Updates for zee month of August:
1. There are three new articles that have been posted. One is about title designer Saul Bass, and includes a frame-by-frame slideshow of the shower scene from Psycho – which he was responsible for story-boarding. The second piece is about the films of Charles & Ray Eames and contains some colorful multi-media, including stills from their films and songs by Elmer Bernstein. The third article is about the music that Jens Lekman has sampled. I think Mr. Lekman is one of the most creative samplers out there, and this reviews some of the artists that he has insinuated into his compositions.
2. The Gossip Column for August has been posted, and is as juicy as ever, if not a little juicier. Copies of the new SOCIETY book are still available and can be acquired through the bookstore.
3. We did a flyer for an Icelandic band called Parachutes. They were a very subdued and polite band. A parcheesi game could’ve broken out onstage and I wouldn’t have been surprised. Pretty stuff tho and well worth looking into. They’re presently touring with Sigur Ros. The illustration is done by Justin Longoz and was inspired by a Mike Brodie polaroid.
4. The Electronic Word Preservation Guild (EWPG) is picking up steam. Feel free to send me submissions at any time. I’ve been averaging at least one nugget a day, so expect to see some gleeful lil’ kernels in the coming months.
5. The Snore & Guzzle Radio Hour #6 has just been posted, and is responsible for the delay in this month’s posting. Inspired by their covers album, I wanted to explore the roots of the band Vetiver’s music, or rather, their taste in music — and I used the radio show as an opportunity to do so. Little did I know how deep this current would run.
This past year Vetiver released Thing of the Past, their third album, which contains some awful purty cover versions of songs by the likes of Townes Van Zandt, Biff Rose, Michael Hurley, Elyse, Loudon Wainwright III, Bobby Charles, Kathy Heideman, Iain Matthews and Norman Greenbaum.
The album is a beautifully sustained piece of work in and of itself, but it’s also something of a skeleton key into the vault that holds the band’s most cherished musicians — musicians that are rarely mentioned in the media, or anywhere for that matter. As lead singer Andy Cabic expressed in an interview, “These are songs that I love. These are songs that meant a lot to me, but I didn’t hear anyone discussing these artists.” Thing of the Past is steeped in the marginalia of American music culture — notice that all of the artists mentioned above were born in the United States. The exception is Iain Matthews, who was from the UK, but in bands like Matthews Southern Comfort, sounded very much like he wished he had southern heritage. There also seems to be a bias for troubled, neglected, and frequently bearded artists. All in all, it’s a curious roster, and one that piqued my curiosity. I’m not the only one to take an interest in the origin’s of this album — the LA based weblog Aquarium Drunkard recently posted files of all the originals — including one track by the elusive Kathy Heideman, who we’ll return to in a moment. However, I took a different strategy for the Snore & Guzzle radio hour. Rather than duplicating the tracks from Thing of the Past, I used it as a platform to explore the covered artists (the one exception is the Ronnie Lane selection, called Roll on Babe, which was too darn good to pass up). The music here, like the selections on Thing of the Past, leans heavily towards country-rock, folk, prog and psyche bands from the late 60s and 70s.
It sounds like there was a surplus of material covered during the Thing of the Past sessions, and a number of tracks didn’t quite make the final cut. This included covers of Grin, The Wizards, Steely Dan, NRBQ, Jimmy Martin and Everly Brothers — again, all American musicians. The obscurity of certain artists on Thing of the Past has been duly noted by the press, however there is another type of obscurity presented on the album. That is the obscurity of a musician like Norman Greenbaum. His Spirit in the Sky is a mellow gold standard, and commonly played on pop radio. This song however, is the only one that gets any airplay. It seems like his one-hit-wonder status eclipses all the other wonderful work that he has done on albums like, Back Home Again, and Petaluma. On the radio show, you’ll hear some tracks by the Bee Gees and Gordon Lightfoot — artists who are so popular that it obscures their merit (these bands aren’t covered on Thing of the Past, just artists that Vetiver has expressed an appreciation for).
Among the songs Vetiver covers is Sleep a Million Years, credited to Dia Joyce, but actually sung by Kathy Heideman, from the album Move with Love. (You can see this record displayed on the cover of Thing of the Past. The artwork is strikingly amateur and looks like it was made by a third grader in arts & craft class.) Vashti Bunyan provides cool and glassy guest vocals on the track. Apparently she heard the original while on tour in Europe and took a liking to the song. At first I thought Sleep a Million Years was a romantic rip-van-winkle-esque song about lazy lovers, but upon closer inspection, it’s about something a little more serious. It’s a beautifully understated euphemism for The Big Sleep. Here’s an excerpt:
Don’t frown at me
When you could smile
Our eternity is
Just a while
Don’t you know
That later on
We’re going to sleep a million years
However, actually finding a copy of this album — let alone any information whatsoever about the musician — has proven to be rather…challenging. It has stumped at least two major publications. Ben Ratliff, in a review for the New York Times said, “Who is Dia Joyce? I looked her up online and found almost nothing.” The Pitchfork review referred to Joyce as “ungoogleable,” and had nothing more to say on the subject.
