Boneyard Media

Archive for October, 2008

Song ID: Azra’s “Balkan” and Heinrich Heine

Monday, October 27th, 2008


The heart and soul of the Azra, one of Yugoslavia’s greatest bands, is one man, Branimir “Johnny” Stulic, and to me he personifies the old pan-Yugoslav spirit. This is a mythical notion, some may say, but I cling to it all the same. Before making records, Stulic had developed a reputation as a Zagreb street singer, which suited his knack for writing such seemingly well-traveled folk songs. And although he’s Croatian, I wouldn’t characterize Azra as a “Croatian” band. Their first single is called “Balkan,” after all, and includes phrases like “we are all gypsies” and “Balkan, be strong and stand tall.” The inspiration for his band’s name, on top of that, came from a Bosnian folk song called “Kraj tanana sadrvana,” which includes the line: “My name is El Muhamed from the tribe of the old Azra, that lose their lives for love and die when they kiss.”

But Stanislav, our resident Yu rock authority, recently threw me for a loop when he told me how he’d discovered that the line actually comes from German poet Heinrich Heine. In Heine’s “Der Asre,” the closing words, which the unknown Bosnian translator later spruced up, go like this: “I’m from the tribe of Azras in Yemen and we die for love.” Another little tidbit: the mulleted ’80s Bosnian pop band Crvena Jabuka (Red Apple, who I’m also a fan of) appropriated the words for their 1986 song “Sa tvojih usana.”

Azra – “Balkan” (live video c. 1987)

posted by Kim Simpson

Abandoned wonderland in Changping

Sunday, October 26th, 2008


In the middle of the hazy Chinese countryside about 40 km NW of Beijing stands this pretty creepy, never-finished amusement park. I’ve come to find out it was meant to be called “Wonderland” and was abandoned 12 years ago. The skeletal junior Neuschwanstein pictured here is imposing enough, but there’s much more to it than this mere sample. Really, it’s virtually impossible not to screech to a dead halt when the whole spread comes into view. Thanks to a contributor at the Urban Exploration Resource, you can browse through a photo gallery (scroll down and find “photo galleries”) culminating in a snapshot of a girl with a gun. There’s a so-bad-its-great movie plot in there somewhere.

Kendell Kardt – “Death of a Hobo” (1977)

Saturday, October 25th, 2008


This guitar/vocal gem comes from a tape of 3-4 songs Kendell made at Juicy John Pink’s, a club in DeKalb, Illinois which had an adjoining studio. Featuring guitar refrains taken from the old hymn “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” and lyrical references to “Oh Susannah,” this ode to the downtrodden’s got a vintage and stately aura.

Kendell Kardt – “Death of a Hobo”

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Song ID: Tomaz Pengov – “Danaja” (1973)

Thursday, October 23rd, 2008


posted by Stanislav

I translated Tomaz Pengov’s lyrics for “Danaja” from Slovenian into Serbo-Croatian and English.


Mirno je na tornju
pod krillima veceri cekanja
u svom jadu Danaja cuje
kada je vjetar prorocki poziva
u snu.

Ptice su tihe
i konji bjeze dolinom
vec ove noci ce biti kise pod svodom
strelica napinje luk
i harfe se cuje zvuk.

S jutrom braca
razgrcu slijepe i uspavane
nevidljivom toplinom sa strane
i malom kapljom na dlanu
koja hlapi.

* * *

It’s peaceful at the tower
on the evening wings waiting
in her misery Danaja can hear
the prophetic call of the wind
in her dream.

Birds are silent
and horses are fleeing the valley
there will be rain under the arch tonight
arrow strains the bow
and you can hear the harps.

