Sunday, March 25, 2012

Eroticons 2




Predator Glaze

"hidden, like the pain you caused me, like the pain I caused myself."

Hungry snuff


We're in here

Radient and sere

"The nameless and the named"

feels good

We fade away so young.

Cover me with You

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Body Double’s Avalon Persuasion

1: Ibitsu

Pornography is fake realness, or real fakeness, whichever definition you’d like to give to recorded bodies engaging in objective sex while not actually having sex at all. Bodies don’t lie, but thankfully their owners can. In Brian De Palma’s Body Double, an A.M. tone poem that snaps awake in critical recognition of menace and guilt, the submergence ends like that when meek, lonely, claustrophobic actor Jake Scully (Craig Wasson) realizes there is a wolf in his life’s den. Without a relationship or a job or a place to live, he’s found himself in what Blue Velvet’s Jeffrey Beaumont would call “the middle of a mystery.” The key to solving it and letting some dignity back into his life is to infiltrate the Californian pornographic netherworld.

De Palma’s vision of a XXX factory isn’t burdened with a grain of “realism.” The Adult Film Group studio is an erotic 80s candyland, more Minnelli than Damiano. Below the auditioning room are sets facing off against each other, suggesting Porn is another efficient studio system. (Here on 2012 it certainly is, albeit in the form of a million little studios.) In a succession of events that are almost too inexplicable to be called Dreamlike, Scully gets the job and is immediately working with Holly Body (Melanie Griffith, with David Bowie hair and never cuter), the hottest starlet in the business. The inaugural set-piece for Scully’s Orpheus descent into “The Other Hollywood” is a musical number with a pale faced emcee lip-synching to Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s “Relax,” ushering Jake into a decadent glam bar accommodating the cake faced Fassbender ladies and ass-cheek leather daddies both. This is less a “movie within a movie” than a complete metaphysical breakdown, turning Jake’s progress into fever dream of crossing over.

“Relax” builds to an acid sound-spray meant to represent House orgasm, and De Palma uses it in Body Double at the moment Jake climaxes with Holly and Holly pretends to climax with Jake.  

Out of the rogue’s gallery of provocative compositions (a phallic drill hanging down from between the legs of a killer as it speeds towards an unlucky woman is perhaps the most deliberate in it’s reckless feminist baiting) one visual prologue in the film’s earliest stages is easy to lose before repeat viewings practically bring it scuttling to the fore. 

Needing a place to stay after finding his wife with another man (and, in an early sign of his patheticness, feebly exiting the bedroom) Scully crashes on the couch of a bartender friend. He wakes in the middle of the night. Much like the narrative to come, the couch crushes in on Scully, making sleep impossible. He goes to the window, peering out on Los Angeles in the morning. What we see (unless this is what Jake sees too) is a monochrome rear projection of the city’s famous freeways that could be from the 1950s, and was probably used in Thom Anderson’s essayic Los Angeles Plays Itself. He’ll spend a large part of his arc gazing at something fake through a window, so this is appropriate artifice, but there’s more to this shot than the Body Double material proper. Really, this is the Edward Hopper containment of anyone who has ever watched porno.

Scully could open the window and climb outside, stalk past the green screen and already be on the wild set of Adult Film Group’s “Relax”ed Body Shop. We’ve been here before. On the nights we can’t sleep, a quiet TV set waits for us. This is the Witching Hour gauze, a static Avalon. Those 50s roads (like Neil Diamond’s Brooklyn Roads only West Coast and grimmer) could melt into whatever gives the insomniac a precipice of cubed eros. Rapper and would-be Spiderman Childish Gambino says, “There’s a world you can visit if you go outside.” By that same sentiment there’s also a world you can visit, self-defeating and empty but a world nonetheless, if you switch on Cinemax at about 1 a.m. When relatives have an illegal cable box there’s the harder core, channels that didn’t exist back home, with names like Spice and Playboy. The women on this higher echelon were the progenitors of cataclysmic result. Watching them was humanity’s relapse.


So, the unreal cars driving under threat of the Blacklist beyond Jake’s vision were something to watch, a sensual faux-marble. Mistresses of the airbrushed and oiled were those cars too. Body Double has a sub-textual beauty in its detours to a 24/7 Tower Records where the beleaguered clerk tells a renter that yes, they do carry Holly Does Hollywood, and here are all the formats it comes in. (If Hopper was alive in ‘84 he would have painted that scene.) It grasps the tactile lunar hypnosis of erotic programming, as when Jake, utterly spent after failing to prevent the murder of a woman who burned his loins to cinders, watches a cringe-worthy sauna interview with a past-her-prime XXX Madame. The interviewer, a greasy, grotesque combination of Henny Youngman, Al Goldstien and Morton Downey, Jr, asks randy questions about her production company and what she loves to do. She tells him that she considers herself an “expositionist.” He corrects her: You mean an Exhibitionist. These are the little gaffes between people pretending to be into each other that can also be found in Playboy Channel talk shows and that De Palma lasers with a midnight archivist’s precisian.

Pornography bleeds into Body Double’s everything. From domestic strife to a cheap horror movie, XXX is waiting for citizens who thought they could do better.

In 2003, thrillingly unclassifiable Japanese band Boris released an album called Akuma no Uta, with a cover and musical duration bearing direct parallel to Nick Drake’s classic Bryer Layter. The music is an assault of heavy noise rock that couldn’t superficially be more different than Drake’s moody songs. Yet the cover of Boris’ album gets us to question the possibility of music under music, layers of emotional truth that transcend the boundaries of history, pigeonhole and genre.

Listen to Drake’s record before diving into Boris. Listen to the song “One Of These Things First,” arguably his most heartrending statement of purpose. A relationship to these expositionists at night is comparable to a relationship with someone that intensifies before flaming out and fading away. It’s easy, too easy (such is the plague of being human) to fixate on certain people and want them to be the rear-projection window. Drake’s song is about a loner who will remain a loner and has a last chance to deliver a eulogy of the bond that could have been with someone who won’t willingly see him anymore. The only new encounters he’ll have with them now are the ones thrown to him by his subconscious mind in dreams.

Drake unspools a torrent of smote potential that he alone caused and can never formally atone for. “I could have been your pillar, could have been your door, I could have stayed beside you, could have stayed for more…Could have been your statue, could have been your friend, A whole long lifetime could have been the end.”

Go back to Boris. Listen to “Ibitsu,” a furious piece of music. It’s the explosion that waits feral behind every one of Drake’s bleak words. “Ibitsu” surges on the controlled chaos of Wata and Takeshi’s harmonious guitar thrash sucked into the anti-gravity of Atsuo’s drums. This is the anger that Drake, not a pillar or a statue but a pulse demon, can only keep bottled in his song.

“Ibitsu” was always underneath “One Of These Things First.” He’s not a pillar or a door. He “could be yours so true. I could be, I should be through and through.” Across the album, which begins with nine minutes of sludge drone that might wish to be "At Last," Boris offers the din of a failed through and through.

“Ibitsu” is the starring in porn, or being replaced by a porn actor in the room where you sleep every night.  “Ibitsu” is a leviathan beneath the “One Of These Things First” in Scully’s claustrophobic meltdown on the set of the glam-vampire horror programmer he will soon be fired from. “I could have been your pillar…” is the mellow sadness when a rich scumbag backhands the wife he plans to murder, and the expression of “you knew this would happen” on the face of Scully’s live-in girlfriend (Barbara Crampton) when he catches her. Buck naked with a hand cupping her breast, Crampton makes a lasting impression from mere seconds of screentime, the visual equivalent not only of “Things First” but the Grateful Dead lyric “I know you Rider, gonna miss me when I’m gone.”

If seeing a Boris song as a Brian De Palma film is a wacky thesis, Body Double invites it. De Palma constantly forces us to sharpen our eyes and minds. He reminds us that popular culture is a moveable feast. The rear-projection window with B&W cars is an image that speaks and moves pre-conceived mountains. A merely coincidental listening of the Boris album couldn’t have come at a better time, because rediscovering that De Palma shot inspires thoughts about cultural feedback to dance in zero gravity like Connie Nielson in his beautiful Mission To Mars.

Like De Palma, Boris can’t sit still. Their output runs the musical gamut from dark ambient to hard rock to crust punk to sludge metal to drone doom to pop. Like them, De Palma keeps a personal through-line in his excursions to horror, thriller, comedy, satire, western (The Untouchables), sci-fi and crime. The rear-projection window shot tells us that human dreams are limitless when creation takes hold. This is more than Greil Marcus’ “High-stakes criticism.” This is high-stakes perception, as no-net as one of the long shots in his 1998 hurricane morality tale Snake Eyes.  

