Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Happy Birthday Matthew Shipp.

Matthew meets his half decade today in his prime and fully immersed in Dionysian musings shaped by Apollonian sensibilities. It's quite a feat.

It turns on his use of the most basic primal song forms, the first ones most people here were exposed to... Frere Jacques, etc. The melody kernel that the "The New Fact" grows from is like some echo of Joshua, of Jericho fame in more stark and thus striking offspring and "3 in 1" might be a reshaped hologram of 'Rock a Bye Baby', one of those odd sinister children's songs with its soothing melody.I realized this connects with the primal right away, whether a listener consciously notices. 

If you think about it, song making is probably a basic thing humans do and until the 20th century, songs were rarely that important. Schubert had his art songs as did others and every peasant and goatherd the world over makes up songs as do children. The oldest known song is said to be something used by Nile water bearers as a rhythm to operate their simple water bucket hoists.

And these songs that once just grew often became the soil for Symphonic music, especially in the late 19th century when every country had a composer who rummaged around the local songs, Greig, Bartok, dozens of Russians, Brahms and so on all turned these found root melodies into big ambitious works.

Now they become slices of sonic dna to recombine on the fly of pianistics at a moments notice. I haven't given the time a two disc set wants for detailed description but I'm confident there will be plenty from many more skillful than I am. I like the sound of the audience in Troy at the end. There are a lot of hands in a clamor and voices rise enthused.

1. How has this year treated you compared with last year?

"I get up each day and do what the day puts before me so don’t know how the year has treated me-I know I have treated myself well by staying productive---and I really feel blessed to have good friends in the music who have been colleagues for years and years and my bond with them grows even if we don’t play for a year or so."

2. What have been some of the highlights? 

"Well without thinking I would say the duo tour with Mr Sabir MateenSabir is a unique and is always fun to be around apart from being a mother you know what on his axes.

Playing with my trio with Whit Dickey and the great Mike Bisio has been a blessing and a tour I did with the Ivo Perelman quartet with Ivo, me, Joe Morris and Gerald Cleaver, also a duo tour Joe Morris and I did in Poland was a blast, music wise."

These efforts were lauded in Brazil...

"We will seldom get the chance again to see—on a cold Thursday night—someone like Matthew Shipp displaying his fine artistry. Shipp is the most important name in contemporary piano playing. He has entered the pantheon inhabited by Monk and Cecil Taylor. Listening to Shipp—and watching him—makes you realize that great music doesn't need comparisons such as "he plays like Coltrane" or "he plays like Miles.” With delicate melodic fragments rising over the force of his hammering left hand, Shipp forges his own path, his own course independent of affiliations."

And in Russia.

"Before talking about the concert, it makes sense to say a few words about the last mentioned album. For those who missed this performance and wanted to get an idea of how Shipp plays nowadays, I would recommend to listen to «Night Logic». First, simply because it is the very fresh recording (the album was recorded in late July this year). 

Secondly, on this record Shipp is in the same musical environment - the instrumental trio of Moscow concert approximately repeats the one that can be heard on «Night Logic». On the album Matthew plays with Morris and the veteran of Sun Ra cosmic orchestras, Marshall Allen (alto saxophone, flute and EWI - electronic wind instrument). And anyway, it’s a standout album. When you have an opportunity - listen to it!

Finally, let’s talk about the concert. Shipp was an absolute leader. In the absence of a drummer he was the one who dictated the tempo of trio’s playing. This was definitely a journey of Matthew with Letov and Morris following him. Shipp led the way changing directions and mood, setting the intensity of playing. His music was violent, unstable and at the same time plastic and dainty.

Shipp was constantly searching, not staying with one idea for a long time. His improvisation was a kaleidoscope of changing, slightly defined themes. Developing a phrase with his left hand, Matthew put an accent in the upper register with his right hand (as a comma), and then formulated a new phrase or modified the same one in the way it would take him in another direction. Sometimes he picked up a piece of music, as a piece of puzzle, and moved forward building on it.

