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Sunday, November 16, 2008

if only

I'm reading yet another Jean-Michel Basquiat catalogue, as I usually am, a little bit each day. The one I'm working on right now is a stand-out volume that everyone who cares about Basquiat or the early 1980's must have. It's Jean-Michel Basquiat 1981: The Studio of the Street, edited by Jeffrey Deitch, Franklin Sirmans, and Nicola Vassell. What makes it special is that has substantial interviews from 2006 with Basquiat's old running mates: Glenn O'Brien, Fab 5 Freddy, and so on, even Suzanne Mallouk. Their recollections, particularly about the importance of music to JMB, are full of insights not found in other sources.

Just now I came across a tantalizing tidbit that I have to share. It's from Deitch's interview with Arto Lindsay.
Lindsay: There's another story which is pretty wild: You know the painting Famous Negro Athletes? He [JMB] tried to form a band, Famous Negro Athletes, which was going to be him, David Byrne and myself.

Deitch: Amazing!

Lindsay: We actually had a rehearsal, but it was just too cocaine-addled to get anywhere. I mean, we had the one rehearsal and all got so messed up that it was really difficult to communicate once we actually tried to play. That would have been a wild band...

Deitch: Great name for a band.

Lindsay: Yeah, great name for a band, and to not have all black guys in it was pretty brilliant.

Deitch: So that's something fresh. I never heard that before.

Lindsay: Well, I don't think anybody would remember that except for David, myself, and the person that lent Jean-Michel the loft where we rehearsed, or at least tried to rehearse.
I almost wish I had not read that. My two favourite cultural figures tried to form a band and no one recorded it?! I don't care how coked up they were; I want to hear that!

Here is a strange coincidence: I also read today for the first time of the Beatles' unreleased experiment of 1967, 'Carnival of Light', in the Guardian/Observer. At least that survives. We may actually get to hear it one day.

I'm assuming that the lost Byrne-Basquiat session occurred c. 1980-1981, the period of Remain in Light and Eno & Byrne. Basquiat pretty much stopped making music after that and concentrated on painting. But what if things had gone differently? What if they had tried again? What if Basquiat had survived the 80's and taken up music again and done an album with Byrne at some later date? True, it would not have been part of that brilliant, irreplaceable moment at the start of the 80's, but it would still have been something special.

That's the stupid, useless thing about dying young: the work that never gets made. What would Basquiat have painted, Keats have written, MLK and RFK have achieved? All we can do is be glad we're still here, redouble our efforts to do something ourselves, and, about the things that never were, ask, heart-breakingly, what if?

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Blogger sw said...

The idea that collaborations between one's favourite artists can produce something mind-boggling - as if all the fireworks in the world went off at one time - is a lovely one.

The snarky thing to say is, These collaborations all end up as disappointments. Do you really think that a scratchy tape recording of Basquiat screeching, Lindsay hollering, and Byrne making beeping noises, between gales of coke-fueled laughter and inelegant proclamations of their own genius, is something you would want to hear? Of course you would - we all would. But, let's face it - some of these confluences of genius are disappointing. The Million Dollar Quartet, for example - or, in today's dollars, The 750 Billion Dollar Quartet. Others are disappointing because people insist they are disappointing, even if they're really not that bad - think We Are The World and the first and last incarnations of Do They Know It's Christmas?

The question is, what collaborations and confluences are the ones that really worked, and why? Obviously, one thinks of The Last Waltz, or Rauschenberg erasing a De Kooning. But even those aren't quite right: what genre-bending and profession-crossing collaborations have worked? Which ones would we like to see? Gilbert and George starring in a Morrissey video with Russell Brand doing back-up vocals?

3:46 PM, November 17, 2008

Blogger Jeff Strabone said...

There is much more to say to your comment. My first thought is that Basquiat in particular was not a great collaborator outcome-wise. His paintings with Warhol, and especially the ones with Clemente as third, are among the least interesting paintings I know.

4:07 PM, November 17, 2008

Anonymous 42 said...

I found your last sentence inspiring. There are things in life that each of us would like to do over. Unfortunately, life is not a playground where do overs are permitted. So we move forward.