Once, a young musician wrote a mournful song about the final thoughts one has before going their separate way, extolling one last desperate gasp of all the things that could have been. Decades later, an avant-garde Japanese band fashioned a response of sorts, or a cathartic unearthing of the old work’s secret rage. The songs by Drake and Boris reach across the spectrum to a divisive eighties thriller of the hardest R-rating imaginable. They lock hands. Night has a way of not ending sometimes.


Mainstream movies about this reverse undercarriage industry run from the tragicomic (Boogie Nights) to the crime procedural (Wonderland), but even in the best of them (and the worst-Zack And Miri Make A Porno) a quiet relief anchors the participents. No matter how gifted the performance, actors like Julianne Moore and Heather Graham need to double the illusory manipulation of their craft to avoid a barely perceptible look at the top of the ladder when they’re still spending mock time at the bottom.

I wish there was a magic bullet for every one of Sebastian Gutierrez’s travesties. If you haven’t heard of this charlatan troll count yourself golden. This hack is making an ongoing anti-saga containing the films Women In Trouble, Girl Walks Into A Bar and Elektra Luxx, centering on retired pornstar Luxx (played by Carla Gugino, a fine actress who would know better if she wasn’t the spouse of the “auteur”) and her ensemble of smugly overwritten hangers-on and stalkers. The bloated “tour-de-force” dialogue is bad enough, but Gutierrez and company (which includes Joseph Gordon-Levitt revealing his bad taste) deeply offend when showing footage from Luxx’s titles. The actors’ condescending “bad acting” and exaggerated facial twistings betray their inherent disrespect for the “Ibitsu” of the business where they’ve succeeded.

The first Hollywood representation of the porn industry I can dredge is the orgy Moses’ decadent followers partake in during the prologue of Cecil B. DeMille’s 1923 The Ten Commandments. DeMille treats every pale, half-naked woman splashed against rocks and pillars as Golden Calves he is too guilty to admit his worshipful lust for. The way DeMille frames the revelers in blocked, distant rotations predict the paradoxical kid-glove infatuation that Paul Thomas Anderson explored with profundity and this Sebastian Gutierrez guy shamefully disgraces.

Body Double makes no apologies for itself or The Other Hollywood. De Palma’s visuals aren’t as lush as the Panavision Dressed To Kill, the tracking shots and zooms are blunter, the 1x85 ratio recreates aesthetic concessions and compromises suffered by an industry hounded in the eighties by conservative governors and a new disease that ruined the party for everyone involved. His staging of Holly Does Hollywood, the film where Griffith’s Holly Body performs a telltale dance, includes a tracking shot (viewed through Scully’s fast-forward of the tape) that journeys from dancers to a couple seeking privacy in a backroom to Holly alone, hands aloft, eyes shut tight against us.

Body Double is partly a film of response and wallowing. To fantasize a technically challenging movement in adult product, De Palma, a career-long victim of critical and popular marginalization, is quietly positing XXX as a medium capable of advanced cinematic panache. After the (then) failure of Scarface, the pickets from feminist groups and charges of misogyny for Dressed To Kill, he was as close to the rim of popular acceptance as one can be without falling off. De Palma was XXX, he was Boris. He couldn’t cast real-life porn actor Annette Haven as Holly Body, yet he directed Griffith to be able to say “cum-shot” and “water sports” as casually as if she were asking for the salt.

Holly Does Hollywood is an elegant “Ibitzu,” aided by a Pinno Dinnagio score that recalibrates Tangerine Dream into the giddiness of not simply forthcoming sex but unlocked revelations and caveat dread.

Jake looks back through the rear-projection window when he watches Holly get herself off and has a flash of genius. This is only a meager portion of why Body Double is the best movie ever made about these movies, but it’s a singularly universal moment, this realization, this snap through frequency that all of us have experienced at Avalon Blue’s naked hoof.

2: Notes for a scrapped book proposal

Theme and core of this book [never given a title] is how actresses watched for hours on stolen TV time gave X an idealized, matronly, fuzzy corked and tweaked early impression of sensuality, desire, bisexuality. X probably saw these women at too young an age and they became a community to him, the disparate movies both soft and hardcore were viewed by X at a time when he was obsessed with unification over his entire frame of reference, thus every film, TV show, book and fantasy he consumed and exhaled needed to somehow know and compliment the other, as there was then enough chaos in X’s “real” life that some conspiratorial fabric somewhere was longed-for. He made mere adult programming into more than it was or could ever be. Cut X open and his biography is being raised on a.m. garbage. A basement in a lush Connecticut home was his little-Hitch-in-prison or Young Dickens on the street. These women, with buttery names like Monique Parent, Shauna O’Brien, Kira Reed, Tracy Ryan, Amber Smith, Sarah St. James were his pinup queens and heroines, their own fearlessness in seducing women an inspiration to his own suppressed and ruthlessly knotted sexuality. And X was thinking about this shit in middle-school! Sitting there, a stammery louse, beginning his triumphant winning streak of alienating so many people on his twisted road and musing “the world where Reed and Parent reside is where I want to be,” (hopefully chapters can convey that X didn’t want a Playboy mansion lifestyle, he wanted to be spirited away by Monique Parent Airlines to the tropical kitsch of Passion Cove which frequently guest-starred all of his goddesses. The place was always warm and California lazy, and yes, he wanted to sit  with the women in the fountainous Jacuzzis but only to rest his head on their breasts and sleep, and then confide in them and hear from Monique or Kira that he shouldn’t be ashamed of his thoughts, his eccentric himness, and they would sit shoulders bunched and tell X to approach the husky, handlebar mustached janitor and stubbly gym teacher that made him dread being called to stand up in math classes and science classes and classes where they showed movies on bulky double-decker equipment) and he sat through the movies no matter how enervating they became-the plots were always about scams or they were crime thrillers or sub-Updikian dramas about affluent couples experimenting with experience-just to spend more time with them and memorize every Vanilla line-reading and expositionist power in Parent’s ginger fire, Kira Reed’s gal next door persona, O’Brian’s chill, St. James’ girlish discovery. There was always a part of themselves they weren’t giving, X sees now. It has to fit somewhere in the book, maybe an epilogue, where X became Facebook friends with some of these women and saw their daily postings about ongoing life away from Passion Cove, Life with all its ups and, you know, deep downs. No “illusion” was shattered, of course. X is a weird, weird person yet he is capable of unfogged reasoning. Those scenes between the fauxsex on Max late nite held the Midnight Aura, exclusive to material that is aware it will only be watched at night, likely by just one person. It wasn’t simply the programming proper X looked forward to, it was the pageantry, the cheesy music over silhouetted bodies with gleeful voices whispering “next…next…next on Max.” That was all part of the Aura. Look, he never beat off to these, It’ll have to say in the book even though nobody will believe it (must emphasize: X is a Weird Individual Chump), could be X was taking mental notes or making an archive for a life he didn’t know he wanted to live yet. He just dunked so much of this through his eyeballs. He’d be a national treasure if the nation was royally fucked up. The narratives were nothing, just enough to be something, the barest of bare essentials. A gun and a splot of blood on a dude’s chest. And then maybe another chapter, or possibly a footnote, telling of all those tapes borrowed from friends, passed under desks, Blue Contraband, one tape kept switching from The Goods (woman/man/storage unit) to friendly programming, PBS because friend’s aunt was always checking in on him. From storage to the Public Access lunch menus. Probably deserves own little digression in another chapter, too good for a footnote, though who knows. Tapes tapes tapes, ducked under bedsprings, the talk show with Julie Ashton, questions nobody is really asking about what really happens in the bedroom! X just sat there and soaked this in. It was interesting to him. Body Double was the first and only movie he ever saw that saw the Midnight Aura the way he did, that broached the idea of this underground community, unofficial community and the pact between indifferent programming and a.m. watcher. When Jake sees the sauna “interview,” the Holly trailer, when he goes to Tower Records to get the VHS, those scenes just weren’t supposed to be in movies, X understood what De Palma was doing. The Midnight Aura, the a.m., the You Pass By A House While Walking By Yourself In A Small Town Dark And See Cerulean TV Glow Through A Window. What is being watched in there? Is the watcher still awake? Are you doing their watching for them? Body Double was on VHS too, lying around the house. X’s father told X he couldn’t see it but X snuck it one night on his shrimpy TV/VCR combo and later when he told his father his father didn’t care, he seemed a little proud actually, Good Kid. When X saw Jake lying on that ridiculous Lazy Susan bed in Gregg Henry’s chemosphere and saw the Expositionist woman and that tanned hairpeace X was reminded of those Connecticut nights and “Next on Max” and the tapes under his bed like kisses he would occasionally steal in the years to come. And there was a Tower Records near his Grandparents’ house in Connecticut where he would go late at night with his father sometimes, fond wonderful memories, his father upstairs in the Music section (X wasn’t into music yet) so X would slip XXX (lol) magazines off the top shelf of the newsstand and casually browse Erotique DVDs, the Tower was so laid back, Edward Hopper could have drawn a view from outside, Pop upstairs listening to Jazz on store-provided headphones and his pervy offspring sitting in plushy chairs holding Anchor Bay tins with the plastic-wrapped cheese underneath. And yes it was different with Scully because Holly Does Hollywood did have actual bearing on his life and future, but the focus in which he studied the commercial, bought the movie and watched to the pivotal scene was a mirror of how X regarded erotica as a pup. They were both solving mysteries, Scully a real one and X the mystery of his life and mind, a mind cursed with stampede visions and grueling fallout he would only wish on people who pissed him off the very most. The basement in Connecticut was only partly furnished, you walked down flaky stairs to the laundry room, a constant Boris-like clatter, walk across concrete to a guestroom with a fold-out bed and a chair where the watching took place. Different from the chemosphere fuckpad, but just as sheltered. Outside miles of privately owned land and moon milk, galloping deer. Remote. Relax. A place where X built himself a castle of dragons and kings. Body Double could have been made for him-when X was seeing it for the first time he thought the fucking movie was made for him, was being made as he watched it minute-to-minute. He didn’t want to leave its world. X viewed it so many times that year (and he didn’t even consider himself a De Palma fan yet), was probably the only squirt in middle-school to be constantly humming a pop 80s hit without realizing it was a paean to homosexual ejaculation.

