Insomnia, Part Three: If you knew Suzanne like I knew Suzanne

August 1985.

Returning for fall term from his home in Denver to our little college in Nebraska, Stanley Howell brought a girl back to campus. A doughy, genial, awkward guy, Stanley carried a rumpled 230 pounds, and was maybe 5’10”. The expressions on his marshmallow face alternated between distilled confusion and confused amusement. Often, when he finished speaking in his short clipped sentences, or sometimes for no reason at all, he would automatically puff out what seemed a slightly pained or embarrassed two-syllable chuckle.

“Heh heh.”

He often narrowed his eyes, crossed his arms to place his hands snugly in his armpits, and said, “What?”

His arms and hands he mostly kept close to his body with the physical self-consciousness of one who is always at least a little bit uncomfortable of mind, and who is puzzled by the workings of his own body.


My friend, Stanley Howell.

Stanley Howell, my friend.

When Stan was around there was always something to be tipped, spilled, or toppled. A butt-brimming ashtray, a glass of water, soda, or beer – these were likely to wind up dustily strewn, or soggily splushed to the floor – casualties of Stan’s awkward elbow or his unknowing rump. He was an overgrown puppy who wanted to please, who just wanted to know what is happening? How do I fit in? Tail always a-wag. Moving side to side. Often backing up blindly – then, splush.

“Heh heh.”

She was not a Coloradan, this girl Stan brought with him to our little college in Nebraska. A quietly exotic New Yorker, this girl was a bit older than we were, and surely more worldly. Like Stanley, Suzanne was a musician. Reddish-blond and blue-eyed, with a pale gold complexion, she was petite, composed, vivid, and alive in a way I had never heard. My crush was instantaneous and deep. I craved listening to Suzanne. Her nimble and delicate fingers were so assured on her folkie acoustic guitar and she sang with a bright clear voice. Even with eyes closed one could feel that Suzanne fairly shimmered.

She was not a Coloradan, this girl Stan brought with him to our little college in Nebraska. A quietly exotic New Yorker, this girl was a bit older than we were, and surely more worldly. Like Stanley, Suzanne was a musician. Reddish-blond and blue-eyed, with a pale gold complexion, she was petite, composed, vivid, and alive in a way I had never heard. My crush was instantaneous and deep. I craved listening to Suzanne. Her nimble and delicate fingers were so assured on her folkie acoustic guitar and she sang with a bright clear voice. Even with eyes closed one could feel that Suzanne fairly shimmered.


Suzanne was a bit older than we were.

So how does a guy like Stan track down a girl like Suzanne? It really was not unusual for Stan to make these kinds of finds. In spite of being extraordinarily clumsy in his physical actions, and although he was always at least half-addled, Stan had an elegant and graceful mind for music. He was gifted in his ability to track down good songs and identify good songwriters and players. Suzanne was both.

I lived on campus with a really good dude named John Jack. We lived just down the hall from Stanley. That August, when Stan introduced us to Suzanne – this marvel he had discovered, this poet, this siren he had fallen in love with and then blessedly brought to Nebraska – John seemed instantly to share my obsession with Suzanne. We wanted to listen to her all the time. John and I were allowed to make a cassette recording of Suzanne.

John and I shared another habit of listening to music late at night while trying to fall asleep. Sometimes we played music instead of falling asleep. The tape on that cassette we’d made of Suzanne playing her songs became very thin from play. I could listen to her all through the night, and I came to associate her with the loneliest time imaginable: that is 4:07 am. Suzanne, through her lyrics and her delivery, could make one feel understood and even comforted. “YOU are my kindred spirit,” she seemed to be saying to me alone.

But she was not meant to play and sing just for us. Somehow she infiltrated the ears and enchanted the minds of enough people like John whose tastes varied but ran more to Motörhead; enough people like me and Stan, whose tastes also varied but ran more to the Smiths and Siouxsie. Enough people thought of her as, “my friend, Suzanne. Suzanne, who understands me,” that she began to get big. She was getting popular and building an enviable career.

August 1987.

