76 TABS THAT ARE OPEN ON MY PHONE RIGHT NOW, Part 1 of 2 (#1-#38)
Finally saw Ganja & Hess (1973, d. Bill Gunn) for the first time over the weekend on the Criterion Channel, and… wow. What is this expansive discursive philosophical poetic treatise, couched as it is within an ostensible blaxploitation/horror framework, on black identity, black intellect, black diversity, black instability, and black addiction? Whatever it is, and it’s a lot, it’s an extremely powerful and beautiful film, even with its low-budget warts and unapologetically indulgent digressions. Fascinating to learn more about the incredible cast, starting right at the top with Duane Jones in the lead role of Hess, his only other leading role in a feature film other than Night of the Living Dead (1968, d. George Romero), incredibly strong here too as a wealthy and erudite but depressive anthropologist who becomes afflicted with a vampiric curse. And then of course Sam Waymon, who plays a sort of Renfield character, driver and stableman to the vampire/anthropologist, in fact the moral center of the film due to his other occupation as the preacher of a nearby black congregation. (The film is bookended with two scenes in which Waymon’s fictional character leads an actual church service in Nyack, New York, scenes suspended perfectly in that zone between cinema and vérité, one of the great film documentations of the Black American Church in the 20th Century, nested within this fantastical poetic fiction.) Not only that, but Waymon is also the composer of the film score (which includes, along with his original soul/gospel songwriting, an intense recurring proto-noise sound collage piece that incorporates African chants and signals vampiric takeover), and, in the essential commentary track, describes himself doing multiple tasks on the film set that would deserve a co-director credit as well. He and Gunn were a team, no doubt about it. (I find it interesting that the filmmaker I’m perhaps reminded of the most by the Ganja & Hess aesthetic of flash-forwards, flash-backs, dream sequences, and discursive asides is Nicolas Roeg, and Roeg’s masterpiece Performance was also a co-directed film, so Gunn:Waymon:: Cammell:Roeg. Or is it Gunn:Waymon::Roeg:Cammell? To be honest, I think the latter might be more accurate.) And, oh yeah, get this, I forgot to tell you: Sam Waymon is Nina Simone’s brother!
Also got a window open for Marlene Clark, who plays the imperious and beautiful Ganja. So beautiful, and so talented (she’s great on the commentary, when she’s actually able to get some airtime among the three men she’s with, all of whom are also fascinating, don’t get me wrong), that I can’t believe she’s not more famous. She was married to Billy Dee Williams from 1968 to 1971, but her most visible acting role other than Ganja was probably as Demond Wilson’s girlfriend on Sanford & Son. Here’s a meticulous career run-down from Fangoria.
Also got a window or two open to learn about another amazing Bill Gunn film, the massive 1981 Altman/Cassavetes/Leigh-worthy shot-on-video 3-hour epic “soap opera” called Personal Problems, also streaming on the Criterion Channel. Believe me, the three hours flew by, on the wings of superb ensemble acting, most notably by Sam Waymon again (this time with that co-director credit!), one Walter Cotton (who was also the film’s producer), and especially by Vertamae Smart-Grosvenor, who I consider the main character and beating heart of the film, and have since learned was also in Daughters of the Dust (1991, d. Julie Dash), is primarily a “culinary anthropologist,” and used to be in the Sun Ra Solar-Myth Arkestra! (Yep that’s her, Verta Grosvenor, credited as/with “space goddess, dance, vocals” on the two Nuits de la Fondation Maeght LPs from 1970.) There’s also a fun cameo by the film’s writer/scenarist, none other than
Ishmael Reed, in a small but memorable role as a black businessman who brags about voting for Reagan.
Anyway, I could go on about the Gunn/Waymon team and these two films for pages and pages, but we need to get to the other 71 windows I have open on my phone, after one more from this particular rabbit hole: the wiki page on Marxist French historian Jean Suret-Canale, whose 1973 book Afrique Noire, Géographie, Civilisation, Histoire can be seen in the main character’s house in Ganja & Hess (along with a copy of the Gifted & Black LP by Nina Simone).
16 of the Greatest Movie Stunts of All Time. My daughter and I were trying to figure out how they did the truck chase scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark without serious harm being inflicted to anyone. I had just seen Cameraperson (2016, d. Kirsten Johnson), and anyone else who has seen that film will know why this was especially concerning. Anyway, we ended up on this site, which was fun, even though it didn’t answer any of our questions. I think Harrison Ford was literally dragged behind the truck? (Update: my daughter wondered if they drove the truck slower to limit the danger of the stunts, and then sped up the film later, and that is indeed the case.)
FFFoxy Podcast #171: Trouble In Mind feature. I knew Chicago’s own Trouble in Mind was a quality label when it comes to wide-ranging contemporary post-punk music from all over the place, but I don’t think the breadth of depth of what they’ve released was really clear until I listened to this two-hour interview/radio show. So many great bands/tunes. Check it out, and always check out the FFFoxy Podcast, a couple guys from Mankato, Minnesota who really dig deep when it comes to contemporary underground independent experimental music.
Oui Ennui’s Bandcamp. After getting deep into the Message from the Daoui album by Oui Ennui side-project the Daoui all last month, I need to start digging into his solo music as well. He caught a severe case of COVID-19 back during the virus’s first wave, and after recovering vowed that he would record and release a new album every single week (some details here), so there’s plenty to dig into! (Above screen cap featuring Mr. Oui Ennui from the truly fantastic Tusk Virtual Festival 2020 performance by Oui Ennui & Angel Bat Dawid, aka The Daoui. Please go watch this performance! It’s one of the best “albums” of 2020!)
