Monthly Archives: July 2012

DEFINITELY VAN GOGH

Wheat Field with Crows: Painted in July 1890, this work is one of the two debated to be Vincent van Gogh’s final painting. Regardless, this dramatically lonesome landscape would have been one of the last things seen by the painter other than the immediate surroundings of his deathbed.

One hundred and twenty-two years ago today, on July 28th, 1890, in Auvers, France, the outstanding but wholly dismissed artist Vincent van Gogh lay prostrate on the precarious balance between life and death. The day prior he had walked alone into a field and shot himself in the chest with a revolver. He would spend the next day lying in bed smoking a pipe before finally, on July 29th, succumbing to an infection in the wound. He was 37 years old and had sold only one painting during his lifetime (Sherwood, 2006). Attended to by his brother Theo, his last words were reported to be, “The sadness will last forever” (Sweetman, 1990).

Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890) Self-Portrait 1889. Paris. Musée d’Orsay.

In memoriam to this brilliant artist, I present to you today an unfinished work by another. Captured on tape by biographer Robert Shelton in a Denver hotel room on March 13, 1966—just three days after the final sessions for Blonde On Blonde—this “sketch” by Bob Dylan would come to acquire several names over the years, given by various bootleggers and fans: “Definitely Van Gogh;” “Positively Van Gogh;” and “Spuriously Seventeen Windows (The Painting By Van Gogh).” After this date, Dylan would go on to complete his European tour in a blur of inspiration and stimulants before entering a reclusive period on July 29, 1966, when he crashed his 500cc Triumph Tiger 100 motorcycle on a road near his home in Woodstock, New York. The extents of his injuries from this accident were never fully disclosed, however, Dylan claimed that he broke several vertebrae in his neck. As for why he never returned to this composition—the narrative of which had the potential to develop into something with a grandeur to rival his “Visions of Johanna”—Dylan had told the press at the time: “The songs I don’t publish, I usually do forget…I have to start over all the time. I can’t really keep notes or anything like that” (Heylin, 2009).

Tree Roots: An intense vision cut off sharply, this turbulent tangle of dense paint applied by fevered brushstrokes is the other of the two works disputed to be Van Gogh’s “final painting.”

———————(CLICK TO LISTEN)

When I’d ask why the painting was deadly

Nobody could pick up my sign

‘Cept for the cook, she was always friendly

But she’d only ask, “What’s on your mind?”

She’d say that especially when it was raining

I’d say “Oh, I don’t know”

But then she’d press and I’d say, “You see that painting?

Do you think it’s been done by Van Gogh?”

The cook she said call her Maria

She’d always point for the same boy to come forth

Saying, “He trades cattle, it’s his own idea

And he also makes trips to the North

Have you ever seen his naked calf bleed?”

I’d say, “Oh no, why, does it show?”

Then she’d whisper in my ear that he’s a half-breed

And I’d say, “Fine, but can he paint like Van Gogh?”

I can’t remember his name he never gave it

But I always figured he could go home

‘Til when he gave me his card and said, “Save it”

I could see by his eyes he was alone

But it was sad how his four leaf clover

Drawn on his calling card showed

That it was given back to him a-many times over

And it most definitely was not done by Van Gogh.

It was either she or the maid just to please me

Though I sensed she could not understand

And she made a thing out of it by saying, “Go easy

He’s a straight, but he’s a very crooked straight man.”

And I’d say, “Does the girl in the calendar doubt it?

And by the way is it Marilyn Monroe?”

But she’d just get salty and say, “Why you wanna know about it?”

And I’d say, “I was just wondering if she ever sat for Van Gogh.”

[from here the recording becomes too damaged, and is not worth listening to]

It was either her or the straight man who introduced me

To Jeanette, Camilla’s friend

Who later on falsely accused me

Of stealing her locket and pen

When I said “I don’t have the locket”

She said “You steal pictures of everybody’s mother I know”

And I said “There’s no locket

No picture of any mother I would pocket

Unless it’s been done by Van Gogh.”