Large cities can be surprisingly quiet. On the sunny sidewalk outside a narrow coffee shop near the Spanish Steps in Rome, I was eating gelato beneath a bright blue and red Cinzano umbrella. I had spent the morning and early afternoon exploring Rome’s Botanical Garden with my friend Brent and a pair of Dutch sisters whom we had met as soon as we arrived in Italy – Sylvia and Caroline Hagedoorn. I could not stop talking about the mesmerizing sound installation that the Botanical Gardens featured. The sound artist was Brian Eno, and his ambient recorded sounds had been placed discreetly throughout the gardens. As we smoked cigarettes, drank coffee, and ate gelato, “Luka” began playing on the café’s radio, supplanting thoughts of Brian Eno. The song’s sounds mixed with footsteps of the stylish Romans and the tourists stalking through the streets. Laughter. Far away car horns.

The Hagedoorn sisters in Rome. We heard "Luka" coming from a cafe's radio.

The Hagedoorn sisters in Rome. We heard “Luka” coming from a cafe’s radio.

September 1987.

Early autumn and feeling cold on a windy gray morning, I helped my mother prune and clean up flowerbeds around my parent’s house. We transplanted mums from display pots into the ground. On the porch, attached to a short brown extension cord, was a portable Sony “boom box” that I had brought outside and set up. Sounds of “Gypsy”, “Language”, and “Wooden Horse” faded in and out, in the swirling, winter-promising wind. My mother and I were not in a rush to finish, and we worked slowly and steadily.

Thursday 22 October 1987.

Alone and unable to convince anyone to join me, I made my way the short distance from my apartment in Chelsea, MA to the Orpheum in Boston for a concert. I think I walked the whole way to save a little money. Richard Barone was brilliant and unusual as the support act – he worked as part of a trio that was himself on guitar, a cellist, and a tympanist. Soon, Susanne Vega took the stage. The other 2,700 people comfortably seated in the Orpheum’s red velvet theatre seats melted away. Suzanne sang and played a concert just to me. I did not feel the slightest bit sleepy. I was wide awake and could have stayed up listening to her all night.

Solitude Standing

from Solitude Standing (1987) – Suzanne Vega, Language:

from Suzanne Vega (1985) – Suzanne Vega, Some Journey:

Thank you Stan.

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Great Joy

In a year with so many phenomenal releases, the Montreal trio, No Joy, have given us 14 extra special reasons to appreciate 2013. In April they released one of the years’ greatest, most ripping full-lengths: the wonderfully assured, eleven-song album Wait to Pleasure. Three more killer songs followed in November on the addictive 12” Pastel and Pass Out, released coincidentally as the band captivated Europe on tour.

Jasamine White-Gluz and Laura Lloyd of No Joy stick out their tongues like their little dog

Jasamine White-Gluz and Laura Lloyd of No Joy imitate their cute little dog. They also do a pretty wicked job of imitating MBV while managing to create a sound all their own.

Their sound on these two releases on the Mexican Summer label is distinctive and super fresh, and is also thick with delicious influences. Most apparently the band honors the brilliance of the best 80s and 90s shoegaze exports – touches of Ireland’s My Bloody Valentine and the gorgeous hum of England’s Lush are easy to spot. Like the band MBV, No Joy constructs sonic walls that feature muscular, rhythmic bricks held together with a sweet mortar of swirling fuzz. Streaked through the songs, and less obvious, are the influences of 80s and 90s New England: Particularly present on the full length Wait to Pleasure are the cryptic lyrical echoes and driving jangles of the great Throwing Muses, while No Joy also lays down the effortless power of the Pixies (without the yelling).

A big part of their appeal is their ability to vary styles. When they are not sending open chords through chain saw effects, No Joy can even display soft, sunny, and breezy beach sounds with songs like this one …

From Wait to Pleasure (2013) – No JoyWrack Attack     

No Joy is creating great, trippy sounds.

No Joy is creating great, super trippy songs.
You will LOVE them.

