Frank Zappa, John Cage, Patti Smith & others celebrate William S. Burroughs at the Nova Convention

Nova Convention
In 1978, after many years of living in London and Tangiers, William S. Burroughs decided to return to his home country. For a small group of artistic weirdos, this was a significant event, and a convention was held in his honor at the Entermedia Theater from November 30 through December 2, 1978, on Second Avenue and 12th Street in New York City (it’s no longer there). Much earlier, it had been announced that Keith Richards would be on hand, but after his heroin arrest in Toronto, his management calculated that it would not be wise to appear at a festival honoring the legendary deviant drug addict William S. Burroughs. Frank Zappa was enlisted to read the “Talking Asshole” section from Naked Lunch. Patti Smith, who wore “a glamorous black fur trench” in the words of Thurston Moore, objected mightily to having to follow Zappa and had to be placated by Burroughs confidant and organizer of the convention James Grauerholz, who explained to Smith that Zappa’s appearance was a last-minute necessity and not intended to show Smith up. You can listen to Smith’s contribution, in which she addresses Richards’ absence, here. At the “event party” for the convention, the musical performances included Suicide, The B-52s, and Debbie Harry and Chris Stein from Blondie. The inclusion of The B-52s is most fascinating, as they hadn’t even released their first album yet.
William S. Burroughs
Other participants included Terry Southern, Philip Glass, John Cage, Laurie Anderson and Allen Ginsburg. You can read a writeup of the event from the December 4, 1978, edition of the New York Times: “Of the other performers, Mr. Burroughs himself was the most appealing, and this had less to do with what he was reading than with how he read it. Although he has created some enduring characters, he is his own most interesting character, and he was in rare form, sitting at a desk in a business suit and bright green hat, shuffling papers and reading in his dry Midwestern accent.” An LP and cassette documenting the event were released in 1979 and they fetch top prices today at Discogs.

According to Ted Morgan in Literary Outlaw: The Life and Times of William S. Burroughs,

The Nova Convention took place on November 30, December 1, and December 2, 1978, with the principal performances being held on the last two days at the Entermedia Theater, on Second Avenue and Twelfth Street, which had in the fifties been the fabled Phoenix Theater. Attending were an odd mixture of academics, publishers, writers, artists, punk rockers, counterculture groupies, and an influx of bridge-and-tunnel kids drawn by Keith Richards, who made the event a sellout.


Saturday night the Entermedia was packed, largely with young people waiting to see Keith Richards. There was a small hitch, however, which was that Keith Richards had cancelled. He was having problems as the result of a heroin bust in Toronto, and his office convinced him that appearing on the same program with Burroughs was bad publicity.

But the show had to go on, and the composer Philip Glass, playing one of his repetitive pieces on the synthesizer, was thrown to the wolves. The disappointed kids who wanted Keith Richards shouted and booed. Then Brion Gysin went on amid cries of “Where’s Keith?” and found himself hoping that the riot would not start until he had done his brief turn.

In a last-minute effort, James Grauerholz had recruited Frank Zappa to pinch-hit for Keith. He volunteered to read the “Talking Asshole” routine from Naked Lunch. But as Zappa was preparing to go on, Patti Smith had a fit of pique about following him. James did his best to make peace, saying “Frank has come in at the last minute, and he’s got to go on, and he’s doing it for William, not to show you up.” Patti Smith retreated to the privacy of her dressing room, and Zappa got a big hand, because that’s what they wanted, a rock star.

From July 1 through July 13, the Red Gallery in London is putting on an exhibition dedicated to the Nova Convention. The exhibition is curated by Thurston Moore and Eva Prinz; Moore, who was present at the event in 1978, supplies a short piece called “Nova Reflections” to the exhibition catalogue; here are some snippets of that:

What I remember of the Nova Convention, in my teenage potted reverie, was a palpable excitement of the importance of Burroughs’ return to NYC. He had been living and working in London for some time, and before that, was residing in Tangiers. My awareness of the poets and performers on the Nova Convention bill was obscure, but I did realise everyone there had experienced a history in connection to the man. The poet Eileen Myles performed, and I have a hazy memory of what she has since reminded me was a polarising moment that night: She and a femme cohort came out on stage and performed the so-called William Tell act where in 1951 Burroughs tragically sent a bullet through his wife Joan Vollmer’s skull, killing her instantly. According to Eileen she was hence persona non grata backstage, and frozen out from the coterie of avant lit celebrities shocked at her “reminder” performance.