Camilla’s house stood on the outskirts

How strange to see the chandeliers destroyed…

[tape ends]

Bob Dylan, “Paranoid” Birmingham, England, 1966 by Barry Feinstein.

————–Bobby Calero———————

Ref:

Heylin, C. (2009). Revolution In The Air: The Songs Of Bob Dylan, 1957-1973. Chicago: Chicago Review Press.

Sherwood, K. (2006). van Gogh, Vincent (1853–1890). Encyclopedia of Disability. Ed. Gary L. Albrecht. Vol. 4. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Reference. Retrieved July 29, 2012 from Gale Virtual Reference Library

Sweetman, D. (1990). Van Gogh: His Life and His Art. New York: Crown Publishers.

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A SLAVE TO YOUR PERVERSITY: JOBRIATH

With David Bowie’s artistic brilliance seemingly compelling him to habitually shed certain personas and their accompanying musical affectations for another incarnation throughout his long career, there are times I am left wanting more; sometimes saying to myself, “Man, I’d really just like a bit more of that Diamond Dogs sound.” Now, as rude and trivializing as it may seem to use this concept to introduce another artist, it was through this very want that I discovered little remembered but quite talented songwriter/performer Jobriath. However, over the years I have grown to truly respect and take pleasure in this man’s brief artistic output on its own merits and without the context of being primarily filler for my desire for another’s sound.

—What follows is a tragic, yet classically American tale of talent, reinvention, hype, and neglect—

Being born Bruce Wayne Campbell (quite a name, no?) on December 14, 1946 in Philadelphia, Jobriath was classically trained on the piano as a child and was considered somewhat of a prodigy. However, he began his pop musical career at the tail end of the 1960s in Los Angeles’ original Aquarius Theatre production of the “The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical” Hair.

Jobriath (on the left) in 1969 with Connie Gripp, the “strong willed, independent, tough-as-nails dope fiend woman, who turns tricks for the fun of it sometimes, just ’cause she’s so willful” (Nelson, 1996) who would become the romantic partner of Dee Dee Ramone, and performance artist Marlowe B West, who was credited as one of the “Three Muses” for Jobriath’s second solo album.

At the age of 22 in mid-1968, Jobriath left this production to form the obscure group Pidgeon, for which he was credited under the name of Jobriath Salisbury as one of the principal singers (along with Cheri Gage), co-songwriter (along with poet Richard T. Marshall), as well as contributing keyboards and guitars. Signed to the record label Decca, under the auspices of session-singer Stan Farber who agreed to produce them, Pidgeon were soon set up in a house for six months to rehearse the material that would comprise their sole LP.

Jobriath, circa late-’60s

Recorded in December of ’68 and released in 1969, their debut album was intended to bear the title First Flight From the Forest, but for whatever reason was released only with the group’s name on the cover. A bit plodding at times and certainly not the most impressive thing to come out that year, however, their debut did exhibit an interestingly frantic approach to the Californian sunshine soaked and harmonic psychedelia pioneered by the The Mamas & the Papas and the perturbed baroque folk-rock pioneered by Arthur Lee‘s Love. Perhaps two of the most stand-out tracks from this album are the harpsichord driven harmonic ramble of “The Mainline” and the lithe rocker, “The Dancer,” which you can check out below:

The Mainline——————–(CLICK TO LISTEN)

The Dancer ——————–(CLICK TO LISTEN)

This album had little impact, as unfortunately did their follow-up single “Rubber Bricks,” recorded April of 1969. The group soon dissolved and by this time Jobriath had fully embraced the decadence of drugs and alcohol, occasional funding this lifestyle through prostitution. At this time as well, he began to demonstrate psychiatric disturbances, which would plague him later in life. But more importantly, he began developing the songs and style that would burgeon into his next musical incarnation: Jobriath Boone.

Soon after, in 1972 a demo tape of Jobriath’s music would be heard by impresario Jerry Brandt, who had made his fame by discovering Carly Simon, booking The Rolling Stones’ first tour of America, and who had up until recently been running the Electric Circus nightclub on St. Marks Place in the East Village section of Manhattan. Searching for a new project, Brandt sat in the office of Columbia Records President Clive Davis as the two listened to demo audition tapes. Where as Davis only heard in Jobriath’s demo something that was “mad, unstructured and destructive to melody” (Cochrane, 1998), Brandt heard the promise of something with marketability on par with Elvis and The Beatles; more so, Brandt believed he had discovered an American answer to the glam-rock explosion that was David Bowie.

