YOUR UNRELIABLE CORRESPONDENT WRITES…
It’s been a while since I’ve written so I hope this finds you in rude health and distilled spirits…
I’m just about to depart New York for rehearsals and some groovy shows in Memphis and Nashville - not to mention playing again with Allen Toussaint at New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. So, I hope to see you all there in your finery. We would have also been playing the Tabernacle in Atlanta, had it not been temporarily put out of commission by tornado damage. I hope the old place gets well soon.
All of this is leading up our summer jaunt in the Big Top with the band we like to call “The Filth”…
Il Papa is coming town tomorrow and he and I obviously have an agreement to never play the same venue on the same day, so I understand that I must leave under cover of darkness to avoid the traffic chaos…
By now, some of you may have heard rumour of an album called “Momofuku” and wonder what this record is...
Well, the real version is pressed on two pieces of black plastic with a whole in the middle. You may prefer other, more portable, less scratchable, editions that will soon become available for your convenience but this is how it sounds the best: with a needle in a groove, the way the Supreme Being intended it to be…
The absence of much advance notice or information might seem a little strange and perverse but the record was made so quickly that I didn’t even tell myself about it for a couple weeks.
Ever since I hid ten copies of “30:10”, - solo home recordings of re-written songs - in the jewel boxes of the “Best Of” collection released in the Spring of ‘07 and then waited in vain for one of them to surface, I’d realized that it was time to do things differently…
I don’t think many people believed that “30:10” really existed but if anyone reading this has one in their possession, they had better claim their special prize right away because we will be posting the songs on this site very soon and the offer will expire…
So, what can I tell you about “Momofuku”?
Number One, on Page One of daft interview questions is, “Why is it called “Momofuku”?
Well, obviously the title is a tribute to Momofuku Ando, the inventor of the Cup Noodle. Like so many things in this world of wonders, all we had to do to make this record was add water.
Now, I understand that there is also a fancy eatery in New York City that has made the same connection with Ando-San. So, just in case anybody is inclined to mistake our record for something edible, we’ve added a disclaimer to the record jacket. I like saying, “record jacket” again.
This record actually came about because of an invitation I received from Jenny Lewis to sing on her upcoming record. Davey Faragher had been playing bass on some of the sessions, so it didn’t seem like too much of a stretch to call Pete Thomas to complete the Imposters’ rhythm section.
It was Jenny’s idea for Pete play alongside his daughter, Tennessee, who plays drums in The Like and the line-up was completed by Ms. Lewis’ beau, Johnathan Rice on guitar and vocals and their pal, “Farmer” Dave Scher on pedal steel and vocals with Jason Lader manning the controls.
So, I went down to Los Angeles for the day and we cut a couple of versions of a song Rice had written for Jenny’s record plus two songs of mine, one of which I wrote on the eve of the session. Some rock and roll music is better if you don’t think too hard on it.
In the absence of a full-time keyboard player, “Farmer” Dave and I split the organ duties, on an old Acetone. I especially liked the vocal harmonies that Jenny, Rice, Davey and “Farmer” Dave cooked up for “Drum & Bone”.
Ms. Lewis sang the entire harmony part of “Go Away” in the vocal booth with me, while the band played in the studio, lead by Rice’s guitar part and the drumming of Thomas, Peré et Fille. That was Take Two. Then we went home…
I’d been telling people that I was done with recording and believed it myself. This record date reminded me that it wasn’t making music in the studio that made me miserable but the nonsense that predictably follows in what we laughingly call the “music business”. So I decided to change it and my mind. That’s what I do.
We booked Sound City Studio in Van Nuys for six days of February and cut the eight new songs that I had written in the weeks following Jenny’s January session.
We also recorded “Song With Rose”, the lyrics of which I wrote with Rosanne Cash and “Pardon Me, Madam, My Name Is Eve” a title that was given to me by Loretta Lynn, while we were writing some songs together, late last year. I had first played these two songs an autumnal tour, opening up for Bob Dylan, although I think they sound a little different now.
I called Steve Nieve in from Paris and asked our friend, David Hildalgo to add little guitar to “Flutter & Wow”. He also played viola and then added Hildalguera to “My Three Sons”.
Tennessee Thomas played alongside her Dad for two more cuts, including “Stella Hurt” – which is a true story - but then she had to leave for the mixing of The Like’s great new album. Look out for that, sometime soon.
The Imposters and I recorded a number of songs as a quartet, including “American Gangster Time”, “Mr. Feathers” and “Pardon Me, Madam, My Name Is Eve” and “Harry Worth” which is not actually about the beloved English television funnyman but a true story nonetheless.