Tahrir Square. “The square has been the location and focus for political demonstrations in Cairo, most notably those that led to the 2011 Egyptian revolution and the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak.” Just out here learning stuff about the world on the internet.
Tone Glow 021: Our Favorite Songs, April-June 2020. Man, this Tone Glow Substack goes long on a weekly basis. I wonder how many pages these issues would be if they were printed? Feels like at least 40. I spent well over an hour one night reading a handful of these. Finally had to stop halfway through this one, because I was getting tired, and it just kept going and going with the fascinating music writing… couldn’t finish, and still haven’t. I definitely recommend the interview with Angel Bat Dawid from just last month, where she proclaims a manifesto that has continued to resonate with me and maybe you too: “The black family is the strongest institution in the world.” (It’s also a song on her new album Live by Angel Bat Dawid & the Brotherhood.)
30 Movies That Are Unlike Anything You’ve Seen Before. I’m game, and have only seen 9 of the 30. But heads up, this is from The Atlantic, and you’ve most likely used up your three free articles with them on rage/fear clicks, like I usually do. (Such effective headline writing…)
Todd Rundgren interview on Songfacts.com. I spent like two weeks reading all kinds of songwriter interviews on songfacts.com. I got started and just couldn’t stop. I even read one with Fee Waybill of The Tubes, and one with the keyboardist from INXS, like seriously, the guy with the stupid hat in the “Don’t Change” video. (I keep being reminded how much INXS actually rules, probably the best answer for me if someone asks what my “guilty pleasure” is. That and Pearl Jam’s Ten. I know it’s all cool to say “ahem, I don’t believe in the concept of the guilty pleasure,” but then you hear that I like Ten and/or Kick and you’re like, “OK, now I understand why that concept exists.”)
KDK12: Another Look at Stanley Kubrick and The Shining, its symbols and beyond. By John Fell Ryan FOR EDUCATIONAL USE ONLY. John Fell Ryan from Excepter going deeeep down rabbit holes of Kubrickian symbolism, the kind of thing that got him a sequence in the fascinating Room 237 doc.
Ventilation and air filtration play a key role in preventing the spread of COVID-19 indoors. Topical material for facility managers everywhere.
What Had Happened Was on Starburns Audio. Entertaining and fascinating podcast where Prince Paul talks about his career and the various hip-hop classics he’s produced. Of all the excellent impressions Paul does, my favorite is of RZA.
Chocolate Chess Pie recipe from Southern Bite. Have not made, almost certainly never will, but boy do I love Chocolate Chess Pie.
Various Artists Busted at OZ. Pretty amazing LP and a Chicago classic. My two favorite tracks are “Guns or Ballots” by the Effigies and “Anarchy Song” by Strike Under. Naked Raygun and DA are cool too. The whole thing is cool, even if Silver Abuse have a song with a racist slur in the title that is unsettling to see on a track listing, regardless of their intent. (I’m sure it was ‘satirical.’) That’s 1981 for you, I guess.
5049 Podcast episode 173, with special guest Sandy Ewen. Revisiting this one now that I’ve got her masterful solo LP You Win stuck on the turntable.
Talk Talk ‘Spirit of Eden’ rehearsal tape. I bet this is great. Wonder if I’ll ever actually listen to it.
“Bill Henson photography” google image search. Weird one.
Hi-Octane, episode 1 (Sofia Coppola & Zoe Cassavetes). Weird one also. Very grunge era. I really liked supermodel Jenny Shimizu giving an auto mechanics lesson. Episode 2 has an interview with the Beastie Boys in character from the “Sabotage” video and it’s pretty great.
Brentford All Stars “Greedy G.” Omg the tuffest. Feel like it rips off a James Brown song/groove but not sure, don’t care either.
Ipan In Xiktli Metztli, México Mágico Cósmico, El Ombligo de la Luna. I think that’s the band name? Like a s/t LP?
Various Artists Midday Moon. “Midday Moon is a survey of ambient and experimental music that emerged from Australia and New Zealand between 1980 and 1995. These recordings are sourced from a rich variety of micro-labels, private pressings, theatre soundtracks and artists’ personal archives.” Worlds within worlds within worlds of musical endeavor, everywhere you look…
Brigadier General Charles McGee is one of four surviving Tuskegee Airmen and I just found out his granddaughter is my next door neighbor.
Julius Hemphill “Hard Blues.” Heavy and slooooow stuff, an outtake from the Dogon A.D. sessions that was released a couple years later on the Coon Bid’ness LP.
The Quietus Top 50 Needle Drop Moments in Film. Haven’t read a single word or listened to a single example.
Ned Lagin interview 2/3/2001. One of the more fascinating corners of the Grateful Dead universe.
Mike Morgan/Mike Khoury duo cassette. Heavy team-up between a coupla 21st Century Underground Legends, in this household at least.
Common Sense “Voices Inside My Head.” Practically simultaneous NYC underground cover of the Police tune, both versions are superdope.
Aquarium Drunkard Guide to Three-Lobed Recordings. Some good writing on here by an all-star cast! In this household anyway. Good music too.
Yellow Swans Oral History. Ah, the 2000s…