Sunday, April 29, 2007
Pinheads on the Move, in depth interview with me and steven brown by John Gill
Pinheads on the move
Set your coordinates, gentlemen…
These interviews took place between these coordinates by wire over various dates in April 2007. The reason for their inclusion here, beyond marvelling at how technology has shrunk this small busy planet, is to note how far all three people involved have travelled since they first met, perhaps 26 years ago, in London (51.28′ N, 0.00′ W/E [Greenwich Observatory], Elevation +50 m snm).
Steven Brown: 17.03′ N, 96.43′ W (Oaxaca)
Elevation 1,500 m snm (sobre nivel del mar)
Blaine L. Reininger: 37.98′ N, Longitude 23.73′ E (Athens)
Elevation 147 m snm
John Gill: 36.51′ N, 4.79′ E (Ronda)
Elevation 700 m snm
In 2007, Brown and Reininger mark the thirtieth year of their musical collaborations and friendship. They are, of course, chiefly known as the founder members of Tuxedomoon, along with Peter Principle, Bruce Geduldig, Winston Tong, and various collaborators, temporary members, and numerous guests and friends, such as Michael Belfer, Ivan Georgiev, Benjamin Lew and many others. Tuxedomoon have released over a dozen studio and live recordings, and several soundtracks and compilations. The line-up currently comprises Brown, Reininger, Principle, George Kakanakis and Luc van Lieshout. Their latest release is Bardo Hotel (Crammed, 2006), the soundtrack to an as-yet-unfinished film, shot by video artist Kakanakis and the band, taking its name from the title of Brion Gysin’s only partly-published novel, Beat Museum – Bardo Hotel, after the Paris hotel where Gysin and William Burroughs lived in the 1950s (and where legend sites Gysin’s rediscovery of Tristan Tzara’s cut-up/fold-in technique). It followed their 2004 ‘comeback’ album, Cabin in the Sky (Crammed), after a seven-year period of rest from Tuxedomoon and various outside projects pursued by the members.
Brown and Reininger are the most prolific workers outside Tuxedomoon, with a raft of solo and duet projects to their names, as well as external collaborations with musicians outside Tuxedomoon. In 2007, Brown releases the third album by his Mexican band, Nine Rain, Mexico Woke Up (Independent Recordings) and an expanded version of his 1988 mini-album Brown Plays Tenco (Les Temps Modernes), his tribute to the late Italian pop star, Luigi Tenco. Reininger releases two new recordings this year, the theatre/film soundtracks, Elektra/Radio Moscow (Les Temps Modernes), and a new studio work, Glossolalia (Off/Stilll). Tuxedomoon have been working on a new studio recording over the past year. A 3CD-plus-DVD box set, 7 7 07 (Crammed), is planned for later in 2007. A compilation of covers by musicians and non-musicians on the Yahoo discussion page for Tuxedomoon admirers (http://launch.groups.yahoo.com/group/tuxedomoon) is also due this year available as a non-profit, non-commercial release to members of the list. The band’s official historian, Belgian writer, photographer and lawyer Isabelle Corbisier, has recently completed work on what promises to be the definitive history of Tuxedomoon.
Tuxedomoon formed in 1977 around Brown (voice, reeds, keyboards), Reininger (voice, violin, guitar, keyboards) and bassist Peter Principle (nee Dachert) after Brown and Reininger met while studying electronic music in San Francisco. They emerged into a north American post-punk scene that had already produced The Residents, Pere Ubu and Devo, but were almost instantly, perhaps uniquely, recognisable by their very ‘European’ sound, one that owed as much to the ‘art-rock’ school of Henry Cow, Univers Zero, Art Zoyd, ZNR and others as it owed to north America’s new wave. Cinema played a big part in their background (both Brown and Reininger have acted in films, and more besides), from homegrown genres (film noir, sci-fi, classic horror as namechecked in the title of a track on their debut album, Half-Mute, ‘James Whale’, after the director of the first, classic, Frankenstein) to the European art-house greats (Godard, Fellini, well, take your pick, really). As the circumstances of their first meeting might suggest, Brown and Reininger weren’t about to form your average pick-up-a-guitar-and-learn-some-chords new wave band, and from Brown’s personal pantheon of musical heroes we might glean an inkling of both Tuxedomoon’s origins and directions: ‘Eno, Bowie, John Cage, Bernard Herrman, Nino Rota, Igor Stravinsky and Ennio Morricone’ is how he described it to me in a 2005 e-interview from his small farm in the mountains outside Oaxaca.