It seemed like Matthew was making his way with physical efforts. Perhaps the impression was created by Shipp’s motions while playing. Knowing about his repeated confessions in his love of boxing, it was difficult to escape the feeling of watching some kind of fight. He hit the keyboard with strength of the whole body, a single high note began somewhere in the arm, and so on. Moreover such "hitting" technique was used not only for loud, intense moments, the struggle continued even during the lightest passages where slight accents of his right hand were placed with sliding on a key.

Amazing how physical side of Shipp’s playing combined with its intellectual nature. An important component of Shipp’s philosophy linked to the exact sciences, formulas and mathematical aspects of music. Improvising he resembled both a boxer trying new combinations to break an enemy and a mathematician obsessed with going from one formula to another to prove a theorem.

Emotional and sensual aspects of jazz combine with European dramatic effects in Shipp’s music - it was often heard in Matthew’s playing chords or putting accents. A monotonic chords pulsation often used by the pianist obviously referred to American minimalism of 50s as well as repetitions of riffs and quiet sparse notes following the most intense moments of improvisation."

3. Has the situation for performing in the US improved or is it still hampered by NPR Nepotism, Gen X curator Narcissism and Uncle Tupelo glorification? 

"Well in the 90s it seemed that things could change when we where on a kind of punk touring route but things never made that breakthrough for usa touring that it seemed was a possibility—the problems in all this are so deep and overwhelming I don’t know where to start as far as breaking it down into discourse as to what the problems are and what the solutions might be—lets just say  between europe and usa and elsewhere you try to keep a continuum of stuff going to stay busy."

4. How has Music Piracy impacted your recording sales?

"What do you think?" ( I imagine it utterly sux.)

5. What are your performance plans for the coming year, more solo focus? Ensemble options? 

"Well my upcoming cd-a 2 cd live set called ‘’art of the improviser’’ has one side solo and one side trio, and I want to concentrate on both of those formats in the next year for that is where my music is and also of course I want to promote the cd. This trio is really growing into something else and I want to keep developing in this format plus my solo playing is growing at the roots and extremities. Other than that I don’t know. I  do not have much interest in quartets these days."

6. Are you seeing more opportunities for artist residencies?

"I have 2 residencies this year, but do not consider myself an educator-even though I have students, it's not my main focus. However, it should be fun to have some extended classroom time. I will try to present the essence of who I am in a way that will inspire others to come up with their own ideas. Maybe any part or fragment of what I can say or do can be a tool for someone else to build their own house."

7. What do you make of turning 50?

"I don’t make anything of it. I am the same yesterday  and today and yet completely different yesterday and today.I do not feel washed up as a jazz musician and I do not feel cynical about the playing-I do about the business but I feel fresh as a player and person  as if whatever language I have inside me keeps me young, Marian McPartland actually said that about me to someone--— and I don’t have that aged hardened bourgeois look that Wynton has in his stupid face—it must be hard to keep up that level of pretense."

8. What was the reason for selecting the live performance in Troy as the music for The Art of The Improviser?

"We got a good tape of it and it represented the trio in the way we want it to be represented. Really no cosmic or occult numbers except those pragmatic things. I will be on road a good deal with this trio and really look forward to developing the music more. I feel very strong about the trio and know my mates are willing to make a commitment to fully concentrate on taking the music wherever the music allows us to take it. 

Oh and by the way as far as 2010 goes a lot of media attention I got centered around my polemic against Hancock in jazz times earlier this year.Well this year he came out with an almost universally panned horrific cd, despite the fact that it is grammy nominated and downbeat liked it, no surprise there,they have to hold up that paradigm and I heard him a couple of times over the years going through the motions, in my opinion with his cynical jazz festival filler material and feel completely justified in what I said as far as I was using what he has been doing to paint a picture of a cynical corpse-being the dying jazz business." 

A slice of controversy side dish served for the teapot tempest from the ever embarrassing and dwindling New York media cohort stuck in regaling it's bygone days like some pot bellied wash-up at a barbecue reliving high school football glory days decades later. They yet cling to tinsel illusions of clout even as the evidence suggests the end of the line is near. Beyond New York the controversy is shrugged off in favor a look at what Matthew actually does.  The examples from Brazil and Russia above attest to a happy obliviousness to it all and when Art of the Improviser is released there will be a useful and edifying array of descriptions from Ms HortonJustinStef and Richard Kamins.

