Richard Buckner

The brilliant Richard Buckner. Lots of great stuff on the web from this guy (including some good ones by me), but in proper perverse fashion my favorite is from somebody’s low-res cell phone video, circa 2004.

Creative summer storms

revisiting-nebraska-splashWe all usually look up to and model after our own heroes. It’s a timeworn way to get things done — Like what he did? Do the same thing!

As all my buddies know, I’m a big fan of Bruce Springsteen. One of the things I like best about Springsteen is that he’s always been a very intuitive artist, able to pick up on his own faint creative signals to get busy making new work. Nebraska was a part of this, as were several other of his major works — quick projects that blew up like a summer storm while he was supposedly toiling away at a longer-term project.

clockworkIt happened to Kubrick, too — A Clockwork Orange was a quickie movie meant to clear his palette after he tried to get Napoleon up and running and was unable to. He seemed to need a fall-back project that, instead of the years of pre-production that he had spent on Napoleon, just came together like melted butter in the bottom of a pan. And it did.

That happens to me quite a bit, too — I’ll be toiling away on some ‘masterpiece’ that I’ve been writing for years, then another project comes in, blows through really quickly, gets produced, shot and finished …. all the while the so-called ‘masterpiece’ just keeps getting more and more laborious … My first film Sinkhole was a fall-back project after another larger movie didn’t go. Alison was a quickie movie that came through and all I had to do was listen and take notes. It practically shot itself.

What is it about these summer storm projects, these back-door creative endeavors, that make them easier and quicker to get finished? Some of these summer storms are true masterpieces — Clockwork and Nebraska among them. Is it the lack of the weight of expectations that frees one up to do the job? Is it the lack of second-guessing that makes the project soar so high? Is it luck? Is it the fact that often these projects are ‘perfect storms’ of happenstance and creativity?

My answer is ‘All of the Above.’ Second-guessing and over-analyzing really do kill creativity. As do too many expectations of where your project will lead. Sometimes the creativity flows better if you don’t really know where you’re going … and you don’t care, either.

The trick is to listen to these voices, and let the projects steer you where they may. And not every summer storm project will blow you away — sometimes you get a dud, and sometimes you end up with Nebraska. But if you never listen to the possibilities, you won’t ever learn where they may take you …

Chelsea Mourning

On a recent trip to New York City, I had the good fortune to stay at the legendary Chelsea Hotel.  Slept three doors down from where Arthur C. Clarke wrote 2001 for Stanley. One floor up from where Bob Dylan wrote most of the songs from Blonde on Blonde. Two floors up from where Sid Vicious allegedly stabbed his girlfriend Nancy Spungeon. Kerouac wrote On the Road here. Burroughs did heroin here.

All in all, it was a memorable stay. The art on the walls was eccentric and intriguing. And once you’re a paying guest, the staff are pretty chill about you checking out the entire place.

Every artist, whether a fan of the Beats, Hippies, Punks or not, should stay here.

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Shooting @ Moog Music

Last fall, I was asked to direct a series of videos for Moog Music and Music Allies, both based here in Asheville.  Great fun.  Essentially, the bands were coming through town and would stop by Moog Music’s studios and play with the very cool vintage-styled instruments.  The finished videos can be seen at Paste magazine.

Amanda Palmer — she rocks, simple as that.  More creative and more fun than I expected, and a terrific bandleader, besides.  The fact that she’s in a relationship with Neil Gaiman still freaks me out.

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Medeski, Martin and Wood.  They also rock.  Some of their improvs are jawdropping.  Nice guys, too.  The drummer was very interested in filmmaking and picked my brain about HD.

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Showing Mr. Medeski how to form a C chord.  Poor guy just couldn’t get it.

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Moe.  I wasn’t expecting to like these guys, but I did.  Super nice, too.

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Yo La Tengo.  One of the greatest indie bands of all time.

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The White Rabbits.  Young and very talented.  Not my favorite kind of music, but I was definitely impressed.

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Matisyahu. This one directed by the great Rod Murphy.  Kinda sleepy, though.

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Rod Murphy and I worked on several of these together until he took over full time.  Rod’s also an amazing musician.  Check out his fantastic movie Being the Diablo.

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Xavier Rudd. Very interesting guy, sort of like an Australian Jack Johnson.

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Laura Gibson

Not long ago I went to a Damien Jurado show, to check out some of his beautifully melodic and moody Appalachian-styled songs. The lady who opened his show, however, was a tall, thin chanteuse named Laura Gibson, who just absolutely knocked me out, coming across a little like a psychedelic Gillian Welch, or a female Tom Waits … if he lived on a farm in the Northwest and didn’t get out too much.

With a unique, quavery voice and a spooky and airy melodic approach, her music is both beautiful and jarring; the pieces don’t quite fit, but in a good way. Her band plays saws and odd things and conjure up the creepiest but coolest (and, it should be said, often fun and jamming) vibe.

She seems to have a warm but steely stage presence, where she stares off into the audience, not really seeing anyone as she sings. She made long, uncomfortable eye contact with me, until I had to look away. But as I was looking into her eyes, and it felt like she was looking into mine, I realized she wasn’t seeing me. She was listening to herself sing. Spooky.