Andy Cabic, the lead singer of Vetiver, found the record in a cheapo bin at a thrift store in San Francisco. At the present time, it looks like Andy’s is the only extant copy. Those who have heard it have been enchanted. Greg Weeks of Espers was mesmerized by the recording and simply says, “I love that record.” Kevin Barker, who plays on Thing of the Past, was also intrigued. Kevin actually attempted to track down Kathy Heideman and Dia Joyce. After fruitless online and phonebook searches, he eventually paid for an internet people search. He paid $7.95, and came up with a number and address for Dia Joyce, but nothing on Heideman.
Kevin called Joyce, and after some difficulty communicating — apparently she is now in her 70s and somewhat hard of hearing — he was able to convey to her that Move with Love had been found and that he was an admirer, and wanted to cover one of the songs on the album. She was surprised, but of course delighted. Kevin said she was so happy it almost sounded like she was in tears. When Kevin asked her about Heideman, she couldn’t tell him anything about her whereabouts.
Erstwhile, Andy was attempting to reach anyone whose name was listed on the record and eventually got in touch with the guitar player. The guitarist however, didn’t even realize that the album had ever been released. No surprise that he had no further information about Heideman.
Otto Hauser, who plays drums for Vetiver, theorizes that Move with Love, was more of a low-budget song-poem type of recording, where a client (in this case, Dia Joyce) pays a studio to hire session players and to produce an album. Joyce was likely an aspiring songwriter, who couldn’t sing much herself, and contracted with a studio to manifest her demos — with the hopes, one would presume, of later being signed.
If you can somehow find a way to listen to the album, it may not immediately strike you as exceptional. The mystery of the album certainly enhances the recording. The production is rough around the edges, and Heideman almost sounds like her mind is elsewhere on a couple tracks. However, the waltzes and mid-tempo ballads on the album have a rustic magic and comfort to them, like finding a chest of old quilts in your grandparents’ attic. The songs are plain-spoken and plaintive, with a bare minimum of accompaniment: bass, rhythm guitar, piano, drums. This bare-bones approach is more likely a result of constraint rather than design. The arrangements and lyrics are minimal, but not minimalist — the compositions remind me of the way that sculptor Donald Judd would describe his own work as, “the simple expression of complex thoughts.” And because there are no photographs of Kathy Heideman and her backing band, you only have the music to judge. Tell it True, is one of my personal favorites, and the lyrics sum up the spirit of the album:
Tell it true to me baby
Tell it true
Tell it true to me baby
Cus I love you
Talk it real to me baby
Talk it real
Talk it real to me baby
Real’s how I feel
Say it straight to me baby
Say it straight
Say it straight to me baby
And seal my fate
This whole episode makes me think of Delmore Schwartz’ (of Velvet Underground’s European Son fame) short story In Dreams Come Responsibilities — a story where the protagonist dreams that he is watching a movie set in the past in which his mother and father are about to meet. He wants to prevent their romance, because the romance will ultimately result in his birth. But there’s nothing he can do because he’s helplessly watching the events transpire in a movie, within his dream.
Only here, it’s like you can see someone’s dreams not coming true.
Kathy Heideman is still m.i.a.
Let’s close with some words from Joanna Newsom:
This is not my tune, but it’s mine to use
Here is the tracklist for Snore & Guzzle Radio Hour #6. (By the way, some of these songs have nothing to do with Thing of the Past — they might be songs that I know the band likes, or songs that I just thought fit well in the mix)
1. Bobby Charles – Small Town Talk
2. Ronnie Lane & The Band ‘Slim Chance’ – Roll On Babe
3. Gordon Lightfoot – Cotton Jenny
4. Biff Rose – The Stars
5. Derroll Adams – Mr. Rabbit
6. Norman Greenbaum – Back Home Again
7. Skeeter Davis – Summer Sunshine
8. Neville Brothers – Let’s Live
9. Brenton Wood – Baby You Got It
10. Linda Perhacs – Sandy Goes
11. Matthews Southern Comfort – And When She Smiles (She Makes The Sun Shine)
12. Flatlanders – She had money, she had time
13. Kathy Heideman – Tell It True
14. Townes Van Zandt – Be Here To Love Me
15. Tom Newman – Penny’s Whistle Boogie
16. NRBQ – Ridin’ In My Car
17. The Bee Gees – You Know It’s For You
18. Slapp Happy – A Little Something
19. Aaron Lightman – now is the time
20. Michael Hurley – Panama Hat
21. John Fahey – Steamboat Gwine ‘Round De Bend
22. Elyse – Band Of Thieves
23. Loudon Wainwright III – Pretty Little Martha
24. Roy Harper – Commune
TRT = 1hr 6mins