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Rock Against Racism Rises Again
(image) For those who came of age in the first blush of punk rock, before it was codified into a “sound,” the movement known as “Rock Against Racism” was a clarion call of the new aesthetic. Even as it coalesced into a series of concerts in London's East End, it sprang from a broader social movement that challenged and inspired bands to inject more political awareness into their sound. Nonetheless, it certainly was triggered by a musical event: Eric Clapton, during a 1976 show in Birmingham, launched into an anti-immigrant rant and endorsed U.K. ultra-nationalist Enoch Powell. It was the death knell, in a way, for any claim that classic rock had on the music's original rebellious spirit. Taking up the mantle, and filled with disgust at the entitlement that Clapton expressed, was a new guard of punks and activists.

In my teenage years, as all this was going down, Rock Against Racism was more abstract, but I knew it fomented some great compilation albums, featuring the likes of the Mekons, Elvis Costello, X-Ray Spex, the Specials, or, maybe my favorite at the time, the Stiff Little Fingers. It grew into a conceptual concert series that spanned multiple years and multiple genres, as the first wave of rebellion splintered into a thousand different styles.

For many years afterward, RAR seemed an artifact of its time, as politically subversive music ebbed away and the splintering of genres continued apace into the new century. But with the current climate of rabid nationalism and bigotry, epitomized by the resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan and other American “alt right” groups, emboldened by a bullying loudmouth who fulfills their most garish fantasies of authoritarianism, Rock Against Racism is relevant again.

Cue the indie Memphis rock scene, who will gather at the Hi Tone this Saturday to bring Rock Against Racism into the 21st Century. Making use of both stages at the venue, the gathering will bring together The Subteens, Pezz, The Gloryholes, Negro Terror, Arizona Akin & The Hoodrat Hyenas, who will donate all door proceeds to Bridges USA

The nonprofit's mission states: “In greater Memphis, young people’s day-to-day interactions and relationships are racially, ethnically, socially, economically and/or religiously segregated. These are huge divides that block collaboration, trust-building, mutual understanding and empathy. Our intensive training teaches not only respect for diversity and inclusion, but it also builds skills for the 21st Century like creativity, critical thinking, problem-solving, decision-making, effective citizenship and social responsibility.”

Such a radically inclusive vision is sorely needed today, according to co-organizer and Subteen member Mark Akin. “I work about a block from immigration court and have for the last seven years," he says. And all of a sudden, in the last three or four months, every day there are families of brown people, all dressed up and looking slightly anxious, making their way to immigration court, mostly Hispanic and Middle Eastern. The Subteens has never been a political band, ever. It's just never really been our thing. But it seems like now, you almost have to pick a side. Anybody that disagrees with what the current administration is doing has to stand up and say 'I disagree.' The luxury days are over now. The luxury of keeping your mouth shut and your head down doesn't exist anymore. Those of us with a conscience have a responsibility to do something. And this is something we can do. To donate the money to Bridges is a very useful endeavor.”

Pezz has long been on the more political side of the local hardcore scene. Negro Terror packs a political punch simply by virtue of being one of the few African American hardcore bands on the scene. Others, like the Subteens, simply want to rock and roll. But all are committing themselves to a larger vision of justice and inclusiveness. The original activists behind Rock Against Racism would surely approve, though Eric Clapton might still take some convincing.
Memphis, 2017
(image) Talking Musik with William Eggleston.

A large portrait of Bach hangs in William Eggleston's apartment; pivot to the left and you'll see stacks of oscilloscopes and other electronic modules, green waveforms pulsing; pivot again and you'll see his treasured Bösendorfer grand piano. Such disparate images capture both his love of music and the contradictions inherent in it. Of course, one must begin with the disconnect between his notoriety as one of the most compelling fine art photographers in the world and the fact that his latest project has nothing to do with photography at all — at least on the surface. His debut album, Musik, released last month on Numero Group's Secretly Canadian label, explores his other great passion, one that blossomed long before he had his first camera.