The fact that their debut album appeared on San Francisco’s Ralph Records, home to that last word in wacky, The Residents, was promise enough for us thrill jockeys of the British rock press. The difference, perhaps, between Brown and Reininger – and matters of style and appropriation begin to blur when considering the sheer breadth of genres both have visited in their careers – is attitude. Brown is regarded as the egghead of Tuxedomoon, while Reininger is often seen as the joker in the pack, but in fact the roles are interchangeable. (And since we’re here to triangulate Tuxedomoon, it’s worth positing that the real brainiac in Tuxedomoon is probably the shy and retiring Peter Principle, whose four solo albums to date, Sedimental Journey, Tone Poems, Conjunction and Idyllatry [the last two on Les Temps Modernes] contain more sonic mayhem and mischief than anything by either Brown or Reininger.) Considering the array of genres they have coopted, individually, as a duo or in the democratic mix of Tuxedomoon, the term ‘eclectic’ might be beside the point here. I am tempted to invoke the name of Charles Ives and his idea of ‘universal music’, albeit fed through an electric, post-punk sensibility.
In a career wedded (like Reininger’s) to an almost wilfully contrarian ahistoricity and stubborn resistance to fashion, Brown’s latest release is a collection of subtly loaded pop tunes by the late Italian chart idol Luigi Tenco, who shot himself in 1967, his suicide an act of protest, it’s said, after the jury at the 1967 Italian Song Festival in San Remo failed to award him first prize. Brown has found a current of bittersweet self-awareness running deep in the work of the dead pop star (think Scott Walker, maybe, perhaps Marc Almond, or, even, Johnny Ray…). Brown Plays Tenco fits in to his track record of albums such as Steven Brown Reads the Works of John Keats in that it doesn’t fit in anywhere at all. Expect Steven Brown to do one thing and you can bet money on him doing the exact opposite.
Of Reininger’s new solo releases, the theatre soundtrack and movie score on Elektra/Radio Moscow take a backseat serving the narratives they accompanied, although leaving enough space for Reininger’s imagination to roam, at one point producing some wild symphonic structures recalling Norwegian electronic mavericks Supersilent. His imminent solo studio work, Glossolalia, is a landmark work in his solo career and on a par with Byrne and Eno’s My Life in the Bush of Ghosts and Holger Czukay’s seminal Movies. To this listener, the effect is akin to being locked in a cinema multiplex where Reininger’s favourite movies are all running simultaneously on loop. Rifling through their back pages, however, one Reininger track leapt out and demanded incessant replay: his ‘Black Out’, on 1988’s Book of Hours (also LTM), is his drive-time radio hit that never was, a glorious, big-guitar-noise pop anthem that should have fronted the soundtrack to The Breakfast Club. (I know, I know, but that’s Tuxedomoon for you. To quote one of their favourite writers, William Burroughs, ‘everything is allowed and nothing is permitted.’)
These pinheads have been on the move (our title comes from their 1978 debut single, quite possibly then on loan from the San Francisco Examiner cartoon strip, Zippy the Pinhead) virtually since they formed. I first met them in London in 1981, when they were en route to Europe, fleeing, they said, Ronald Reagan’s Amerika. They settled in Brussels, finding a home with adventurous indie label Crammed Discs. Their time in Brussels and with Crammed, a relationship that continues, produced all but the first two of their albums, Half-Mute (1980) and the lauded Desire (1981). After 1983, when Reininger left the group to develop solo projects, Tuxedomoon was in a state of flux. Brown, Principle, Tong and Geduldig produced three further albums as Tuxedomoon: the classic Holy Wars (1985), followed by Ship of Fools (1986) and You (1987). Reininger re-joined in 1988 for a world tour, which produced Ten Years in One Night (Live) (1990). Tuxedomoon remained in stasis until a series of concerts in Israel, Italy and Greece brought them together again in 1997. The n, in 2000, remix wizard DJ Hell, in their words, ‘shook our tree’ with a suggested re-release and tour of Half-Mute, and triggered renewed activity that would result in 2004’s ‘comeback’ album, Cabin in the Sky. [For the record, the title has absolutely nothing to do with either the movie of that name or the music of Cab Calloway featured in it.] The reinvigorated Tuxedomoon were joined by Hell, Aksak Maboul, Tortoise’s John McEntire, Coti K, Juryman and Tarwater on what might, until their next studio release appears, justifiably be described as their late masterpiece.