Jenny, Rice, “Farmer” Dave and their pal, the guitarist, Jonathan Wilson came back in for a couple more days and to add their voices to the new songs. We had a ball making up the parts for the vocal “supergroup” to which everyone contributed.
The live band for “Turpentine” and “Song For Rose” got up to nonet. That was a fine old noise.
For those who like to know these things, we recorded exclusively to tape, completing and mixing each song before moving on to the next. The entire record took a week to record and mix.
The music has been pressed on four sides of vinyl for volume and clarity although the album was originally sequenced with six tracks a-side.
Jason Lader not only recorded and mixed the record; he also managed to document the sessions with his camera.
Coco Shinomiya put these shots together in a gatefold sleeve design, so you have something to hold in your hands while listening to the music, especially if you don’t currently have a sweetheart or swell of your own.
Every record has its own method. This was the one for these songs.
This site is new. It no longer exclusively host UMe label imprints. It is also a work-in-progress but I wanted to get some words out there about “Momofuku”, as I will be playing a lot of shows this summer and my chances of appearing in the hallowed pages of your local “ Morning Bugle & Whippet Fancier” might be a little slim.
There will be new features appearing in the weeks to come and I hope you find something of interest among them. “Momofuku” is one of those records that I would rather be heard than read, but if you want to know the words to your favourite cut, you will find them on this site.
A complete lyrical database will be available shortly, along with facsimiles of original notebooks with rough drafts and deleted verses going back to 1977, unseen photographs, unheard recordings and a gallery dedicated to guitars for those who are interested in the hardware. You will also soon be able to purchase egg-timers, leg-warmers, lion-tamer’s hats and racy underwear featuring the likeness of singer of your choice.
I spent a week in Miami at the end of March. It was the first time that I had been in that city for more than a day or two. It’s quite the place.
Much of my time, through the summer and autumn of ’07, was taken up writing and orchestrating NIGHTSPOT, a collaboration with the choreographer, Twyla Tharp for the Miami City Ballet.
Now that the piece was in rehearsal, I finally got to hear, what had previously been going around in my head, played by real musicians.
The score calls for a ten-piece dance band, performing at the back of stage, while the dancers enter a swinging NIGHTSPOT. A modest-sized orchestra plays in the pit. They combine at times into one big ensemble while at other moments they play in dialogue.
When enquiring about songs, people often ask, “When comes first? Words or music?” I suppose a similar question might be asked about ballet music only with regard to movement and music.
Ms. Tharp’s method was to listen to a number of my existing songs and then ask me to write something new that departed from one or other station,
Although the writing doesn’t have a verse-chorus structure and music is played continuously, none of the individual cues are very much longer than the average song. Once I had some knowledge of Twyla’s intentions for the dance, I could proceed.
I made an early decision to make passing reference to some of those existing songs; a handful of changes here, a melody completely re-harmonized there or a background motif, brought to fore and fastened to an entirely new rhythm and melody.
Words and ideas attached these fleeting musical fragments plotted a line through the score while I was writing it, though it isn’t necessary for anyone in the audience to recognize or follow them in order to understand or enjoy NIGHTSPOT.
NIGHTSPOT portrays many forms of nightlife and a series of couples as they go through various temptations, flirtations, betrayals and transformations. There was plenty of opportunity for waltzes, a Spanish guitar ballad, some satirical striptease music, a little ragtime tune, a cockeyed tango or two and a show business hymn.
On three occasions in the score, I used processed loops to augment the on-stage rhythm section. This was the first time I’d employed this sound since the album, “When I Was Cruel”.
In fact the “dummy” name of one cue was actually “When I Was Cruel No.5”, as it was a more expansive version of the ideas contained in the song of that name, “No.2”.
There is no immediate plan to record the score in the studio but it is not entirely impossible to imagine a performance of the entire 38-minute work being recorded for DVD, some time in the future. That way you would be able take in the entire scene as it was intended.
The dancers of the Miami City Ballet are a wonder to behold at work. Even physical preparations that they undertake in order to begin to dance would kill a small stable of horses. I am no expert on dance technique but to my eye they gave a wonderful performance of the material.
The premiere was a fairly swish affair. People were dressed up to the nines and really raised the roof at end of the night.
The performance went without any obvious catastrophes” but even as you are taking your bow and accepting bouquets, the mind is bound to stray to changes that occur, now that the music been heard in the heat of battle.
I will make a number of small but crucial revisions in time for the Los Angeles performances in October 2008.
Miami City Ballet could not have been more gracious hosts but for most of the time I was in their city, there seemed to be a 700ft. motorbike approaching from several streets away. This turned out to be the low, dull rumble of an electronic music festival that was dominating the aural and social landscape.