Book might attempt to place Monique, Kira, Shauna and even Holly together in a night owl café, the kind of communion really only possible in a fictional reality of weird wired crossthoughts. Boris is the house band, naturally. Merzbow could be there too with his loops and birds. X would be at another table with his heated laptop, trying to figure out why they all mean so much to him. That could hypothetically be a xasthur though. Better write an essay called “Body Double’s Avalon Persuasion,” which doesn’t make a lick of sense but sounds really cool as a title regardless. X was watching the AVN awards on a narrow distant cubicle of a movie demand channel recently and through all of Lisa Lampanelli’s dick jokes he thought “this is that gathering, except I don’t know these people.” The new industry failed De Palma’s vision of them. Nominees were parody after parody; interesting new starlets like Jessie Andrews weren’t being placed at the tail end of Ophuls-dirty camera sojourns. The banter between the likes of Jessie Jane, red carpet host Dave Navarro (?!?), Taylor Vixen, Tera Patrick and Evan Stone were aggressive and unsettled. They didn’t have the Frostfire confidence as Holly and her real-life body doubles Ginger Lynn, Dorothy LeMay, Honey Wilder, spoiler Traci Lords, Jeanne Silver, the would-be Holly Annette Haven. Since sex has got death’s back like “Ibitsu” to “One Of These Things First,” X wondered what the years of fake realness had done to them. As Nick Drake, Brian De Palma, Boris, even Holly Body could tell you, death is an eternal symphony of It’s Too Late.

Friday, March 16, 2012


Click to Enlarge




"What was it you wanted?"

"I just want to say"

What happened?

We Were Made To Love Music

Help us. 

Dark Ambient
Dr. Kiss

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Blue Monica 1 (Goat)

Where the light falls is where I won’t be, the scatter lost the men in black robes ceremonial drowning in their blessed occult, five men named It five times evil, I am the sixth man blasted down through Norway, the word is yours, saying, saying, sayingsayingsaying   You have Conquested me Shhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh
Have to hate the image because the image is gateway to pure pain follow the image and the core of pain is the seventh man in cave. “Does my face look like nut?” Appendage off, appendage gone, appendage far away. Bring in the goat. Image hides but image can’t control exposure so image finds me, guppy taunting, goat and grain send Avalon to new in the shop window a tee vee is on static appendage saw where does the passion go when passion is murdered by image, the windows into nothing the straw of us and each other and a cult clan and a fool who was given the gift of a golden assemblyline near the rim of rippled pink brain why, saying no thing, saying static, the Conquested appendage is the final demon goat Norwegian forest the static teeeveeee knows the secrets of our brood the slaughtered connections the bloody It on the other side of image, blue monica in the heart of Conquested appendage fool would flip one gift send it back if break the glass and sink can’t go appendage was there before, why Appendage could have sewed there by nut, face looks like it, funny Idon’t get it, now I do, Nut as in Nut image faux window Erin and Corinna I’ve put them through genius on Norway darkness trees trees don’t know wish knew don’t know Erin like Corinna so easy like pulling taffy that’s how they could all do it static went to the massed Conquested and then back, or did Erin turn off the device with her probey tongue Corinna says Yr A LoVeLy girl static at the drainage static image appendage hates never get it again no. no. no. no. no. no. no. no. no.. No. Worm word break. Horns of the goat impaled want. Erin obtained appendage isn’t image but image the last blip men chanting in Norwegian goat holocausts find “guess we failed us” face nut face lick I AM SO FUCK! FUCK! FUCK! FUCK! SHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh
“Does.” Applynochantgoatgutfacefrostfiregutlovegutgoat. Drone Doom. “My.” Showers of sparkle failure. “Face.” Hateimagehateappendagewhenwillforgetnevernomountaintallnoriverwhatever. “Look.” Drone, Black, Crust Punk, Crust appendage saw it Sawed. “Like.” Nextnextnextnextnextnextdidn’t. Lovely girl Erin no Corinna is conspiracy to get Corinna Conquested don’t say wasn’t I KNOW YOUR FUCKING GAMMMMMMMMMMMMMMEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE, chi. Suckgutgoatcrustpunkerincorinnatnvthreefriendsbestieskittensstaticdroneworddronewhatimdoingiscantsaybearwithmeimsorrybutithastobehateenvywethandlonelybirdhornygoatsixmensevenmeneightdemondeaths. “Nut?” hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha  doesmyfacelooklikenut?

Blow Out's Unheard Screams


The Criterion edition of Brian De Palma’s Blow Out is not only welcome and overdue, the collection’s typically provocative packaging inspires new theories and thought-spurts about this great film. Criterion loses the original poster art, which was nothing more than the crescent moon’d face of John Travolta’s Jack Terry wracked with total screaming agony, hemmed in by oily darkness. This striking apotheosis of visceral defeat was an all-time favorite, yet I like Criterion’s new cover, which attempts to place this shockingly obscure 1981 thriller in a different cinematic/historical context.

The updated cover art is a still from the movie, showing exploitation film sound-man Terry sitting in his office, surrounded by a mess of distended audio-equipment and eel-esque tape tracks. His face is mauled by worry. If we’ve seen Blow Out, we know what’s going on. Terry (who may have accidentally recorded evidence of a political assassination while on a field recording for ambient sounds) returns to his studio to find all of his master tapes erased. De Palma's camera rotates in a perpetual 360 about the office, as frantic as Jack trying to recover some justification of his being. It’s a passage that critic Armond White described as the time where “safety goes spinning off into the void.” The image Criterion chose to represent the film has Jack slumped against his chair, briefly resigned, a lone individual at the edge of safety. He’s a poster boy for the insomniac obsessive.

Criterion is specifically aligning Blow Out with two obvious comparison points: Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blow Up (1966) and Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation (1974), where men doubly fixated on their jobs recover opaque remnants of possibly insidious underplots. The Criterion cover recalls the final shot of Coppola’s film, where Gene Hackman’s Harry Caul plays saxophone inside an apartment he’s gutted while searching in vain for mechanical bugs. In the eyes of too many people, De Palma is a superficial Carnival huckster and sneaky Hitchcock thief. By choosing a quieter moment from the film, Criterion is telling the uninitiated that yes, De Palma is an artist and Blow Out is a movie of great cinematic antecedents and innovation.

Look inside the exhaustive booklet, however, and you’ll find another representation of Blow Out, linking the film to a more subterranean film culture. In the final pages, after a new critical appreciation by Michael Sragow and the classic review “Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Gageteer” by Pauline Kael (she wrote like Hendrix played guitar) we come to a display of movie posters. Exploitation movie posters. Framed on the walls of the penne-ante studio that employs Jack are one-sheets for B’s like Food Of The Gods, The Boogeyman, Without Warning, Squirm. These are pages torn from the graphic novel about America’s shameful exhibition history.  