This will be a tough year for the old strategy of plugging the branded icons. It works for pop but jazz more often does numbers across its time swath. The money wasted on pretending that 'stars' still do workable numbers should have been spent on better SEO for the entire catalog or attending to ways to boost search page ranking. Matthew is finding his way. Max and Bobby have a lot in common besides presenting him in Vilnius and DC. More people like that are showing up while stalwarts like Dan Melnick in Chicago and John Gilbreath in Seattle ever improve their game. Timing the bloat implosion is never easy or sure but the wheezing increases with each year and the star making machinery is grinding its gears and running out of gas. It's abandonment is a precondition to future viability.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Max Makes it happen.

Maxim Micheliov is part of a robust Jazz advocacy community in Vilnius Lithuania that comes highly recommended by friends who have performed there. 

Max with Roy Campbell jr.

1. Describe your discovery of music.

"The sounds of music have always been heard at our home. Both my parents love music. We had a quite big collection of LP discs that included some jazz records along with classical music and easy listening. From early years I was introduced to Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, George Gershwin as well as selected recordings by people like Mingus, Gillespie and Miles Davis (though it took me years to re-discover them). My mother loves American easy listening from pre-Elvis era like Bing Crosby, Pat Boone, Doris Day and many others. Obviously  we listened to a lot of European and Soviet songs. But my father’s main passion is European classical music.

At some point I started own quest that haven’t stopped to date. Instrumental music has absorbed my attention as it offers certain depths usually unseen in song/vocal genres... or maybe it’s just that I listened too many songs as a youngster. However no matter how far I am from the musics of my childhood a few aspects remain intact. I refer to such things as huge respect and admiration of melody, diversity of my interests and openness to the new and unknown."

Valerij Anosov (Thelonious, NB), Max, Howard Riley, Danas Mikailionis (NB)

2. Describe your research into various periods of the idiom as an advocate and fan.

"A fan, in the first place. My development as a listener has been quite typical - from popular genres and artists to more specific musics; things that can’t be heard unless one takes an effort to discover them. Let me mention a few “bridges” - musicians-bands-genres that linked entertainment with the art of jazz and improvisation.
  • Mike Patton - an MTV super-star, front-man of Faith No More and a leader/participant of various experimental bands and projects like Mr. Bungle, collaborations with John Zorn, Tomahawk, Fantomas and many others.
  • Rock, particularly “progressive” or “Art rock” was a good introduction into jazz rock and fusion.
  • Jazz rock came up around my final years at the university... All music was mostly on cassettes; also first CDs appeared [in my life]. I remember that my very first compact disc was “The Promise” by John McLaughlin. I thought it was a stunning piece of music. Soon after I got Tutu (Miles of course) and “The Mad Hatter” - Chick Corea. These recordings are some sort of keystones in my listening experience. The Mad Hatter is the one recording that today represents all Jazz rock/fusion music for me. I think it is just genius and also that it sort of closes the theme. Of course I can only speak for one not too sophisticated listener.
  • John Zorn, Masada, Naked City,... - that was great introduction into so called “avantgarde”. Speaking of advocacy, Zorn is one of the mightiest advocates for free music - everybody knows him or at least heard of him.

These were “bridges” that provided paths to other realms in music not covered by media and neglected by massive attention. Also it taught me to perceive more subtle matters.

