Monday, October 12, 2009

Face the Music

Face it, there's nothing quite like faces. They do that dance from magic to reveal and back. They fill happy and drain sad. Even when nominally blank, we then get to project what we want to think on them, like the world's first movie screens. Documentary or fantasy, there's nothing like a face.

Perhaps this was Warhol's lesson as he shot his "screen tests"--500 black and white films that took place in just under 3 minutes but then were screened at 16 frames per second, the old silent film speed (he was a classicist at heart), slowing things down, elongating time, making one person's pas de deux with the camera stretch out even more. You deal with the gaze for that long. It's sort of like Michael Powell's Peeping Tom without the death--just face the camera and deal.

These films, or at least a handful of them, are making the rounds right now, and a version of them called 13 Most Beautiful... played at UCSB Arts & Lectures Saturday night to a sadly sparse crowd drained by competing events like Ani DiFranco at the Lobero and the very nice yet very bland Jack Johnson (and his film) at the Arlington. Those not there don't know what they missed since the 13 films were also accompanied by Dean & Britta doing live soundtracks to the films.

Now, Dean Wareham, alas, isn't the household name he should be unless you live at ______ (my address, redacted). Ever since Galaxie 500, and then through the sublime Luna, he's made more good music than most, from dreamy pop to Velvets-inspired crunchy rock, he's one of the guitar lines that connects Lou Reed and Tom Verlaine and then does even more with it. Plus he writes funny-smart songs that rhyme "girlies" with "earlies." So yes, I'd just go to see Dean & Britta, his latest band (Britta Phillips is his wife and the second bassist in Luna and now, well, just check the band name).

So, it was sort of like a concert with the coolest background visuals you could imagine, for the 13 beautiful almost always were beautiful, almost always were touchstones of the '60s counter-culture (not just the obvious like Edie Sedgwick but Billy Name!), and they did, for 4 minutes (at 16 inhuman and therefore terribly clearly illuminating, frames per second) let us in on some part of who they were, or wanted to be, or imagined Warhol wanted them to be. Ann Buchanan stares the camera down, let's one tiny tear out. How much we like our beauty to suffer, just a bit, something towards the sublime. Even better as Dean, Britta and their band play away, they often face the screen, as if they're in concert with these people, this time, channeling, taking us back to the glory days of the Factory that now seems so artfully optimistic. Dennis Hopper, chuckling to himself, the keeper of the world's best joke. Jane Holzer, brushing her teeth the whole time, parodying wholesomeness and being mundanely sexy. (And therefore stressing there is such a thing.)

Not surprisingly the highlight of the night was probably the Lou Reed screen test, given Wareham's brighter shade of Velvets fixation. Reed himself is all ornery youth, wearing his hipster shades, sucking away at a Coca-Cola bottle, as if to say "I've got Rauschenberg in your Warhol!" (am I hoping too much from him?). Meanwhile the band totally cut through a recent Velvet Underground find, a very early rare recording called "Not a Young Man Anymore." It's got that VU insane drive, but also room for Wareham to do the fine guitar work he can, always faster than he seems to be moving--as if he were playing at 16 fps, but we hear him at 24. Propulsive and a tribute and totally of the moment all at once--how often does that get pulled off?

One small complaint with the evening. It's mighty short. Going in there's that challenge--can you take looking at faces as long as faces can look at the camera/you? And 13 of them? In a row? But each proves how much people fascinate, and how little we ever stare each other down in this way. If we did, we'd need the sweet and crunchy music of Dean & Britta to keep us stable, to tether us to the ground when someone's eyes offer so much.

And at least they did one encore sans films. And not just any, when they started out I thought, no, it can't be, but it is..."Tugboat." [a video of them playing it, not at our show, here; my last ever poem, with its lyrics as an epigraph, here] Yep, he reached past the D&B catalog, past the Luna catalog (sniff), to Galaxie 500. But at least one of my favorite songs, that starts in dreams and moves to action, that repeats its words, as if a prayer, or a sense that anything worth saying is worth saying twice at least, like a face you can stare into for longer than you ever thought possible to fall deeper than you knew depths, into eyes dreamier than anything that ever began something that promised, promised so, and then there's no fade out but a flash to glorious blinding white, which might be the light of nothingness or acceptance, as if we know the difference, as if we care.

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Blogger Queen Whackamole said...

Hey! Welcome back! Exactly what I love best and have been missing about INOTBB--the chance to experience something new as if I understood all of it, even though Dean Wareham isn't a household name at the castle. A video, a poem--it's still before lunch on a Monday and all this has happened.... thanks, George.

wv: reanter.

9:44 AM  
Blogger Marty said...

Whatever Dean and Britta do they do well, so I'm glad to read about this fascinating project. Sounds like a haunting evening, and I'm glad it was haunting enough to resurrect your blog.

11:10 AM  
Blogger Patrick said...

Great post, George, the best of INOTBB, introducing and illuminating an intriguing but underknown cultural/political phenomenom with wit, intelligence, and grace. Sorry I missed it. Thanks for the rendition.

8:47 AM  
Blogger George said...

See, it is worth going away--everyone's so nice to you when you come back.

Lord knows what you might say to me if I stayed away longer!

4:44 PM  
Blogger Queen Whackamole said...

If you're gone longer, we'd just get surly. Don't test us.

7:48 PM  
Anonymous Mark said...

what an amazing night of treats for the eyes and ears. you captured it very well.

4:17 PM  
Blogger E-6 said...

I'm jealous, sir. (But thrilled your retirement was shortlived.)

7:03 PM  

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