Thoth & Lila’Angelique: A WESU Interview

Thoth & Lila'Angelique performing at the Angel Tunnel in Central Park on July 24

Thoth & Lila’Angelique prayforming at the Angel Tunnel in Central Park on July 24

The prayformance of Thoth & Lila’Angelique is a truly unique experience. The two (together calling themselves Tribal Baroque) prayform every Wednesday-Sunday (weather permitting) in Central Park’s Angel Tunnel in New York from 3-5 PM. Thoth first showed up on my radar eleven years ago when I recall reading an interview with him around the time when a documentary about his life, Thoth won an Academy Award. Since then, I’ve accidentally stumbled into the audience of his (and Lila’s) prayformances three times, and been blown away each time. I was able to interview both of them over the phone yesterday.

What do you guys do on your days off from performing?

Lila’Angelique: We usually do all the things that we can’t do when we’re performing. We do our laundry. We rest. We work on things. Thoth works on Photoshop a lot.

Thoth: On our days off we get ready for our prayformance. We prepare our costumes. We do a lot of study and quiet time. Some times we treat ourselves to a nice meal (laughter).

Do you go out for food or do you cook yourself?

T: We cook our food most of the week, but on our days off we save money to go out, and have a nice romantic meal. We’re going to have a treat tomorrow. We also buy things that get us through the week. [Before our prayformances], we have smoothies so that we can sustain our energy throughout the day. We don’t eat anything…

Really? All day long?

T: Yeah, all day.

So just one smoothie gets you through the day?

T: Yes…. And also, the world is so… You learn to eat too much. And the reason you do is because everyone is selling food and they’re advertising really hard to people, so you have three meals a day, but you can [survive on just] a little snack. We have our snack bars right after the prayformance, and then we have a meal of whatever we feel like later. Usually [something] simple when we’re doing the prayformance five days [out of the week].

I was going to ask about your prayformance. I watched the documentary about you last night, and I know that at the time you were doing a solopera, which was all about this mythology and about a hermaphrodite. Correct?

T: I still do that.

Is there new material though that you’re working on now?

T: The new material is ours.

L: Yeah, we’ve created new material. Together we don’t do the solopera. He does the solopera every day, but we’re creating our opera.

And what’s your opera about?

L: Love and devotion.

T: They’re more miniature and more individual. They’re more thematic, whereas The Herma [his solopera] was more various chapters of an epic.

Is it still in the same world as your solopera though? Festad [Festad is the mythological world that Thoth invented]?

T: No. I can’t say it’s the same world because Festad is mythic, and we’re dealing with love and devotion and the paradigm of the movement to being.

What about the language, because I know you invented your own language. What is the language you are using now?

T: We’re still using invented language.

 So, how complex is this language? Does it have its own grammar?

T: My language has its own grammar, but what we do together is a little more simpler, more improvised.

L: His has 252 characters. We’re basically starting from the ground up again together. He built his own language and his own opera, and we’re building our own opera and our own language. His whole thing was his personal thing. He’s my teacher and he’s teaching me all the things that he learned, but now we’re building up our own thing. And we’re making an opera about how we met each other and how our lives have been. And that’s very epic too.

Can you tell me at all about that? How you met?

L: I met him in New York in the Angel Tunnel in 2008. I saw him a few times. I saw him on America’s Got Talent just in passing, and I saw him in the Tunnel and I didn’t think much of him at first. And then I saw him again, and I was really just head over heels in love basically from the moment I heard him sing, and I ran up to him, and, “Oh my God, you’re a counter tenor!” And he was really impressed that I knew that word, and I started dancing with him, and then I started singing with him. And after that winter, we teamed up and started playing together, and have been ever since.

So are you a trained opera singer?

L: Yeah. I studied to be an opera singer. That’s what I wanted to do. And then I met Thoth and realized he was making his own opera. And I found that more interesting than what I was doing singing old dead peoples’ music. That we could create our own music—I really liked that idea.