After the university I went to London and stayed there for about 3 years doing various temporary jobs. That allowed an opportunity to hear more music. 10-15 years ago the CD market was thriving in Russia and Lithuania but concerts of big jazz musicians were still rare. London Barbican offered huge jazz program with the best international stars playing in various styles and directions. During one month you could listen to Wynton Marsalis with Lincoln Center Orchestra and a double bill Zorn’s Naked City + Derek Bailey... and that was just fine. That time i had no idea of divisions and cliques in the world of this music that I called “jazz”. And I loved most of performances ;)

Probably the first live encounter with the sound of saxophone in all it’s beauty and glory was at the concert of Joe Lovano. He introduced his “new” program “Rush hour”. I was carried away! Yet another stunning experience was a concert of Masada. I had a sit in the first row and could see them all - Zorn in his combat trousers, string trio - Mark Feldman, Greg Cohen, Eric Friedlander, and then Dave Douglass - his interplay with Zorn gave me one of the most vivid impressions ever, Marc Ribot, Joe Barron, Ciro Batista. It was an excellent concert!
Back in London I also saw Naked City and Mike Patton’s bands Mr. Bungle and Tomahawk. Such live experiences gave huge inspiration to learn more, see more, hear more and comprehend more.

I was already acquainted with the music shop Thelonious, its founder and owner Valerij Anosov and other guys - all music lovers and records’ collectors. I sent them letters with reports about my musical experiences. Valerij started concerts not long after my return from the UK. And that was when I really dived into free improvisation."   

3. Describe the attractions and appeal of your favorite periods.

"Speaking of favorite periods - probably I have none. I don’t perceive music in context of its historical development. It is all about people for me - those who live among us and who passed away but left the gifts of their art.

Some of the musicians who I’d call the biggest attractions and inspirations are Duke Ellington, Thelonious Monk, John Coltrane, San Ra, Stan Getz, Bill Dixon, Wadada Leo Smith, Andrew Hill, Kahil El Zabar, Fred Anderson, Joe McPhee, Dominic Duval, David S. Ware, Matthew Shipp, William Parker, David Murray, Mats Gustafsson, Barry Guy, Howard Riley. Well, these are names that instantly come to mind; saved in my RAM memory :)
I am not afraid to sound pathetic when saying that these artists and people (i was privileged to meet some of them) support my hopes for better future for the mankind.

My attractions are well reflected in a discography of NoBusiness records and on the list of concerts carried out by music store Thelonious. Each such event opened up the whole new universe. Each concert required certain amount of preparation.

Back in 2005 a duo of Matthew Shipp and William Parker gave an absolutely ground shaking performance in Lithuanian National philharmonic. A couple of years later Thelonious carried out a concert of David S Ware Quartet. We had a pleasure to see Matt and William again. It was just an amazing episode, and the music released on NoBusiness as a double LP fully reflects that...fantastic!

Trio X is one more unforgettable music and humanitarian experience. The concert, a lot of communication with Joe McPhee, Dominic Duval and Jay Rosen, co-working on the documentary “The Train and The River” later released on CIMP (my technical part was to transcribe the audio track of this film for making DVD sub-titles)... They are among my greatest attractions ever." 

"Recently my interview with Dominic Duval came out on All About Jazz.

Acquaintance with works of European improvisers - Mats Gustafsson, Barry Guy, Howard Riley have had a huge impact on my further listening education. All three were our guests in Vilnius. I took chances for interviews that can be found on Bagatellen (Barry Guy, Mats Gustafsson) and All About Jazz (Howard Riley).

Also younger and lesser known musicians whose stunning works come to light through our label. Harris Eisenstadt released with NoBusiness an absolutely fabulous LP "Woodblock Prints". A bit earlier there were great recordings by Daniel Blacksberg Trio called “Bit Heads” and Adam Caine’s trio “Thousandfold”. These musicians appear among my favorites too!"

4. Describe the course of your work as an advocate.

"I help my friends at NoBusiness records (aka music shop Thelonious); occasionally I conduct interviews with musicians and write for Russian paper magazine Jazz.ru. In 2005 I started making websites for musicians. About half a year ago my work mate, Aleksej, joined my initiative and together we started design4music.org

The idea to offer my web design skills to musicians came up naturally. It “had to happen” sooner or later because design and music are not only my major interests but focuses of many efforts, certain hopes, expectations and beliefs.

