I watched Laurie Anderson’s Norton Lecture yesterday — the second in a series of six. She spoke on perception and memory, regular topics in Anderson’s oeuvre, and pushed the limits of a ‘Zoom lecture’ through shifting virtual spaces. At one point she became a creepy deep-fake John Cage. And, at another moment, she played the end of the concert clip above. That’s from the 1986 film Home of the Brave. There’s a trio of great artsy ’80s concert movies: Stop Making Sense, of course, but also Tom Waits’ Big Time and Home of the Brave. The first on that list is, of course, widely available. The second was missing until a couple of months ago when it unceremoniously appeared on Amazon Prime. Home of the Brave is sadly missing in action, only available in full via an illicit YouTube upload. I’d love someone like Criterion (who was involved with Anderson’s 2015 film Heart of a Dog) to step up to the plate and give a proper digital release of this gem.
Not Good Enough for Vinyl
Tom Waits – Big Time → Tom Waits’ Frank’s Wild Years is a longtime favorite album of mine.1That album followed Waits’ Swordfishtrombones and Rain Dogs, completing one of the great album trios in recorded music. In 1988, a concert film from this album’s tour was released, titled Big Time. The movie is beautiful, and the performances of the songs are creative and mischievous. It’s as good as Stop Making Sense, in my opinion (that Talking Heads concert film was probably an influence on Big Time). Big Time has been missing all these years, only available via used DVDs and extremely low quality torrented files. But! Without fanfare, Big Time suddenly appeared to stream on Amazon Prime Video at the beginning of the month. Watch it. (Side note: fingers crossed Laurie Anderson’s digitally unavailable Home of the Brave follows soon.)
ECHO: The Music of Harold Budd and Brian Eno → ECHO is billed as a YouTube documentary about the early ’80s collaborative relationship of Brian Eno and Harold Budd. In actuality, it’s a mix of music from their classic albums The Plateaux of Mirror (1980) and The Pearl (1984), accompanied by snippets and quotes from interviews. The visuals are suitably ambient — dreamy pastures, scrolling snow-fields, and misty cityscapes. The video does have some interesting bits, including Eno pointing out various ‘treatments’ and even identifying tools like the Lexicon Prime Time delay. Despite the occasional commentary, the 40-minute film ends up as soothing and hypnotic as the subject albums. Hat tip to Sasha Frere-Jones, who listed this today in his always illuminating email newsletter.
Rimarimba – Below The Horizon → I recorded my first ‘album’ in the ‘80s, and it was cassette-only. I was a part of the self-released cassette movement (as documented in the book Cassette Mythos), even having my ‘albums’ reviewed in a few ‘zines. I still remember a friend of mine, also active in the cassette underground, telling me one day: “I know why all this music is released on cassette. Because it’s not good enough for vinyl.” Ouch.
There might have been a little hard truth in that. I mean, just revealing that I recorded some cassette albums in the ‘80s has me a bit nervous, because I would hate the fine folks at RVNG Intl. or their Freedom To Spend side-imprint track down these cassettes and offer to release them. Because they really weren’t ready for vinyl. In retrospect, they were quaint but kind of terrible (btw – Ira Glass is right). But that’s not the case with Rimarimba, an artist who I’d not heard of until today and who seems to have once existed on the edges of the ‘80s cassette underground.
That said, Below The Horizon might not count — according to Discogs — as it was released on cassette in 1983 but made its way to rare-ish vinyl in 1985. And, this time, it is good enough for vinyl. What’s not to like? The first couple of tracks sound like Penguin Cafe Orchestra playing the last 30 seconds of Faust’s “The Sad Skinhead.” If that doesn’t sound wonderful to you, then … still give it a try. And then this final track, titled “Bebang,” is 20+ minutes of layered, ringing guitar loops and riffs, a fanciful, improvised toy synthesizer line, and a subtle tick-tock rhythm that helps the song’s time pass in an instant.