Published July 3rd, 2017
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This is the water and this is the well. Drink full and descend. The horse is the white of the eyes and dark within. This is the water and this is the well. Drink full and descend. The horse is the white of the eyes and dark within. And course I am Michael Phillips and THIS, as always, IS NOT A TEST. Those lines are from an amazing episode of David Lynch’s Twin Peaks “reboot.” That’s what they call it now when they revive an old TV show, a reboot. Those lines are from episode 8. Unfortunately, the previous 7 episodes have been about as interesting as watching paint on dog shit dry. I liked Twin Peaks when it was on in the 90s, I mean, I wanted to punch Lynch in the neck really hard when it ended, but I watched it. I don’t think it holds up though. And this new, limited edition version…Jesus Christ, what a snooze fest.
Except – except – episode number 8. Episode 8 is some kind of hallucinogenic mustard gas bomb going off in your brain. It’s fucking weird and insane and it makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. But the vibe…it sets a mood that’s somewhere between a garden variety dull nightmare and a throbbing day-glo massive, irreversible break with reality. Even though most of it is in black and white. So I highly and heartily recommend Episode 8 of the new Twin Peaks. You don’t need to see any other episodes to appreciate it, because it’s got nothing to do with any previous episodes. Or anything else. Get yourself into a fuzzy frame of mind, whatever you do to achieve that, and then just sit back and let the terrible thing crawl into your eye holes and into your brain.
I talked about going to see PJ Harvey last time, and I’m here now to admit to you before god and man that going to that show has led me down some kind of obsessive rabbit hole where I’m trying to find and gather, accumulate and listen to, all of her non-album b sides. What’s a non-album b side? I thought we were friends? You should know these things. Well, you probably do, it’s pretty self-explanatory. But for any senior citizens or shut-ins that may be listening, a non-album b side is a song on a single that doesn’t appear on any album. So only the people who buy the single get to hear the songs.
The Beatles took the concept even further and for the most part never put any song that was released as a single on one of their albums. That’s why you may have listened to Sgt. Pepper and wondered where the hell Strawberry Fields was. Well it was on a single. That might not be a good example to use for Americans since half of the Beatles albums released here were not exactly like the British versions, and some of them did include singles.
Anyway, b sides were a big deal in the 70s and 80s, Prince released a lot of them, all the punk bands did, and the Jamaicans put their dubs on the b sides, which they called the “version” sides. When the CD took over it seemed like there were fewer singles released, but maybe that’s just my impression of things. I don’t have any industry numbers here to dazzle you with, my research intern is off in the Canary Islands for the summer. But someone who really loaded up b sides with non-album songs is PJ Harvey. I mean, there are enough out there to make three more albums. Or more. And she’s also fond of releasing her demos, which I particularly enjoy, though most people who aren’t musicians or obsessive completists probably think they’re a rip off. “Why do I want to hear some crummy cassette version of a good song?”
Since we’re defining things today, a demo is a rough version of a song that’s usually casually recorded by whoever wrote it. Usually they’re done to give to the other people in your band, or the musicians who are going to play on the record so they can learn the song. Back in the day whole bands used to go into actual recording studios to record demos, but at some point someone who was paying for all of that said, “What the fuck are we wasting all this money for?” and they stopped doing it. When PJ Harvey was recording a lot of the demos of her early work it was on a 4 track Tascam Portastudio, which sounds fancy, and it was a cool machine, but it’s still essentially recording onto a cassette. Only you can record a bunch of different tracks by yourself. So that’s what her demos are. Usually just her playing one or two instruments and one or two vocal tracks, that’s it.
But remember last time when I told you to go buy the “Dry” album? Well, if you like demos, when that record came out, they also released a version of the album called Demonstration LP, or the Dry Demonstration LP, and it has the demos for each of the songs on the album. It’s incredible. But then if you’re going to have the first or second greatest rock and roll record ever made in your house, you may as well have the demo versions of those songs too, right? Well you may have to pay a couple hundred bucks for that record, sorry to break the news to you right after I say you should have it. But I know someone hearing this is thinking, “Oh shit, I have to find that!” and they are right. Get the CD though. Unfortunately there are a lot fewer CDs than LPs for Demonstration, so you can get the LP for less than the CD, but remember, LPs suck.