"I began playing classical music when I was about four," he explains, adding that "I have an ability to play anything I've heard." Indeed, he is completely self-taught. "We had a piano in the hallway of our home. Whenever I'd pass through, I'd stop and play something." Eventually, he deciphered musical notation, but his playing has always sprung from his ears more than his eyes. "People that are really good at sight reading, generally that's the only thing they're good at. Without the score, they can't play a damn thing. Sight-reading is not musicianship to me."

That's a rare opinion for a classical music fan. Yet Eggleston listens to practically nothing else. He remains disdainful of most rock music, from Elvis Presley to Alex Chilton (despite having been a close friend of the Chilton family). And he's even skeptical of jazz. This is especially paradoxical, as nearly all of Eggleston's own recorded output is entirely improvised. Nonetheless, its closest stylistic affinity is with the harmonies and cadences of orchestral classical music.

For an artist who resolutely uses only real film stock, it's ironic that his orchestral ambitions were made possible by modern digital synthesis. In the early 1990s, after a lifetime of playing piano, Eggleston discovered the Korg 01/W sampling keyboard, able to trigger hundreds of different orchestral sounds simultaneously with a split keyboard: cellos with the left hand, flutes with the right, and so on. His love for finely crafted machines, from guns to cameras, now extended to the Korg. "It's manufactured in Tokyo, but a hundred percent of it is a bunch of engineers in California," he notes admiringly. "It makes maybe a billion different sounds. When this model of Korg came out, I was so enchanted with the machine." In fact, he bought four of them. And as he began improvising symphonies on the spot, the machine would record his every move.

"The machine has a memory, but also it has a floppy disc drive. And once you cut the power off of the machine, the memory's erased. If you're lucky, you've made a disc from the memory, which sounds just like it did when played." Eggleston would improvise one orchestral piece after another, compiling many hours of music. His friends and family were the only listeners privy to these works, though readers of Robert Gordon's It Came from Memphis got a taste from that book's accompanying CD, which included an excerpt from the then-freshly recorded "Symphony #4, Bonnie Prince Charlie." (As Eggleston notes, "I'm very much interested in Robert Burns.") But after that initial exposure and a flurry of such spontaneous "compositions," Eggleston's recorded output tapered off.

"Now, this release that these people are doing was not my idea. I had nothing to do with it," he notes. "This fellow, Tom Lunt, is the main force behind [Numero Group's] productions. And he's been here a lot of times. All told, we went through something like 60 hours of music, all from floppy discs. I had tons of them." None of the music was recorded in a conventional sense. "They would say, 'Well, you must overdub.' No. It was just straight, accurate recordings of what was played." Each floppy disc was a snapshot of what he produced when sitting at the Korg.

The snapshot metaphor is apropos, given the artist's freewheeling approach to photography, whereby he riffs off images encountered in everyday life. This tactic is especially apparent in the film Stranded in Canton, edited down from many hours of unstaged video footage that Eggleston shot on the fly in the mid-'70s. He is quick to affirm the similarity between improvised music and what Henri Cartier-Bresson called the "decisive moment" to which a photographer must always be attuned.

But don't expect Eggleston to reprise his Musik in a live setting anytime soon. "I don't do public performances," he says. "I really play for myself and a select group of friends that might drop in. I'm delighted to play for them. Concerts, public performances — not interested. It wouldn't be difficult. I don't have any form of stage fright. So it wouldn't mean anything to me, except a career like that is just a hell of a lot of trouble."

First Fridays on Broad: Holiday Shopping Edition

First Fridays on Broad
Holiday Shopping Edition
Friday, December 1, 5-8pm
Broad Avenue Arts District

Come shop on Broad this Friday night.
Bingham & Broad will have new original art and wine and cheese.
Falling Into Place will have hidden gift cards you have to shop to find!
Merchants on Broad will have specials and treats.
City & State will have a pop-up by Boutonné, a line of handmade leather goods. Also BYOB to make a spiked coffee while you shop!
T Clifton Art will have a special exhibit of art glass for gifts!