  • As a designer I have concerns about personal responsibility for marketing things (because “design” is a technical sub-discipline of marketing). In most cases designers do not enjoy the luxury of choosing clients. A lot of things we dress up into a sleek package are pretty worthless if not harmful. This blog post rises some good points.
  • As a music fan i am not satisfied with passive consumption anymore. It’s cool of course to sit in the audience but it is thousand times more exciting “to be in”. Although “music speaks for itself” there are other channels that provide rich information on this phenomenon of human culture... for example a conversation with a musician.
Thus a web design service for musicians is a natural step; a much comprehended course of action that hopefully leads to self accomplishing both as a professional and music lover. My debut as a musicians’ webmaster was with Trio X. Within a year I built websites for the trio, Joe McPhee and for Dominic Duval. It was an important and joyful experience that charged me with confidence and inspired to continue along this path... and today design4music is here to provide excellent web design services to musicians, independent record labels, music (jazz) venues, festivals and organizations. We offer an inexpensive, while quality solutions! Check the proposal page."

5. Describe evolving methods that are a facet of your advocacy

"Firstly, and most importantly you’ve got to have a very clear understanding of what you are building and why. My answer: a website for a musician is a promo tool and an educational resource. In other words such website should “attract” wider audiences and contain comprehensive, frequently updated information about the musician and his works. Thus the website should satisfy 3 main concepts:

  • found-ability (how easy it is to find the website in search engines),  
  • update-ability (how easy it is to update website’s content)
  • usability (how easy it is to use navigation, read texts, etc)

Max and the Bad Plus.

Found-ability (or visibility in search engines) is all about the right document structure, navigation and site tree. In our latest projects each recording receives a separate page with its unique, human friendly url address. For example a solo recording by Sabir Mateem “Other places, other spaces” lives on his website under: http://sabirmateen.com/recordings/leader/other-places-other-spaces.

Now google for “Other places, other spaces” - the search returns Sabir’s page in top 5 (my search shows #2 but it might vary). I did a check before... Sabir’s old website wasn’t in top 50 for this key phrase. 

Search for “Earth People - Now Is Rising” - I can see this page http://www.sabirmateen.com/recordings/sideman/earth-people-now-is-rising as #1 and Sabir’s name is not even mentioned in our search phrases. Obviously these are just couple examples to illustrate how the correct approach can help musicians; make information about their works more accessible and found-able on the web. I write more about it in design4music blog.

Update-ability is a big pain in the neck for both clients and webmasters. Clients need to be able to post frequent updates and they need a really simple interface for it. Ideally the routine of posting updates is as easy as sending an e-mail. Webmasters should provide a convenient control panel. It should be “simple to use” but give “absolute control”.

I have tried several solutions from a very basic to literally “all-inclusive” in most recent projects. The original idea was to simplify the control panel at cost of functionality. But gradually I shifted to somewhat more flexible solutions. One of my most disciplined clients - a pianist and composer Michael Jefry Stevens showed me how a musician can be a restless website administrator. Over the course of working on michaeljefrystevens.com he gave a lot of valuable feedback and requested some features. His website is one of my best works namely because of his rich input! And it is alive, frequently visited resource.

Usability answers such questions as “how quickly you can find particular info on the website” or “how convenient to read the text”. There’s of course a lot more to it. For instance it is important to foresee directions of the content building - make the site scalable. I pay huge attention to structure and consider it top priority in our projects.

6. What role does Web 2.0 and other tech have in your work?

"I am not 100% sure what this term Web 2.0 refers to. I visited Ad Tech conference in London back in 2008. Earlier this year my colleagues went to Web 2.0 Expo in San Francisco. Looks like Web 2.0 is used to pin down all the newest web trends.
Although one important tendency can be stressed out. Modern web is no more static. Successful websites are not books, but newspapers better if daily. As a webmaster I should provide a convenient publishing platform rather than “designs and illustrations”.

Something half a year ago we started using a content management system called MODx... after trying some others we came to a conclusion that MODx is probably the most scalable system to date; very easy to use both as a webmaster and site admin; extremely flexible. I do not hesitate calling MODx our team member, who takes care of all server site programming."