Let me just say that one of my favorite songs on Dry is the last song on the record, and the last song on any LP sounds noticeably more wretched than the general wretchedness of the rest of the songs. That’s because a disc spinning 33 times a minute is one thing when the needle is on the outside of the disc, covering a lot of space, but by the time it gets to the inside, where the last songs on the side are, it’s still spinning the same speed, but it’s covering much less space in the same time.
There are a lot of scientific explanations for why the groove cut into the piece of plastic sounds worse the closer it gets to the label, but I’m not a scientist and like I said, my intern is away, so you’ll have to look that one up yourself. It’s like the difference between two tapes, one recorded at half the speed of the other. The slower tape is going to have more noise and distortion. For the purposes of what we’re talking about here, you’ll just have to trust me that the songs on the outside of the record sound better than the ones on the inside.
On a CD, of course, you don’t have that problem. The speed a CD spins at varies depending on which part of the disc the laser is reading, and, you know, it’s digital information, it doesn’t change it’s form depending on where it happens to live on a disc. Oh Jesus, this is – I don’t know what this is, this isn’t even what I wanted to talk about, but here we are, so lets just follow the river. You can’t paddle upstream, that’s for idiots and masochists. Go with the flow, baby. Okay. Uh…oh, right, b sides.
So the Dry demo album will set you back a good number of dollars, but the b sides are all on singles that you can get for five bucks. Well, not all of them, but almost all of them. She’s also released a few vinyl singles that were never sold in stores, you had to buy them at the shows or get them in a cereal box or something, and you aren’t going to get those for five bucks. But the majority of the b sides can be had pretty cheaply. Cheap is good, but it doesn’t necessarily mean easy to find. And before you can find something you have to know it exists, right? That’s how Lewis and Clark found the Northwest Passage, and Ponce de Leon found the fountain of youth. They knew they were out there, they just had to locate them.
But finding a complete discography for any musician is an exercise in frustration and misinformation. Even the good sites like discogs have some shitty discographies, because those discographies are made by people, and people don’t know everything, and sometimes they even lie on purpose. Can you imagine that? Someone purposely spreading disinformation? Yeah, not so hard to believe these days, is it. Anyway, to make a full list of the PJ Harvey b sides, and which singles they can be found on, I had to cobble together half a dozen different sources, and even then the list was incomplete. But after spending hours putting together a list I found an actual complete list on some other obsessive guy’s website, so that problem was solved.
But it isn’t even really much of a problem for someone like PJ Harvey who started releasing records in the 90s. It’s not like trying to put together a discography for a Jamaican artist that recorded in the 60s and 70s. That shit is like trying to put humpty dumpty back together after his pieces have been run through a blender and dropped out of a hot air balloon over the Caribbean Sea. Roger Steffens and Leroy Jodie Pierson needed an entire book to do their Bob Marley and the Wailers discography. It’s more than 200 pages long, and one of the first things they say in it is “This is a work in progress…”. So compared to something like that, artists from the 1990s on are a piece of cake.
So I have a list and I’ve set out to get everything. I’m about halfway there. It’s a ridiculous thing that I’m doing, but if I stopped doing ridiculous things I’d never do anything. I’ve wanted to do it for a long time, but because my valuable life experience has all been with obscure punk and reggae singles, on vinyl, I assumed the PJ Harvey singles would be expensive, so I thought, forget it, who needs the aggravation. But when I started poking around and seeing that wasn’t the case, that most of them were pretty cheap, I figured what the hell. And for the record, pun intended, there are some very good songs on these b sides. It’s kind of amazing, really, having so many songs for each album that you have to put some of them on singles that very few people will hear. It’s crazy. Not Prince crazy, because he had hundreds of songs that were never released, on an album or a b side or a cereal box. But crazy still. And nice to find a new pile of stuff from an artist that I respect and admire. New to me, anyway.
All right. Let’s talk about something else for a while. But as a special bonus for everyone who sticks with this episode until the bitter end, I’ll include the tape of an interview I did with PJ Harvey in 2007 at the end. It’s a historic slice of journalistic excellence that you don’t want to miss. So stick around for that. Okay, now what?