Europa My Mirror: Quintron’s Tales From the Road

Quintron, arguably the best one-name performer since Prince or Cher, is no stranger to Memphis. Due to his indefatigable touring, he's actually acquainted with much of the world, but he has a special affinity with Memphis' indie spirit, typified by his organ work on albums by the Oblivions and his own releases on Goner Records.

And by "indie spirit," I don't mean "indie" in the generic alt-rock sense, but an imagination that follows its own muse, conventions be damned. One could guess as much by his unpredictable songs, his one-man-band approach, his self-made Drum Buddy (an analog rhythm machine), and the puppet shows staged by his colleague and partner, Miss Pussycat, during his performances.

Now, with Europa My Mirror, a book just released by Goner, he's also an author. Ostensibly a chronicle of Quintron's last European tour, it exudes the sweat and stink that all road-hog troubadours know well. Indeed, it should be required reading for any aspiring beat monkey bedazzled by the possibilities of a song, some gear, and a tank full of gas.

But Quintron takes it far beyond any swaggering account of leather-clad riff mongering, peppering his tale with philosophical asides, wry humor, and a sharp eye for character. His wide-ranging approach avoids pretentiousness by keeping it conversational. And therein lies the charm of Europa My Mirror.

The narrative is conversational but not rambling, clocking in at just over 100 pages, including amusing illustrations by Miss Pussycat.

"I like the idea of writing a book in public, the way you do a show, in real time," Quintron told me. Indeed, many fans first read these writings as posts on social media as the tour unfolded, and it's not for nothing that the last words of the book are "Sent from my iPhone." But Quintron does cop to a good bit of editing and rewriting. "It's mostly been tightened and expanded on from the original journals. It's just fleshed out, with the removal of some bad-habit Americanisms."

Unlike with many rock memoirs, there is plenty of bigger-picture stuff, as in his description of Terrier, a Madrid band he loved: "Like all great bands, the real power is in the musicians' eyes and body language, and of course, the tone of each sound, fitting together with the others to form perfect little air-puzzles."

Quintron is equally thoughtful about the cultures he samples. Considering the ubiquity of McDonald's, he notes that "Even the smallest European village might have a butcher shop. Unpasteurized handmade cheese is literally everywhere, and if you want fresh fish, you go to the fishmonger and not to the gas station freezer."

He and his sound guy go to a Golden Arches near Lisbon to study the local particulars by way of the familiar. It's part of the spirit of inquiry Quintron brings to being a stranger in a strange land. Even being refused entry into a "big gay disco" in Berlin can jump start his musings.

And this is where the "mirror" comes in. For though he revels in the alternative universe that Europe can offer, Quintron seizes the opportunity to reflect on our own cultural biases. "It really does serve as this sharp-focus mirror. You don't realize what it means to be an American or what America means when you're swimming in it, when you're drowning in it. But when you're removed and you're surrounded by something else, it comes into focus."

Ultimately, though, Quintron doesn't romanticize the Old World. "I don't know if I could truly be an expatriot," he says. "Maybe I'm wrong, but artistically I feel like I have to be close to the ground I came from to produce honestly. I don't know if I could move someplace else and have anything to say. But plenty of people did. I should try it. Maybe if things keep going down the toilet, we'll all try it."

The Hold Steady's New Single and "Massive Nights" in Brooklyn
(image) “Thanks for listenin', thanks for understandin'/Can't you see I'm feeling so abandoned,” sings Craig Finn on the newly-released single from the Hold Steady, “Entitlement Crew” b/w “Snake in the Shower.” Recorded this November in Brooklyn, NY, with producer Josh Kaufman, it's the first new music from the band in nearly four years, and the first studio recording to feature longtime keyboard player Franz Nicolay since 2008's Stay Positive
The Hold Steady exemplify strong Memphis-New York bonds that have connected the two burgs for some time, from Alex Chilton's “Bangkok” single to Jake Rabinbach's Brooklyn Hustle/Memphis Muscle, not to mention numerous creatives who continue to tack back and forth, such as guitarist Jake Vest, singer/songwriter Valerie June, and erstwhile Memphis Flyer contributor Eileen Townsend. In the case of the Hold Steady, guitar wunderkind (wunderdad?) Steve Selvidge is the Memphis linchpin, bringing his relish of solid riffage and his trademark venturesome leads to the band. Having joined six years ago, Selvidge has become an essential element of the Hold Steady's sound. Ostensibly brought in to fill the slot Nicolay vacated, Selvidge is clearly not going anywhere even with Nicolay back in the fold.