Read the rest of the interview after the jump

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Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me

Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me opened on July 3 at the IFC Center in New York and is now playing throughout the country in select independent theaters. The film is a documentary about one of the greatest bands that never made it big, the unfortunately named, Big Star. The documentary opens with one of the defining moments of Big Star’s career, a concert they played in front of music critics from all over the country, who had gathered in Memphis for the supposed reason of organizing a union of music critics. However, the organizers of this event secretly intended to bring attention to a little known Memphis group, namely Big Star. It worked, at least to some extent. One of the critics interviewed for the film recalls with bemused surprise that she even saw critics dancing at the concert.

Big Star are, in a sense, the ideal pop group for music critics– smart, contagious pop music that you can dance to without feeling embarrassed. Alex Chilton, Big Star’s best known band member once said, “Most of the Big Star stuff was searching for how to get through two verses without saying anything really stupid.” That might be selling the group a bit short. Chilton was notorious for his curmudgeonly attitude toward the band that he would be most associated with throughout his prolific, if scattered, and at times sloppy career. Three years before he died in 2010, Chilton summed up his opinion on the group that he was constantly asked about in interviews: “I’m not as crazy about them as a lot of Big Star cultists seem to be. I think they’re good, but then again, I think Slade records are good, too.” Another critic admitted that Big Star was a group that critics didn’t want to share with the world. Instead, they preferred to keep them for themselves: the little band that everybody liked.

Part of the reason for the group’s lack of success was simply bad luck. Signed to Ardent, a local Memphis label tied to the more well known Stax, the band’s records received distribution by Columbia, but the corporate executives in New York cared little for this pop band from Memphis. They weren’t heavy enough for the ’70s rock scene, and they were from Memphis, a town much better known for its soul music than its rock scene. Though they received rave reviews in places like Rolling Stone, many towns didn’t even carry the band’s records in their stores or give them radio play. In the pre-Internet age, this meant that there simply was no way for the average music fan to hear their music. The band, and in particular, the band’s founder, Chris Bell, desperately wanted the adoration received by their heroes, like The Beatles. That adoration came, but not while the band was still around. In gushing interviews, musicians from bands such as Hot Chip, The Jesus & Mary Chain, Cheap Trick (whose cover of Big Star’s “In The Street” is the theme song for That 70’s Show), R.E.M., and, of course, The Replacements (whose song “Alex Chilton” introduced many of their fans to Big Star) speak of their fondness for the band, and the influence of Big Star on their own music.

Unfortunately, the delayed adoration was little solace for Bell, who left the band after the group’s first record, the hopelessly optimistically titled #1 Record. Bell is the truly tragic figure of the film. Chilton, though far better known, comes off as self-obsessed and spottily brilliant–the kind of guy it might be fun to share a drink with, but not necessarily work with every day (Big Star producer Jim Dickinson recalls at the beginning of the film seeing Chilton tripping on acid as a pre-teen and thinking that he was in for an interesting life– that’s certainly true, but he seemed to lack the emotional depth of Bell). Bell was tormented by several things– first of all by the fact that #1 Record was a flop, selling fewer than 10,000 copies. The reviews, though positive, concentrated mostly on Chilton’s role in the band. Chilton had previously served as lead vocalist for The Box Tops, a more traditional blue-eyed soul group from the late 60s, who had a hit with “The Letter,” a song that features a teenaged Chilton with an almost impossibly deep sounding baritone. Perhaps most significantly, Bell was (probably) gay. This is a fact that is hinted at several times during the film, though never declared outright. His gayness was certainly never referenced in the group’s music, or Bell’s later solo output. Bell’s brother recalls that Chris turned to Jesus, as well as drugs in order to distract himself from issues with his “sexuality.” Coming from a wealthy family in the south during the era before homosexuality became more or less accepted in this country, Bell must have felt deeply guilty (some have even suggested that he was in love with Chilton, though that remains the realm of rumor and hearsay).

