Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Bedroom Hermeticism

The other day the mail brought a copy of the FELT fanzine/book FOXTROT ECHO LIMA TANGO, roughly 160 pages of interviews, thoughts and reflections on the band FELT.  It's exciting to have and for the most part well done. The two long interviews with Lawrence and the piece by Phil King are particularly illuminating and enjoyable. 


The book happily led me to spend the rest of the day reading and listening to FELT.  While I read I started to note the many references to other bands and songs throughout the fanzine and decided a compilation of some of these references might make a nice mix to accompany the book. And so I give you Bedroom Hermeticism  (<-psst click to download!)


Below is a piece I wrote on FELT back in the early part of this century at the now defunct Tangents website. Following that is an annotated track listing for Bedroom Hermeticism.


FELT- FLY INTO THE MYSTERY


It's always been easy for me to daydream about Felt.  For Lawrence, I think quite deliberately, left plenty of room for mystery.  Even today with the easy access to information provided by the Internet, doing a search on Lawrence/Felt brings up next to nothing; one forlorn web site with mostly outdated links.  Its both frustrating and enticing, I'd like to know more, but the dearth of facts ends up fueling my imagination, forcing it to fill in the blanks from the scraps accumulated only through extensive searching and collecting. And these small bits of information seem all the more precious for the effort expended in their collection and all the questions they leave unanswered.


It was so strange coming across these records in my teens in Houston, Texas and having absolutely no idea what the hell this was or where it fit in with anything.  I didn't really know anybody else who listened to Felt and certainly no one that knew anything about who they were.  But I was immediately intrigued, the covers alone captured my imagination completely before I even had heard the music. 




Those sparse photographs, the artful moody graphics of their albums and singles.  The summer hat, Spanish afternoon of the Ballad of the Band sleeve…  The pretty boy half portrait of Forever Breathes the Lonely Word…. The attic room with felt spray painted in black and the band in front of a Clockwork Orange poster…. The cardigan, droogish black gloves and snake like belt of Let the snakes crinkle their heads to death, all wonderfully evocative and mysterious images.  Images that seemed to point to another world, narcissistic, somewhat threatening, a little creepy even, but alluring like the imagination of a child.


The music evoked staring in the mirror for hours not so much out of admiration of your appearance but in anticipation or in hope of your features beginning to morph or a landscape slowly revealing itself, another world inside the mirror.  Waiting for a vision to unfold, but its always just up to the edge of almost, just an inkling of something maybe about to happen, Felt's music and packaging implies so much, it captures the excitement and confusion of the first moments of implications just forming.  Or those moments awaking from dreams when you know something important was revealed but can not be completely or coherently recalled, and so your left with the aftertaste of paradise lost. 




The early albums sound all of far away pounding drums, slow melodic guitar lines, and whispered vocals.  Cobweb of sounds; smoke filled mirrors, mythic and ancient.  A little later the buried pop elements came more to the fore, the picture gaining more focus, with records like Strange Idol Patterns and singles like Penelope Tree and Sunlight Bathed the Golden Glow.  A little more light was let in the room, just a little, still soft as through lace curtains. 

This, I think, is my favorite period of Felt, before Martin Duffy's at times overbearing organ entered the picture.  But not always, depends on the day, I love them all and at certain times Forever Breathes and Pictorial Jackson are my favorites.  Though the two Duffy era records where the balance feels just right are the instrumental Let the Snakes and the Mayo Thompson produced Poem of the River.




Felt's music soothes me like no other.  The sound is like wrapping myself in a warm blanket, the feeling of falling asleep in the afternoon and sensing others on the outside, voices audible yet unintelligible, going about their day.  It's that twilight space between consciousness and the first stages of sleep when you're brain waves are switching from alpha to theta.  Strange thoughts and mixed up memories fade in and out, leaps of associations, the strangeness of commonplace words suddenly sounding foreign and immaculate that's the space Felt's music occupies. Like the aural equivalent of old black and white still photos of people long dead and places no that no longer exist, there's a haunted quality there, of empty dusty rooms abandoned or shut off from the world by their occupant, Satie's broken piano plays in an empty room.  It's a hermetic quality.


 

Daydreams of Lawrence constructing his musical missives in his own bedroom surrounded by first editions of Kerouac and Corso. Symbolist and Surrealist poetry on the bookshelf, perfect pictures of the Velvets and the Factory crowd, the best records of Patti Smith, Television, and Richard Hell on the hi fi and fantasies in his head of the streets of New York in the mid 1960's and Paris in the 1920's.  Everything idealized, posed for perfection yet tempered by the melancholy foreknowledge that the root is ultimately flawed, but that there's beauty there too, beauty in decay and imperfection.

