to anymore.

feedtime – the lowercase is intentional - figured pretty big in my 1980s world. Not a big stretch to say that their music has generally stood the test of time far better than that of their skronky and wacked-out peers of the day. feedtime had a low-end, bass-heavy, propulsive, machine-like sound wholly unique and unprecedented at the time, and at their best it sounded like they were creating something completely fresh and mysterious, all the while destroying multiple eardrums along the way. I don’t remember any interviews, any liner notes, and certainly no U.S. tours, when this three-piece band from way across the pond blasted out a new album (there were four in all), it was generally well-received across the board.

“Shovel” from 1987 is the first one I heard, and I loved it and played it to death on my radio show. “Cooper S” came not too long after that in ‘88 – a covers record in which each song by the Stones, Nancy Sinatra etc. was basically ripped gut-from-bone and channeled into the band’s chisel-sharp attack – a sound rooted in punk but also in that Australia-only aural murk that gave birth to similar-minded (but far slower-tempo’ed) bands like Lubricated Goat and King Snake Roost. Somewhere in there I found an Aberrant Records compilation called “Why March When You Can Riot?!?” that had two stellar feedtime songs on it from 1985, “Small Talk” and “Don’t Tell Me”, the latter of which is probably the best thing they ever wrote – a slicing, chilling piece of guitar-n-bass workmanship with staccato drums, somewhere between postpunk and hardcore and their own mid-80s Aussie something-or-other.

Totally forgot as well until I bought this 4-CD set on Sub Pop just how great their cover of The Beach Boys’ “Fun Fun Fun” was, or what their excellent 1989 college radio “hit” (I know I played it repeatedly) “Motorbike Girl” even sounded like. That’s because for all the great things about feedtime, they were rarely consistent, and their albums were generally a chore to get all the through. 40 minutes of peaks and valleys, with the valleys frequently being a noisy, thudding bore. They employed two singers, and the main one (the bass player, I believe) had a voice not unlike that of a burly, drunken black bear. In 1987 I was willing to forgive all manner of transgressions, but then again, I was also 19. I went to last year’s first feedtime west coast “reunion” show in San Francisco, and despite the contradictory testimonials of many in attendance, I marked it as probably the worst reunion gig I’d ever been too – out of synch, out of tune, poorly-mixed, and sloppy as hell. Since fEEDTIME on record were tighter than a bee’s intestinal tract, seeing them totally fall apart live had me heading for the exits well before mid-set.

Hey, you win some and lose some in the reunion gig game. I bought “THE ABERRANT YEARS” to get some of their classic stuff back into my collection, after eBaying off the LPs in a fit of pique and a need of money around a decade ago. I’m not sure when CDs dropped so much in price, but this thing was a mere $18.98 – for a box set – at my local store, brand new. That’s surely worth it not merely for the songs I’m posting here, but for the other dozen or so great ones they churned out in their day.

Play feedtime, "Don't Tell Me"

Play feedtime, "Shovel"

Tuesday, May 15, 2012


“Beer in wine country”. Talking about it is beyond passé now. But me, I’m giving thanks and praise that even beyond Russian River Brewing, Lagunitas, Moylan’s, Bear Republic and the whole NoCal crew there are still new brewers from Sonoma county peeking above their kettles and throwing their proverbial mugs into the ring. I recently procured bottles from two of the newest, HENHOUSE BREWING and DIVINE BREWING, and goshdarn if I wasn’t as pleased as punch with the results. To wit:

HENHOUSE BREWING – “SAISON”: My pal Chris surreptitiously brought down this bottle and their oyster stout from Petaluma and presented them to me, cloak-and-dagger, in front of the Hemlock Tavern in San Francisco. He and I both agree that the oyster stout’s a little on the mushy middling side, but that this SAISON is pretty rock and rolling. It pours with a big, big head of fresh, frothy foam that forces the drinker to wait for it to settle before digging in. Classically yeasty and peppery and shining brightly with a clear yellow opacity, it’s a dry, thin-bodied Belgian copycat with a touch of sweetness in the finish. A very pleasant beer from an upstart with some great labels and tons of what they call “upside”. 7.5/10.

DIVINE BREWING – “TEUFELWEIZEN”: Finding any backstory on this small start-up was a bit difficult, but this article explains the Divine Brewing story very well, and they’ve instantly rocketed up the charts of my heart with this amazing weizenbock-style beer called “TEUFELWEIZEN”. Wow. It’s a malty, cinnamon-and-spiced dark ale that is not from Sonoma Spring Brewing (another upstart!), - it was just brewed there. A big, big smell and another blast o’ foam greets you at the gate, and then once you’re in, Teufelweizen has an incredible taste of black currant and a dull sweetness, along with multiple tongue-coating properties that ensure these delicious flavors linger. I bought it wholly on a “buy local, let’s see what this is” whim, and now I’m going to go out and buy more. 8.5/10.

