Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Harry Smith's Cipher

Lately I have been driven by unknown forces to spend all my listening time with the weird-but-compelling (and often frightening) music of early rural America. This is the stuff of Harry Smith's Anthology of American Folk Music. Of course Smith was equally weird-but-compelling; a Theosophist claiming to be the son of Aleister Crowley and Grand Duchess (Czarina) Anastasia Romanov. As an avant garde filmmaker and self-proclaimed (but unschooled) folklorist, Smith unwittingly shaped the course of American popular music in the late 50's and early 60's by producing the musical Rosetta Stone upon which the voices of phantom prophets were indelibly etched in an awkwardly bound collection of six LP's. The 84 songs on these sides dropped Bob Dylan (like a reverse alien abduction) almost fully formed into the death throes of 1960's Greenwich Village (then populated by yet another generation of hip hucksters, tricksters, derelict geniuses, boozy romantics and lost souls not unlike the creators of the sounds preserved in Smith's talismanic grooves). The music of this lost, "old, weird America" (as Greil Marcus calls it) hits me as hard as (and isn't that different really than) Albert Ayler's ("old bicycle horn") Salvation Army band on acid or the speaking-in-tongues funk of Charles Mingus' Wednesday Night Prayer Meetings. In the early days of electricity (and even before), there was music that out-rocked and out-punked all the rockers and punks to come.


Blogger myshkin2 said...

Best post I've read in months! I'm familiar with Smith's Anthology--but not with any of his other work. Which would be what? Paintings? Film? Music? Magic. There was a time in my life--way long ago, when I too might have claimed (though only to some girl I was trying to impress) that I was a Theosophist (I did go to a few ultra-boring meetings or sessions of the Theosophical Society of Philadelphia, right on Rittenhouse Square) and that Anastasia was my mom and Aleister my dad. I think it worked once.

Repeat--Great post!!!!

Tuesday, October 24, 2006  
Blogger Eric Wallack said...

thanks - yeah, this stuff's really been haunting me - i can't shake some of this music and the imagery, jesus...
smith's avant garde films are strange to say the least and maybe forgettable. the anthology though! the alchemist's touchstone of the backwoods haints and hollers - king harvest's rustic voodoo code

Tuesday, October 24, 2006  
Anonymous Jay said...

I've been digging the folkies lately too. I'll have to check this out.
Hey, you know Jarrett's got a new CD out of a live improv in New York? It was performed some time last year I think.
Hey, where do you get these people that take these sexy, brooding pictures of you? I need some "Cybil soft glow."

Tuesday, October 24, 2006  
Blogger Eric Wallack said...

Hey Jay!! Yeah, I know about the Jarrett disc but I haven't heard it yet - you?? I'm thinking it will be amazing & he hasn't done solo, improvised concerts in a long, long time. The photo? Well, there are advantages to working in a fine arts department with a photo program ;) lol


Wednesday, October 25, 2006  

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