With morning the brothers
uncover the blind and the sleepy
with the invisible heat on the side
and a small drop on a palm

Tomaz Pengov – “Danaja”

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Song ID: Bobby Fuller – “A New Shade of Blue” (1964)

Wednesday, October 22nd, 2008


Here on Bobby Fuller’s birthday, it’s important to remember that it’s his records, not his mysterious death, that give him his true American rock and roll superhero status. Four decades after we lost him, those records have lost none of their power to exhiliarate. Musically, his heart was always in the right place and he never waivered. One of my all-time BF favorites is an early version of “A New Shade of Blue,” which I first heard on the now out-of-print Shakedown compilation, a 1996 roundup of early singles and demos from 1961 through 1964. This version, as opposed to the Four’s later version on Del-Fi, is a real wonder and perfect in every way. It’s an echo-drenched heartbreaker featuring some of Bobby’s most convincing vocals (which is saying a lot where he’s concerned), delicate guitars and lyrics (written by his neighbor’s mom), and a bullseye bridge. The more familiar and readily-available Del-Fi version loses too much of that atmospheric echo, screws up the middle-eight’s flawless symmetry by knocking out a key minor chord and adding a measure at the end, and finds Bobby overdoing the lead vocal. Enjoy version one, then.

Bobby Fuller – “New Shade of Blue” (1964)

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Joe Boyd, White Bicycles: Making Music in the 1960s (2007)

Tuesday, October 21st, 2008


Tales of an eminence grise. If you carry a torch for ’60s British folk rock, like I do, you probably already revere Joe Boyd as the one who brought us Fairport Convention, the Incredible String Band, John Martyn, Vashti Bunyan and Nick Drake, among others. An American expat, his UK-based Witchseason Productions (he named it after Donovan’s “Season of the Witch,” with that line, “beatniks out to make it rich!”) hardly made a fortune with these artists at the time, but they’ve proven to have longevity like nobody’s business.

Nick Drake, for one, may as well be approached as a present day artist, so all-pervasive is his influence. The embodiment of obscurity at the time of his death in 1974, his cult grew slowly and steadily until the late ’90s, when his aching and solitary music broke, in a typically polluted contemporary manner, via a VW ad. Fairport, of course, were cult sequoias by the early ’70s, while the ISB and Bunyan have been enjoying a recent spate of neo-folk adulation.

All of this recent interest likely prompted Boyd to write White Bicycles: Making Music in the 1960s, and I’m glad he did. It’s got a similar vibe to the recent Dylan memoir in that it contains no re-imagined dialogue and takes us through a compressed tornado of names and vivid verbal snapshots. And you might not expect this, but it covers some of the same territory as Dylan’s. As a young Harvard enrollee with an obsession for vintage jazz and blues, he became intimately familiar with the early ’60s Village folk scene. And before setting up shop in the UK by mid-decade, he worked as a tour manager for (and protégé of) promoter George Wein.

This enabled Boyd to assemble European package tours including the likes of Muddy Waters, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Rev. Gary Davis, Coleman Hawkins, and Roland Kirk. The job also gave him backstage passes to the influential Newport festivals. These are especially disarming sections—his first-hand descriptions of the iconic folk and blues musicians he worked with will glue your eyeballs to the page (Davis was an “alarming looking man” who fellow musicians like Tharpe hadn’t seen the likes of—and would rather not have—for decades. Davis wins her over in the end).

And I’d go so far as to say that Boyd’s recounting of the famous electric Dylan incident at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival is the most poignant, heart-heavy account I’ve ever read. Here’s how he describes the backstage atmosphere post-Dylan: “The old guard hung their heads in defeat while the young, far from being triumphant, were chastened . . . The rebels were like children who had been looking for something to break and realized, as they looked at the pieces, what a beautiful thing it had been.” There was “no point wondering whether it was for the better,” writes Boyd, one of those rebels. “All we could do was to ride its ramifications into the future.”

For Boyd, the next phase of this future was the UFO club in psychedelic-era London, where he, as one of the co-owners, booked formative gigs for Pink Floyd as well as Tomorrow (“love at first sight between them and [the UFO] audience”), Denny Laine and the Electric String Quartet (Laine “never got the recognition he deserved”), and one of his favorites, the Move (“a phenomenon few Americans had the privilege of seeing”). Mick Farren’s Deviants, whose music Boyd hated, could only squeeze a single gig out of him as a token of thanks for their help around the club.