Monday, May 14, 2012


Here’s everything I knew about LANA DEL REY before last week: She is a pop star. She is attractive. A guy in my local paper dismissed her as “Blahna Del Rey”, which I found comic and which is how I thought of her for four months until last week. She had a supposedly terrible deer-in-the-headlights performance on “Saturday Night Live” a few months ago that seemed to be discussed everywhere I looked, even though I wasn’t looking (which was then followed by a backlash to the backlash, saying the performance was just fine). I didn’t see it; I’d never heard her, and like most mersh pop, nor did I want to.

Last week, I heard her “Born To Die” album.

Here’s everything additional I learned about Lana Del Rey since I first heard her record last week: She’s considered by people who write about this sort of thing to be an already-peaked internet phenomenon, someone who generated an incredible amount of “buzz” in 2011 and just a few months ago with some music videos, only to squander it (the telling goes) because she apparently was less-than-indie in the way she and her “team” worked to put together her image, her fake name, and even her sound. While her record has in fact sold quite well, there appears to be some sort of mass lingering skepticism about her across the board, as if the actual music on the record counted for nothing, and the “package” and how it came together was something that mattered.

When it comes to popular music that makes it to the charts and into mass consciousness, I’m about as clueless as it comes. If I know a song from, say, Lady Gaga or MC Hammer or whatever it is the kids listen to today, it’s because I heard it in a store or at the gym, and I connected the lyrics to a title I’d read about. For instance, here’s a recent connection: Katy Perry = “Firework”, one of the most god-awful things I’ve ever heard. So “imagine my surprise” when I heard Lana Del Rey’s song “Blue Jeans” and said “Holy crap – what is that?”. A gothic, soaring torch-singing cross between David Lynch’s LA-based movies and the languid, studied, blasé trip-hop of Portishead? This is what’s so popular and so controversial? I’ll admit, I was so totally taken in by the vocals, the pacing, the cabaret-style retro-ness of it all, I decided to listen to the whole album on Spotify.

I’m here to report that "Born To Die" is a fantastic record, popularity or commerciality or dumb-ass controversy notwithstanding. When I was much more insecure and in my teens and twenties, anytime a respected critic/writer of underground music started trumpeting to his readers about some “lamestream” act that I didn’t like or understand, it usually just bugged me because it felt like tokenism. I’m thinking about this guy Frank Kogan who constantly talked up Madonna, or even my pal Tim Ellison, who loved late-period R.E.M.. It’s not that I have an aversion to commercially-successful bands, necessarily, but the law of averages and the much more fertile territory of the underground points to not spending even a moment trying to connect with what mass culture is buying, because when you’re repulsed 99.9% of the time, there’s really not enough time in the day hoping that this time, maybe, that 0.01% chance will pay off.

So respectable people can disagree with me, and I’m sure most will. I truly don’t care if Lana Del Rey is pretty, if she’s putting on an “act”, that she maybe can’t pull this material off live, or that she maybe didn’t even do much more than vocalize these tunes in a studio. Whoever it was that made this record did a phenomenal job combining a very modern production and a totally dazed but plush retrograde film soundtrack that they dressed up with Del Rey’s heavy-lidded, drugged-up bad girl/good girl vocals, and called it an album. Then they applied a very light sheen of hip hop “imagery” (a few whoops in the background of some songs, and a few parts in which Del Rey regrettably sorta-raps), and a HUGE gloss of syrupy strings that make you imagine all sorts of Lynch-ian imagery from Twin Peaks to Mulholland Drive. I remember when Lynch trotted out Julee Cruise as “his” pop star – I so wanted to like her. I have a soft spot for that sort of thing, and I’m not really sure where it comes from.

Del Rey’s a hundred times better. She reminds me of a similar singer/songwriter named COURTNEY TIDWELL whose operatic "Don't Let Stars Keep Us Tangled Up" I fell for in 2006, but whom I think has stopped writing and performing. While both have incredible vocals and some commercial pretensions, their music is truly dark-night-of-the-soul Brechtian cabaret stuff, dressed up with strings, bells and synths. In Del Rey's case, and on about 8 of the 12 songs on her album, she sticks to this "formula", and it's a very large, enveloping sound that begs to be listened to at top volume. I'm sure teenage girls and gay men all over the world are doing that as we speak. Only on one insipid track, "Diet Mountain Dew" does she sound like she's making a play for a Banana Republic sampler CD, and it's to her and her label's credit that her singles are the haunting "Blue Jeans" and "Video Games" - both of which are great.

I wish her well, and I’m going to continue to try and follow her music and veer clear of the noise surrounding it. There are numerous articles out there in highbrow publications that try to dissect this woman and the reaction to her, and there’s definitely some entertainment value to reading it. I suppose there are statements about feminism, post-feminism, the wildfire effect of the internet and social media, the state of the music industry in 2012, and the “hipster’s” complete and utter lack of foresight and credibility. At the end of the day, there’s this record, and it is good.

