The magical guitar of David Helpling
It is the perfect time to go exploring greenwood boscage and silvas frith in the outback arboretum coppice wilds.
Rudy has a new album on Spotted Peccary Music, his sixth with SPM/Lotuspike/Brain Laughter and sixteenth altogether.
Born in 1956 in Albion, Michigan, during the time of Elvis and Sputnik, Robin James was often puzzled why he was named “Robin” instead of “Christopher” as his mother was a huge fan of A. A. Milne. Because there are several other people with the name Robin James, he has taken to using his middle initial, B for Brintnall, thus disambiguating him from the author and illustrator Robin James, several musicians Robin James, a London-based hair salon stylist, and a distinguished North Carolina University professor and author of numerous books about modern philosophy and contemporary music.
The first job of Robin B. James after graduating from Albion College (besides washing dishes and waiting tables), was forming a performance art ensemble called The Theatre of Transformations, combining masks, motion and surrealist French poetry with his partner at the time, Lorraine M. Tong, the sister of Winston Tong of San Francisco.
After growing tired of struggling and starving the duo founded a company promoting a visual arts game-activity, Imagination Decks. The starving and struggling continued.
Next came community radio, putting poetry on the air, which lead to sound theater and experimental audio arts. More struggling and starvation, are you noticing a theme here? Some of the previous staff at the radio station founded the Lost Music Network and published a magazine called Op, thus the next chapter of this story is about music journalism. Writing about songs and musicians was all about vinyl in those days. Nobody knew what to do with audio cassettes, the cheapest consumer technology that just did not fit in the record stores at first. Graham Ingels created a column in Op called Castanets which was devoted to these pesky flotsam and jetsam of independent music. Soon he had his hands full and recruited others to help with documenting the exploding new audio art form, and so Robin B. James became one of his assistants. Op magazine was designed to have a finite lifespan, each edition was alphabetically themed, and the Z edition was published in 1984. With his collection of cassette culture contacts, uncounted cassette reviews, and a taste for H. P. Lovecraft, Cassette Mythos was born, which resulted in a book being published in 1991.
By this time Robin B. James was done with the impoverished artist lifestyle and was a librarian headed towards economic stability (or so he hoped), graduating from the University of Washington School of Information Science right when the Internet was first exploding. These were some good times when anyone with a business card that said “multimedia” on it was in high demand. That lasted about a year or so. Robin B. James formed a sole propietorship called Indices Unlimited, specializing in creating navigation tools for collections of media as well as traditional back of the book indexing, right about the time that ebooks as a concept took off, thus making those end of the book lists of subjects and page numbers all obsolete. In 2000 for Y2K he had a job in Detroit with a consortium of librarians, Archive Impact! (the ! is part of the name) which was followed by a fantastic opportunity to serve as a program assistant at the University of Michigan International Institute, Center for World Performance Studies. The job consisted of meeting the visiting international musician or performance artist at the airport, getting them to the gig and introducing them to the audience, followed by getting them back to the airport, after the party. Then came September 11, 2001 and things changed. At that point Michigan was a difficult place to find work, after exhausting his resources he moved to Pennsylvania to work at call centers and warehouses, eventually landing a real library job in Schuylkill County. When the city budget grew tight it was time to spin the wheel one more time, and soon he found himself in Columbus, Ohio working at Home Instead Senior Care, followed by some more warehouse adventures, and one more fantastic library gig at the American Institute of Alternative Medicine, where he received nearly 50 acupuncture treatments. Somehow before the magic number of 5 years was reached (which would have made him eligible for a pension) things changed again. Back to Olympia, he found work providing care to developmentally disabled adults which was a great job, the clients were always fun to work with, but the co-workers were difficult so back to the world of starvation and struggle. By fluke he found an opportunity to review jazz recordings for $5 per title, which provided an entrance back into the world of music journalism. If he was going to struggle and starve, he might as well enjoy the work. This lead to The B Company where he celebrates his first full year as a student of the promotional arts in the realm of New Age Music.
It is cold up here but the echo is really great and the view of the moon is fantastic. When the fog lifts I can see the lands below too. My voice is tired now from the howling. You might be wondering what I am doing up here on top of Mt Tahoma, naked, in the middle of the night. I know exactly what I am doing. I am waiting for my ride. The Eeaughaffaux (spelled UFO) will be here soon. I have a few minutes to consider the music, or whatever you want to call it, that can be heard on the third album from the Moon Men. This, their album called 3… That ellipsis means “puzzled,” I am puzzled. I have seen their catalog and the number 3 probably means nothing, but there is a Moonmen “Amazing Science Fiction Stories” which could be the first one, and a Moonmen 2, but then they go off the series with a flying bathtub and that could mean so much more ahead.
What will you hear? Funny you should ask. Electric guitars including a bass, drums, beat with real hands holding sticks and whatnot. Electronic ringing sounds that come from electric guitars. Brass. I hear the keyboards in there, everyone is playing together and the moon is rising. A good way to begin. Rock in a not-so-hard place, we would call this clever improvised instrumental rock, not progressive or angsty in any of those traditions. Everyone is playing together, not like those jazz guys who are… who knows, jazz tends to be highly traditional with the solos and everybody playing all free and such. These guys are not so jazzy like that. Also, there be no human ululations or emotive wailing with vocal chords… well, some rules are made for breaking. There is some muttering and incidental wording here and then, but no real poetry or that lyrical business where they use actual words and want you to pay attention to the language details, that old literary form structure with a verse chorus wurst. Therefore this is primarily and mostly an instrumental album. They mostly stay with that program, no wild virtuoso breaks, and with lots of hidden dimensions and dementions.
