Sunday, 23 February 2014

Musician and comic book maestro Jeffrey Lewis

New York singer/songwriter Jeffrey Lewis is one of the most unique artists alive. Blending incisive wit, his skills as a comic book artist and ear for a tune, Lewis has won the hearts of an army of fans worldwide. 

He counts giants of the music world from Stephen Malkmus and Frank Black to Daniel Johnston and Devendra Banhart amongst his peers and collaborators but has his feet so firmly planted on the ground of his beloved Lower East Side of Manhattan it is astonishing. Here he is at his finest, playing, in part, his final choice

Jeff is long-time friend of DiD's sister fanzine ShadowPlay, featuring as one of its first interviewees in 2005. He tells us the eight tunes he would need with him if stranded in the desert. Click on the Youtube links to hear them in full. 

Jeff's picks:

Current 93 - The Carnival Is Dead and Gone  
Jeff says: "If you were at an open mic and somebody came in with an acoustic guitar and sat on a stool and sang a song like this it would blow you out the back of the room, people would be either laughing at the performer or screaming in terror trying to get away from him. 

"A songwriter who believes this intensely in what they are writing and singing is a rare thing, most people would be scared to let their opinions out like this, especially concerning unusual beliefs. I can hear this song a hundred times and still get chills." 

The Grateful Dead - Box of Rain

Jeff says: "Another song about death, totally different from Current 93 of course… but in some ways maybe not so different.  In a world that's post-organised religion it is one of the major responsibilities of artists and poets to provide us with mental architecture on which to drape our own thoughts and emotions concerning the major topics, and death is one of the major topics. 

"Who can pick just one Grateful Dead song to be the most significant? This one sticks out just a bit more for me among their 20 or 30 other greatest songs, maybe it's because this has the unusual element of being more Phil Lesh-oriented than Jerry Garcia or Bob Weir-oriented."

Jonathan Richman - Affection

Jeff says: "Have you noticed a trend in my selections thus far? My favourite songs seem to come mostly from artists who each have ten zillion albums. Maybe that means it's like a zillion monkeys on a zillion typewriters - if you release album after album for decade after decade it increases your odds of writing the greatest songs of all time perhaps? 

"Well, who the hell can pick one greatest Jonathan Richman song, except that I think anybody compiling the 20 greatest Jonathan Richman songs would have to include this one. There are a number of different recorded version of this, with different lyrics and instrumentation, but the early one from the 1979 Richman & The Modern Lovers "Back in Your Life" LP is my favourite. 

"Unlike the above Dead and Current 93 tunes, doesn't this one make you feel like you could've written and sung it yourself? That's the Richman magic, like Lou Reed too - it's the highest form of magic, the artistic power is so great that the sleight-of-hand is at the most absolute effortless appearance."

Crass - Systematic Death 

Jeff says: "Best punk song of all time? How many hardcore punk songs make you cry? I cry just thinking about this song. The mix of anger and sympathy is what makes this so brilliant - many punks screamed hatred for "normal" folks, but here it's the pathos of the way these folks have been brutalized and robbed and murdered by the circumstances out of their control… well, part of me will always love The Wall by Pink Floyd, but this song is basically the entire 2-LP Wall squeezed into one little song. 
"Also it has the best vocals of all time, and the way that screeching, staggered slow explosion sound pulls you out of the bridge and back into the song is just so insanely devastating to me. It's so inaccurate, it's like this weird smear of sound across the track that doesn't really start or end where it "should", like the rage and sadness that went into this was so extreme that who could possibly be bothered to put sound effects into the exact right place? So anyway, yeah, best lyrics, best vocals, best moral concept, best overall guitar sound, for me punk just doesn't get any better than this."

Daniel Johnston - Etiquette 

Jeff says: "Yeah right, pick one Daniel Johnston song… impossible… but this is as great as any other great one. Encountering music like this was a life-changing revelation for me after a teenage classic rock life; the same way you hear people in the 70s say that everything changed when they first heard the Sex Pistols, that's what Daniel Johnston did for me. 

"Complete redefinition of everything - all music immediately was judged by a new standard, experience of music divided into pre-Daniel experience and post-Daniel experience. Maybe some people take this sort of thing for granted, or were introduced to this kind of aesthetic in a different way and a different place and time in their life, but this was the ground zero for my own path."