In the midst of a deep depression, Bell’s brother took him to Europe, where he took the haunting cover photo of Bell’s lone solo record, I Am the Cosmos. Bell stands with snow covered mountains in the background, looking very cool in a jean jacket and sunglasses, but also lost in his own troubled thoughts. One of Bell’s friends from school tears up when discussing that album’s title track. It is a song that would be funny if it wasn’t so sad. Bell was a very serious person, who felt things intensely. Chilton was his opposite. Though Chilton’s song “Holocaust” off Big Star’s last album Third/Sister Lovers may actually be one of the saddest songs ever written, it is a song about lack of feeling, rather than the overflowing feeling that Bell experienced. Bell’s sister admits that she, like Chilton, does not understand the cultish following that Big Star has received since the band broke up. She would rather have her brother alive than the music that he left behind. Bell became a member of the 27 Club (along with Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Kurt Cobain), dying in a one-man car crash. Perhaps most tragic of all, the local newspaper reported his death as that of the “son of a restauranteur,” rather than the founder of one of the most beloved bands of American rock history.

Big Star’s story is a good one, filled with characters like Dickinson, whose wife sweetly recalls the time that Bob Dylan visited his eccentrically designed trailer park home (complete with Otis Redding‘s “decomposing” grand piano, on which he wrote “Dock of the Bay”) and said, “Jim, you must get a lot of thinking done here,” to which Jim replied, “Bob, I think all the time.” However, the film does not have much ambition to do anything besides simply report the facts. There are no experimental flourishes, or mythologizing, as in the more memorable Rodriguez documentary Searching for Sugar Man. Luckily, the story and Big Star’s music are good enough to stand alone. The most interesting and emotional segments of the film are those dedicated to the lesser known bandleader, Bell. The movie falters somewhat when discussing the years after Bell died, going into unnecessary detail about Chilton’s post-Big Star output. Nevertheless, it’s a film well worth seeing, especially for those interested in Big Star or the history of alternative music.

-Jesse Brent

Summer Music Festival Preview

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It’s the middle of July and that means it’s time to bust out the Ray-Bans, grab the picnic blanket, put on your cut-off shorts, lather up in sunscreen and then run around the city holding the picnic blanket as a cape and shouting, “I am BAN-RAY! Here to save the day! Where hast the evil DENIM THIEF gone, and what did he do with the leg-sleeves of my blue jeans?!? Fear my radioactive-proof skin!”

Or, ya know, you could chill at a music festival. Here are a couple picks from throughout the US of A in the next couple months:

Pitchfork

Chicago, IL • July 19-21

Say what you will about Pitchfork as a publication that doesn’t even get what Childish Gambino’s about man, they sure do know how to put together a surprising lineup. Seeing Belle & Sebastian’s names next to R. Kelly is enough to leave you wondering which moments of high school you’re most nostalgic for: burning CDs for sweethearts or awkwardly grinding on strangers. There are plenty of WESU favorites here: Autre Ne Veut, Foxygen, Chairlift, Toro Y Moi, and Lil B have all been featured in our charts or elsewhere on our Music Director’s Blog. Lil B might just retweet you. I’m also gonna recommend checking out Killer Mike, Mac DeMarco, and Swans to round out your festival weekend with some “Hard-Core G Shit,” some goofball rock, and peculiar epic-ness. This fest should be a whole slew of radically different parties happening at the same time, as long as Pitchfork fans manage to take off their cool jackets for a minute and enjoy themselves—something they’re notorious for avoiding.

Gathering of the Vibes

Bridgeport, CT • July 25-28

Right here in our backyard, you’ll find one of the chillest festivals around. If the name “Gathering of the Vibes” didn’t tip you off to this show’s hippy cred maybe the lineup’s massive “TWO LEGENDARY NIGHTS OF PHIL LESH & FRIENDS” top bill should make it clear that GotV is the place to let your inner Deadhead loose. While this festival embraces the jam as an art form it’s also open-minded about the wide variety of grooves and jams available in this day and age: The Roots never fail to get a crowd bouncing with their Philly hip-hop jamz, The Tedeschi Trucks Band should rep the southern rock jam with pride, The Funky Meters will bring classic funk jams, and Fishbone will likely whip out a ska jam or two. Who’s bringing the peanut butter?  Also, if you want to feel old, no matter how young you are, check out the School of Rock All-Stars, a group of 7-18 year old rock stars shredding through classic rock hits. Also, I’m having a hard time figuring out who will be at this festival and also want to see James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem and Rob Garza of Thievery Corporation DJ a “Late-Night Rager,” but that will be happening, so cool beans.