Play Lana Del Rey - "Born To Die"

Thursday, May 10, 2012


I received a VHS tape in the mail around 1992 that featured some short Super8 films conceived, written and created by one Danny Plotnick, whom I was already familiar with as one of the editors of MOTORBOOTY fanzine & as the Film Threat-heralded “King of Super 8”. Plotnick, then as now based in my hometown of San Francisco after most of a life born & raised in Michigan, was making way-underground comedic films via that most passé of mediums, Super 8 film. It was a dying medium then; it’s a dead medium now. Anyway, I quickly become marginally obsessed with one particularly hilarious short on the tape called “STEEL BELTED ROMEOS” , which I’d seen screen before a rock show earlier that year – and which you can and should watch right here.

I memorized the film’s dialog, and when I served as “road manager” (i.e. roadie) for Claw Hammer in 1993 on their North American tour, taught them choice portions of the dialog as well - so much so that when we were cut off by a driver, it was not uncommon that one of us would instantly scream, “Hey youse, what the fuck! Did you see what youse almost done did dere?!?”. A few years later, thanks to a couple particular common connections, Plotnick and his wife Alison and I and my then-girlfriend/now-wife-of-14-years became friends. Danny was sort of “between films”, having recently made his one and only feature, the 1996 “I’m Not Fascinating – The Movie”, a fictionalized fantasy tale about real-life and oft-loathed (though decidedly not by our crew!) band The Icky Boyfriends. I recall that in 1997 at some point, needing his most “straight” friend to play a role, he pitched me on the idea of being in his next film. I’d play a cuckolded husband who got to act my real-life persona of stressed-out businessman while my “wife” was getting busy in softcore form with the Fuller brush man back at our house, before the whole thing abruptly swung into being a preposterous “murder mystery”. That was the pitch. Me. In a movie. Assuming that it was his drink talking, I of course accepted and simultaneously assumed it would never happen.

Oh but it did. “SWINGER’S SERENADE” was shot on 16mm during the early summer of 1998, essentially over the course of a weekend for all of the scenes that involved Alison Faith Levy (Danny’s real-life wife and my pretend one), Miles Montalbano and myself, with my desk and running scenes shot later that week. The scenes with the “narrator/professor” Chris Enright – who memorably was one of the two guido goombahs in “Steel-Belted Romeos” as well – were shot either down in LA, where Chris lived, or somewhere in SF shortly before our weekend. The filming couldn’t have come at a better time for me. I used to egotistically fret a bit that year that whatever “edge” I might have had as a younger man who published fanzines, hosted college radio shows, toured with bands, sang in bands and so on was now either dwindling or gone. I’d just finished my first year in grad school up in Seattle getting an MBA, about as non-punk rock as it came, and I was engaged to be married in a few months. I had recently become estranged from a small contingent of college friends who still partied far harder than I did, through some combination of ham-handedness of my own making and alienating juvenile alcoholic antics of theirs. Being asked to be in an offbeat short film in which I got to dress like some 50s highballer with a cool fedora, despite having never acted before (and if you watch this, you’ll see my wordless performance here could hardly be called “acting”) was at the very least an opportunity to claw back a few style points from the utter depths of lamedom.

Danny worked at San Francisco’s Film Arts Foundation, and had a number of friends and associates from the world of local underground film who helped him out on the set. There was a makeup artist – she’s the reason I look so unbelievably handsome in my skinny suit – a wardrobe person, a person taking still photos for “publicity”, as well as various production assistants of all stripes. There may have been a gaffer and a best boy. As I said, having never seen a film set before, I got to take in the sight of my normally laid-back pal Danny Plotnick in action as he morphed into a supreme taskmaster livewire director, as all directors must. Maintaining order on a set, especially when everyone involved is a friend, has got to be a thankless job. But damn it, the thing wrapped when he said it would, and the whole weekend was fairly painless and actually a hell of a lot of fun. The heavy lifting (editing) came during the rest of the summer and was Plotnick's job alone, and by that time, my fiancé and I were back in Seattle and my film career had already both started and ended in the same four-day period.

The 24-minute “SWINGER’S SERENADE” came out in 1999 and showed at a number of showcase events both in San Francisco and then out on tour in the US & Europe that year and in 2000. It’s a “tawdry tale of suburban sexual malaise” as well as an intentionally discombobulated history lesson on 1950s/60s amateur movie-making. Plotnick filmed an only-slightly embellished version of a script found in a 1960 amateur film magazine, and then had Enright play a pretentious professor with a dubious British accent who over-explains everything that’s going on to the audience. The “meat cleaver” with which I murder my wife (“mystery” aside, that is my hand) is, as you can see, a vegetable scraper. My real wife Rebecca, who helped out on the set, even gets a thank you in the credits. And Plotnick is still making videos and creative little films of all kinds, as you can see here. And me? Well, I have my own IMDB page, and it’s a glorious thing to behold.