Glass’s idiosyncratic high-speed minimalist pianistics was natural, gorgeous and sublime. Zappa came out and read a Burroughs excerpt “The Talking Asshole” which seemed appropriate and was mildly entertaining. Patti hit the stage in a glamorous black fur trench, purportedly on loan from some high-end clothier. She rambled on a bit, brazenly unscripted, testing the patience of the long night when out of the audience some fan-boy freako leapt on stage and bequeathed her with a Fender Duo-Sonic guitar. She accepted it cooly and before long was gone. And we stumbled into the 2nd Avenue night.

In his catalogue piece, Moore leads with an anecdote about photographer James Hamilton, whose astonishing pictures of rock icons are collected in the book (Moore was intergral in putting that book together as well) You Should Have Heard Just What I Seen. Hamilton was covering the event for the Village Voice, and while it’s not stated as such, presumably many of Hamilton’s photographs, are featured in the exhibition.
Here’s Timothy Leary, Les Levine, Robert Anton Wilson and Brion Gysin engaging in “conversations” about Burroughs’ work:

And here’s Frank Zappa reading “The Talking Asshole” from Naked Lunch:

Preview video of the “Nova Convention” exhibition at the Red Gallery:

via {feuilleton}

Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
Thurston Moore discusses the No Wave scene, 2008
11:42 am


No Wave
Thurston Moore

Thurston Moore
In 2008 Sonic Youth co-founder Thurston Moore and music journalist David Browne stopped by the McNally Jackson bookstore to promote their new books, No Wave: Post Punk, Underground, New York, 1976-1980 (coauthored with Byron Coley) and Goodbye 20th Century: A Biography of Sonic Youth, respectively. Moore and Browne talk expansively about those halcyon years of 1976-1981, when the No Wave scene sprouted up right alongside NYC’s punk scene. Indeed, Moore mentions that the inclusion of “Post Punk” in the title of his book annoyed some of the original No Wave musicians, because after all, the movement didn’t really start any later than the punk movement. McNally Jackson is located on Prince Street, just a few blocks away from where the No Wave scene was active—Moore makes a couple of sardonic comments about how hard it is to believe that it’s the same place.
Thurston Moore and David Browne
Thurston Moore and David Browne
Moore describes very clearly how strange the No Wave scene was—they had no media echo outside of the Village, and they regarded artists like Patti Smith and Television to be waaaaay too beholden to such bourgeois notions like “songs” and “solos.” Indeed, even Moore was alienated by the No Wavers’ chilly approach: “I wasn’t attracted to No Wave at the time. At the time I was really put off by it. I thought these people were really kind of offensive. I was like, Patti Smith’s great, Television’s great.” As he says, at the time he’d be far more likely to spend four bucks to see the Ramones than pay three dollars to see these local artists who half the time hardly seemed to be playing intelligible music. It wouldn’t be until Moore encountered recordings of Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, James Chance and the Contortions, Mars, and so on that he warmed up to what they were doing. He cites a hostile review of a Teenage Jesus record by Ed Naha in Hit Parader that had such choice verbiage as “This is the worst-sounding record ever made, it sounds like a cat being murdered” that filled Moore with a determination to hear this stuff.

No Wave was so devoid of traditional structure that Browne’s provocative question “How could you tell when a post-punk band sucked?” elicits an interesting response from Moore:  “That’s a good question. The general consensus was that everything else sucked.”
Thurston Moore
For anyone who was in the Village and seeing gigs during those years, the session will represent a wonderful trip down memory lane. Moore recalls the time that CBGB raised the admission price from two dollars to three dollars, and people got PISSED. The references come thick and fast: Bleecker Bob’s, 99 Records, Rat at Rat R, Mudd Club, Mars, Tier 3….

For those who can’t abide such things, be warned that the inevitable Q&A section starts around the 34th minute (although I found it pretty interesting anyway).

Here’s a pretty great clip of James Chance & the Contortions doing “Contort Yourself” in Minneapolis, September 23, 1979:


Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
Listen to Thurston Moore’s latest obsession: ‘Lost’ mid-70s NYC proto-punks Jack Ruby
09:59 am


Thurston Moore
Jack Ruby

Jack Ruby were an early “lost” NYC proto-punk and no wave pioneers, a supergroup of sorts who existed in various configurations from 1973 to 1978. As well as vocalist Robin Hall and guitarist Chris Gray, they numbered Randy Cohen–later to write The Ethicist column for the New York Times as well as writing for David Letterman and Michael Moore – legendary no wave bassist George Scott (of The Contortions and 8-Eyed Spy) and notorious NYC performance artist Boris Policeband, known for playing live police scanner broadcasts alongside squalls of feedback wrenched from a viola fed through various effects pedals.

Writing today in The Guardian, Thurston Moore describes them as a “sacred stone of sorts” within the diverse swirl of groups and sounds that constituted the downtown New York City music scene of the 1970s.