The obvious question to ask Brown and Reininger, after twelve years of exile in Brussels and, today, settled in Mexico and Greece, is, why there?
Steven: Claustrophobia, after 12 years in Europe. The original idea of [collaborator, co-writer/founder of Nine Rain] Nikolas Klau and I was to move to Belize. In order to get to Belize from Brussels you must change planes in Mexico City. On landing there we both experienced the same sensation: ‘What are we doing in Brussels when we could be here?!’
I actually made it to Belize as per our plan. NK saw no need and remained in Mexico.
And Blaine: I usually answer this question by saying that ‘Greece chose me.’ In the nineties, I was working rather a lot with a Greek director named Nicholas Triandafyllidis. I was acting in his movies and composing the music. I found myself practically commuting to Athens. When circumstances became dire in Brussels in 1998 and I knew that I had to leave, Athens was the logical choice as the place where there was work for me. In staying here, I became more and more involved with the place and before I knew it I had a son here. In Athens I suffered the death of the woman I thought would bury me, I remarried, saw my son born, divorced, found new love, all of that. Life caught up with me all at once after so long in the event-free phantom zone of my chemical days in deadly dull Belgium. In any case, my post-Belgian career has been surprisingly varied. I have worked as a radio producer, played Agamemnon both here and in Caracas, played a lounge music show with a piano bar pianist from a seafood restaurant, crooned my way through an evening of Hadzidakis [Manos Hadzidakis, the late composer, singer and folklorist], sung in Greek before his adopted son and musical heirs and much more besides.
I am also happy to report that I have begun to incorporate Tuxedomoon and our activities into the fabric of my life in Athens. Why not? This place is full of talented people and great locations to work and play.
Two very different men, two very different countries, and two very different loads of cultural baggage, one Not Wanted On The Voyage, another secure in their walk-on allowance.
Steven: Arriving in Mexico with the intention to live there …was like landing on another planet. In a situation like this one must carve out a new life. You use the resources you have at hand to survive. What will you do in your new life? What do you know how to do? As a musician I had a certain amount of notoriety in Mexico and this helped me to form a
band. Playing music, if not actually paying the rent, allowed me to work and gave me some mooring, some stability in this new frontier.
Blaine: One remarkable thing about Greece is that, on the surface, it resembles any other European country. The general gestalt of things is not so different from, say, Italy. It is only after one becomes involved with the place and the people that one realizes how deep the Oriental influence runs, namely that of the Ottoman Turks and their attitudes on such varied things as the relationship between the sexes, family life in general and how much sugar to put in baklava. The influence of family on the average Greek’s life is difficult to understand for those of us from Anglo-American protestant cultures where extended family has been superseded by the notion of the isolated individual or ‘nuclear family’ alone against the world. Also, there is a deep suspicion of foreigners that runs back to the ancient Greeks. ‘Barbarian’ is a Greek word and idea, coming from the imitation of the sub-human speech of the people from beyond Hellas, ‘bar bar bar bar’. The ‘xeno’ in ‘xenophobia’ is likewise a Greek notion. It literally means ‘fear of foreigners’.
To their credit, though, the Greeks are a pretty tolerant lot. They have an ironic sense of humour and are not easily shocked. This is perhaps because the volume level and physical animation of ordinary daily discourse would pass for physical assault and verbal abuse in England, par example. Anything short of nuclear explosion is seen as pretty tame. And naturally, without the proverbial Greek hospitality, I would not have done as well here as I have.
Here we should split them up to interrogate them separately about their work in their newly elected places of exile.
Steven: Our first trip to Mexico in ’92 was a vacation. We went back to Brussels with the idea of naming our musical group Nine Rain, a name derived by cutting up the Aztec calendar. At the time we had a group in Brussels called Steven Brown and Friends, which included Luc van Lieshout, Ivan Georgiev, Pierre Narcisse, Niko and I. Naming this group Nine Rain was the first step towards our moving to Mexico a year later and forming the Mexican Nine Rain.
