Sunday, December 20, 2009

St. Louis calling Julie Doucet in Montreal

I dip in and dip out of most things, not much of a completist or expert, but I do buy everything by Julie Doucet I can lay my hands on.

The other day at Star Clipper I laid my hands on a book by her I had never seen, 365 Days (Drawn & Quarterly). Mine now!

It's a year in the life of a struggling, mid-career artist, successful by most objective measures, but frayed - sometimes, flayed - by the uncertainty of the market and technical aggravations of the work.

Julie and I are nearly precisely the same age, and dispersed similarly across a lot of projects, so I can certainly relate to her personal diary of November 2002-2003.

She was living and working at the time in Montreal, though she had an eye on Paris and lands a steady smattering of international gigs, related to her art and books.

St. Louis makes a surprising cameo. In her entry on March 22, 2003 - a period stained by the earliest stage of the current Iraq War - she is told by phone about the local (to her) band Godspeed You Black Emperor getting interrogated by the FBI as suspected terrorists while on tour at a gas station in St. Louis.

That was enough to tee me up for this blogpost. As a matter of fact, various accounts place the band in Ardmore, Arkansas for their stop/frisk by the feds. But they were on their way to a gig that night in St. Louis, and they told the dramatic tale onstage here, which explains the confusion.

The mention of St. Louis in Julie's diary made me realize that my arts project Poetry Scores could pop up in her narrative. It would have appeared, if at all, as one of her endless, marginally irritating art opportunities.

All she had to do, in our case, was give approval for the use of a few images she had drawn years before and we already had in our possession, on the pages of a comic book.

We were scoring a Turkish poem titled, in translation, Blind Cat Black. The imagery in the poem of a black cat in a blind alley, within her sack a child just dead, made me think of Julie's drawings from Dirty Plotte.

The zombie cat is saying something else - the more evocative "I am the only man!" if memory serves - in Julie's panel.

This image, which we used on the back cover of the CD, I find even more amazing.

True to form - for Julie, but also for us - logistics posed problems. I seem to recall payment was not prompt, and Julie resorted to fretting with me before the financial ducks could be made to get in a row, finally, from St. Louis to Quebec.

When I searched my email inbox and found our exchanges, however, they were dated a couple of years later than when these 365 days end. Julie will have to write and publish another diary before our project will have the chance to crop up in her prose as yet another flattering but wearying gig.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Strumming Swedish elf home movie of my life

So what do you do when some Swedish bloke makes a home movie about his brief waltz through an important part of your life?

You blog it, I suppose.

Fabian Grapengiesser accompanied songwriter Anders Elfstom from Sweden to East Nashville, Tennessee to make a record, and Grapengiesser (really, one must swoon over these amazing names!) made a compelling home move out of the journey and the session.

I'm projecting that this journey seemed larger than life to these two Swedes due to the name magic of Nashville. I'm guessing that exotic connection was what motivated this wide-eyed and loving intimate portrait of their session.

I can certainly relate. St. Louis is lot closer to Nashville than Stockholm is, but the music city always has held mystique for me. Many years ago one of my best friends and musical brothers, Lij Shaw, relocated to Nashville from St. Louis (by way of a stint playing blues in Hong Kong).

Lij has been able to make a living playing and recording music in Nashville, which strikes a certain awe in the heart of an amateur like me, and for many years I have thrived on the drive to Nashvegas for sessions with him. That is the amazing part to me about Grapengiesser's video - he fetishizes the pecise studio scenes and images that have become familiar and beloved to me over the course of many years.

Anders Elfstom (it seems important to note that the "o" in his last name bears an umlaut) recorded at Lij's latest studio, The Toy Box, in downhome East Nashville. As such, the tiniest details of studio life down there that I have come to know and cherish - the quirks of the alarm system, the dry-erase board and its ever-present forum for documenting inside jokes, the clumsy back gate for egress of amps - have now been documented for the world to see.

Our current songwriting project, Poetry Scores, recorded most of our 2009 record The Sydney Highrise Variations with Lij and Marc Primeau in The Toy Box. I know that the people who worked on our record in Nashville will feast on this video, and I hope the many artists and volunteers who support Poetry Scores' efforts will also enjoy a glimpse into our working conditions and process.

Anders Elfstrom - a man with a strumming elf in his name - is hereby invited to help Poetry Scores set a long poem to rock music, which is one of the things we do. Not only do I like the songs he recorded with my boy Lij in East Nashville, but this man has a strumming elf - and an umlaut - in his name!

Anders Elfstrom - The Nashville Sesssion
Produced by Fabian Grapengiesser

*Bonus Music Video*

Anders Elfstrom - "I Fell Into Your Arms"
Produced by Fabian Grapengiesser


Image of Lij, fretting at the drum kit, working with Dave Melson on a Poetry Scores session in The Toy Box earlier this year.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

A thank-you note from Missouri death row

I received the following letter, hand-written, from Missouri death row inmate Reginald Clemons this week.

Reginald was scheduled to be executed on June 17 of this year, when the Missouri Supreme Court - which had scheduled his execution - suddenly sent his case to an independent judge with subpoena power.

As far as anyone I have spoken with is aware, this was an unprecedented development for a death row case with an execution scheduled. Judge Michael Manners has scheduled a hearing for May 2010 to hear old and new evidence.

Our newspaper, The St. Louis American, continued to cover weaknesses in the case against Clemons as his execution date neared. This relentless coverage is the subject of this letter, which speaks for itself.

Hello! How are you doing today? I hope this letter finds you doing well and in the best of spirits.

I have been very busy trying to prepare for the hearing coming up this May 2010, to make the most of the chance to prove my innocence. It has been a blessing to spend time talking to my family. I can hear the difference in the voice now that I’ve got breathing room. I know that’s due in part to your help with getting the word out.

I’ve already started laying groundwork to make the most out of the new lifeline I’ve gotten. Just like God made it possible for me to reach you in my greatest hour of need, I am fully confident that I’ll be able to finally accomplish some of the things I hope to do for the world and the Earth.

I know it was the weekly articles you put out there for people to become informed. It solidified for me how important it is to trust people to know the truth when they hear it. Thank you for helping me and taking the time to hear me out.

Reginald Clemons