7. What old media elements are used?

"HTML is not going to leave the scene. More over, introduction of HTML5 will leave lesser space for Flash. But the main and the oldest media element which is the true King of the Internet and won’t give up its position within foreseeable future is the TEXT.
Text content is the king

I do explain it to all my clients and greatly encourage them preparing text descriptions for each project, collecting reviews, etc, etc... The new project usually starts from me sending a website content check list."

8. How has change in the economy impacted your work?

"My mates at NB are joking that the economy has always been bad for free music. But of course, the situation isn’t funny at all. Sadly enough the musicians often find it difficult to pay even a bottom line fee for a website... as it turns. This puts under a big question my hope and dream to set up a highly professional service for musicians. With such limited budgets I can’t get on board other people; I am always stretched between a regular job, occasional commercial projects and music websites. While creation of a website is quite a bit of work, that takes time and effort."

9. Describe aspirations, projects and future hopes

"There are 3 projects in work right now. A new website for a bassist Joe Fonda is almost completed. Websites for Daniel Levin (cello) and Angelica Sanchez (piano) are in a planning stage. We target at Christmas as a launch date for these two. At the moment i am so totally absorbed with these projects that completely stopped all activities on a marketing front. Hopefully there will be more inquiries by then. I would really love to offer my service to all my best favorite musicians as well as discover new music and wonderful people through these projects.

Also I would be interested to get a commission from some sort of organization, festival, label...

Speaking of more distant future I envision a web design agency that specializes on clients from music industry. 3-4 people, reasonable fees, high quality work, a lot of joy and satisfaction... But these are dreams. Until then, I will continue this design for music adventure. That’s all about hopes."

Thursday, October 28, 2010


On the night it became known, my phone went nuts at around 9pm. "The Phoenix is reporting that Billy Ruane died...." The news moved through the system very fast. 

And I flashed to one of our last face to face moments. He stopped by the gallery to give everyone food and make arrangements to get a disc of the night's concert with Junko Simons. My mission was to get it to him. We talked about getting old and he gave me an excited description of his disagreement with his physician about the meaning of blood pressure data and what was more important, with him insisting the opposite of conventional medicine's outlook was true. I had a feeling this would be a problem, in the back of my mind, but also thought, maybe he's right. 

He wasn't and now he's gone. Billy loved his salt and his fatty stuff and had gained more weight than his short frame really wanted to handle. And he had three flights of stairs to traverse. I oughta know, I lived there myself. He also loved caffeine. Not coffee, no, his Eucharist was Vivarin and he was despondent when it was discontinued as No Doz would not do. One of my regular chores as his sidekick was to do vivarin runs to 7/11. I imagine whatever substitute he found..,red bull?? counter nostrums?, was the detonater in the ticking bomb of his poor old heart. I assumed he was sturdier.

He wasn't and now he's gone.

The 20 year old in the Untouchables outfit was Billy's beginning for me. I was in an early prototype used vinyl shop, 'Bojo's' holding the place down for the owner who was tanked and asleep somewhere. There were dozens of records with Billy's odd signature that was proto-graffiti. It looked eastern European like 'ruanej'. It was really Ruane Jr truncated and compressed by a hasty hand. We roamed around the merits of Dexter Gordon, Archie Shepp and he extolled Mal Waldron. 

He had it figured out. Within a year or so he was inventing slam dancing, inadvertently. Billy was enthusiasm and saw getting carried away as an important job. He loved to bounce and jump around at punk rock shows. I remember one early version at a Decoders show at the Western Front. He was all over the place and in a packed bar that eventually means you crash into people. So he did and soon it became like hockey lite with people imitating and booze fueled crowd mania until... slam dancing.

Billy was here to point things out. He was the purest advocate ever seen. I worked the formal institutional side of advocacy for my philosophical reasons and he worked the free wheeling side for his. We respected each others methods. I worked to be the least visible as he easily became the most. 20th century art and music in all its daunting intricacy was for Billy to find and extol to the sky like some avid beach child roaming all over the strand to find tide carried things and rush back to the group to share the find. He was the best town crier and witness the avante garde ever had. 