Obsession is a funny thing, isn’t it. I’m not generally obsessive, but I can easily become obsessive if you give me a specific thing to obsess over. A specific thing that I care about, that is. Then I can go deep with the best of them. But I don’t stay deep, I usually come up for air at some point and just stop whatever I was obsessively doing or investigating or building, and leave it unfinished. It’s one of my many, many charms. But obsession is really kind of a thing that only people whose lives are going pretty well can bother with, isn’t it.
I mean if I was living in my car and taking showers on the beach, or trying to carve some food out of dry land somewhere in Somalia, I doubt I’d have the luxury of obsessing on anything. Well maybe then you obsess on getting out of the hole you’re in. But I don’t know. I have been in some holes and it didn’t occur to me to obsess my way out of them. So I don’t know. But I know hoarding obscure recordings is certainly a first-world activity. Not that I think there’s a second world or a third world, but that’s how the rich white men who went before us describe the world, so I’m just piggybacking on them.
This is the water and this is the well. Drink full and descend. The horse is the white of the eyes and dark within. That’s all I’ve really got to say about that. Everyone claims to like David Lynch movies, but I wonder how many of those people actually watch them. because honestly, that shit can be hard to sit through. When I was in my 20s some of my friends said, “Oh, you have to see ERASERHEAD!” So I went down to King Video and browsed through the racks of VHS tapes, and took it home to watch it. The first time I fell asleep, but I thought, well, I was just tired or too drunk or something, so I tried it again and I fell asleep again. Now back in those days you only had the movie for a couple days, then you had to bring it back. But I thought, well, if this is everything it’s cracked up to be, it will be worth a late fee to see it, so I hung on to it and tried it again.
I got through it the third time, but after I did I didn’t feel as if I’d just witnessed greatness. It was weird, sure. And I like the girl who came out of the radiator and sang, “In heaven, everything is fine,” but other than that, the long, pointless shots wore me down, and the story, such as it was, didn’t do anything for me. So I brought the tape back and paid the late fee and asked my friends who’d recommended the movie what the hell was wrong with them. One of them said, “Oh, you didn’t really watch that, did you? Ha ha ha.” So I guess they showed me. And I like weird, just give me something in there, weird just for the sake of weird isn’t weird, it’s stupid.
But since we’re talking about movies, I may as well drag it back over to TV, which I went on about endlessly not too long ago. But I tell ya, man, Orange Is The New Black – ain’t that some shit. I thought the last season was weak, really weak, and I didn’t look forward to this season. But I kid you not, what they’ve created with this season is no less than a masterpiece. When the last episode ended I couldn’t even speak for a while. I was so sad, and it was so tragic and god damned moving. I was sad for hours. Every episode was tremendous, and I don’t want to spoil it for anyone who hasn’t seen it, so I won’t get too specific, but the concept for the season was right on. If you’ve seen it you know what I’m talking about. Well it won’t spoil anything if I tell you that the entire season, the whole 13 hours, all takes place over the course of two days in the prison. It was a good gimmick, but they laid some incredible work down over that gimmick, and the end result was, dare I say, perfection.
So, Orange Is The New Black. Check it. I mean, don’t check this season if you’ve never watched it before. You have to know the characters before you see this season. But overall it’s worth your time. If they come back with something half as good as this next year they’ll have earned a spot in the short list of truly great television shows. Believe that. But do feel free to check episode 8 of the new Twin Peaks. No previous viewing necessary. In fact, it may be better if you don’t know anything about the new or the old Twin Peaks. I’m going to watch it again, and I never watch a TV show twice.
Okay, wait: Kathy Griffin. You know what I’m talking about? Kathy Griffin is a, by her own description, D-list comedian and the kind of person that you’ve seen on TV and she had a reality show and…well, not a top tier comedian. She may be funny, I don’t know. I’ve never seen her do standup. Or maybe i have back in the 80s or something, but I don’t remember seeing her ever do a traditional stand up comedy routine. But she’s relatively famous anyway, and when you see her somewhere you go, “Oh, yeah, I know who that is.” Anyway, she was doing a photo session for…something, I have no idea what it was for…but the photographer had a prop there that he wanted her to hold up: The bloody head of Donald J. Trump, who is somehow now the President of The United States of America.