Lawrence envisioned an idealized America, the rarified essence, the mystique of America, exotic and enticing, as can only be dreamed by one outside its borders.  Filtering out all that's garish, leaving only the beatific.  Most of his idealized American heroes in turn created themselves out of images plundered from the literature and cinema of Europe, Cocteau, Genet, the French New Wave, the Symbolists, the tortured poetry of Rimbaud and Baudelaire, or perhaps more importantly their perceived style.  Picasso's sketch of Rimbaud, pristine and powerful, young and beautiful, hair astray, eyes on fire.  So a feedback loop is created between continents, roping back round and continuing to refuel itself, as surely Felt's universe continues to influence the best bands of today.

I can stare at those covers and listen to those records all day long and well into the wee small hours.  They create a universe all of their own.  The product of the mind of one bedroom obsessive sent forth for all the other bedroom obsessives of the world, a point of entry into a streamlined snapshot world, soft as lace. The outline is all there, with just a few brushstrokes, simple, subtle and perfect.    2002 



1. Old Angel Midnight excerpt 1- To really get what Kerouac was doing with prose you have to hear him read his stuff, once you've listened long enough, you can hear his voice in your head, hear the rhythms as he would read them.

2. The World Is As Soft As Lace- Perennial Felt classic from their second record "the Splendour of Fear".  Lawrence lets the proverbial cat out of the bag early on with  "You know my visions they're absurd, and all my great plans get blurred, by the softest touch, the gentlest word"

3. The Sun Shines Here- Felt played some shows with Hurrah! after their conversion to leather clad major label act, but this is their first single from 1982 which has some definite albeit coincidental similarities to Felt.

4. Those Eyes, That Mouth- Cocteau Twins from their 1986 EP "Love's Easy Tears". Lawrence in a 1985 interview in the book mentions his affinity for Liz Frazier.  Their collaboration "Primitive Painters" is probably the most widely known Felt song.  However, the Robin Guthrie produced "Ignite the Seven Cannons" is widely regarded as Felt's worst record due to the band losing much of its identity and sound to his 4AD style production. 

5. There Must Be a Better Life- Biff Bang Pow was Creation Records label founder Alan McGee's band. Creation was Felt's home for the second half of the 1980's.  And Phil King of the Servants played in both Felt and Biff Bang Pow at various times.

6. Don't Make Promises.  The great Tim Hardin from my vinyl copy of his first Verve album Tim Hardin I.  In one of the pieces in the book someone mentions records that Lawrence had by his turntable and they include Tim Hardin, Tim Buckley, Nick Drake and Scott Walker.

7. Days- From Television's under appreciated second album "Adventure".  Television is usually cited by Lawrence as his main inspiration for Felt, not to mention the origin of the band's name, and this track is where the connection seems the most obvious to me.

8. Plain Sailing- Lawrence mentions knowing and liking Tracey Thorn in the 1985 interview while discussing the topics of girls.  They were label mates in the early 80's at Cherry Red records.

9. Stained Glass Windows in the Sky- A personal favorite from the Mayo Thompson produced "Poem of the River".

10 Old Angel Midnight excerpt 2- More Jack! The three albums of him reading both with and without musical accompaniment are available as a 3 disc box set through Rhino.  If you're a fan its well worth picking up.  One of the beautiful things about listening to him reading his stuff is the joy you can hear in his voice as he reads (and the sadness) and how sometimes you can hear him chuckle at something he wrote that he's found amusing or surprising. The humor of the beat writers is too often overlooked.

11. The Sun, A Small Star-  The Servants have many ties with Felt, most noteworthy is the fact that two of their members, Phil King and John Mohan both played in Felt at different times. The Servants also played shows with Felt.  They have one compilation album, it might now be out of print, but its worth having, their sound falls somewhere between Felt and the Go-Betweens.  Phil King contributes one of the more enjoyable pieces in Foxtrot Echo Lima Tango, a kind of gossipy teen mag piece about his association with Felt that includes many mentions of other indie bands of the time.  Lawrence liked his hair.

12. All Day Long- The Shop Assistants made tightly wound propulsive pop, that's over way before it wears out its welcome.  This song is mentioned in one piece in the book, in relation to a show in which the Shop Assistants and Felt opened for the Jesus and Mary Chain.

13. Holiday Hymn- Vic Godard (Subway Sect) was a key inspiration to Lawrence and he cites this song in a 1985 interview as one of his favorites of the year.

14. Creatures of Love- Talking Heads- In the same interview Lawrence also singles this song out as his favorite song on the Talking Heads "Little Creatures" album which he considered a return to form, being a fan only of their first album.  Reading between the lines its easy to figure that Lawrence didn't care for their more experimental Afro-Pop excursions.

