You know how you were just scrolling and said, "Hang on, did I just see a post of Robert Heinlein, Ray Bradbury, Frederik Pohl, Philip K. Dick, Ursula Le Guin, and Neil Gaiman all with cats?"
Vintage Photos of Ladies with Bird Hats - credit - Vintage Everyday
Contort yourself! The mutant disco mayhem of New York’s Ze Records
Disgusted with Britain’s ‘cruel’ aristocracy, Michael Zilkha left to champion a generation of party-starting punk-funk bands. As he returns as a book publisher, he remembers that wild scene
John Peel once said that Ze Records was “the best independent label in the world”. The Face magazine called it the “world’s most fashionable”. Between 1978 and 1984, the New York record company’s incredible roster included Kid Creole and the Coconuts, Lydia Lunch, Was (Not Was), Lizzy Mercier Descloux, James Chance and Suicide, who were mostly rather extreme characters.
“It felt more like a repertory company than a record label,” says the co-founder Michael Zilkha. “We’d have these crazy showcases, with everyone except Lydia, who was outside picketing because she felt I hadn’t given her enough tour support.”
‘I wanted to start again in an immigrant city’ … Michael Zilkha in 1981. Photograph: Michael Putland/Getty Images
Four decades on, Ze is back, but as a book publisher. The idea was triggered in January 2017, when Zilkha was visited by an old friend, Glenn O’Brien, who had cancer. O’Brien was a staunch Ze champion when he edited Andy Warhol’s Interview magazine in the late 70s, and in 2000 worked with Zilkha on Downtown 81, a film featuring the artist Jean-Michel Basquiat and several Ze acts.
“Glenn was down here having treatment,” says Zilkha, 68, on a video call from Houston, Texas. “We were sitting in my garden and he said: ‘Michael. Do you think I’m a good writer?’ I told him he was a great writer – I loved his writings on Basquiat, Patti Smith and Trump. But he’d never been a part of the literary establishment, so I knew what he was asking.”
O’Brien died a few weeks later, by which time Zilkha had promised his friend that he would publish a volume of his writing. In 2019, Intelligence for Dummies: Essays and Other Collected Writings became the first Ze book. “I told him that he would be properly recognised and I’d get it reviewed in the New York Review of Books, which it was.” Now, Zilkha is launching Ze’s backlist in the UK alongside two books: the former Life magazine photographer Bud Lee’s powerful 1967 Newark riots monograph The War is Here; and Adele Bertei’s Twist: An American Girl. This extraordinary memoir details her troubled path to forming the first gay all-girl band, the Bloods, and playing in early Ze signing James Chance and the Contortions.
40 years of Japanese rockers Shonen Knife: ‘Nirvana looked wild – I was so scared!’
With songs about jellybeans and feline transformations, the Osaka band brought joy and fun to a serious punk-rock scene. After decades of cult hits, frontwoman Naoko Yamano explains why she wants to end up the world’s oldest rock star
Fri 3 Dec 2021
Very few rock bands make it to 40 years. And for Shonen Knife, this landmark seems all the more unlikely – there haven’t been many all-women rock bands from Japan who turned their obsession with junk food, cute animals and Ramones into an international career.
Their breakthrough came with 1992’s Let’s Knife, released in Britain by Creation Records shortly after a career-changing tour with Nirvana. It was a punk album like no other, featuring lyrical observations on the envy frontwoman Naoko Yamano felt for exotic American girls with blond hair and blue eyes, alongside pontification on life’s more frivolous joys: eating jellybeans, riding a bicycle, fishing for black bass, and – rather less relatably – becoming a cat and growing whiskers.
“I was too embarrassed to write songs about love,” says Naoko, 60, as we sit in the Tokyo office of Shonen Knife’s Japanese record label to reflect on the past 40 years. “Instead, I wanted to write about the topics that were important to me, like sweets and delicious food, or cute animals. I’m not really a very deep thinker, so I just want to write music that will make people feel happy.”
Shonen Knife formed in 1981 when Naoko and her schoolfriend Michie Nakatani cemented their love for the Beatles, the Jam and Ramones into something of their own. With Naoko on guitar and Nakatani on bass, they enlisted Naoko’s younger sister, Atsuko, on drums.