Exploitation, specifically the Horror subgenre known both affectionately and derisively as the “slasher film,” has a thematic bearing on Blow Out that Criterion secretly recognizes and leaves for the devotee or noob who has purchased spine #562 to discover for themselves.


The heart of Blow Out consists of three characters coiled together in a deathdance of maniac fate. The world, specifically the country on which they so wanted to make a difference, has left them alone to dodge and survey and pursue and murder each other while ignored by patriotic revelers and the nightdawn firework bliss. There are no movie characters I love more than Jack Terry, Sally (Nancy Allen) and Burke (John Lithgow). They reside in a Philadelphia littered with industrial Sarlacc pits and vaporized safety. Who are they?

Jack used to work for the Philly P.D. wiring undercover agents until one of his guys was discovered and snuffed after sweating out the bug. Jack always blamed himself and entered the B-movie assembly line, hating the grind and product but diligent about getting lost in it. He’s wound tightly, has no friends or family to call him away from his dedication to chintzy sound.

Sally is an aspiring makeup innovator and a pretty face. She wants to wash off life’s designation of her as a floozy even though she’s not quite smart enough or able to make the right decisions to do just that. Sally moonlights as vaginal bait for philandering businessmen so that her greasy partner in crime Manny Karp (Dennis Franz) can snap pictures of them in flagrante. Her life is undirected by anyone other than bad men by the time she meets Jack. He saves her from drowning. In the hospital when she comes to, the first thing she does is cover her face because she isn't wearing any makeup. 

Burke (real name?) is a calculating, efficient madman, hired by a rival political party to knock rising pol Gov. McRyan out of the current race. It becomes clear they hired the wrong man after Burke causes a blow out in McRyan's car that kills the Governor and almost kills Sally before Jack intervenes. His incensed employer cuts him off, (“this wasn’t the plan we agreed on!”) yet Burke has convinced himself that the “mission” must continue. Burke is a self-styled lone wolf who could have emerged from any rural trauma, a psychopathic murderer of women who wants to be one of the men who allegedly set Lee Harvey Oswald up as a patsy. He finds excuses to kill women who look like Sally in order to blame the eventual murder of Sally on his own “series of sex crimes” plaguing Philadelphia.

This sad trio dream for greater recognition but find themselves unwilling citizens in the exclusive hamlet of the Slasher Movie Gutter Town.


“Slashers” came to prominence in America with the success of John Carpenter’s Halloween in 1978, though the “template” so smugly mocked by elitists had been in play virtually throughout the history of the medium (in everything from Tod Browning’s Freaks to Italian Giallo films) and was already the rubric of Bob Clark’s Black Christmas four years earlier.

By the time Blow Out appeared, slashers were relatively ubiquitous and were about to accelerate in visibility, as the first installment of Friday The 13th had just come out in 1980. The same year as De Palma’s film, Friday The 13th Part 2 was already finished. Shortly After Blow Out slashers would rule the decade's box office and grindhouses, one of the key generalized components my friends and I use to reconstruct the eighties, along with Ronald Reagan, nose candy-scribes Ellis/McInerney, and the two Coreys in the great old days when Haim was still with us.

Slashers imprinted warped first impressions of sex, death, and carnage on the small-town children who scooped them up from Mom and Pop rental stores. After another seventh grade day it was time. We walked the tracks with our holy Frito Lays, the tape sheathed in a low-hanging plastic bag. There was me, Derrick, Henry, Kenneth and Scott R. No girls, except the ones laminated and stored in VHS. Male legs touching casually on the floor wasn’t a cause for Salem-sized hysteria then. Desires were something that came from the screen, not from us. And it was ok, because we were watching movies designed for young heterosexual consumption. And we were eating potato chips instead of sucking on Lollipops.

Before they died on the blipping screen, the young people touched each other. On the Mondays after the weekends were finished that was all we could think about, the touching and imminent dying. We watched the bare skin, wondering what it was like to caress it. When the teenagers got murdered one by one we watched and secretly thought about what it might be like to die.

Viewing slasher movies in a small town was the privilege of young men. We built up temples from mythology that was constructed for the sake of capital. As the rapidity of technological breakthroughs allows even a 24-year-old to sound old fogeyish, I think it’s safe to say that that weekend magic is gone to the new young. That’s fine. They have more. They’ll never know.

There used to be a store in my town called Alice In Videoland, standing like a guard dog at the foot of a dead-ended street. It was chunked from a larger building which also housed business, agencies currently blanked and blurred to my memory like a network-televised breast. The slasher movies waited for us in crusty tape boxes that had been rented and returned, rented and returned. I always thought the pied piper hulks like Jason Vorhees and Madman Marz (or Burke) were hiding inside the street beyond Alice. Alice In Videoland is long gone (“Like a steel locomotive, rolling down the track…”) but it had to have had the most provocative and literary name of any nostalgia-tinged mom’n’pop. The Carroll allusions aside (though the committed movie watcher is always meeting strange, new characters, a Cheshire Cat Antonio Fargas or Red Queen Harvy Keitel in Bad Lieutenant, even Anna Karina as a harder core Alice in Godard’s My Life To Live) there’s the “Videoland” to consider. Like Spyro the dragon in a fully interactive Playstation level, we entered Videoland with the option of going anywhere, up hill and dale, through the path to righteous shock water. The guys and I, a collectively tainted Spyro, only had one destination in mind.

I have a deeply protective, unconditional love for American slashers-from Studio Bastard Child mainstreamers like the Friday The 13ths to the waterfall of independent productions like The Toolbox Murders and Slaughter High. I try not to demand more from them than they are able to give, yet I’ve also found myself wishing more had the same high-art style and airy, un-tethered camera as the best Italian horror. An Argento-like vision of the sometimes intoxicating pure Americana we get from the best slashers is a heady, dangerous thing to wish for. Heady because of the realized possibilities. Dangerous because it’s one of those utopian moviewatching requests that even the bluest genie couldn’t grant.

Blow Out’s opening salvo is that intermovie dream come true, a min-collegiate slasher which plays like the rather flatly shot Final Exam or The Dorm That Dripped Blood filtered through the instinctual screws of an aesthete fascinated by the limitless visionary potential of junk. The widescreen spectrum bounds and glides on the wings of a Demon (here, the Michael Myers POV of the in-film antagonist), peeping through the windows of a sorority on a blustery night. The Demon kills a security guard keeping silent watch. The pampered sisters play out little dramas of trying to study while bitches party in the next room. A sister riding her boyfriend catches a glimpse of the Demon and screams, but he cuts one hasty escape and enters the sorority on his mission for damage.

Every De Palma “Tour de force” isn’t just an empty “Look ma, No hands” gesture (to quote rag “Entertainment Weekly”), but examples of audacious cinematic reach embedded with visual ideas and extra-textual criticism. In this film-within-a-film, the essential slasher archetype is patriarchy on the prowl. De Palma sees him as the microcosm of every slasher villain: male, with sexual frustration boiling over, forced to remain outside a healthy social universe of fulfillment and sex. Each room is differently lit, containing a new breed of situational person. The Demon is denied access to any of these fresh girls, forever unaware of nightcrawlers like him. Joining the ranks of Grendel or Travis Bickle, he can’t connect so he’s chosen to pillage. The propulsive free-float of De Palma’s camera and wintery stark of Vilmos Zsigmond’s photography condense hours of material from vintage Times Square filler and the grime tapes from the days Kenneth (the one I had fallen for) was still in touch. The Demon stalks to the girl’s showers, reflected in the mirror as a crinkled hunchback of a middle-aged man, surely the interior look of even the youngest slashers the decade would provide us.

De Palma then narratively zooms out, revealing two men watching this extraordinary footage. Obviously they don’t see the art in it. (Maybe the version we’ve just watched isn’t the version they’ve seen but the dream projection of what that horror movie could be.) Terry and his swarthy, overweight, Bob Cresse-like boss can only be dismayed by the cheesy library scream from the overdubbed throat of a showering Next Victim.

“I didn’t hire that girl for her scream,” the producer says, “I hired that girl for her tits.”

Jack’s tired comeback: “With tits like that who’s gonna notice the scream?”

It doesn’t work. He’s ordered to find audio of a good scream. Blow Out begins as a Trash Aria, then a simple assignment. De Palma’s self-penned screenplays often start with assignments demanded of lead characters from others or from themselves. The protagonists never stop to examine their own shaky psychological ground before setting out on these ventures. Terry shares the same DNA as Body Double’s claustrophobic and mildly perverted Jake Scully, Raising Kane’s schizophrenic Carter Nix, Femme Fatale’s dreamy and dreaming Laure Ash, right up to the naïve, vlogging soldier Salazar in Redacted, who doesn’t see the harm in being a stealer of images until it’s far too late.  