By anyone’s reckoning, the ravishing Latin rhythms that carry the three Nine Rain CDs – Nine Rain, Rain of Fire and, now, Mexico Woke Up – are about as far as you might imagine Brown travelling from the baroque architecture of Tuxedomoon. (Or, given the contrary nature of man and band, maybe not.) It is not, however, Steven Brown and –
Steven: From the outset I’ve always been lucky to work with very fine musos, each with their own considerable trajectory. Although it is Niko and I and Alejandro [Herrera, Nine Rain guitarist] who come up with the musical ideas, it’s the band that gives them life.
During the period of stasis for Tuxedomoon, both Reininger and Brown established solo careers with a variety of independent projects, not least the latter’s solo albums, including Searching for Contact (LTM, 1987) and Half-Out (LTM, 1991). Meeting them again when Tuxedomoon played Madrid on their 2004 Cabin in the Sky tour, I had to reconsider Steven Brown as a ‘songwriter’, rather than the co-composer of the works of Tuxedomoon. I am still getting my head around this. Both men are, despite their exile, deeply (north) American composers; beyond the Ives simile, in Brown’s case I’d invoke comparisons with Van Dyke Parks, David Byrne, Stan Ridgway (late of the great Wall of Voodoo), maybe even Randy Newman and Brian Wilson.
Steven: I’ve always respected songwriters. There was a time when I fantasised about becoming one. (How thrilled I was when I met the grandson of Harry Warren in LA one time.) Still, from time to time I attempt to write a ‘song’. Ultimately, though, I think it’s my job to twist or bend or push the envelope. There are enough good songwriters in the world. But there is always room to explore between the cracks. Remember, we are the underground … beneath the floorboards of the mainstream rummaging through the debris of time and tradition, always looking for a new trick…
And are all his various hats in fact one and the same?
Steven: Yes and no. I do things with Nine Rain, for example, that I would be intimidated to do with TM. As for working solo, theoretically you have more freedom but in the end you have less because you are limited by your own talent or vision. Working with others gives you broader powers and opens up more possible horizons in spite of the inconveniences that invariably arise working with ‘the other’.
Despite the tumultuous personal events that he readily volunteers in interview, Reininger’s creative trajectory has been smoother than Brown’s. Since first ‘leaving’ Tuxedomoon in 1983, he has released a shocking (if only because I just sat down and counted them…) 17 solo and collaborative works under his own name. It’s impossible to choose a stand-out title, although his collaboration with Mikel Rouse, Colorado Suite (Crammed, 1984), which they toured live, remains the object of particular personal fondness for this writer. Glossolalia, however, seems to be a new departure for Reininger. Like the Byrne/Eno collaboration, and like Czukay’s dazzling widescreen juggling act with post-Can experiment and sources snatched from shortwave radio, TV and film, it sees Reininger cast as the mixing-desk circus ringmaster introducing a startling playbill of performers, styles and sources (Greek street scenes, dark cowboy laments, the mariachi chestnut ‘Cielito Lindo’ – ‘Ay! Ay, ay-ay!’ – wired, pulsing beat pop, mutant Kentonesque big band arrangements, electronic tone poems, broadcast exorcists, the voices of Tristan Tzara, John Cage, Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins, and then some) in a way that might, in an act of sheer journalistic desperation, be nutshelled as the disco remix of Cage’s Roaratorio.
Blaine: I am not really so familiar with Holger Czukay’s work, though I consider My Life in the Bush of Ghosts to be one of the seminal recordings of the late 20th century. It was on this work that modern music was invented, the use of sampled, ‘found object’ vocals and audio superimposed and montaged over dense electronic, acoustic and tribal rhythms, the pomo attitude and the ironic detached humour, all of these things appeal to me in ways that give me goose bumps. A correspondence between ‘Ghosts and Glossolalia is not imaginary, though I had stumbled upon this kind of thinking in my own mad musings around about the time Tuxedomoon began, ignorant of the fact that Eno and Byrne were working literally around the corner in San Francisco. San Francisco in the late ’70s was all abuzz with ideas and energy. I have always been one sensitive to being bitten by cultural memes, if you buy that notion. There were plenty of people working in just these sorts of areas. I got bit good by the pomo bug there in SF.