The trio entered a tiny room at the Rock Inn rehearsal studio in Osaka for the first time on 29 December 1981. “It felt good to hear the guitar and bass coming through the amplifiers, and the loud drum sound,” recalls Naoko of that first rehearsal, where they played covers of songs by British punk and pop bands such as Delta 5, Buzzcocks and Mo-dettes. Then, in March 1982, they played their first gig at a small Osaka venue, where young Atsuko became so overpowered by nerves that she broke out in a rash.
Among the seven or eight songs they played that night was Parallel Woman, the first song Naoko ever wrote. Later released on their 1983 album Burning Farm, Parallel Woman set the template for Shonen Knife’s approach to songwriting, with detailed observational lyrics about Naoko’s experience of working in a factory while dreaming of revealing her true identity as a rock’n’roll superheroine – the mundane writ fantastic. In a punk scene where bands snarled lyrics about class war, drugs, sex and violence, Naoko and Nakatani wrote songs that were overwhelmingly positive, innocent and fun, making their music all the more disarming.
When Richard Pryor Sang The Blues
Best known for his comedy, Richard Pryor performed a moving blues standard on TV in the 1960s.
While these days Richard Pryor is known for his many outrageous comedy antics, he was a lot less controversial in the early 1960s and often appeared on TV variety shows.
During 1966 Richard worked as a writer and regular performer on The Kraft Summer Music Hall, a music and comedy variety show which ran as a spinoff from the long running Kraft Music Hall. Of the eleven summer episodes, Richard appeared in five.
On August 8 1966, the show featured standup comedy routines by Richard and ends with him joining the cast to sing a medley about rivers. The episode isn’t available online, but Vulture previously wrote about it in detail, noting, “Based on his enthusiasm I can’t tell if he was forced to do it or if he requested it. Either way, hearing Richard Pryor sing was the last thing I expected from the Kraft Music Hour.”
Although it was unexpected, he did perform at least one other song, and that has thankfully been shared on YouTube.
In the episode from August 1, host John Davidson introduces him as follows:
There’s a funny thing about show business. Many times singers want to be actors or serious actors just dying to be comics, you know to say a funny line. And sometimes comedians want to sing. Now take Richard Pryor for example. He’s been a guest many times on the show and he’s always a clown, right? We all know him for being a clown. But we found out that Richard's secret desire is to be a singer, is to sing. Well there’s no secret anymore because here is another one of the many talents of Richard Pryor.
Following a burst of applause, Richard appears on stage clicking his fingers along to a double bass and sings Nobody Wants You When You’re Down and Out.
Nobody Wants You When You’re Down and Out was written in 1923 by pianist Jimmie Cox and made famous by Bessie Smith after she released her own rendition in 1929.
Later Nina Simone took it to the charts in 1960, and Richard Pryor may have learnt the song from her as he opened for Nina in the early 60s as he started his comedy career.
In his autobiography Pryor Convictions, and Other Life Sentences, Richard wrote about possibly his first appearance on stage at the start of the 60s. After telling a club owner he could sing and play piano, Richard was hired. The problem was he barely knew four chords, as he wrote:
“For my nightclub debut, I sat at the piano and improvised using the three or four chords I knew. I sang whatever words popped into my head. I saw that people didn’t know whether I was putting them on or weird…Afterward, I tried to look cool, but…I still had sweating pouring off me.”
Rather than fire him, the club’s owner gave Richard a job filling the intermission time between sets. It became his first paid job as a comedian.
According to Scott Saul’s Becoming Richard Pryor, the next time Richard was on stage singing was his performance for the The Kraft Summer Music Hall in 1966. Then one year later, he changed his comedy act into something less family friendly.
Filled with swearing which shocked his audiences and drew many complaints, the infamy around his act meant he has remained one of America’s most well known comics decades after many of his contemporaries had called it quits.
Now that he was best known as a comic, any later musical appearances on TV were mostly played for laughs. Such as in 1974 when Richard played drums with Sly Stone, and when he sang There’s No Business Like Show Business on his own TV special in 1977.
The lone recording of Richard Pryor really singing appears to be from that one episode of The Kraft Summer Music Hall in 1966. It’s a beautiful and moving performance, and it’s unfortunate he didn’t record any more.
Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie
What really got to me was the walk.