Locating Jobriath in an unfurnished apartment in California, where, as the singer later said of himself, he was “floating down in the gutter” (Cochrane, 1998), with the entrance of Brandt into his life, from this moment on Jobriath’s career would be more concerned with hype than music. In January of 1974, Brandt would tell the music journal Melody Maker, “If hype means projecting your artist, I’m going to produce the biggest hype ever” (Barton, 2010). Through this hype, Brandt secured Jobriath a $500,000 contract with the head of Elektra Records, Jac Holzman. Looking back at his time running Elektra, Holzman later wrote,  “I made two errors of judgment, and signing Jobriath was one of them” (Sullivan, 2008).

Jobriath and Jerry Brandt

Although Jobriath’s self-titled solo debut of ’73 can in fact be considered a financial failure, it remains as an interesting, idiosyncratic work that melds quirky Weimar cabaret* with erotic funk** and loose, somber piano ballads*** (ballads that, to my ears, are very akin to those found on Bruce Springsteen’s first two albums, released that same year).

*Movie Queen——————–(CLICK TO LISTEN)

**Take Me I’m Yours——————–(CLICK TO LISTEN)

***Inside——————–(CLICK TO LISTEN)

Jobriath’s self-titled debut was dropped on the marketplace accompanied by an aggressive advertising campaign, in which thousands were spent. His image was plastered on the front of nearly every bus in London and New York City, and a 50-foot billboard was erected in Times Square bearing the album’s cover image, which featured Jobriath’s nude torso, crawling while dragging shattered legs.

The cover of Jobriath’s first album was later appropriated by Todd Haynes for his meticulous ode to glam rock, Velvet Goldmine. Released in 1998, the film explores a generation’s sexual discovery through a dramatic take on the lives of David Bowie and Iggy Pop, all filtered through the framework of Orson Welles’ cinematic masterpiece of 1941, Citizen Kane, and through George Orwell’s prophetic novel of 1949, Nineteen Eighty-Four. Highly recommended!

Beyond the hype generated by Brandt concerning Jobriath’s apparent musical ability, much of this hype pertained to the fact that Jobriath was, in fact, the world’s first openly gay pop star. “I’m a true fairy!” Jobriath Boone boldly told the press (Metzger, 2009).

Now, I’m sure Jobriath’s ostentatious use of his sexual preference (whereas others typically flirted with androgyny) did create much of the scorn aimed his way upon the release of his album; however, I believe that most simply have a natural aversion to an onslaught of hype. It robs the inquisitive of any sense of discovery. It is that very same reaction that has caused me to know very little about the endless succession of British bands touted by the likes of NME as the greatest musical act ever to happen in the six months since the last greatest musical act ever to happen. Besides this, it is easy to picture your average meat-and-potatoes American dismissing Jobriath as just “another space-age faggot.” With song titles such as “Space Clown,” and “Earthling,” Jobriath certainly utilized the same queer-human-as-artistic-extraterrestrial-motif employed by Bowie through his Ziggy Stardust persona.

Jobriath performing on The Midnight Special.

Regardless, I find Jobriath’s music to be quite remarkable. Although, recently playing his albums for a friend who knew nothing of what he was listening to, not the artist’s story, nor his sexuality, not even his name—his response was a critique that was incredibly similar to the previously mentioned statements made by Clive Davis. So, it could certainly be not as universally “good” as I believe it to be. Jobriath’s first album was primarily recorded at Electric Lady Studios in New York and co-produced by Eddie Kramer, who made his fame through his production work for Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin. Kramer later recalled of the songs’ orchestration (recorded in Olympic Studios in London): “[Jobriath was] a romantic soul, really. He wanted orchestrations like old film music, though he knew nothing about scoring. So he bought a book on orchestration and within a week he’d come up with scores of a haunting quality. These were recorded in Olympic Studios in London with a nine-foot grand piano and a 55-piece orchestra” (Cochrane, 1998). This haunting quality is best expressed by the album’s closing track, “Blow Away.”