The way Glossolalia came about was strange. After my wife JJ died in 1998, and I recorded the songs I had been working on all through the late ’90s as The More I Learn the Less I Know, I felt somehow that I was finished forever with the creative approach that had brought about all of my solo work. I didn’t feel able to write songs again, for starters. I felt at home, in spite of myself, in that nihilist side of postmodernism, which says that ‘Art is such bullshit, the tackiest piece of mass produced garbage is better than serious art.’ What was really happening was a very deep and wrenching sadness, a reaction to a truly catastrophic loss, and a real need to re-define my personal identity. When I sat down to start ‘working again’, after first acquiring living and working quarters of my own, I had no idea where I would begin. I dug out my CD collection and started sampling with a vengeance. I decided to forswear my conscious mind and my ego as much as possible and use tried and true methods such as aleatory music techniques and philosophical assumptions to favour instinct over intellect.
I was also able, for the first time, to surf the internet with a vengeance, to follow the tenuous golden thread all over the damn place, to seek resonances and correspondences for this particular glass bead game as far as I could follow and plow the results back into my work. In spite of those who want to turn the internet into some kind of paid theme park or a mundane entertainment medium, the net is about as close as we have ever come to a model of the collective unconscious. For those of us who know how to do it, netsurfing is like dreaming. What a wonderful tool! It is really the tool I have waited for my whole creative life. I could smell the outskirts of this data world before it happened. I used to turn on a shortwave radio, talk on the phone, watch acetate transparencies taped over a television, project slides on my wall in my own apartment in the ’70s, trying to mock up what I now know is the sort of multimedia environment we now have online.
The results which now began to appear in my work with the sort of mystifying certainty of dowsing for water pleased me, so I continued. Of course, like any other activity which involves serious surfing of the tao, gambling, for instance, ‘when you’re hot you’re hot’. And when you are not, you are decidedly not. When fortune favours one, one can seem to do no wrong, every gesture turns up a gem. When the winning streak runs out, the work is flat-out shit. Just the dreariest crap you can imagine. You just have to keep working.
Both men write and sing words in Tuxedomoon and, obviously, on their own recordings. Burroughs scores high in their lists of favourites, but for different reasons: perhaps the literary stand-off between sensibility and text, or sens (Brown) and matere (Reininger). Brown admires Burroughs’s fiction, particularly, I suspect, Cities of the Red Night (he has cast Burroughs’s occasional fictional alter-ego Audrey in at least one twisted electronic sea-shanty on Searching for Contact) while Reininger is more interested in the idea of the cut-up as a tool, and one which, in fact, you can play with on a random text generator he has installed on his website at http://www.mundoblaineo.com
As words tend to, their lyrics ground both Blaine and Steven in a cultural past. Ironically, their lyrics ground them in the country they left in 1980, or perhaps in their resistance to the cultural forces that led them to leave. As we’ve already had his musical pantheon, I asked Steven what books feature alongside Burroughs and Keats on the bookshelves of that Oaxaca farm.
Steven: Philip K. Dick, Guy Debord, Mexican mythology and history, Inventing the Aids Virus, Greek tragedies, Moby-Dick…
The inclusion of angelheaded hipster Philip K. Dick shouldn’t be too surprising here, nor that of Situationist Debord, author of Society of the Spectacle – nor, really, Moby-Dick author Herman Melville, for reasons we’ll get on to later. Inventing the Aids Virus, however, might deserve explaining. Its author, Peter H Duesberg, is a leading, dissenting, voice in the field of AIDS epidemiology, who argues that a complex combination of factors causes AIDS, and that HIV is a relatively harmless passenger virus. Duesberg further argues that HIV/AIDS is a political, economic and cultural construct, myth, even, and one that is killing people. Steven is what he, as one, possibly but not necessarily autobiographical, song on Mexico Woke Up, ‘Invisible Man’, prefers to call it, ‘queer’ (and, believe me, as a happily self-defined queer myself, I spent a fair amount of time wondering just what to call Steven Brown in this text). During his years there, Steven was one of the driving forces behind the formation of ACT UP Brussels, and you wouldn’t need to be Roland Barthes to decode the semiosis of his multiple-punning-or-not Half-Out. Call it polysemy, maybe…
Blaine is more a Tim Allen, Home Improvement, powertools kinda guy when it comes to words and, specifically, the cut-up and randomly generated texts.