15. Falling and Laughing- In another interview Lawrence reminisces about buying Orange Juice's first single and knowing he would like their sound because he liked the cover graphics and again, their hair.  

16. Spirit of A Vampyre- I believe its the Phil King piece where he mentions talking to Robert Forster in a pub and telling him that Felt's next album was to be called Electric Trains (what became, "Train Above the City") which he felt influenced the lyric in this song on the Go-Betweens next album, specifically the chorus which goes "the electric train of soft cylinder parts".  On a side note Felt played shows with the Go-Betweens, one is mentioned specifically where the bill was Felt, the Smiths and the Go-Betweens!  A nice night.

17. Ludd Gang- Perhaps surprisingly Mark E. Smith was an early supporter of Felt, and had them open for the Fall on a number of occasions in the early 80's.  "Ludd Gang" is the b-side to "The Man Whose Head Expanded" from 1983.  Otherwise its here just cause I like it (especially the hook "carve a hole in the rain for ya") and because "Kicker Conspiracy" was too long to include.

18. Old Angel Midnight excerpt 3- tongue twisting prose/poetry

19. My Face Is On Fire- Apparently a favorite in Spain or was it France? This was Felt's contribution to the Cherry Red's compilation "Pillows and Prayers".  It was between this and the very similar "Trails of Color Dissolve".

20. Upside Down-  the Jesus and Mary Chain, Felt supported them at some of their early shows.  Lawrence mentions in a later interview from the 90's how its time for this song to be reevaluated or reconsidered or something to that effect.

21. Incense and Peppermints- In the lengthy 1985 interview Lawrence mentions this single by Brix Smith's Adult Net as another of his favorites of the year.

22. Jean's Not Happening-The Pale Fountains- A contemporary of Felt's, based on several mentions through out the book its clear the two bands shared a mutual admiration.

23. All Fall Down- Again in the 85 interview Lawrence praises Primal Scream's first (vocally challenged) single as a favorite.  Perhaps the least said the better. 

24. She's Always Hiding- One more by the Servants, their presence is heavy enough throughout the book to rate two entries here.  Phil King mentions that Creation almost put this one out.

25. Propinquity- In the more recent interview with Lawrence he mentions how high he rates Mike Nesmith's solo work in the 70's (though not the Monkees).  This track was rerecorded by Nesmith on one of his solo albums but the version here is the demo he did while still in the Monkees, which I prefer.  Nesmith's solo stuff is definitely worth checking out and I love the Monkees as well.  The title of this one, propinquity (look it up), one could imagine as an early Felt song title.

26. Mexican Bandits- Great title, great instrumental.  Back in high school I had the Cherry Red cd that combined "Crumbling the Antiseptic Beauty" and "the Splendour of Fear" and it got  a lot play, along with a tape of the compilation "Goldmine Trash".  Both of these conjure up memories of times spent with my friends at the Menil Collection and the Rothko Chapel in Houston.

27. Old Angel Midnight excerpt 4- "Coyote won't hear you but you'll ward of the inexistencey devils"

28. Be Still- Felt's one released cover song was this Dennis Wilson gem from the underrated "Friends".

29. Little Bit of Rain- In one funny rather monosyllabic radio interview with "the" Felt transcribed in the book, the one person they express unqualified love for is Fred Neil.  Amazing voice, great writer. 




30. Is There A Beat Generation?- To quote Corso "four or five people does not a generation make."

31. The Fenway- Again in the 1985 interview (its my favorite okay) Lawrence says he's a fan of Jonathan Richman but that he hesitates to admit it because most people don't understand or get him, thinking his stuff is all a joke, or something to laugh at.  JoJo is not without humor but his real talent is his fearlessness in expressing himself truthfully without fear of embarrassment, much like Kerouac in that respect.  


http://www.mediafire.com/?50dhaindhm08zb4

4 comments:

  1. Very well written! I have to go give them a listen now...

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  2. brilliant to be reminded about this again William. Lovely piece. It is of course still preserved in amber at http://www.tangents.co.uk/tangents/main/2002/october/felt.html

    The mix track-listing is superb, as always :)

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  3. Thanks Bob and thanks Alistair! Good to hear from you both. By the way the mix is downloadable just click on the red lettered Bedroom Hermeticism. Any readers are encouraged to check out Tangents and Alistair's blog(s). Tangents was without a doubt my favorite site/publication to write for and where I wrote most regularly. Lots of interesting writers were featured.

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  4. Many thanks for that - great read and a great mix of songs!

    I remember Lawrence having a very early, pulp edition of Burroughs' "Junkie" in his front room. I was very jealous ;-)

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