He claimed to be descended from Chicago bootleggers and his dad served in World War Two, got a GI Bill education and obtained a seat on the Exchange at Wall St. His classmate was Warren Buffett, Billy's honorary uncle. His father became one of the legendary old guys, value investors of the highest quality. I learned less about his mom but sensed she was the one who imparted his depth. She left him with some guidelines for life but marital despair and whatever else led her to a walk into Long Island Sound when he was in his mid teens.

That set his compass. I imagine there were high paternal hopes that he'd join the firm but Billy would have none of it. His initial run of boarding schools ' tightened the screws too much', he said, and he was determined to loosen em. Billy became ever more inventive at finding ways to expel money. While he was a tireless gatherer of stuff, he was unusual in that he was also soon up to his ears in the social and they were some wired ears. Billy became the mayor for life of what passes for the Boston scene. Much of this is now being covered by many as it was an American Marvel.  

My Billy lore is another thing, my actual friend and the room he retired to. I helped him move into that room in 89 or so with a couple of band guys and a rental truck. He was bailing on some studio he had across the river on Beacon St. He had a lot of books and if you've ever been a furniture mover, you know a lot of books sucks. He had even more vinyl, even heavier. It was July. We had three flights of stairs. I did mention it sucked. His Middle East gig was hitting its peak and he soon had me covering video shifts and other club chores. He was flailing at a fairly high oscillation rate, maybe his highest.

His father decided it was time to tighten the screws with a regimen of high lithium salt doses and Depakote added to offset seizures.. yay. The quarrels over this landed him at McLean and at that point he trusted me to take over his Middle East duties as a caretaker..yay. You see, I never cared that much about the Boston Rock scene. My choice was to try and help jazz. That's why Billy felt comfortable about it. He knew I didn't give a shit and would happily hand it back to him any time. I was happy to be his stand in, he gave me his place, free, and handed it all over. The owners tossed me around 75 bucks a week, all the falafel sandwiches I could stand, free booze and lots of useless scene cred status with a bunch of people I hardly knew and wasn't psyched to know... yay.

Billy was still able to call a lot of the important shots from McLean and my first chore was low level Augean, to handle the mess of still unpacked stuff and make a home for him to return to. The place was swarming with roaches so their ouster was a first priority. I took care of all of his endless stuff and organized it in ways that would be easy for him to examine when he wanted to. I figured it would be a useful bridge to home coming. He paid unusually high fees for his favorite bands, usually the most disruptive and ridiculous ones out there and was often cheated and humiliated by an artist agent, some vile critter in Minnesota.

The rest of these very important people were decent enough. It was very competitive. Billy was ever looking over his shoulder at his counterparts who were more avid to be a business. They were trying to make money. Billy was trying to give it away. This made a difference and they were better at nailing the more toothsome crumbs that fell from the table of the arena promoter here who dominated anything that made real money.

Fear whiplashed him throughout. A part of him was always waiting for some ax to fall and he sought counsel from those among us who were less anxious. And I don't imagine many understood how lonely his existence was, when the last gin mill closed and sidewalks rolled up. His fervent wish for romance and intimacy was thwarted for most of his life. He had an archetype he yearned for, (always a problem). He wanted a lithe huggable woman near his stature, but most women really didn't quite know what to make of him and the whole calculus of attraction was complicated by his scene status.

He'd have aspirants he didn't quite know what to make of while longing for others who didn't quite know what to make of him. Everyone knows this experience. For some, it stops being important, you give up and move on to the remaining fat slice of life left you. This was not so for Billy. The cd delivery mission I had was to get the sound of Junko to a young cellist who became a focus of his yearning. He bought her a cello and it no doubt made the woman nervous. 

I never thought I'd be bringing Billy to his final home that July day of endless boxes. It was a crappy classic three decker indifferently banged together around the time Johnny Hodges was born nearby. The floor plan was from hell and what would now be generously called 'non conforming'. There is a tiny room in the front right where he slept with doors opening out to the hall and to the next larger room where he kept his music and audio gear focused, the hatchery for his many mix tapes. Heading back, it was like a shotgun line of various rooms all with too many doors.. I got the one way in back near the kitchen. 