Continue after the JUMP FOR FESTS in Philadelphia, Boston, San Francisco, and NÜ York Continue reading

Kinder Gentler Pledge Drive, A Success!

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Thanks to all of the WESU supporters who validate our mission with their donations.

Despite the potential risk of trying a new radio pledge drive model, WESU’s “kinder gentler” approach has led to the most successful WESU pledge drive to date, raising over $15,000.

In addition to getting many donations from listeners right here in Middletown and across CT, WESU received donations from supporters in far off locations such as Japan, Denmark and England as well as from family and friends in over 13 states, here in the US.

WESU’s continued fundraising success is a testament to the value of the service we provide to a diverse range of stake holders.  With an eye on the station’s upcoming 75th anniversary in 2014, WESU has great plans in store.   Stay tuned!

 

 

 

Art for Haiti Opening Reception

555161_550469378309276_466146485_nJoin us at The Art for Haiti opening reception tonight at Wesleyan’s Zilkah gallery, 5-7pm. Curated by Pierre Sylvain, the show features 12 visual artists (including WESU’s own David Bauer) who have come together to help improve lives in Haiti. Join us for hors d’oeuvres and a DJ set featuring a global mix of grooves by our own GM, Ben Michael, aka Big Bent.

Pledge Challenge of the Super Friends!

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To close out our pledge drive, an anonymous WESU Super Friend is now matching all donations up to a total of $2,250 in the next 2 weeks!  Why hold out any longer? the impact of your donation to WESU will now be doubled!  All we have to do to reach our goal and balance our budget is take full advantage of this matching gift. We need your help make this happen! Any size donation is appreciated!

 

Congrats to Wesleyan’s class of 2013!

redcaps  Thanks so much to those of you who shared your time, creativity, and energy with us while you were in Middletown. If you haven’t already done so… what better way to start “helping to shape our culture, so that it will not be shaped by the forces of violence, conformity and elitism.” than by making a donation to WESU?

We’ve been here to helping the Wesleyan and surrounding communities accomplish this for nearly 75 years! With your continued support, our unique community service will continue to thrive and evolve.

Please help keep us engaged!

www.wesufm.org

WESU Print Media Retrospective

For today’s open house, new staffer, Laura Werle created this lovely display of WESU program guides, publications and event flyers from the past 15 years. You can see it outside the WESU studios in the foyer upon entering the station. Much more to come as we approach our 75th anniversary (2014)! WESU print retrospective

WESU 88.1 FM Open House today 2:00 PM to 5:00 PM (05-24-13)

LOGO_versions_emailAs Part of Wesleyan University’s Reunion & Commencement 2013 program, WESU parents, families, alumni, students, friends, and staff are all invited to attend an Open House at the WESU studios and offices.

Whether you were involved with WESU 20 years ago or in more recent history, you are invited to stop in to check out the studios, browse the expansive and eclectic music libraries, and meet current staff members and DJs. We’d love to hear your WESU stories and talk about where the station is heading. You can also make a donation in person and pick up some WESU gear!

WESU, 2nd Floor (above Broad Street Books), 45 Broad Street

Documentary Trolls Premiere! – MIDNIGHT TONIGHT

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We hide under the bridges of human relationships…

The first ever WESU Radio Documentary Trolls special will air tonight on WESU Middletown 88.1fm and wesufm.org online. Join us for experiments in audio storytelling! Musical weapons on the subway! Roommate drama in the old folks home! More encounters between people, art, sounds, love, and each other. Don’t miss it!!!