Blaine: I have always been fascinated by the kind of insouciant word play found in James Joyce, William Burroughs, and Zippy the Pinhead. Non-sequiturs fill me with delight and I can’t get enough. I devised a few of my own systems to generate random juxtapositions and non-sequiturs in my pre-computer days, notably one which used dice and then special eight-sided dice and a table of my own devising. It is not so much that I am in love with the po-faced sort of verbal deconstruction of the Surrealists and Dadaists, it is just that I have always found this sort of stuff funny. Now, of course, I have stumbled upon a couple of very good random word-generating systems for my computer, one of which draws upon a database of words which I have lovingly loaded for years now. Fun for the whole family.
I structure my music, my words, my photography, my cooking, the same way, because I decided early on that the sort of inter-disciplinary virtuosity and synaesthesia proposed by Herman Hesse in The Glass Bead Game is true, is the purest expression of art and science there is. That is to say, I know that it is possible to express a notion in music, in art, in mathematics, in flavour, in terms of any and all human disciplines, without losing resolution since all knowledge and all information is connected at the source.
The relationship between Brown and Reininger is far more complicated than anyone outside their friendship can probably imagine or divine. They’re often painted as warring bosom buddies, but something far more profound holds this friendship together. I tried a joke on both of them, asking who was who in their post-punk production of The Odd Couple. Steven treated the question with the contempt it probably deserved, sending me a crisp ‘X’ in place of a reply. Blaine, however, always game for a laugh, allowed: Well, Steven would be Felix, if Felix were an arty slob. I am like Oscar, but I am compulsively symmetrical, if not neat.
Compulsively symmetrical or a-symmetrical, there is something that has kept these two geniuses circling each other for thirty years in what is known in astronomy as tidal locking, the gravity that keeps planets and satellites in tidy orbit. It goes beyond the giddying variety of genres they have plundered: write a list of them – gypsy airs, say, Debussy or Satie, fraudulent bebop, minimalism in the manner of Steve Reich, strung-out punk neurosis, prairie melancholia, twisted love songs, chamber works mixing whimsy and menace, heartbreaking melodies to make you go weak at the knees – and Blaine and Steven will simply add another to the list when you’re not looking.
Which, of course, leads the journalist to the next question: their longevity. Thirty years, on and off, is a long time for any band to continue working together, particularly when you consider the perversely uncommercial nature of the collective genius of Tuxedomoon. U2 take their tax registration off-shore; Tuxedomoon, you fear, still starve for their art.
Blaine: The in loco familias approach has helped us hold together all this time. I don’t think we know what people like about it. We just, like, do it, man.
Or Steven: Peter put it best I think when he said we reformed the band (after a seven-year hiatus) because nobody else was doing Tuxedomoon music.
Which hands us the next question. What is ‘Tuxedomoon music’? Was there a founding philosophy?
Steven: The founding philosophy of Blaine and I in the beginning was to take the electronic and experimental music we were learning at the time out of the staid academic halls and play it in the clubs where the real people were. Unwittingly, we were continuing in the tradition begun by the likes of physicist, composer and musician Wendy Carlos, who in the ’60s also wanted to take electronic music out of the hallowed academic halls of atonal serial dissonance and ‘make music that wasn’t ugly’. Or Warhol, who succeeded in dissolving the boundaries between high- and low-brow art. Our philosophy was born in the late seventies and out of our unique personal situation. The question could be asked: is this idea still valid today when anyone with a computer is an electronic musician? But trends come and go. In the ’50s the only way to hear the new-born electronic music was on tape. People would go to a concert hall and the composer would push ‘play’ on the tape recorder. Loudspeaker music, it was called. Quickly, people like John Cage realized this was boring and performance art was born. A direct parallel is the laptop crowd today. I’m always amazed to see an audience avidly staring at some nerd on stage staring down into his lap … top. The music may or may not be interesting, but there is nothing to see! And so like their ancestors in the ’50s, laptoppers now often connect video to their rig and now the audience can watch a screen. Today in the performance world there is what’s called Live Cinema. The video artist is ostensibly showing his or her work but part of that work is a live feed of what is being filmed onstage and so the actual process of recording is part of the overall performance, in part a Meyerhold idea of stripping away the artifice to reveal the inner gears at work. TM was doing this in the seventies through the work of Bruce Geduldig and Winston Tong. We like to think of TM as a style of its own, an entity that until now has rode out all the passing trends and fashions and remains true to itself.