————————————–(CLICK TO LISTEN)

Despite some positive reviews (Rolling Stone: “talent to burn;” Record World: “brilliantly incisive.”) the album failed to hit the charts and Elektra began to recoil from the artist. Jobriath’s first tour was intended to be held within all the major opera houses in Europe, and according to him would feature, “King Kong being projected upwards on a mini Empire State Building. This will turn into a giant spurting penis and I will have transformed into Marlene Dietrich” (Cochrane, 1998). Whether this was merely an alcohol and cocaine fueled fantasy or actually in the works, Elektra cancelled the entire tour, citing financial reasons. Jobriath’s debut public performance would come by the way of television, appearing on “The Midnight Special.” On stage in costumes of his own design, the performances of his songs “I’MAMAN” and “Rock of Ages” only hint at the stage show that might’ve been.

Within six months of his flop, a second LP titled “Creatures Of The Street” was released. Darker in tone, this album would be released with no promotion whatsoever and its dismal sales effectively ended the would-be superstar. Despite its rushed release and its total neglect by his label, the album was an ambitious project that explored the urban grandeur of pop songwriting.

Creatures Of The Street. Lady Gaga might indeed steal her music from Madonna, but much of her look is pilfered from Jobriath.

Heart Beat——————–(CLICK TO LISTEN)

Street Corner Love——————–(CLICK TO LISTEN)

Gone Tomorrow/Ooh La La (Reprise and Exit Music)———(CLICK TO LISTEN)

A relatively modest tour followed—a blur of debauchery and derision. Brandt abandoned the group halfway through the tour and went on to make his money by convincing America to purchase over-priced and imported designer jeans and later opened the music venues The Ritz and Palladium. Abandoned by his manager, by his label, and fully embodying his stated belief that, “schizophrenia isn’t all that bad. It may be the lifestyle of the ’70s” (Cochrane, 1998), Jobriath soon announced his retirement from the music business, and hardly anyone noticed. After a failed audition for the part of Al Pacino’s boyfriend in Sidney Lumet’s gripping true-crime film of 1975, Dog Day Afternoon, the man who was everywhere for a moment, Jobriath, was gone.

Living within the pyramid room atop New York’s Chelsea Hotel, Jobriath dissipated, replaced by yet another incarnation, Manhattan nightclub cabaret act, Cole Berlin.

Still creating, still an artist, in a 1981 BBC program about the Chelsea Hotel and its eccentric inhabitants, Cole Berlin was filmed within his odd apartment, performing on his white piano a composition of his own, “Sunday Brunch.”

By August 3, 1983, aged 36 years, Cole Berlin, Jobriath Boone, Jobriath Salisbury, and Bruce Wayne Campbell would all be dead from a new disease called AIDS. After four days, complaints by his neighbors concerning a smell would lead to the discovery of his body.

[post-script]:

This year, Jobriath A.D., a documentary by Kieran Turner is set to be released and concerns this intriguing life. I for one intend to catch it.

Ref:

Cochrane, R. (1998, November). Jobriath: The Mojo Article. Mojo Magazine. Retrieved from http://www.crapfromthepast.com/jobriath/mojo.htm

Metzger, R. (2009, March 30). Jobriath Boone: Rock’s Fairy Godmother. BoingBoing. Retrieved from http://boingboing.net/2009/03/30/jobriath-boone-rocks.html

Nelson, C. (1996, Nov. 8). Former MC5 guitarist to score punk film? Addicted To Noise Washington. Retrieved from http://kauhajokinyt.fi/~jplaitio/pleasekil.html

Sullivan, J. (2008, Feb. 29). Twisted Tales: Glam Rocker Jobriath – The Man Who Would Have Been Queen. Spinner. Retrieved from http://www.spinner.com/2008/02/29/twisted-tales-glam-rocker-jobriath-the-man-who-would-have-bee/

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