Most artists don't understand that. Once they are successful, they are corrupted by the almighty dollar (euro).They do the same thing over and over and over again because it sells.

Mr. Byrne, however, has been one of the few exceptions. I recently received his entire catalog as a gift. I sat & listened to it while talking to someone very important to me. Amazing.(The Cabernet, Merlot & Port helped.)He could have kept the Talking Heads together and made a TON of money, but he needed to move on.

As to the collaboration with Basquiat, it would have only worked if Mr. Basquiat was a better musician/singer than he was a painter.

9:59 PM, November 17, 2008

Blogger Jeff Strabone said...

Someone either knows nothing about art or is trying to provoke me. Then again, it could be both.

On the subject of David Byrne and money, he recently revealed in an interview that he and his ex-mates have been offered as much as ten million dollars to get back together.

As for SW's point about collaborations, Byrne has an excellent record of playing well with others: Brian Eno, Caetano Veloso, Phillip Glass, Robert Rauschenberg, Twyla Tharp. He has even made two great records, The Knee Plays and The Forest, from his collaborations with Robert Wilson, whose work neither SW nor I care for.

As for far-out collaborations I would like to see, how about Goya time-travelling to the present to fuck around with Jake and Dinos Chapman? Too obvious? How about Steve Reich setting Cy Twombly to music? Try imagining that.

Another positive collaboration that worked beautifully is the song 'The Ground Beneath Her Feet', music by U2, lyrics by Salman Rushdie. I still have not heard the songs that Burt Bacharach did with Dr. Dre. Does anyone know if they're any good? When I first heard about that, I was sure it was a joke.

2:11 AM, November 18, 2008

Blogger sw said...

A pox on Robert Wilson!

While the idea of Reich interpreting Twombly is brilliant, I wasn't able to cope with it, because I was getting over your suggestion of a Goya-Chapman collaboration. My first thought was, "Nah, too freakin' obvious." After all, the Chapmans are forever citing Goya, re-thinking Goya, re-tooling Goya, playing with contemporary ideas about Goya, mocking Goya, and so on. Of course it would be somewhat interesting to have Goya come back and drop some Spanish science on the Chapman brats . . . But then, once I got over that, I began to think: to have Goya come back to work with them would be to see the serpent after it has eaten its own tail. It's a sort of mind-blowing tautology. What actually would happen?

Anyway, the single most important collaboration in our time would be Quentin Tarantino and James Bond. (I can't take credit for thinking of that one - others, including QT, have made the point.)

And Dre and Bacharach? At This Time is the album; you can hear samples on amazon.com. On this computer, the Dre contributions sounded like tinny re-mixes of obscure Bacharch songs - but when listening to a fragment of a song on a computer with a very poor sound system, every song sounds like a tinny re-mix of an obscure Bacharach song.

9:33 AM, November 18, 2008

Anonymous 42 said...

I was not trying to provoke. If I wanted to provoke, it would be a lot more subtle. I just find Mr. Basquait's work...juvenile.

You are entitled to express your opinion on my taste in art, just as I expressed mine about Mr. Basquiat.

An obvious collaboration: Bosch & Ozzie.

9:01 PM, November 18, 2008

Blogger Daniel F said...

Jeff, your opening line to 42 was a little harsh, given that he had just described one of your sentences as "inspiring" and clearly views your beloved Byrne with proper awe. Nobody's perfect.

An example of an inter-disciplinary collaboration that I love is the magnificent, rambling, heart-breaking "Brownsville Girl", by Bob Dylan and Sam Shepherd. I guess it was more likely to work because Dylan is such a writerly rocker, and Shepherd such a rock'n'roll dramatist. But of course Byrne was a painterly mod, and Basquiat a punk painter, so, who knows, The Famous Negro Athletes might have achieved something comparable. Certainly, from now on, I will be citing them as my favourite band,

8:20 AM, November 19, 2008

Blogger Daniel F said...

One of those spooky moments: a second after posting that last comment, I read that Paul McCartney is hoping to collaborate with Bob Dylan and David Byrne!


8:32 AM, November 19, 2008


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