But then again, como siempre, there is also Blaine: There are many unwritten rules and conventions in the Tuxedomoon working partnership, many of which evolved in the course of doing the thing. I do think that the initial form of it, the multi-media, unified field of art, synaesthesic entity, was there from the start. We have our roles in the composing, we deal in certain ways with money, with sharing writing credits, we sit in certain places in the van on tour. We function somewhat like a family, more like a collective, we think we are anarcho-syndicalists but we probably ain’t.
The, if you will, gluon that holds these two astronomical objects in balance is, perhaps, and paradoxically, the very thing they have spent much of their adult lives running away from: America. I will immediately problematise that observation by saying that ‘we’ Europeans have a habit of misreading (north) Americans, but despite their exile, there is a very ‘American’ voice in their work as composers and writers. I asked both of them if they weren’t, really, still singing the ‘body electric’ that Walt Whitman sang?
Blaine: I used to think that I was singing that glorious Whitman song, that Herman Melville, Alan Ginsberg, ‘land of the big shoulders’, Jack Kerouac, pure American cry of rugged individuality and the romance of the lonely highway through the desert of night. I realized only recently that what moves me is the paradoxical, the state of love/hate, bitter/sweet, Irish coffee/baked Alaska, take on reality. Thus, though I have the sight of the full moon on virgin fields of snow under astral mountains in Colorado forever lased onto my heart, I have been away so long and I am so heartily disgusted by what my countrymen have made of the place in the last twenty or so years that I don’t know where I’m from anymore. I retain two undisputably American qualities, my accent and my passport. The rest is uncertain.
Or Steven: There’s a phrase by American expat writer James Baldwin that has always haunted me. It essentially refers to that intangible feeling of recognition, or of having something in common when looking at another American. Living abroad for over 25 years, I have always avoided Americans. Maybe part of that is self-denial, but in the end what does one leave one’s country of birth for, if not to start a new life freed from the past?
Still, there is ultimately no way to eliminate your roots. I think it’s true for anyone from anywhere, no matter how well you learn the local lingo or blend in to the local colour, you are always the stranger. As for Whitman, there was a time in my life when I felt the ecstasy of the promise for humanity he speaks of. Those days are few and far between nowadays, I’m afraid to say.
Steven has recently lived through what the glib journalist describes elsewhere as the short-lived people’s republic of Oaxaca, when the inhabitants of that beautiful city high in the Sierra Madre del Sur (since we’re here, John Huston’s Sierra Madre, in fact) rose up against a corrupt regime led by a corrupt state governor, chased the cops and army out of town, only to see their people’s republic smashed by the armed forces. It had a profound effect on a man who normally prefers to tend his cows and watch the weather.
Steven: I live in Oaxaca, Mexico, and for the last year we have been suffering through serious social upheaval, the city occupied by protesters for months, barricades on hundreds of streets, curfews, death squads, molotovs, the eventual entry of the military who then themselves occupied the city. Recently, there have been expositions of paintings and videos directly inspired by these events. Critics have accused artists of profiting off this difficult and painful situation. But I think it’s part of the artist’s work to absorb the environment and report on it, using the filters of the given artist ultimately providing a vision often far more important then the majority of official news reports, [like] Goya, Picasso, Genet…
I must say I have been very disillusioned with recent events here where I live, and for the first time have thought of moving somewhere else. But looking around it’s clear that most of the world survives under some form of totalitarian rule. Still, there are places where the repression is better camouflaged, like Europe.
For the time being, then, these pinheads are maintaining their coordinates.
Steven: Due to the ironic situation of recently receiving government financing for two projects here (one being Nine Rain), I will be staying put for another two years at least.
And Blaine: True to my love of paradox, I am that strangest of animals—a nomad who hates to travel. Truly. I get antsy leaving a hotel I have been in for more than three days. Nevertheless, I cannot bear the notion of being in only one place on Earth for the rest of my days. I will stay in Greece as long as that is tenable, primarily because my son is here.
As for the future, the Felix and Oscar of post-modern art-rock intend to stick around, together.
Steven: Tuxedomoon will probably be our Cabin in the Sky for some time to come.
The last word has to go to Blaine: I will endeavour to maintain Tuxedomoon and its activities as long as possible and then some. If nothing else, it is the closest thing any of us have to a pension.
All available recordings by Steven Brown, Blaine L. Reininger, Nine Rain, Tuxedomoon and other individual members can be found at the following web sites: