The films of Basque director Julio Medem derive much of their power from their constant proximity to the melodramatic, the grandiose, and even, at times, the ridiculous. As with Leos Carax or Harmony Korine, the dead-serious notion of cinema as a kind of visual alchemy pervades everything Medem does, which means that when he fails — as he does often, and with naked abandon — he provokes unintentional titters. When Medem succeeds, though, his films feel like a head rush.
I was on tour in 2009 when McSweeney’s contacted me about contributing something for an issue they were doing on extinct literary forms and said they wondered if I might be interested in writing something in the style of a Norse “Fornaldarsaga.” The Norse sagas represent some of the earliest written fiction and they’re pretty incredible. Purporting to document true events in Scandinavian history, they’re actually breathtakingly violent, quirky and fast-moving adventure tales that are still fun to read today.
Last year, I was asked to arrange and produce an album by cult legend Roky Erickson. The project was a massive undertaking, the often-troubled singer’s album first in 15 years. I culled 60 songs down to 11, and it took me about a year of my life to complete. Once it was finished, I thought, “What the hell, I guess I’ll write up some liner notes for this thing too.”
One morning months later, I was woken up by a chorus of text message alerts. All my friends were writing to tell me I’d been nominated for a Grammy – for liner notes.
When Kinji Fukasaku was 15, the war his Japan had been waging suddenly ended in the detonation of an atomic bomb. The young Fukasaku, who had been working at an armaments factory – his time mostly spent cleaning up the corpses of his co-workers killed every day in Allied bombings – watched as his proud country collapsed into chaos and economic ruin. Years later, Fukasaku would translate those firsthand childhood experiences of Japan’s disintegration into a catalog of vibrant and blisteringly angry films that would make him that country’s most successful director.
Ten years ago, Roky Erickson’s legacy as one of rock n roll’s most tragic figures had already been written. Once regarded as a spectacularly gifted singer and one of psychedelic music’s founding fathers, Erickson had watched his career fall apart while locked in a maximum security prison for the criminally insane. He had eventually retreated to a housing project in South Austin where he kept multiple TVs and radios on at full volume to drown out the voices in his head. No one had heard from him in over a decade. His friends and fans had all given up hope. They assumed he would simply fade away.
Instead, Roky has shocked everyone with a recovery that’s nothing short of miraculous.
The greatest height the pop career of Townes Van Zandt ever reached was in 1982. Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard were working on a duet album together and they needed one more tune; at the last minute they decided to cover Van Zandt’s “Pancho and Lefty” and were so pleased with their recording they titled their album after it and made it the leading track. The song became a smash hit, resulting in something like financial security for the man who wrote it, America’s best-loved utterly unknown songwriter.
Be Here to Love Me, Margaret Brown’s haunting documentary on Van Zandt, includes some footage from the television program “Nashville Now” in which interviewer asks Van Zandt about Nelson and Haggard’s cover. Instead of expressing his gratitude towards the two country legends, Van Zandt mocks them.
The arrival of a Beard on an artist’s chin can be a crucial moment in that artist’s creative life. Though usually short-lived, a Beard can signal anything from a renewed creative commitment to the beginning of a long backslide to obscurity. Some beards, such as that sported by Leon Russell, command respect. Others, such as those dangling from the chins of indie-rock artists like Doug Martsch of Built to Spill, make the wearer look ludicrous. Eager to lodge our entry into the teeming popular discussion on beards and the rock musicians who love them (and the fans who tolerate them), we at Audiogalaxy have compiled for those interested in both rock and roll and beards this rough list of the major Rock Beard types.