Sally becomes that scream. The legacy of her soul is transferred by Jack to one of the rental choices in Videoland, an urban legend that won’t ever catch on, a neighbor to the other houses on the same truncated road.


Blow Out is a serious film that deliberately references the unseemly byroads of genre product, exposing the self-contained tragedy of the slashers’ nightowl production universe. These three have no desire to be in a slasher movie: Jack wants to star in a version of 3 Days Of The Condor where the newspaper prints the story and the ostensible nut is validated; Burke wants to star in a cool, austere French Hitman movie along the lines of Melville’s Le Samourai, an immaculate professional in the darkness, cleaning up and taking out, doing his job for satisfied shadowmen; Sally just wants to be in a frothy, carefree musical, or at least provide glittery invisible makeup behind the scenes.    

De Palma stages a climax of patriotic disillusionment and filmic exclusion. Burke has intercepted the phone line in Jack’s apartment building, talking to Sally over the phone and convincing her that he’s really a local investigative journalist doing a piece on Jack’s discovery. Apprehensive, Jack decides to wire Sally and listen in on her conversation when she meets the reporter at the 30th Street Station. As Sally walks around the train station (where Burke has just finished murdering a prostitute in the restroom) she talks to Jack through the bug. After this is all over, she says, they could travel to New York together and see some shows, “Like Sugar Babies and stuff.” Burke comes up behind her wearing a pleasant mask. Neither Sally nor Jack have met Burke, or even know that he’s the one man behind the tampering all film, but Jack doesn’t recognize that voice. He bolts from the car, sprinting like a rat in a maze thinking it has a chance.

The moment Jack realizes that isn’t the reporter is the moment all three of their fates are sealed in cruelty. In what is easily the finest chase sequence in movie history, Jack hopelessly runs through the station trying to locate them with only their voices as a weakening guidance. He jumps turnstiles and pirouettes at the whim of every casually spouted direction. He ends up plowing his car through the Liberty Day parade, which stands in for an America they all wanted to impact. Yet the festivities continue while the three remain ignored and fringe.

The parade continues at night when Jack finally spots Sally and Burke on a tourist lookout balcony above the crowd. Sally reaches out before Burke strangles her to death with his signature watch razor wire. Sally reaches to the faceless mass. Behind her hangs a gigantic, indifferent American flag. The reds bleed out. Jack’s cry glints like coined sunlight in all the smiles.

Jack, Sally and Burke are relegated to the slasher ghetto-Burke in the role of just another Demon slayer festering in hundreds of VHS releases from the Media and Vestron companies, Jack as another name in the bottom of the credits that middle schoolers watching as a rite-of-passage twenty years later won’t ever see, and Sally as just a victim, just another nameless female victim.

Jack listens to the accidental record of Sally’s death in coldest winter. He drops this malignant sound into the campus slasher. Really, her scream is their unified scream. Jack is the only one left alive. He isn’t alive at all.


Brian De Palma’s inclusion of female nudity, violence and spectacle has never been for mere unthinking titillation. He uses the disposable for means of critical exegeses. Like every De Palma film, Blow Out is a text on the run. The cinema that has come before serves as a graveyard and blueprint. Much has been reductively written about De Palma and Hitchcock (who is De Palma’s cross to bear), but there is so little acknowledging De Palma’s un-didactic commentary on Gutter Town. In providing his own interpretation of sleaze (body count movies in Blow Out, pornography in Body Double, paperback horror in Carrie and The Fury, Mad Scientists in Raising Kane, gender fetishization in Femme Fatale) De Palma alchemizes the subconscious poetry in Penny Dreadfuls without condescending to lesser producers and directors like Hershell Gordon Lewis, Jess Franco and the other great hellhounds who didn’t have the time to consider what they were putting on film and why.

All the slasher movies are about invasion. As much as Criterion emphasizes the European and alienated 70s New Hollywood trappings on the cover, those posters in the booklet get closer to the movie’s broken heart. In slashers, the lives of dopy youngsters guilty of nothing more than sowing wild oats are invaded by a franchise mutant. Recall a subplot: the struggles of an awkward Crispin Glover to prove to his bud that he isn’t a “Dead fuck” in Friday 4. This material is so engaging that we can’t help but feel cut loose, even cheated, after all the time invested in it is canceled with one sharp hack to Glover’s face. (With his character Jim’s death we also lose any chance of seeing his spastic party dance again.) This abrupt entrance of dismay is present even in Blow Out’s nonviolent scenes, when Jack finds one of Karp’s flash-tabloid photos of Sally, bare shoulders peeking through white hotel sheets as a married man scrambles to get dressed. When Karp forces himself on Sally her unsurprised desperation is the emotional fog above every dead teenager who was ever consigned to the Horror forest in Videoland.

De Palma sees this, and that’s why the Slasher movie spectre is either waiting at the end of each frame or parasitically draining nutrients from the host. America wants to pretend the films don’t exist, and that extends to the lost souls struggling in Blow Out's genre web. Slashers invade and erode Jack, Burke and Sally’s idiosyncratic dreams, Jack and Sally’s potential relationship (the scenes of them going to Sugar Babies together now part of the same ether as Glover’s Jim finding a mate in his sex-comedy that wasn’t to be), Jack’s career as an asset to the police force, Blow Out’s theoretically higher art aspirations. They are all pulled reaching and screaming past Videoland, into an unforgiving celluloid abyss. 

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Where The Eagle Glides Ascending: Neil Young And Crazy Horse (Conclusion)

 Concealing you…
 Revealing you…

“The essence of what we do is…we play together. And we express as one.”-Billy Talbot, in Jim Jarmusch’s Year Of The Horse (1997)

Neil Young on Ralph Molina: “Ralph’s the quiet one, but he’s also very funny. Ralph’s steady as a rock.”

Neil Young on Billy Talbot: “Billy’s the center in some ways, because he plays the big notes. Billy is a sound, a feeling that’s part of us.”

Neil Young on Frank “Poncho” Sampedro: “Poncho brings us strength. He has massive amounts of strength, just an unbelievable core of strength. When he’s there, it’s strong.”

Remember the orphan songs, those albums we may never hear. Homegrown, Toast, the original Chrome Dreams. The stragglers, an exclusive batch of ether songs. “Separate Ways,” available bootlegged from a Belgium concert in the bowls of a North Hampton Turn-It-Up. In the center of 2004’s Are You Passionate? is “Goin’ Home,” the only song with Crazy Horse on a work that was originally intended for them. We could make our own mixtape EP of songs from a crop of albums where Crazy Horse, or a member of Crazy Horse, played on only one or two tracks. After The Goldrush, On The Beach and Trans are three top examples. Would that EP sound unified after we’ve joined all those different shards of time?

Remember the live shows, where Neil Young and Crazy Horse whip up a cyclone that leaves everyone and everything behind.

 Exploring You…
 Restoring you…

Despite their lot as live albums, Time Fades Away and Rust Never Sleeps all consist of new songs, making them a part of the studio body. Because Young is always touring, there is a vast bounty of official and unofficial recordings to play through. We start at the top, with Weld, Live Rust, and like the Danger Bird we fly down, down, down to the four CD, career-spanning soundboard box called A Perfect Echo. That humongous gathering is rife with discoveries like a performance of Trans’s “Transformer Man” in Berlin even more poignant than the album version (Young’s robot voice ads a vulnerable “Thank you” after the song is finished) and the most despondent rendition of After The Gold Rush’s “Don’t Let It Bring You Down” you will ever hear, from a 1989 Hamburg concert.

I was browsing a Mom and Pop store in Cape Cod when I found physical copies of the Perfect Echo, so it is out there if you’re lucky. (Sadly, with the end of Megaupload I think any hope of getting it digitally is over.) But if you can’t locate Echo you still have the wonderful, officially sanctioned NY Archives Performance Series. Besides A Treasure, there’s Dreamin’ Man Live 92, acoustic versions of Harvest Moon that are great improvements on the actual studio record, and a brilliant concert at the Filmore West with the original Crazy Horse lineup. And there’s Year Of The Horse from 1997. Released to coincide with the Jim Jarmusch film (though it features entirely separate recordings, a testament to their touring prowess that year) the double album is everything I want my music and my art to be.

It basically transmogrifies past songs and present songs in the Broken Arrow syrup (including ones from Broken Arrow)-long, meandering, guardedly soulful, heavy on distortion and stealth vocals, the cracks on the gold-plating of a “Rock Legend” who rejects the attempts to gold plate him.

