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July 21, 2001
Jazz Legend Comes Clean
Has the Onion ever done a story like this? If so, I plead guilty to unwittingly plagiarizing. I was watching Sex and the City the other night -- admittedly, watching for its train-wreck value while trying hard not to gag on the repulsive vibe that its skanky lead character (under the severe delusion that she's a desirable human being) dumps on viewers and hapless costars -- and it came up that Jazz was "all over the place, with no melody," etc. While this did nothing to redeem the hopelessly narcissistic Carrie, she had a point there, sort of. Sometimes. You know, with some people, though not me. No, not at all. But, here we go:
Jazz Legend Comes Clean, Calls Fans Dumb Fucksby Mark Greener
Staff Writer, Jazz Masters Monthly
Oster Goode, the legendary frontman for the groundbreaking jazz quartet Ephesians, called a reporter yesterday to confess that it had all been a sham. "I'm sick of playing like I believe in it," he said. "And if I'm accosted by one more pimpled budding critic showering me with praise as I'm heading backstage to take a piss, I'm afraid I'm going to lose it and do something I'll regret."
There was a time when it was real, Goode conceded. "This all comes from the blues, you know, which emerged out of our people's suffering. I will not dismiss elegy that has held up the hearts of generations as nonsense. And with the rythm and blues, you know, it was a legitimate howl. But at some point, because people didn't understand it at first, they thought they'd never understand it and they were afraid of being square. So everything that came out was good. I could plink piano keys in my sleep and record it and release it and it was still a work of genius."
Goode fondly remembers the days when the band was working hard, putting "all we got" into pieces that in retrospect are dazzling in their intense virtuosity. "But once we made it to big time, I couldn't release a fart without some damn fool wanting to release it, and one white boy after another rushing to praise it."
He pointed out "Assylum Hole," the band's acclaimed album from its late-1990s, so-called Velvet period, as a "prime example." The way Goode tells it, he walked across a two-foot-wide roll of white paper while "stoned out of my mind, and pissing like nobody's business." He then had an engineer feed the roll through a scanner that generates notes for self-playing pianos. For other tracks he sampled loops of himself rubbing the instruments in a random, jerking fashion across "my balls," he revealed. "I wanted to call the album Dumb Asshole, thinking that's what anyone was who bought it, but the label and the brothers in the band killed that idea, saying, 'Oster, sometimes you really go too far.'"
I asked Mr. Goode if consequently he considers "Assylum Hole" an artistic compromise, and he responded, "I guess you can say that," before he dissolved into a sputtering rage whose raw intensity and virtuoso inflections held me captive even hours after I'd finally let go of the phone.
"I must ask," he railed, "what the fuck is the matter with you people? I understand the fans being easily impressionable dumb fucks but you folks are supposed to be smart, educated, and all that. Don't you recognize a fake when you see it? Where will it stop? How many boring albums will you buy and worship at the altar, what will it take, what can I produce that'll finally make you all go, 'You know, man, I think we're being had, this is just his dog chewing on the chords and him laughing in the background'? The Velvet period, the fucking velvet period my ass, you know that's right, with all the money you dumb people put in my pocket I can wipe my ass using velvet instead of toilet paper and crumple it up and put it on the cover of a goddamn limited edition retrospective and watch you folks beat the record store clerks to death trying to get one."
I was at this point too stunned to speak, but the Great Osterizer, as this legend is known in the South, did not need a response from a mere mortal like me. He sighed wearily before hanging up: "It's a weight off me. Now I can die an honest man."
The irony is, of course, as is the case with many greats -- in Jazz and all the other, lesser arts -- Oster Goode is not the best judge of his own material and from his angry outburst during a phone conversation to such a clearly Dada-inspired masterwork as the "Assylum Hole," he seems almost wilfully, playfully unaware of the staggering genius that informs it all.
To many more albums, O Great One, the indomitable maestro....