Jack Ruby were young and wild early 70s rock’n’roll intellectuals. They knew the real deal of emotional expressionistic text was in the underpinnings of the avant-garde – the NYC lineage of William Burroughs and the Velvet Underground, the poetry and radical high energy of Detroit’s John Sinclair and the MC5, and the questioning neo-noir visionaries of European art-house cinema.

In early 1974, Jack Ruby recorded five songs, several as a demo for Epic Records at the behest of Sly Stone’s A&R guy, Stephen Paley–none were released at the time–and played just five shows. Their final gig at Max’s Kansas City in November 1977 was with Kongress (an extraordinary show previously covered on Dangerous Minds) and marked the debut with Jack Ruby of artist Stephen Barth, who had replaced Hall on vocals. Then they split, leaving almost no trace of their existence. But even that slim history somehow served them well as all the right people had seen and heard them–including Moore, Lydia Lunch, James Chance and Jim Sclavunos–and kept their memory alive for almost forty years, until now.

The group’s collected recordings–which veer from Stooges/VU noise-rock to wild avant-garde electronic pieces, located somewhere between Whitehouse and the BBC Radiophonic Workshop – have just been released as Hit & Run in a slick deluxe double CD set on Saint Cecilia Knows with gorgeous artwork by Japanese artist, Ken Hamaguchi, as well as on two limited edition vinyl releases through Ted Lee, Byron Coley and Thurston Moore’s Feeding Tube label. With extensive history and liner notes from Thurston Moore, Jon Savage and Chris Campion.

Credit: Stephen Barth

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
‘Hard Rock’: First release from Thurston Moore’s Ecstatic Peace label w/ Lydia Lunch & Michael Gira
08:46 am


Lydia Lunch
Thurston Moore
Michael Gira

Hard Rock was the first release from Thurston Moore’s Ecstatic Peace! label. One side of the hand-labeled cassette had a fucked-up spoken word piece by The Swans’ Michael Gira titled “I’m An Infant, I Worship Him” and the other a dark short story by Lydia Lunch, “Wet Me on a Dead Night.” Both pieces were recorded in Gira’s apartment in February of 1984.

The cassette listed as the label’s address, 84 Eldridge St, #5, New York City, 10002. I think it’s safe to assume that young Thurston was the one making the dubs and that this was where he lived at the time. I picked mine up at the legendary ‘zine store See Hear on 7th Street in the East Village. I lived down the block from the store when I was in my early 20s and I’d see Moore there often, more than anyone else save for the proprietor, Ted Gottfried (who, it occurs to me, has a ukulele combo called Sonic Uke.)

It’s pretty extreme stuff. The Gira piece is simply depraved. It represents a hefty dollop of what made The Swan’s live shows so incredibly powerful and scary—well, that and the mind-splitting volume—back in the 80s. You want intense? Go see The Swans live. They will pulverize you. It’s like getting beaten up by pure sound.

YouTube commenter, “falloutMAN84” mused:

I wonder if when Michael Gira was writing this he thought.. hmm, maybe I should keep this to myself. Nah, fuck it…

Er, yes, that’s right: DO NOT even contemplate putting this on where you work for any reason whatsoever. Not even for a minute or two. The rest of the cubicle farm will shun you, it’s virtually guaranteed. You have been strongly warned.

No matter where you are, proceed at your own psychic risk. I probably should have posted this on Halloween. I wonder if Moore’s deal with the Universal Music Group to distribute Ecstatic Peace releases covers this one? Even if it would I’d think the chances of the UMe re-releasing Hard Rock are slim to none.

Michael Gira, “I’m An Infant, I Worship Him”

Lydia Lunch, “Wet Me on a Dead Night.”
Bonus clip, Swans’ “A Screw” from the It’s Clean, It Just Looks Dirty video:

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
Plentiful new Sonic Youth product despite total lack of extant Sonic Youth
11:48 am


Sonic Youth
Kim Gordon
Thurston Moore
Lee Ranaldo

Despite the massively influential band’s breakup (or hiatus - it’s never been made clear) a year and a half ago, Sonic Youth fans have had no shortage of releases to keep us happy. This autumn in particular is rife with opportunity.

As reported in The Independent and elsewhere, Sonic Youth bassist/singer Kim Gordon and experimental guitarist Bill Nace will release their collaborative album Coming Apart under the band name Body/Head on Tuesday, September 10th. Dates for a short tour are listed on their web site, and “Actress,” a song from the album, has been released to YouTube.

Meanwhile, guitarist Lee Ranaldo has also been a very very busy SY, having released last summer’s lovely, droney album On Jones Beach with Glacial, and he’s now on the cusp of dropping Last Night On Earth, the second release from his band The Dust. (Their first, Between the Times and the Tides, was released in March of 2012.) There’s long been a dismissive “Oh, it’s a Lee song” attitude among a certain camp within SY’s fandom, but if you’re in that cohort, seriously, listen to “Lecce, Leaving” all the way through and tell me it’s not awesome: 

One of Thurston Moore’s multiple projects post-SY, Chelsea Light Moving, has announced a fall tour as well, though their album has been available since spring. Dates listed on Matador Records’ blog are different from those on the band’s home page, so probably best to confirm appearances with the venue nearest you. Along with Moore, the band features Hush Arbors’ main man Keith Wood and multi-instrumentalist Samara Lubelski.

Posted by Ron Kretsch | Leave a comment
Thurston Moore and the Grandmother of Noise, Maryanne Amacher
11:18 am


Thurston Moore
Maryanne Amacher

Maryanne Amacher was, like Alvin Lucier, La Monte Young and others, another of the avant garde composers who gave birth to the modern “noise” movement. Unlike most of these musical pioneers, however, Amacher deliberately created compositions that had a high likelihood of really driving you away. You see, Amacher focused on special tones that had a unique property: When certain tones are played, the human ear will tend to resonate with them and, as a result, it will feel as if someone is directly thumping on your ears with their fingers. It’s pretty disturbing if you’re not used to it. Even if you ARE used to it the effect is still pretty disturbing.

Here’s what Amacher said of her “3rd ear” compositions:

When played at the right sound level, which is quite high and exciting, the tones in this music will cause your ears to act as neurophonic instruments that emit sounds that will seem to be issuing directly from your head ... (my audiences) discover they are producing a tonal dimension of the music which interacts melodically, rhythmically, and spatially with the tones in the room. Tones ‘dance’ in the immediate space of their body, around them like a sonic wrap, cascade inside ears, and out to space in front of their eyes ... Do not be alarmed! Your ears are not behaving strange or being damaged! ... these virtual tones are a natural and very real physical aspect of auditory perception, similar to the fusing of two images resulting in a third three dimensional image in binocular perception ... I want to release this music which is produced by the listener ..

Maryanne Amacher passed away in 2009. John Zorn’s incredible Tzadik label has released two CD compilations of her work.

Some of these “3rd ear” noise ideas made it into Glenn Branca’s work and, from there, into Thurston Moore and Sonic Youth’s music as well. Indeed, here’s Thurston Moore hanging with Amacher: I find it endearing that he appears to be trying hard to act cool in the company of such a wondrous artist. Note that to hear the 3rd ear effect you have to turn the volume up quite a bit:

Posted by Em | Leave a comment
Help Thurston Moore find his stolen guitar
12:33 am

Current Events

Thurston Moore

Thurston Moore’s beloved Fender Jazzmaster has been stolen.

From Sonic Youth’s website:

“Hi—Thurston Moore had his 1966 (circa) Fender Jazzmaster stolen from the Best Western in Philadelphia (501 N 22nd St) last night 12-12-12 around 12 midnight. It’s Thurston’s iconic Sonic Youth black Jazzmaster with all the stickers on its body. A police report has been filed. Please email us if anyone tries to sell this relic to your store, it would be appreciated. Please forward to other guitar stores you may know in the area. Thanks, Thurston”

The guitar’s serial number is 41927.

This is the second time Moore has had a guitar stolen. In 1999, his white Fender Jazzmaster was stolen from his van. It was returned to him earlier this year. Let’s hope his luck is holding out. Losing a precious instrument is like losing a member of your family.

Posted by Marc Campbell | Leave a comment
Space Ghost, Sonny Sharrock and Thurston Moore: Television in another dimension

In 1993, legendary avant-jazz guitarist Sonny Sharrock accepted a gig (along with drummer Lance Carter) doing music for the Cartoon Network’s Space Ghost Coast To Coast. The combination of Sharrock’s “futuristic electronic folk music” and the surreal sensibilities of Space Ghost’s creators melded beautifully. Sadly, Sharrock died of a heart attack at the age of 53 during the show’s first season. In 1996, the show paid tribute to Sharrock in fittingly offbeat fashion.

In this very special episode, Thurston Moore incarnates one Fred Cracklin in a brief non-sensical cameo which is but a pretext to pay homage to the great avant-noise-jazz-blues guitar player Sonny Sharrock, who had recently expired. If the Coast to Coast series is bizarre for any standards of good TV conduct, the Sharrock episode is particularly strange in that its plot is a lame excuse to pay tribute to the musician and listen to several minutes of his ethereal noise-jazz guitar, thinly framed by some silly jokes between the Ghost and his adorable sidekicks.” - Sound Of Eye.

Twelve minutes in which television touches on the sublime.

Posted by Marc Campbell | Leave a comment