I played both discs during the victory lap of Shakey (ironically, McDonough dismisses the record), feeling it was Young and Horse undiluted. I played it loud in my car driving through the town where I live now but hopefully won’t live for much longer, wanting people on the street to experience my nighttime bedroom haze in the roar of the previously benign “When You Dance I Can Really Love,” now as mighty as the steam locomotive on the Grateful Dead’s “He’s Gone.”

“They all sound the same. It’s all one song!” Neil Young wails. Before the onslaught of music, this is the first particle of data we encounter on Year Of The Horse. He could be responding to the negative accusations of a fan a few degrees away from the martyr’s tongue of Dylan’s “I don’t believe you.” The song begins, torrents of rain fill the gutters of what was once “When You Dance You Can Really Love.” Now the lonely who mingle with circumstance have a better chance of locating happiness because the dancers are stifled, movements mechanical. They’re drowning in sand. “When You Dance…” becomes “Big Time,” the song a broken arrow, any of its previous lift ambitions dashed by longevity and harshness. What does “When You Dance I Can Really Love” become when it gets to be six minutes long? Words fail it. The new musical appendage transforms the song into an expression of righteous anger. In the context of new sequencing, it immediately bleeds into Zuma’s “Barstool Blues.” The lonely watcher has turned away from the dancers and back to the tolerant bartender who will let him talk and drink until they've both had enough.

“Mr. Soul” has undergone some radical taffy pulling since its debut on Buffalo Springfield Again, the electro-pop version on Trans only seconded by Year’s brittle, guitar-leading rendition. The song’s opaque, psychadelia-profound lyrics take on the new context of a sixties survivor saying them after he’s woken from a Rip Van Winkle sleep and looked bleary-eyed at the new world. In a while will the smile on my face turn to plaster? That could have been a new lyric Young wrote now that he was as legendary a figure as himself still prolific at the stroke of a new millennium. A song originally about the youthful coup of fame is now a meditation on the vicissitudes of the years to come. Is it strange I should change? I don’t know. Why don’t you ask her?

You could, but if you just listen you know he’s changed. A song that was always accusatory is now low-key, gentle even. Getting older, Young sees “When You Dance” as a threat. The ovaries of each passing year have reborn “Mr. Soul.”   

Aurora Borealis. Songs like “Pocahontas,” “Human Highway,” “Danger Bird” and especially “When Your Lonely Heart Breaks” stand back and look upon themselves. They have a vanishing-point phosphorescence. This can be the final time each song reaches an audience. Not that that audience is the highest priority. After the “It’s all one song” rap we’re in the musical sandstorm with the guys, given the slightest applause belch. They drill into less popular songs like “Slip Away,” with such a delicate devotion to the woman at the center of the song, not wanting to harm her or rush her through. Young, Molina, Talbot and Sampedro are giving her the music to slip away to. They know she’s “in such pain.” Wherever she eventually finds herself after slipping away (transcendence? Death?) The Horse will provide the portal and slip away beside her. Year Of The Horse is meant to be listened to, alone, us and the music, and its meant to be listened to by people who understand. If two lovers listen to Year Of The Horse nude on a bed and one of them isn’t enveloped and hates the music, that thing, that thing between them won’t work out.

What would John Updike’s short story “Snowing In Greenwich Village” look like if he rewrote it forty years after it's initial appearance? Would the poltergeist of eroticism still determine the actions Richard Maple doesn’t take in walking a pretty female friend home as his wife waits back in their new apartment? I think he would still write from the perspective of the young and married, but there would be flourishes only age and wisdom could provide. It doesn’t matter if this hypothetical new story works or fails. I’d just like to see what an aged Updike would bring to it.

With Year, we get this artistic revisiting. The best cut-and quite possibly the most affecting live recording of a previously released song in Young’s career-is the second disc’s “Danger Bird,” which symphonically ties Young’s present with his past. Broken Arrow’s “Scattered” (I’m a little bit here, I’m a little bit there, I’m a little bit scattered everywhere”) is the preceding track, but it doesn’t end when “Danger Bird” starts. No. “Scattered’s” central guitar riff spills over, as if it was too individualistically plutonium to stay within the grounds of its designated album space. The song becomes scattered, ricocheting through Year Of The Horse like a stray bullet, but as soon as we hear the familiar fade-in strains of “Danger Bird” we know this invasion of “Scattered” is no mistake. In many ways “Scattered” is the contemporary “Danger Bird,” defeated in the aimless 90’s as opposed to the predatory seventies alcohol. Yet this is a new “Danger Bird.” Neil Young is no longer the pining ex-lover writing songs with a frustrated erection. He’s a family man. He’s concerned with the cosmic, specifically the death from lung cancer of his producer David Briggs. Briggs was on the canon from Neil Young to Sleeps With Angels. McDonough’s book paints him as a garrulous raconteur, and it’s clear by the end that he misses Briggs and might respect him more than Young (who tried blocking the bio’s publication long after a decade of work). Briggs hated the rough aesthetic of Time Fades Away, and in a sense his passing allowed Young to further explore that sound on Year and Broken Arrow, which he produced himself. This new “Danger Bird” is about David Briggs. The Danger Bird can’t work and influence when it’s flying high. It flies alone. Concerns of love mature into concerns of gone friends. Before, the lyric about the “Training that he learned” getting him nowhere fast was about the emasculation of a flamed-out relationship. Now the training is the result of living helpless helpless helpless at the tragic failures of the body. The danger bird is a little bit scattered everywhere. From the close of a song made without Briggs, Young drives back to a time when they were brothers in work. After completing “Will To Love,” where a lonesome fish narrates over the rush of little fires, Briggs reportedly embraced Young and rubbed his shoulders in a gesture of the communion of completion. Many artists work alone. The ones who collaborate form a deep, unimpeachable bond with their collaborators because going through the joys and rigors of creation is a mutual quest that can commence anywhere, lifting time.  

The wings have turned to stone. Open the Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere LP and zero into an image of Briggs, lanky and bearded, brandishing a rifle and looking like Robert Altman regular John Shuck. The expression on Brigg’s face parodies the high-wire intensity of the western hero so perfectly contained in a song on Sleeps With Angels that he would produce so shortly before his death. His picture is only a few centimeters from Danny Whitten’s, who sits in a chair, as fond of his acoustic guitar as Briggs is of his firearm.

Young plays “Danger Bird” like he was at Briggs’ funeral and the song his 21 Gun Salute. If he could fly alongside the danger bird he would. But mortality has given him no choice. The song sprawls for 13 minutes. Young doesn’t want to let the Danger Bird out of his sightline.


Jarmusch’s film is an austere portrait. Predictable anathema to a philistine like James Berardinelli and a simpleton like Roger Ebert, the movie is (proudly) shot in Super-8, giving these concerts the direct visual equivilent of their sound. The intercut scenes range from candid hotel goofing (Molina watches Robocop on TV, a prickly Sampedro scolds Jarmusch for trying to pin down 30 years of raising families, playing together and trying to live through mutual problems with bullet questions) to archive footage of the band from the 70s and 80s. Horse would be more of an obvious hagiography if it was made in 35mm; instead, it comes off as genuinely humbled when facing the darkness in the music.

As a director of fiction features, Jarmusch can be equally great (Stranger Than Paradise, Mystery Train, the Young scored Dead Man, Broken Flowers) and terrible (The Limits Of Control), though as a documentarian he shows none of his usual compact focus. For a band like Crazy Horse, especially at this phase of their playing, Jarmusch’s rough and tumble assemblage is paramount, yet the film is strangely choked, airless. Jarmusch nervously edits interstices into the hallucinatory concert footage when he should just let it be. The dissolves from Young’s in-song grimace to country roads and backstage waiting feel incongruous. Perhaps a more audacious execution would have been appropriate if Jarmusch wanted to dramatize the performances, with Gena Rowlands as “Slip Away’s” woman in the black limousine or John Lurie as the wanderer in “Big Time.”

Yet Jarmusch thankfully withholds this creative instinct during the raging “Like A Hurricane” that explodes the mine, causing a rockpile that blocks the way and ends the film. Besides a draining, Horsified “Tonight’s The Night,” the “Hurricane” section is when Jarmusch makes extraordinary rebel cinema of The Horse. The main interviews, conducted in a scummy barren laundry room with the principals (including Young’s father, Scott) are good for pull quotes and exhausted summings-up but little else. The truly worthwhile footage besides the main concerts are minor off-the-cuff video grabs of the guys fighting and trying to delegatate vocal portions of “Cortez” on an ’86 European tour. The sight of Young cursing at the others in a Lionel Model Train muscle shirt is just as WTF as anything in Human Highway. And a moment on the bus where Jarmusch explains the Old and New Testaments to a perplexed Young probably should have been deleted, even though it is the most “Jarmuschian” touch here.