The kitchen was circa 50s slum, a crappy gas stove readily encrusted, a wheezing fridge, bad outlet locations, a tired blue formica cabinet counter with some other wall cabinets. The sink was a massive porcelain 2 basin job. A back egress door opened out to a sagging three decker porch and the back stairs. The bathroom was wretched too. I tricked out shower curtains using wire coat hangers to cover the weird frame distance to normal curtain hang lengths. 

Okay, so you get the floor plan. Throw in archaic wiring and floor to ceiling stuff, stuff in every closet, a few bedraggled couches, a deskish thing and thrift store bureaus and you have a fairly low cost life style. For all the resources he had, he really didn't give himself some lap of luxury. No, he had the zeal of a monk pursuing art elements. He needed another huge storage space in an old brick castle simulacrum near MIT that was like Jack Benny's vault. He could have easily bailed and got a place custom fit, but no. He was too busy circulating and extolling and inhaling it all.  

It's important to me to bring this up. Billy didn't care about any old stuff. He had Sammy Davis Jr.s pants, a gift from Ted Widmer. Stuff had to answer his voracity for an eclectic universe of human creative strivings whether historic or from people down the street. We spent weeks hashing over inclusions for one Lee Morgan mix tape which he circulated to most of the people who ever played at Lallopalooza.

Another essential thing to understand about Billy. For all of his legendary public flamboyance and adventures, he really didn't like being a public focus. As he aged, he half hated to get credit for anything and really didn't like getting his mug in the paper. 

Ben Deily's song bugged him. 

And yet, it is one of the most compelling works by one of the most compelling songwriters ever born around here. It answers Billy like nothing else and it just became iconic.But Billy wanted to direct the attention beyond self, to his discoveries.

Fate gave Boston an overly generous dollop of grifters and Billy was their catnip. Boston is insular and stodgy so it viewed the like of him as an irritant. The Boston Rock scene was a ridiculous egocentric shark pit from hell in it's prime with Technicolor narcissism. Boston was soaked in heroin and blow with mobsters on the periphery. At least one club owner bullied Billy to a breaking point. Billy bullying was a sport. This was his working world for most of his life. It took lots of energy. No internet, endless mailings, hours on the phone and Billy would agonize about some band he supported to the point of zooming over to other crowded clubs on his scooter to hand out his small funny Helldorado Fliers cause he wasn't gonna let that band down, dammit. He might hit 5 dumps in a night. 

He was like that to the end. Here at the gallery alone, in the past two years, Billy covered transportation and lodging for Matthew Shipp, Darius Jones, and Bern Nix and was always ready to help. He owned a luxury condo in Central square that was worth more than the building where he lived but made a bed and breakfast of it and a job for an old rocker. Shipp et al stayed in better accommodations than Billy lived in for the last two decades of his life.  

I get the sense a lot of the scene lived vicariously through Billy. He was routinely exploited and called me, despondent, in Seattle about some junkie who was blackmailing and tormenting him. I wanted to get on a bus and find the guy. Billy had lots of fans but very few who went to bat for him through thick and thin. At some point, the magnificent Pat McGrath realized that Billy needed attentive and alert help and the worst of the trough point subsided and he began his years of puttering around. The music scene changed. It grew old and sclerotic. The kids don't give a shit about it, so it freed Billy up to just see the things he wanted to. His flier passing days were over.

Of course some will argue he was an adult and made his choices but I'd argue his choice was to run himself under the earth for the things he loved and for what he felt was his community, very loosly defined. You'd think the community would have done a bit more out of some reciprocal understanding of the mountain of effort he made. I like to think that a kindlier culture would have figured out what a treasure he was and it would have done a better job of rising to his occasions to the benefit of all. Those who did rise to his occasion may well be among our best, especially when there wasn't much status. I'm not about to include myself among them, cause in a way, I made out like a bandit. Free flops, phone and a job. In various situations, his home was mine for several memorable years. The best I can do is try and describe the now passed human and let others cover the thing he graced.