Early in the film Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie, we see the Emmy, Golden Globe and Grammy award-winning performer trying to walk down a city street. Even as his equilibrium is severely distorted by the effects of Parkinson's disease, Fox energetically launches himself into the task — moving forward with a lurching gait that seems as if he might spin off into an unpredictable direction at any moment.
Behind him, an aide who is also a movement coach gently reminds him to slow down and reset himself before every step. An admirer — a woman in a face mask — walks by and says hi; as Fox turns to acknowledge her, he gets caught in his own legs and falls down.
As the aide helps him get up and the admirer asks if he's all right, Fox drops the punchline: "You knocked me off my feet."
That's the kind of intimate drama which knits together the best moments in Still, a portrait of a talented and widely-admired performer who keeps fighting, even as Parkinson's slowly takes away many of the things he values most.
At times it is a showy film, knitting together re-enacted footage and clips from Fox's wide body of TV and movie work to recreate key moments in the actor's life. It begins with the instant in 1990 when Fox realized he had a tremor in his pinkie finger he couldn't control.
In that scene, director Davis Guggenheim (an Oscar winner for An Inconvenient Truth) melds footage of a body double in a hotel bed who's grabbing his own hand with clips from fight scenes in other Fox films to build a montage showing the feelings flooding the actor as he watched this digit which seemingly had a mind of its own.
Despite the fact that he was one of Hollywood's hottest actors at the time, "I was in an acid bath of fear and professional insecurity," Fox says in voice over. "The trembling was a message from the future."
Telling a painful truth without pity
Still accomplishes something amazing – it draws viewers into the painful reality of Fox's life with Parkinson's without turning him into an object of pity or martyrdom.
‘SIMPSONS’ CREATOR MATT GROENING TELLS THE STORY OF THE RESIDENTS, 1979
The Residents, 1972
The Residents’ first fan club, W.E.I.R.D. (We Endorse Immediate Residents Deification), was founded in 1978, and one of its charter members was Life in Hell and Simpsons creator Matt Groening. As a member of the Residents’ second fan club, UWEB, I am bound by the most solemn oaths never to discuss any of the secret handshakes, passwords, ciphers, rituals, buttons, bumper stickers or T-shirts of the inner sanctum, but I can point seekers to this exoteric document: Groening’s “The True Story of the Residents.” This phantasmagoric bio of the group, first published in 1979’s The Official W.E.I.R.D. Book of the Residents and reprinted in 1993’s Uncle Willie’s Highly Opinionated Guide to the Residents, gives a wild yet relatively concise account of the band’s founding myth.
Ep 33: Flo Fox (Photographer/Designer/Activist)
Ep 33: Flo Fox (Photographer/Designer/Activist)
Flo Fox began her career as a photographer in New York City in 1972.
For the better part of her career, Flo Fox has been legally blind, as a result of multiple sclerosis that she contracted when she was thirty. She is Totally disabled from the neck down and has been confined to a wheelchair since 1999, Flo now shoots with an automatic camera and directs friends, attendants or people in the street to take pictures for her.
Throughout her career and with an archive of over 130,000 works, Flo photographed various subjects that chronicled the rich ironies of street life in New York City. During the early 80s she hosted her own show called the Foto Flo Show. Despite blindness, multiple sclerosis, and lung cancer, photographer Flo Fox continues to shoot the streets of New York City and never goes anywhere without her camera.
Flo Fox is the coolest person, artist, photographer, activist, designer you probably have never heard of. We talk about her early career making costumes for Broadway productions in the 1970's including "A Chorus Line". We talk about her Dicthology Project in which between the 1970's and 1990's she took creative Polaroids (with film Polaroid gave her) of penises all the men who entered her apartment over 23 years. (Vintage Annals will be putting out this book by late September) I want to be clear that neither Flo nor I want anyone to think her life, or this episode, is meant to be Inspiration Porn in any way. Flo would be ok with the porn part as she has always been a sex positive photographer and artist, and even did a Playboy shoot in 1976 that she designed and photographed. Flo has also been an activist and fought for the rights of disabled people for years. Lastly she is one of the funniest, and at times, raunchiest 77 year old jewish females I have ever met, which is also why I enjoy interviewing her for this episode, and why I am working with her now. Thank you to @twobytwomedia and @karengottfried2 for helping make this happen.