I’ve seen and heard a lot of music. This lady is something special.

A Seminal Rock Critic Needs Help

paulWilliamsLike film criticism, serious rock music criticism has fallen away in recent years. With Roger Ebert the only serious (to my mind) film critic still around, the art of true journalistic rock criticism seems to be a thing of the past as well. Now, one of rock music’s seminal pro’s needs your help: Paul Williams, the founder of Crawdaddy! magazine is in ill health.

Most often associated with it’s early championship of Bruce Springsteen and Phillip K. Dick, Paul’s magazine was a counter-cultural rag much like the young Rolling Stone; back when Lester Bangs was a regular contributor, and Dave Marsh was still listening to the MC5, and Iggy Pop was still rolling around onstage in broken glass, Paul was more than a rock critic — he was a cultural signifier.

In the words of journalist Bob Hill, “Paul Williams’ pieces weren’t just about music. They were about faith and struggle, religion and redemption, life and death, love and loss. They were about all the major themes that great songwriting is about. But Paul had the space and the freedom to go even deeper; to explore what exactly was at stake in every song and how—on any given night—rock ‘n’ roll had the power to break down the walls that kept people boxed in; to show us the edge without pushing us over.”

Due to a head injury suffered in the late ’90’s, Paul now needs constant, round-the-clock care. As a writer, he never made much money, and now his medical bills are mounting. Please take a look at the following links, and maybe think about writing a check to help out one of music criticism’s greatest.

Go to HERE to read more, or take a look at PAULWILLIAMS.COM to help out the man himself.

Night’s Bright Colors

Night’s Bright Colors is the moniker of the supremely talented Asheville-based musician, Jason Smith. A little Elliot Smith here, a little low-fi Pixies there, NBC has written movie music for Harrow Beauty in the past (most notably, our first feature film, Sinkhole), but it’s primarily a recording entity that Smith uses in connection with a rotating cast of musicians following his lead. He just released yet another full-length set of songs (he’s very prolific, too) on the web. Here’s what The Mountain Xpress’ Ali Marshall had to say about Smith’s latest release:

“Just in time for this tough economy—and (less bleakly) for the first day of spring—Asheville’s Night’s Bright Colors releases its newest effort, Late Night by Lamplight. The online-only album (available at http://www.nightsbrightcolors.com) can be downloaded for free.

The no-cost digital album is in keeping with the times. In late 2007, mega stars Radiohead issued their “pay what you want” online-only album, In Rainbows. Five years earlier, R.E.M. released r.e.m.IX, a remix of the previous year’s Reveal for fans to download free via the band’s Website. In this age of DIY home studios and indie labels, the straight-to-Web tactic seems a logical next step.

“With this new technology, downloading it for free makes more sense,” explains Night’s Bright Colors mastermind, Jason Smith. Printing CDs was a major cost for the musician who felt the pressure to sell the finished product “became more of a focus than it should have.”

A companion disc to last autumn’s First Set Fire to the Stars, Late continues with the nighttime motif, a velvety hush palpable throughout the collection. But Smith’s shimmery, ambient aesthetic is bolstered by pop sensibility with nods to Sparklehorse as well as The Cure. Lush violin (from Lauren Brown) balances sanguine guitar strumming on the all-too-brief opener, “blush.”

The title track pairs Medieval string tones with a Nick Drake-like vocal for something sweetly romantic. The adroitly-named “parry the wind” is a moody meditation on weather as metaphor for relationships. That Smith, a stay-at-home dad, can craft such quixotic material in between sippy cups and naptimes only adds to the starry-eyed spell this album casts.

Smith plans to release the fourth and possibly final album in the Night’s Bright Colors catalog – a concept collection he describes as “evolving or devolving” around a Romeo and Juliet theme—this fall.”

Check it out — it’s a free download and it rocks the house — but quietly.

http://www.nightsbrightcolors.com

Music for Indie Films

There’s a lot of cool music in Asheville. This is a musical town. I know a ton of talented, serious, professional musicians — good ones. That’s one of the secret blessings of living in such a creative place.

So when we talk about what type of music we’re gonna hear when we watch Alison, I was a little hesitant to pin it down. On one level, the movie is a quiet, minimalist sort of piece that doesn’t require much accompaniment — you never want to signal the viewer what type of emotion to have, unless you’re making The Goonies or something.

But on the other hand, music can add so much. Since Alison is a story about a woman — a chick flick, as it were — for a time I played with getting some ‘chicks’ who play rock music to score the piece with some sort of indie-rock mood music. That was a good idea, but it seemed a little like I was hoping to co-opt some type of movement that I don’t actually belong to.

And then came the ukulele.

It’s solid koa. It’s from Hawaii. It’s a concert-sized uke, which means it’s a little larger, almost like a small classical guitar. It sounds amazing. I can’t stop playing it. 1920’s jazz is my favorite, particularly something like the beautiful and very apropos Carolina Moon.

This is the way, I’ve found, creativity works. You look for something, and you may not find it, but chances are you’ll find something else just as good.

So, like all other aspects of this movie, happy accidents will provide. I think in addition to the cool indie chick-rock and hair metal and the requisite ambient tones, there might just be a little ukulele happening somewhere in there.