By the time he moved on to managing and producing British folk rock, the psychedelic connection proved to be a magic ingredient for him in a country that seemed to disdain its own folk music. The Incredible String Band, on the strength of their 5,000 Spirits or the Layers of the Onion album, with its mind-swirling cover art and border-free approaches to acoustic music, became one of Boyd’s most reliable, top-drawing outfits. So entrenched in their times were the ISB, though, that they were doomed to being “terminally unhip” and remain an acquired taste.

But their influence has never really stopped simmering below the surface—those first four albums were just too adventurous and good. And for fans like me (I joined the cult after buying a cutout bin copy of Relics of the ISB at Musicland in the mid-’80s—never made any converts, alas), the opportunity to read extended inside info about them is a true pleasure. I know now that it was Scientology that killed the ISB. Boyd considers among his deepest regrets the fact that he’d left them at a restaurant with a friend of his who promptly converted them after Boyd left. I believe what he says, too, because their albums really did get dull (post-Wee Tam and the Big Huge) right about the time they started sipping the Hubbard hooch.

Boyd’s reminiscences of Nick Drake will also draw in more than a few readers, although most of these will be already familiar with the Fruit Tree liner notes, and the info he gives us in White Bicycles don’t add terribly much to those. It is a bit fascinating, though, to read his memories and musings on Drake at a time when he has effectively outsold all of the other Witchseason artists, and also to read his thoughts about the Drake-effect on indie folk: “I have listened to more than one man’s fair share of anglophone singer-songwriters … Few bear comparison to Nick’s form, much less his essence. The only ones who even slightly reminded me of Nick turned out to be unaware of him.”

Boyd’s 1960s end around the mid-’70s, when he’d relocated to LA to run the music depatment at Warner Bros Films and buried himself in making Jimi Hendrix, the first full-scale retrospective of the late guitar god’s life. By this time, at the end of White Bicycles, you do get the sense that Boyd’s got an extraordinary knack for foresight, even though his successes may not have followed any of the shorter-term courses he thought they might.

Be warned that the book can get pretty shop-talky and was probably intended for his music biz colleagues. This being the case, the names and business details and references whiz by pretty fast and may give you whiplash. But it’s very much worth it. Rumor has it that Boyd will be writing about the world music revolution next, and as the helmsman for Hannibal records throughout the ’80s, he’s the right man to tell that tale. Maybe by the time it’s out, Trio Bulgarka will have scored a VW ad of their own.

Free Sound Records (Fu Sheng Chang Pian)

Wednesday, October 15th, 2008


Got back from Beijing late Monday and when the wheels touched ground I heard Chuck Berry in my head right on cue (“oh well, oh well, I feel so good today…”). In truth, though, I would have gladly spent another few months.

So here’s the deal with record shopping in that enormous city – it ain’t easy because you can count the only worthwhile shops on one hand. If you’re looking for good, homegrown Chinese yaogun (rock), then, I’d recommend blowing all your RMB at Free Sound Records. It’s on the southeast corner of the Ping’anli intersection right there by the “guitar street” (where, if you’re like me, you’ll salivate over all the pipas, guzhengs, and erhus). Anyway, it’s a little nook but it’s got everything worth a Mandarin hoot. I went looking mostly for Xiao He, Wild Children, and other folk rock stuff, but came back not only with all that but also a whole sackful of other goodies from Cui Jian to Carsick Cars. The staff (two people) is beyond helpful, and I’ll always be grateful to them for not letting me leave without the full discography of Zhou Yunpeng, who I’m ready to start a fan club for.

(Fu Sheng Chang Pian, XiCheng District, Di An Men Xi Da Jie, No. 40 SE corner of Ping’anli intersection, 6613-6182. Again, that’s where Xinjiekou – “guitar street” – intersects with the intersection called Ping’anli. Ah, this feels so travel writer-ish.)