The Fall - Your Heart Out

Jeff says: "Big surprise, another artist with a zillion songs and a zillion albums. Dragnet is my favourite Fall album, though I love all 24 or 32 or 45 of my Fall CDs very much. This is the song where I perhaps first noticed there was something VERY unusual and compelling about this band. I had listened to a couple albums a couple times, it was like some kind of lo-fi Joy Division thing, I was like okay, it's sort of interesting sort of punky stuff, but in all the murk there would sometimes be a lyric sticking out which made you go Whaaaaat???!!?? Did he really just say that?!?!? 

"And every time you re-listen you pick up on more of those, just barely, like sticking your hand into this thick mystery stew and realising it's way deeper and funnier and sadder and heavier and smarter each time you stick your hand in and pull out another unexpected thing.  Like the blind men feeling the elephant, you gotta keep going back and trying to figure out what this is, what's this all about, it's a weird gift that keeps giving plus it totally rocks in that exact 'Pebbles Volume 3' way which is nearest and dearest to my heart when it comes to real rock and roll."

The Geto Boys - Mind Playin' Tricks 

Jeff says: "Funny, sad, scary, unforgettable, weird, silly, totally stupid as heck, but from another perspective really smart and sharp and oddly vulnerable for a gangster rap track… It's true that rap music has come a long way from the early 90s gangster period but in any case my favourite stuff is usually the stuff with a real narrative sense.

"On some days I might pick something like "Dance With the Devil" by Immortal Technique, except this Geto Boys track has MULTIPLE narratives, each one better than that last, and all built around an unstoppably great sample job. Rapid-fire short stories, each with a beginning, middle and end. Who could possibly not like this?"

The Fugs - Nothing

Jeff says: "Says it all. Best recording of all time? Anyway, there are certainly other all-time great recordings out there in the world, but none are BETTER than this even if perhaps equal in their own ways. Also these guys are my home-town heroes, neighbourhood icons of the Lower East Side, I feel like this is my personal history, like my personal national anthem of my personal little cultural nation here in this particular little lost pocket of Manhattan. 

"Sung also in Yiddish and Spanish of course, so you don't even need to know where it's from to know where it's from. If you listen carefully you can hear the echoes of these Fugs still embedded in the sound of the cement around here, if you find a piece that hasn't been repaved in a long long time, a piece that still molecularly bears the footprints of Charlie Parker and the dog poops of a thousand thousand unleashed neighbourhood dogs of yore, grains of bad old drug powders, bits of broken glass."

Sunday, 9 February 2014

Designer, music lover and mother Heather Lawson

It is an absolute pleasure to welcome a very special guest to the DiD blog… my mother! Part of the reason I began recording these missives was as an excuse to quiz mum on her choices. She is an avid listener to a certain similar show and has also hosted DiD parties. 

Here, Heather tells us which eight songs she couldn't do without when stranded in a desert and talks about her life, family and founding her own successful business, Hellish Designs.

Please click the Mixcloud play button below to listen to the full interview with song clips. The songs in full are below that in the form of Youtube videos.

Ella Fitzgerald - Manhattan
Heather says: "This is going right back to my childhood and teens and thinking about my dad who loved to sing. He loved Ella Fitzgerald most of all. I've chosen Manhattan, I visited the New York for the first time this year so that brings us bang up to date. Great lyrics."

Joni Mitchell - Song for Sharon
Heather says: "Song for Sharon comes from Hejira which is the album I associate with my A Levels in our sitting room, playing it to block out everything else that was going on in the house. It's a song about being a young woman, marriage, careers, sadness and happiness."

Led Zeppelin - Ramble On
Heather says: "Music was there right from the very beginning with Ken. We had a long first date with a game of tennis, a trip to the fair and playing Led Zeppelin."

Jackson Browne - The Pretender
Heather says: "I absolutely adore Jackson Browne. He's a great songwriter, the album is The Pretender and just doesn't have a duff track on it."

Ian Brown - Billie Jean
Heather says: "Another aspect of music listening is singing and dancing. The thing that always gets me on to the dace floor is Wake Me Up by Wham but I've decided to pick Ian Brown's version of Billie Jean. It will give me the memories of Alex and Gareth dancing around."

Gillian Welch - Black Star
Heather says: "What an interesting combination, Gillian Welch is nothing like Radiohead and she's got this clear voice so I can hear all the lyrics. It's a great track about being very depressed."

Bon Iver - Holocene
Heather says: "I've chosen Holocene, I think it's a great track from a very talented man and his group and brings back memories of seeing them at Latitude." 

Nick Cave - (Are You) The One That I've Been Waiting For?
Heather says: "This track really stood out, I downloaded it and listened and listened to it. I love the languorous way he sings, the longing in it, the romantic feel to it, it's a beautiful track."