I suspect that a few of the company left the post-show gala to dance the night away in an actual nightspot but I shall not pretend that I was among their number.
Brief headlines now because I hear the Popemobile approaching and I must depart…
So, I left Miami for Nashville.
Straight from the plane, I visited John Carter Cash at his studio that backs on to his father’s old writing cabin, which I visited while making “Almost Blue” in 1981. We recorded a couple of vocal harmony parts for the Loretta Lynn record that he is producing, including one for a song of mine.
On Monday morning, I was in Sound Emporium with my brother Henry Coward and an incredible group of musicians including, Jerry Douglas, Stuart Duncan, Mike Compton, Dennis Crouch and Jim Lauderdale.
We successfully recorded the more than 35 pieces of “Henry and Howard’s Last Entry Into Brussels” in three days and about which I’m sure you’ve already heard quite enough. The release of this soundtrack will be announced at this location in due course.
Returning to New York, I cut a song with Rosanne Cash and Kris Kristofferson, in which we each wrote a verse. Rose’s husband, John Leventhal played some beautiful guitar on the track and made the whole affair go like a dream.
I think we were all surprised that our voices fit together as they did. Perhaps we’ll form a supergroup; I hear they’re coming back. We could call it “C.C.K.”, as it sounds like an old Soviet republic.
For the last two weeks I’ve been in and out of Studio 8H at N.B.C., where have been taping the first editions of SPECTACLE, the interview and music show that is being made for Sundance Channel, C.T.V. and Channel Four in the U.K.
This was the scene of my previous finest broadcast hour in 1977, when I mistook the word “live” in the name “Saturday Night Live” for an instruction and switched my song while on the air. Needles to say, I was chased from the building for my sins with dire threats that I would never appear on American television again, ringing around my ears,
Obviously, this has not been the case. I’ve returned to SNL on a couple of occasions and even did a skit for the 25th Anniversary show in which I interrupted the Beastie Boys playing, “Sabotage”, only for them to hammer into “Radio Radio”, the song that I had substituted in ’77. You know what they say, “The old ones are the old ones”…
It is too early to say too much about “SPECTACLE” other than it has been a wonderful and surprising experience. There has obviously been a lot to learn in a very short time. On the face of it, I have an ideal face for radio. Still, I’m hoping that when all the pieces are put together, you will see a few intriguing conversations and hear some fine music.
I have found that people are most inspired when talking about the things they love rather than talking about themselves and repeating tales that they have told many times in the past.
I’m not pretending to be Johnny Carson or Sir David Frost but it isn’t so very hard to read a teleprompter and chew gum at the same time, so when we forget about the cameras and the lights for moment, the conversations can be quite surprising.
Our first three guests were Sir Elton John – who is also one of the executive producers and who talked almost exclusively about songwriters that he loved, such Laura Nyro – President Bill Clinton and Tony Bennett. They were all more than generous with their time and thoughtful and witty in their responses.
What I can be absolutely sure about is that we have had a big time playing the musical numbers that announce and conclude the shows. Any time I can share as stage with the Imposters and musical guests such as Allen Toussaint and James Burton, is fine by me.
It was a little more surprising to find myself singing a Hank Williams song in a line-up that consisted of Charlie Haden, Pat Metheny and James Burton, with Pat deferring to James to take the lead.
Charlie is making a terrific record with his daughters, Petra, Tanya and Rachel and, his son, Josh, continuing the tradition of the Haden Family Band. He was playing in his parent’s hillbilly band at the age of two, long before his work with Ornette Coleman, Hank Jones, Quartet West or Liberation Music Orchestra.
It seems he thought well enough of our SPECTACLE rendition of “You Win Again”, to ask me to sing it in the studio a couple of days later.
Last night, we opened up the last of these shows to be recorded in April with two Velvet Underground songs. The band comprised of Steve Nieve, Larry Campbell, Tony Garnier and the wonderful violinist, Jenny Scheinman playing my new arrangement of the song, “Femme Fatale”.
This preceded a soulful and often very funny talk with Lou Reed, who was joined in the latter stages by the artist and film director, Julian Schnabel. That conversation obviously centered on their friendship and collaboration - a recently filmed performance of Lou’s “Berlin” album - but also took in a little magic and considered some loss.
Lou and I closed out with two-piano accompanied version of “Perfect Day”, because it was.
More editions of SPECTACLE will be made later in the year and it will air on a channel near you in November.
I can’t always promise that I’ll write at this length on every occasion but I wanted to kick things off in style. I will check in during the coming weeks and months and be back with some news of records, people and places that you might care to know and hear...
If you want to know anything at all, don’t ask me.
Your Unreliable Correspondent Writes
YOUR UNRELIABLE CORRESPONDENT WRITES…