Like a perfect cup of coffee, (even if you drink a lot of coffee, and almost all of it is really good, sometimes you get a cup that does something special and leaves you smiling and shaking your head in gratified disbelief,) this song Starchild is Dead strikes me as an almost impossibly great cup – different nuances of flavor sparkle here and there, and once you’ve taken that first wonderful sip you feel alert and ready to do just about anything.

From Pastel and Pass Out (2013) – No Joy: Starchild is Dead

nov 2013

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Music of the Future from the Past — Broadcast’s Warped Triumph


One of my favorite artists of the last twenty years is Trish Keenan. A massive, fantastical talent, she was capable of rendering whole, eerie, and inhabitable worlds with her voice, just as Ernst and Dali rendered them with canvas and brush. Putting on one of her records is like hitting the “GO!” button on a time machine – a trip to the spookiest, most exhilarating go-go club imaginable.

Vulnerable yet in control, Trish Keenan performed with a witchy detachment.

Vulnerable yet in control, Trish Keenan performed with a witchy detachment.

Keenan helped create Broadcast – banded in Birmingham, England in 1995. Their sound is a hybrid of 1960s-inspired electronic psychedelia, and dreamy rock and roll. It plays variously like soundtrack music: sometimes one can imagine it scoring occult, central-European films; sometimes it is like accompaniment to a staggering walk through the midway of a dark and twisted carnival; next, it is backing music for an extended, high-level coven meeting – or a woozy séance.


Broadcast displayed huge appetites for experimentation.

Broadcast displayed huge appetites for experimentation.

Like the great bands My Bloody Valentine, The Flaming Lips, and Stereolab, Broadcast creates much more than a listening experience – they create a whole way of feeling. And even among the creators of so much other great music, Broadcast distinguished themselves in those first years, (1996-2000.) There was the band’s engaged thirst for experimentation coupled with a cool and witchy detachment in Keenan’s delivery that is a signature of the band’s sound. Somehow managing to sound both haunted and haunting, Trish Keenan was able to balance vulnerability with assuredness in her vocals.

The ‘meta’ feature of the band’s ethos is a savory thing to ponder: They acknowledged and embraced a desire to re-imagine and produce music as if they were 1960s musicians imagining and making music as it would sound in the future. These imaginings are very much more than just exercises, and placing oneself out of one’s own artistic time seems to me to be a wonderful “jumping-off” point for any number of creative pursuits. Yet in their music there is not a whiff of anything remotely retro. So inventive, so hungry and vital, Keenan’s artistic contributions are cherished, and her loss is tragic. Trish Keenan died from pneumonia on 14 January 2011 aged only 42 years. Three years ago.

The band recognized and built upon the tremendous influence of wild American and British psych/hippie music (such as the song linked directly below by The United States of America). Broadcast’s influence also reverberates heavily in some current music. An example of a recent, darkly pulsating release by Eraas is also linked below. “Coming Down”, by The United States of America, from The United States of America, released 1968 by Columbia Records.

USA cover “Ghost”, by Eraas, from Eraas, released Autumn 2012 by Felte Sounds Records.

Eraas Ghost


This one is a triumph: “Come on Let’s Go”, by Broadcast, from The Noise Made By People, released Spring 2000 by Warp Records.

Broadcast cover

From a brilliant collection of early singles: “The Accidentals” by Broadcast, from Work and Non Work, released 1997 by Warp Records.

Work and Non Work cover

Welcome to the groovy seance – please do not have a seat: “I Found the F” by Broadcast, from Tender Buttons, released 2005 by Warp Records.

tender buttons cover

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Borrowed Time: A line from Television to Parquet Courts

Parquet Courts

Parquet Courts

Now based in Brooklyn, there is very much to love about the transplanted Texans who form Parquet Courts. Comparisons to other bands have been plentiful, and Parquet Courts have been generous with information about their many influences. They have cited the influence of Guided By Voices, Pavement, The Fall, and even a number of fiction writers. So it is surprising not to have come across any material noting the wonderful and clear similarities between the music of Parquet Courts debut, Light up Gold, and the treasured 1970s genius of Television’s Marquee Moon.