Bret Hart acoustic & electric guitars, casio, looping, electronics
Bill Jungwirth drumming, percussion, trombone
Jerry King acoustic & electric basses, trombone
Dave Newhouse saxophones, flute, keyboard
Why so many trombones? The truth is about to be revealed. There is no laugh track or theremin. Is this comedy music for a horror movie, or horror music for a comedy, or is this comic horror music for dancing, or is it trance music for horror comedy? So many questions. Let’s get some answers.
PRESS PLAY NOW.
The movie begins and the lights go dim, or I am passing out again? “Fedora Moon” (4:05) The keyboard adds scary qualities, the bass and drums tell it directly and the guitars fill in the rest. Hungry? “Peas & Carrots & Grass” (6:49) The patterns make me think of loops, oh wait, loops are on the menu. So they intended to do that. Peace and care-oughts. Grass is growing tall up on the hill these days. The story is dark, and yes, there are the trombones, at last! They sound pretty good for a home made amateur comedy horror, just right. Textures, something the rock hounds do not usually feature (except in Europe), sort of a space jam in there. Must be the grass influence. Repeating. Looping, like riding past utility poles on the highway, a pattern with seemingly random crows to punctuate the rhythm. Never the same and always the same. Improvised horror comedy delux. “Coeur de Boeuf” (4:43) Drums bass and bold stout chunking guitar mumbling play. A heart of burf. Here is where the saxophones come on, building to a house in the clouds. What I said about there being no vocals anywhere on the album, forget I said it. Here are a few. I have an idea of what they are saying, but it is a vague idea, so maybe it still is more of an instrumental than a ballad or folksong, but those are human words and that makes it no longer purely instrumental on a technicality, but not forever.
Next. Here is where they get the flute out, with the guitars and drums and keys. I think someone is sharpening a knife. “The Dark Side of the Moon is Dark for a Reason” (4:43) The old Pink Floyd boys need not fear these new guys up there, plenty of room. Plenty of time. “And with Stars at her Feet” (2:43) The acoustic guitar emerges, draped in electronic ornaments, but they pick it properly. Every horror movie needs a love song. This is a short one.
“Nurse Ratched” (5:51) The name immediately makes me think of Louise Fletcher. Billy Bibbit would enjoy the circus atmosphere, I have no doubt, but what do I know, really, I am just remembering the movie. Mack would smile and wave his hands in the air the way loonies are supposed to. The perfect afternoon theme for crazies, like you and me. No hard times, they keep it light and strange. The brass is all clowning (no jazzing), with the guitars and keyboards. Easy beat, for fun and grins. Fun house dimensions, feet too big, hands even bigger, round red rubber nose, legs all spindly and that endless middle that spins. Here comes the nurse, shhhhhh, just play along, no fighting. It is just another day on the ward floor while the band plays on.
The toys have been wound up and are chattering away, this has a peppy beat to start off, then it grows claws that look cool in the darkness.”The Mutt Stars and Cat Planets” (4:19) Spinning through the orbits, grinning through the escape velocity. Things change and there are some space episodes in the jam band box of tricks, with the faithful instrumental constructions. More of that flute business, and the keyboards sound like a real piano in places. The saxophones keep the blocks from falling down.
“Ennio Bopped Me” (7:22) It’s good, it’s bad, it’s ugly. Whistling like a doomed cowboy at a gunfight on bean night. Noon symbolism, destroyed by the oompa beat that comes in, cowboys with clown feet. Ride em, jazz cowboy clowns! Git along leedle deputies. They keep making Western jokes with music, it wraps up with the cowboy dialog. Try not to look, but there are some Eeaughaffaux just sort of watching us from above, you can see them. There are horses too.
To sum it all up (as if that were possible) this is a fun laden ride through a wild landscape of home studio madness, mostly instrumental, but with some exceptions and well worth the price of admission. This is something you can share with people who know nothing about music and with people who know too much and have a sense of humor, you can share it with the kids and with the body in the tomb next door, it’s all the same at the circus. Ya pays ya money and ya eats ya popcorn.
So that is the ears. What about the eyes? The artwork, the first thing you see is the artwork, does the artwork come before the music is made or do they make the artwork while listening to the music? We will never know unless they speak the truth, and why should they? The objective is to bring you in and show you a good time. So, let me start with the disc and work our way out. Shiny mirror on one side. The other side is different, the disc has the moon face, round of course with a hole in the middle, wearing a fedora with the number 3, which must be a hidden symbol, I dunno. Everyone used to wear a fedora, but that was long ago. Now so many wear those duck billed caps, but not on this album. Booklet interior: the big picture is of the four horsemen of the moonmen in full gallop in a cosmic cornfield overwatched by a bored moon, distracted and amused. Rear cover: liner notes with details such as song titles, personnel and what they contribute, small versions of other Moonmen products and the Eeaughaffaux (I am really not sure of the spelling but I am going to try to be consistent).
Front cover: the first thing you see and the last thing described, so your thoughts linger on this after you finish reading and light up your cortex when you next see it: hoooman skeletons who are always waiting for you to buy the Moonmen albums, and more Eeaughaffaux who are obviously on a mission, a dangerous mission, probably coming to rescue you from your misery. Get ready… They are coming. Coming for you. The Moonmen.
1 Fedora Moon
2 Peas & Carrots & Grass
3 Coeur de Boeuf
4 The Dark Side of the Moon is Dark for a Reason
5 And with Stars at her Feet
6 Nurse Ratched
7 The Mutt Stars and Cat Planets
8 Ennio Bopped Me
One idea is to connect music therapy to specific musicians and examine how they benefited from this healing philosophy.
Here is my first treatment, gathering the facts.
This is an ongoing project.