I think there’s another hour missing, an hour Young won’t let us see. The guys can’t truly open up to Jarmusch because they can only open up to each other, through music. Poncho describes them as “one big guitar.” Despite its flaws, the Year Of The Horse film is invaluable for how close it brings us to the musical sandstorm, where Young’s face twists and extends like a gargoyle, squeezing his electric guitar “Old Black” for every last ounce of tune-cum. The other guys, cool in comparison, watch Young and play, the only four men on earth.


In his dependably shitty multi-cardboard celebrity saga New Year’s Eve, Garry Marshall directed a number of mugging actors through nonexistent characterizations, perhaps none more unmemorable than Jon Bon Jovi playing a flawless version of himself who goes by the single name “Jensen.” That moniker is the one thing from the movie that actually resonated with a friend and I, in that we now call any ineffectual, middlebrow song/band/movie/tv-show “Jensen.” Jensen isn’t just the death of art but the death of interest. Jensen comforts the arrogantly non-disturbed. Jensen is safety at the expense of any challenges that a complex approach might yield. Year Of The Horse isn’t heralded as a major Young work (if this essay has any real agenda it’s to change the respective reputations of Year, Sleeps With Angels, Broken Arrow, Life, with a promised in-depth of Trans on the way), but I think it is, and it wasn’t until I saw New Year’s Eve that I could really put my finger on why.

The thing is about as un-Jensen as culture can get. The human brain might need the murky sound of Year Of The Horse and Broken Arrow more than it thinks. The ragged imperfections have a way of focusing us and tightening the screws. Jensen sunburns the intellect, while the labyrinth of the rebuilt “When You Dance…” and “Danger Bird” show us the way to the ditch where everyone has to visit. When we come back, we’re better, healed through the scars.

Year Of The Horse is a legal bootleg. We’ve paid for something we should have obtained under the counter in a brown paper bag. Very hard to tell where one ends and another begins. It’s all one song with a hatchet taken to the body. It’s all one year and a very long night.

 Embracing you…
 Destroying you…

Neil Young is randomly generous with his Archives series, in production for decades before a first volume finally appeared in 2009. In preparation of that major release (reportedly one of the reasons he kept delaying it was a dissatisfaction with available technology before Blu-Ray) he issued selections-live concert recordings instead of the shelved albums promised for future volumes-from the “NY Archives Performance Series.”

The first Performance Series album wasn’t his spine-tingling 1974 Bottom Line set where he patiently ushered spectators into the ambience of On The Beach. I don’t even know if he knows that was recorded. In 2006, a year when I was still lost but didn’t realize it yet, Young came out with Live at the Fillmore East. Culled from shows in 1970, it offers a chance to hear Danny Whitten in his prime and imagine what the subsequent albums and live albums would sound like if he had survived. Whitten sings alongside Young for the 6 tracks, mostly songs from Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere except for two, “Winterlong” and “Wonderin’,” that would find their place on records much later down the twisted road.

“Winterlong” is drenched in melancholy, with Young and Whitten screaming “come back now” in what sounds like a portent of the losses to come. The versions of “Down By The River” and “Cowgirl In The Sand” attain a level of skywriting blaze that eclipse even the versions on record.

“I would like to introduce you to the band, and the band to you,” Young says before they hurl themselves into “Come On Baby Let’s Go Downtown.” We know the song from Tonight’s The Night, and this is actually the performance used on that album. Young slips into the wallpaper and lets Whitten’s hostel, authoritative vocals take over.

Whitten’s songwriting is disarming in it's directness and gutter-poetic encapsulation of an illegal, dangerous lifestyle. “Downtown” is an early circle of hell where everybody dances to the doom. The people are desperate but smiling because the next fix is on its way. Whitten’s narrator is providing expository info to a girl new to Downtown, a girl he wants to fuck because she is still relatively clean. Here, he tells her, it’s deadly to be caught with a tear in your eyes. The details arrive in a pulpy monsoon:

 Snake eyes, French fries, and I got lotsa gas
 Full moon and a jumpin' tune, now you don't have to ask
 Sure enough, They’ll be sellin’ stuff when the moon begins to rise
 Pretty bad when you’re dealing with the man
 And the light shines in your eyes.

The Man’s bright beam makes them all scatter like low-income cockroaches. Whitten’s voice isn’t repulsed. He’s aroused by his place among the fallen. Because he’s actually addicted to “the stuff,” Whitten’s striking talent merges with the night to create a verisimilitude that would inevitably burn him out too soon. It’s as if Nicholas Cage was a real alcoholic and made Leaving Las Vegas as a valentine and letter bomb to the world that was embracing and killing him all at once.

So when Young writes a song like “Driveby” or “Safeway Cart” he’s writing with the spirit of Danny Whitten hovering above every word. Those songs exist outside the bubble he could live inside if he chose to. When he sings “Safeway Cart” he’s going back Downtown. Whitten gave him the directions, and the vision to project himself there when he needs to return to that old ditch with the miracle geyser of creativity at a cost.

“I lost some people I was travelling with. I miss the soul and the old friendship.” These words rise from “Walk With Me,” the first track on Le Noise. He’s addressing the passengers on a ship that is adrift forever. The Fillmore ‘70 concert is profound evidence of that soul and the old friendship. It is vital and deeply sad.


We’re nearing the end of our journey. The fact that I’ll be done with this article soon is proving to be a little heartbreaking. I don’t want to let this music go. I don’t want to let these people go.

There’s a moment near the close of Shakey that McDonough didn’t have to include. I’m glad he did. As they sit together on his tour bus, Young tells McDonough that their interviews are over. They aren’t friends, as their nasty court battles would prove. Yet a bond happens between biographer and subject, or critic and artist, one-sided or not. McDonough spent more than a decade on his biography; I’ve spent a little over a month on this modest piece. But the world of Neil Young is so endlessly immersive that any engagement starts to feel like going home after enough time. Writing about the songs is more than a critical action. The strangeness of Young’s compositions invite you inside. They become your life, every note and word. I’ve never really left “Change Your Mind” or “Danger Bird,” and Young and Whitten made it so they would never leave the 16-minute “Cowgirl In The Sand” at the Fillmore East.

The other side of it is more. No matter his countless interpersonal betrayals, they were in the music together. Filmmakers like Jarmusch and writers like McDonough and myself can’t know what that feels like, but we can write ourselves into our private visions of these songs. The songs want us to write about them in perpetuity. The moment when Young closes the gateway on McDonough is accidentally tragic not because of the loss of Young’s insights (which are guarded) but because time with one more outlet to the songs is blocked to the obsessive scribe.

I was always writing about Neil Young and Crazy Horse, even as a child hacking out screenplays based on early experiences in a life they’ve helped me to fathom. I don’t know what I’m going to write about now.

 Confining You…
 Soothing You…

“The Violent Side” is a song that Young performed live in the mid-eighties, but unlike Filmore 70’s great “Winterlong” (which was finally contained on the Decade comp) it never got past the venues. We have to go looking for “The Violent Side” through bootlegs linked by the message board anonymous. The concert in Santa Cruz at The Cataylst from July 1984 appears to be the most commonly viral-traded recording.

In the static fields of Neil Young and Crazy Horse it’s good to have an orphan who left the pack and is now God knows where. The Catalyst “album” is dingier than Year Of The Horse (call it Tomb Of The Horse) but this only seems to enhance a song like “The Violent Side,” which isn’t great but is also intriguing enough to consider as a renegade much like it’s lead character, who sees the night coming and feels his anger rising like a sunfist.

His violent side is described as a“stranger, wandering through the dark/following me.” We imagine Arch Hall, Jr., the babyfaced lead of the 1963 Black & White exploitation classic The Sadist, except this is his All-American Boy character from the Richard Kiel Caveman movie Eegah, made a year before. Hall is trying to remain the sunny, girlfriend'd Tom Nelson from Eegah, but the Charles Starkweather-based Charlie Tibbs from The Sadist has broken through his psyche’s mirror and is in hot pursuit of Tom. He resists, repeating “Control the violent side/control the violent side/control the violent side.”

As much as I hate the term “dated,” the song does endearingly date itself with an approach redolent of Springsteen barfight music (though I could see it hypothetically stamped into This Note’s For You), and Young’s vocals, at least in the Catalyst tape, are too light-hearted for the conflicted subject matter. Maybe the song shouldn’t be very fun. Tibbs will catch up to Tom Nelson and make him do bad things to women with a knife.