Right up front there is the shared garage-rock ethos: both bands feature gritty, dual-guitar attacks; a consistent “yeah, that’s right!” sneer in the vocals; and alternately thick muscular beats and spare but bright cymbals. New York City is also surely a catalyst. Television could have come from nowhere other than NYC and helped to define a whole decade of American punk. Parquet Courts refused to come from anywhere other than New York, and they are energetically propelling the traditions of American punk.

There are positive elements of music that are capable of creating “time travel” experiences for listeners. (This is a thread that runs through my posts.) Check out Yr No Stoner, a wonderful track from Light up Gold.



If you’re like me, you can close your eyes and imagine CBGB. Patti Smith is in the house.  Richard Hell is itching to get up on the stage and start jumping around.

Guitarist and vocalist Austin Brown

Guitarist and vocalist Austin Brown

I am eager to continue following this band and Light Up Gold has stayed in the rotation since its release on the WYR/Dull Tools label back in January.

As a comparison, check out the classic Television song See No Evil from Marquee Moon. The vocal deliveries and the weaving of the guitar lines have some real similarities.

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Let’s turn down the static world…

The year is not yet half over but there are already a few tunes that will certainly show up on ‘favorites’ lists when we are bidding 2013 farewell. Some super strong songs through mid-May:

kanye Black Skinhead by Kanye West (built around a mindblowing reimagining of Gary Glitter’s Rock and Roll)

Eschew all your preconceptions about, and current cultural references to, Kanye West. Then link to the video below of the great artist tearing it up on SNL. The intensity and the commitment on display cannot be manufactured. This is truth as delivered by Kanye West, and the best analogues for this performance are athletic. The comparisons that will mean anything will come from sport: think of Pele balletically contorting for a bicycle kick on goal; Reggie Jackson ripping a third, clutch homerun in a post-season game; LeBron James hitting a gamewinning three pointer at the buzzer. He was electrifying.

Kanye is just killing it – always himself – always owning the performance – and also laying it down ala Malcolm X, Isaac, and Sly: “For my theme song / My leather black jeans on /My by any mean on / Pardon I’m getting my scream on.” How is something so shocking as this even still possible? Prepare yourself for the thrill of Black Skinhead:

Jon HopkinsOpen Eye Signal by Jon Hopkins

When you were a little kid, you occasionally had dreams where you were running. And your running became almost like flight. Remember? You ran, picking up speed, and after a number of paces your body was so solid and light that the lengths of your steps widened almost impossibly. You just barely touched your foot down before propelling your churning body back up, springing forward from the ground. Floating forward.

Jon Hopkins will release the record Immunity on Domino in early June. If you want to have the waking musical equivalent of your old running dream, hit this link for his tune Open Eye Signal. It is eight minutes of wonderfully entrancing music:

wax idolsSound of a Void by Wax Idols

Wax Idols is a Bay Area outfit making choice music that is very welcome (and new) to me. While sounding brilliantly fresh and original, they give me the desired “time travel” experience that the best music can give. In this case Wax Idols transport me back in time to the rich and dark early-1980s. They are led by a tornadic creative force, Hether Fortune, who openly draws on the influences of my beloved Siouxsie (and the Banshees) and Daniel Ash (Tones on Tail, Love and Rockets, Bauhaus.)

Fortune is the architect of a remarkable release from March 2013 called Discipline and Desire, out now on the Slumberland Records label. She and her band blaze, and they deserve your attention. The sound is brand new and also somehow like something from your heavy rotation between 1981 and 1986. I can’t get enough of it.

Listen to their magnificent song Sound of a Void:

  mbv  only tomorrow and if i am by My Bloody Valentine

The band comes together like parts of a sentient, warm-blooded machine on m b v, My Bloody Valentine’s long-awaited February self-release.  The magic of this band for me is not just its inventiveness, its sonic variety, or the wild guitar mixes. It has been their ability to marry a sincerity and vulnerability in their vocals with swirling, muscular, and decisive rhythms.  My Bloody Valentine creates an artistic experience that goes way beyond listening. It is a whole way of feeling.

Check out their beautiful song only tomorrow

and if i am

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