Though not officially released until tomorrow, the single is already available exclusively to members of the official Hold Steady fan community, The Unified Scene. Members who wish to download the single can do so by donating to The K+L Guardian Foundation, a fund set up to benefit the children of Unified Scene founder Mike Van Jura, who died in November 2012.

The single's release also corresponds with the band's four night residence at The Brooklyn Bowl, which kicked off last night. Dubbed “Massive Nights,” all four shows quickly sold out, a promising sign that we will continue to hear the Hold Steady, graced with Selvidge's talents, for some time to come. 
Work by Pam Cobb
(image) Work by Pam Cobb.

Pam Cobb's husband gave her a table saw for Christmas one year. He gave her a miter saw another year.

"I have this arsenal of tools you would not believe," Cobb says.

She goes to Home Depot and buys doors and drill bits, but she's not making home repairs. She's making art.

Work by Cobb, who is exhibiting her paintings and sculptures at Jay Etkin Gallery, is included in corporate commissions in offices, banks, and lobbies, including the Westin Memphis Beale Street, and in public art projects, including her UrbanArt Commission sculptures at Cordova Library.

A Memphis native, Cobb took art class in grade school. "All they did was give us a piece of manila paper, and we had some crumbly crayons. I mean, that was the extent of the art."

But she says, "I guess I realized early on that my pictures looked better than other people's."

Art was "just something I did with zero training."

Her father "was a carpenter. Not by trade. But he built a room on the back of our house. He built a carport, patio. And he didn't have power tools. He cut the joists with a handsaw."

Cobb helped. "I was handing him bricks when he was laying our patio. And I just figured that's what you did. You grew up with your father building things. I have always felt extremely comfortable around tools."

She met her husband when they were in college, where she was more interested in Alpha Gamma than acyclic oil. "I was sort of a proper sorority girl."

Cobb majored in English, so she could teach school and put her husband through law school.

She began teaching in Fayette County after they were married. She taught art after her principal saw her do a giant frieze of a snow scene on butcher paper for her classroom. Her principal and some teachers also had her do portraits of their children. After school, she would "stay up at night and paint."

Cobb began learning to paint from the owner of a Germantown art gallery after her husband graduated. She began showing and selling her work — and winning awards — at outdoor festivals around the country. "I was painting the obligatory wagon wheels and rustic things."

Her work became more semi-abstract after she joined the Germantown Art League, where she remained until she went back to school at Memphis State University and got her master's degree.

She sculpted and painted at MSU. "Most of it was fairly abstract, and most of it had to do with water."

Over the years, Cobb taught at MSU, Shelby State Community College, and she founded the art department at Christian Brothers University.

Her first of many Jay Etkin shows was in 1991.

She likes wooden doors. "I liked being able to mutilate the surface and dig into it and carve into it and everything. To this day, I paint on hollow-core doors that I get over at Home Depot. It's not like a solid wood door. The door is like $25, and you can get more than one painting out of a door."

She also did huge botanicals — like a painting of a geranium over gold leaf — and giant fruit.

Among the works in her new show are carvings made from 100-year-old wood. Most of the show is about "random vegetation. The carvings are about trees and water. Trees reflecting in the water, but you don't even really see that."

The show is "about the bayou. Out in the shallow areas around our little place at Pickwick, there's all this random vegetation, and it just pops up here and there and I love it."

Cobb found her mantra on TV. "My kids were watching The Jeffersons one morning in their pajamas in our den. I was walking through the den and George Jefferson said something that has stayed with me most of my life. He said, 'If you're not going to leave your mark on the world, why show up in the first place?' I have lived by that."

Her legacy? "I want them to know that I want to wring out everything that is in me. I never want to stop."

"Divisions" is on view through December 11th at Jay Etkin Gallery.

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