No matter. We can lower ourselves to the Catalyst concert and lift up again, flying through brackets of time to another venue in another strand of year.

 Protecting you…
 Controlling you…

The Arc/Weld project cubes and magnifies dates from a 1991 tour. Weld tumults songs from Rust Never Sleeps, Ragged Glory and other albums into prosperous mushroom clouds. (Mixed so effectively it permanently damaged Young’s hearing.) Arc is a different beast, for Young a new beast. Subtitled a “Compilation Composition,” this 34 minute noise experiment crashes guitar licks and song fragments from the ’91 tour galaxy, giving us strains of the familiar (the opening of “Like A Hurricane”) and plenty of time with the feedback unknown. Sonic Youth toured with Young that year, and Arc came together party from their influence. We can’t listen to Arc and not hear the clanking noise machinery of “Expressway To Yr. Skull” from Sonic Youth’s 1986 classic Evol. Arc is a veritable expressway to Neil Young’s skull, perceptions from the skull of a touring musician. We could be hearing the memory of that tour, a cacophony of indistinguishable beginnings and endings, random song lyrics petering into the void of the unremembered.

Once I thought I saw you in a crowded hazy bar/Dancing on the light from star to star.

Those lyrics are repeated throughout this Compilation Composition, because Arc itself is dancing on the light from star to star. It exposes the fragments stripped off other live albums, the ditches of sound, the hopeless rumblings, the trying-to-find-our-way-in. The influence of Thurston Moore and Sonic Youth is the closest we’ll get to the kind of collaboration album Young made with Pearl Jam. Imagine: Arc, by Neil Young and Sonic Youth. This isn’t “Greatest Hits.” This isn’t Jensen. Arc continues Young’s murder spree against the eternally resurrected and popularly demanded Jensen virus. 

I prefer the risks Year Of The Horse takes with familiar songs over the exiting but standard Weld. That said, there’s a section of Weld, specifically some banter as they wind down on “Welfare Mothers,” that captures in a perfect 25 seconds the magic and spook and complex vibes Neil Young and the ex-Rockets wrestle into our ears and lives.

In the midst of the finishing din, Talbot’s voice rings out, stretched and eerie like a heavy metalist. “TAKE CARE,” he says. Other voices join him:


The statement wets all that has come before, in the pain of the shooting down by the river, the pain of the beautiful gameplaying Cowgirl in the sand, the pain of the Danger Bird and the pain of the boy we’d never figured, whose face splashed in the sky. If we’ve come this far with Neil and The Horse, we’ve felt years of pain in our own lives and felt that pain reflected in their greatest songs. But now, they are giving us permission to let the pain go, if only in the slipstream before the record concludes.

Then Young asks Talbot, “Where’s the check Billy?”

And Talbot answers, “Check’s in the mail.”

“No, put the kids in the station wagon.”

“Hey mom, hey mom, hey mom, I’m hungry.”

“Tell those kids to shut up!”

Call and response. American lives, American deaths. Out There. No more pain, but wait.

“I’m hungry mom.”

And the response to that?

“So beautiful.”

They find the beautiful in working class complaints. One band member shouts a line, and another scoops it up and lobs their own. This is the symbiotic relationship between Tonight’s The Night and Sleeps With Angels, between “Come On Baby Let’s Go Downtown” and “Safeway Cart,” between the old “Danger Bird” and the new, between Sun Green and Cebe, “Barsool Blues” and Broken Arrow, Clancy and the TV Sky, Cortez The Killer and the Inca Queen, the lost and the found, the scattered and the dancers, the devils and the angels, the blue and the black, Neil Young and Crazy Horse.

Before the song ends for good, we hear the verdict. “The check is here.” So beautiful, no more pain. Smell The Horse.  

Epilogue: Horse Back

This essay began after I watched a 37-minute film called “Horse Back.” It was posted on Young’s official website after the news of his reunion with Crazy Horse. Young, Talbot, Molina and Sampedro never appear in the video’s duration. The mystery sustains itself. A spirit-like hi-def digital camera records and rotates through Young’s home studio, as balanced and inquisitive as the mechanized tentacle searching the leaky basement for survivors in Steven Spielberg’s War Of The Worlds. Loud music plays, but with no human in sight we’re reminded of George Kaplan’s clothes being made by invisible weavers.

The jam and the entity rove together. The screen ripples. Strips of labeled masking tape are set down everywhere. As we view the lift across amps, microphones, soundboards and slung jackets there’s time to reflect on Young’s work in the 2000s, long after the year of the horse was over. There are clues abound, lyric sheets for songs like “She’ll Be Coming Around The Mountain” and “This Land Is Your Land.” They got me. I never expected this, and I don’t know what to expect from the forthcoming Americana.

Young’s 2000s music is the often lovely, less demanding output of an artist with nothing left to prove. The hurdles have been cleared. The muse isn’t gone but it has probably given away it's best multitudes, and there’s a welcome relaxation in Are You Passionate?, Prairie Wind, Fork In The Road. This is what comes after The Great Work, and we find the same serene yet uncompromised Old Master fabric as in the later films and novels of Raoul Ruiz and Joyce Carol Oates. And one of the most rewarding things about Old Master work-besides the fact the artist is still around to do it, and the work is still worthwhile-are the enlightened revelations gleaned from a more advanced age. Prairie Wind’s title song turns the act of remembering a passed loved one (in this case Young’s father, Scott) into a thriller of keeping pace with the past and ones wits in gaining from it. “Prairie wind blowing through my hair/trying to remember what Daddy said…”

Are You Passionate? is soul music with a cavity. The song “Let’s Roll” was directly inspired by 9/11 and the heroic, fatal efforts of the United 93 passengers to stop the hijackers. A phone rings across terrified wires. The listener is placed in the role of the passenger’s wife. The passenger tells her that “One’s standing in the aisle way, two more at the door/We got to get inside there, before they kill some more.”  In a sense, the mellowness of the surrounding record, the surrounding life, intensifies “Let’s Roll” because it’s all worth protecting.


Remember the withheld, the fragmentary songs, Chrome Dreams II-a sequel to an album never actually released, with a song running the length of an average South Park episode (“Ordinary People”), formerly intended for This Note’s For You nineteen years earlier. “Ordinary People” has Poncho among its personnel, and Are You Passionate?’s “Goin’ Home” is a Crazy Horse song without a Crazy Horse album to call home. Remember orphans and the formerly discarded.

There are “dirty” albums made with Niko Bolas as “The Volume Dealers,” the purposefully rushed “Metal folk protest music” of Living With War and Fork In The Road, an indescribable concepter about his alternative-fueled Lincoln Continental. This music isn’t Horse, isn’t Ditch (more like driving in the other lane) and I don’t want it to be. The Volume Dealers’ work is listenable minor Young designed to showcase his liberalism and continued indefatigable spirit. When Young is playing with The Horse they go beyond the pale. War and Fork dare to crash (with War mostly succeeding-one wishes Young had said “fuckin’ war” instead of “stinkin’ war” on “After The Garden Is Gone,” and the backing choir doesn’t fly-which is the reason I prefer the stripped down Living With War: In The Beginning) and sport a recklessness about orbiting nothing but themselves.

For a long time I thought Young and Crazy Horse had finished their work together. I figured it was all over until I heard Le Noise. He’s getting the spook back alone save the dashes of Lanois’ sonic paint. In the black-bleeding chiaroscuro short films of the album, Young plays in a sprawling mansion at midnight. He’s in a way station, done with “The Volume Dealers” for now and transitioning to the future. The specific songs in Le Noise are perfect by themselves (its really the best LP since Broken Arrow), but as an artist always in Jay-Z's “on to the next one” state of mind, we know he’s pursuing smoggy music at this endpoint. By the album’s close, I swear I thought: “He’s ready to drive back. And they are all going to be waiting for him.”

This art covers the major existence themes of love, death, history, mythology, patience, rebirth and time. On “Love And War,” Young admits that politically he might not always know what he’s saying. I feel the same way about my music writing. Yet he still sings in tearful empathy of the “young brides praying,” and I knew I had to set down everything about this legacy that was stuffed in my head. The failures across these many pages are my own and not the band’s. I can’t thank any of them enough for providing the work that inspired this project. 

The musicians don’t physically appear in “Horse Back” because they’ve returned to the ditch. We don’t get to see them after the spook has been recovered. They’re expressing as one. I tremble to think. What will these Old Masters give us next?