Well, to me, I see that picture and think, okay, yeah, whatever. I get it. Off with his head! Okay. But I’m not exaggerating when I say the Internet lost its god damned mind when it saw that picture. I mean they went ape shit bonkers. Then Griffin lost a job, lost some endorsements, and even lost her mind and held a tearful press conference where she apologized and cried and apologized and cried and that female lawyer who loves to stand next to celebrities – I can’t think of her name and I refuse to look it up – she was standing there making that god damn sad politician mouth, and the whole thing made me want to burn down the entire country.
If a COMEDIAN can’t be offensive, we may as well start building the concentration camps right now, brothers and sisters. You may as well get your affairs in order, because someone is going to be coming for you eventually. I’ll already be long gone, hung in the public square, and you’ll think, “that’s a shame,” or you won’t think anything at all, then they’ll kick in your door and drag you to the gulag for making a long distance phone call or reading a book. Who is they? The government? Maybe. But more likely it will be the Internet. The scumbags who live on the Internet. And if I may, I have a message for them, for the Internet: Fuck you, Internet. Fuck you mobs of Dudley Do-Right motherfuckers who think you’re pristine and perfect and above reproach. Fuck you for being just as dirty and foul and unpleasant as the rest of humanity, but spraying you phoney outrage out in every direction, all over everything you see. Fuck you.
Fuck you for your knee-jerk repressive hive mind, and fuck you for your hashtags and handbags and god damned Facebook posts. Fuck you for who you voted for, I don’t care which one it was, and fuck you for your apps and your…your god damned…you know this sounds like the complaints I made about going to concerts. Well I guess it’s all the same. The same people who behave like rabid, half starved New Orleans street dogs at concerts are spewing their outrage everywhere, letting everyone know how morally superior they are, meanwhile they’re clomping around their apartments or trailers saying, nigger this, nigger that, Mexican this and towel-head that. Yeah, everyone you see who is outraged at something they don’t like is one of those people. Ha ha. All of them. Fuckers.
Okay, not all of them. But hypocrisy doesn’t look good on anyone. And what is it they say about casting the first stone, in the Jesus book? Hey man, I don’t like the vast majority of art or music or comedy or photography or political expression, but you have to let people say and do offensive things. You have to allow yourself to be uncomfortable about something you see or hear. You have to let commentary be commentary, and stop trying to silence everyone who isn’t as fucked in the head as you are. As we all are. Think of the comedians and writers who are legendary and revered – none of them would survive now. None of them would make it past their first television appearance. You fuckers with your pitchforks would have them bloody in a ditch somewhere. Imagine an unknown Richard Pryor or George Carlin doing their bits from the 60s and 70s on Twitter or YouTube today. Just ponder that for a minute. Jesus Christ, the world would explode. We would all burn to ashes. Imagine if an unknown N.W.A. released “Straight Outta Compton” today. Well, they couldn’t. Apple wouldn’t let them, and Apple is in charge of your music now.
Lighten up, fools. Everyone should have a picture of themselves holding up that god dammed phoney bloody head. It should be on billboards and the sides of busses. No one will say “no” to that psychopath, look at all the politicians, so brave, so noble. So fucking spineless and worthless. If you ever needed convincing that every politician who you’ve ever elected – and PAID – to stand around in a suit trying to look important are all utterly disposable, just look around at the country you live in now. A fucking lunatic is in charge, and no one, absolutely no one who is in a position to stop him or even tame him or sidetrack him or distract him with something shiny – not one of those brave patriots does shit. They all stand there while he signs orders and sends drunk Tweets at 2 a.m. They stand there and watch. All of them. We should have all of their heads on pikes, but we’re fucking cowards too.
Okay, I said if you stuck around I’d play my interview with PJ Harvey, so here it is. It took place outside a waterfront hotel in Pismo Beach, California some time in 2007, so sometimes you can hear seagulls on the tape. I arrived with Russian Vodka and a shiny gold fanny pack full of pharmaceuticals, though I signed a non-disclosure agreement that bars me from telling you whether Ms. Harvey partook of anything. Okay, see you next time.
[Transcript of interview unavailable.] Hear it here.