And (what the hell) in related news:
Breakout Artist Paints Unflattering Picture of Modern Art Scene(compiled from wire services)
Anton Dumer, by any measure, is a tremendous success story. Dubbed the freshest force to hit the New York art scene since Andy Warhol's death, he's the youngest artist to have a solo exhibit launched by MOMA. Dealers vie for his attention; socialites are willing to undergo the indignity of community service (horror of horrors) if it means in exchange they can snag him for one of their high-profile parties; and to turn a familiar phrase around, it's his word that can make a star critic or send one packing to his or her oblivion proofreading ad copy in Dubuque, Iowa.
Hence the seismic effect of Dumer's press conference at the Cloisters at dawn yesterday, tantalizingly called a "surprise Anton Dumer 'happening'" in bold letters splashed across the press release that went out to Big Apple's art establishment and well-heeled glitterati.
"Welcome, I just wanted to say we've been fucking with you all for quite some time, me and all the other guys dipping our hands in paint and dragging them across parchment and selling it for a million dollars," is how Dumer opened a rant that left his initially fawning audience aghast -- and in some cases, in tears.
"What I feel like, frankly, at this moment, is to bombard you dumbasses with liquified fecal matter," he went on, "but you're so buttless you'll take it like some brilliant fucking performance. Besides," he smirked, "it's been done. Copenhagen, if I recall. Bunch of people paid good money to see it too."
There were nervous murmurs in the crowd, huddling in their furs and leather jackets on this unseasonally cold day, and nervous glances in the direction of the limo drivers parked in the lot seven deep. But nobody dared to break away.
"The reason I brought you all the way up here is so you would have to drive through Harlem, where..."
A reflexive utterance, a timid, oh-was-I-not-supposed-to-do-that kind of voice inadvertently interrupted the artist: "We took the Henry Hudson..."
Dumer didn't miss a beat: "Well, good for you asshole; I'm sure Henry's very happy. As I was saying, where you'd have the opportunity to see the landscape that has been the nurturing ground for Project Shooting Back, kids learning to use cameras and documenting their environment with them. I wanted you to question why their stunning photographs are hanging at the community center and gathering dust in drawers over at the Eastman House while you go and drop the family gold before Helmut Newton's stinking feet in exchange for one of his derivative nudes. Well, at least he doesn't have a bad eye. Wretched polaroids of women, cold-flashed, harsh shadows, spreading themselves on dirty sheets, yadda yadda yadda, fetch $25 a piece on the amateur pages of Hustler, but when it's Nan Goldin doing the same stuff you run to the bank and grab your life savings to buy it, what's up with that, huh?"
Nobody came forward to articulate what was "up with that," perhaps fearing that Dumer might have packed a .44, the subject of his famous lithograph "The Engorgance," the first one of his works to break the $10M barrier.
Next Dumer produced a glossy 8X10 from within the depths of his rumpled Colombo trenchcoat. "I downloaded this off a random page on the Internet, this morning. It's just a throwaway print for this guy, apparently, out of focus, tilted, perhaps by accident, or by design. But it's out there for free...
...And you know what, I could take this, blow it up to 3 by 4 feet, and sell it to one of you suckers as a statement on our lack of focus in the fight against AIDS, or something equally predictable and boring. Hell, I don't even have to have the striking colors, it could be washed out, inelegant, uglier than you could imagine, and you'd still pay me. And you know what, you have. I've willingly produced crap just to see where it would stop. I got so depressed over it I'd drink a bottle of vodka and yell over the rooftops at night, 'Where's Valerie Solanas when you need her? Someone fucking shoot me now!'"
And then, just as abruptly as it had begun, it was over. The genius shrugged. "I got your money now. I got more of your money than I could possibly spend, more than I know what to do with. I don't have to play your game anymore. Find some other plaything, aright? Fuckers."
With that, Anton Dumer turned and walked away, fists clenched and muttering to himself, leaving many to wonder whether this had been a carefully staged performance after all, with Dumer taking the kind of bold leap that has so far defined his adventures on canvas...
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