June 14, 2007

night falls on city skin

Joanne Greenbaum, Untitled, 2007

* Bob Dylan's Mr. Tambourine Man was written about Bruce Langhorne, the man who developed what some call the world's greatest chili sauce, Brother BruBru, and who played guitar on many of Dylans' early hits. excerpt:

"On the morning of the explosion, Bruce Langhorne recalls, he had been pondering the question of what percentage of powdered magnesium could safely be included in a home-made mix of rocket propellant.

"'I realise now that I had one or two gaps in my knowledge of chemistry,' he says. 'I was 12.'

"His mother Dorothy was downstairs in the kitchen, working on her own, less hazardous, recipes.

"'I made the rocket using a steel jacket, packed with magnesium and plaster of Paris...'

"'With a view to what?'

"'I was going to launch it out of my bedroom window to see how far it would get across the park. We were living in New York City, in Spanish Harlem, at that time. I hadn't realised quite how fast magnesium burns. The rocket exploded before it took off. My mother heard this 'boom'. When she came into my (omega) room, she saw I had blown my hand off basically, and my face was all covered in blood. It looked for a while as though I might lose an eye.'

"Langhorne, 68, is talking to me at the kitchen table in his house at Venice Beach, Los Angeles. He raises his right hand. Its fourth and fifth fingers are intact; the thumb, index and middle fingers are reduced to short stumps.

"'My mom told me afterwards that I looked at her and said: 'Well, at least I won't have to play that stupid violin any more.' As a child,' he adds, 'you are very adaptable.'

"Bruce Langhorne had already been identified as versatile and highly gifted, but nobody could have foreseen just how successfully he would overcome this early trauma. The inspiration for the song 'Mr Tambourine Man,' he played guitar on many of Bob Dylan's greatest recordings, including the 1965 album Bringing It All Back Home. He played the electric solo on "Knockin' On Heaven's Door", and percussion on 'Like a Rolling Stone.'

"'If you had Bruce playing with you,' Dylan wrote, in his 2004 autobiography, Chronicles, 'that's all you would need to do just about anything.'

"Bruce Langhorne's career as a cinema composer has included three soundtracks for Jonathan Demme, director of films such as The Silence Of The Lambs, Philadelphia, and his recent documentary on Haiti, The Agronomist. Demme describes the musician simply as 'a master.' When Peter Fonda first commissioned Langhorne's unforgettable score for his classic 1971 western The Hired Hand, he encountered fierce opposition from the film company. 'I reminded them,' Fonda recalled, 'that, in the world of music, the word 'virtuoso' still means something.'

"I tell Bruce Langhorne that I have no trouble recalling the day I decided to try and track him down: it was last July, in a warehouse on an industrial estate just outside Stroud, in Gloucestershire, where I was visiting Stuart McAllister, the UK's leading chilli sauce connoisseur. McAllister, who manufactures and distributes hot sauce from all over the world, had offered me a challenging series of tastings of products with names like 'Rectum Ripper,' 'Blair's After Death,' and 'Holy Shit!' This last bottle bore the words: 'Incinerate Your Body. Adios.' He apologised for having run out of 'So Sue Me,' 'Screaming Sphincter' and 'Wimp Retardant.'

"After a while, McAllister's conversation turned away from these so-called 'Untouchables' - brutal preparations popular with a masochistic UK clientèle - and he started to discuss less absurdly spiced condiments, of real culinary interest. If he couldn't choose one of his own line of 'Hot-Headz' products, he told me, he'd have no hesitation in choosing one all-time favourite from the several thousand brands he has tasted. He handed me my first bottle of Brother Bru-Bru's, a subtle, yet highly flavoured sauce. 'This one really is extraordinary,' McAllister said. 'It's unique, delicious, and not dominated by the flavour of vinegar, like some of the better-known sauces.' I have never bought a bottle of Encona or Tabasco since.

"The face on Brother Bru-Bru's eye-catching label is Bruce Langhorne's. He devised the formula in 1992 - here, at his home in Venice. The musician and master chef hands me a bottle from a display stand he keeps in the kitchen."
"The health problems that prompted Bruce Langhorne to invent one of the world's great sauces intensified gruesomely last year. In the space of a few months he suffered a stroke, developed a digestive disorder which left him temporarily unable to swallow, and was diagnosed with a tumour in the pituitary gland. Each condition has responded to treatment, and his only visible symptoms, on the day I meet him, are a certain frailty and a slight unsteadiness when he walks.

"Langhorne had no medical insurance when he fell ill. At one point, he tells me, he was contemplating selling the Martin guitar that strikes up the first chord on 'Subterranean Homesick Blues,' and was used for the solos on songs such as 'Don't Think Twice, It's Alright,' and 'Love Minus Zero/No Limit.' Last Christmas Jonathan Demme launched an appeal fund on counterpunch.com, with an open letter entitled 'A Great Musician Needs Your Help.'
"He didn't start playing the guitar till he was 17, busking in the company of a caricaturist who would sketch people who stopped to listen.

"'I was playing basically with two fingers and the nub of a third,' he says. 'That meant I had to play two notes with one finger, or else strum. So I developed a technique that used each of my fingers to generate a harmonic line. I couldn't be taught by classical techniques. I had to rely on communication and empathy. Which is why I really liked working with Bob Dylan.'

"The two met in 1961 in New York, at the folk club Gerde's Folk City, where Langhorne was accompanist to the MC, a gospel singer named Brother John Sellers.

"'When I first heard Bobby,' Langhorne says, 'I have to be truthful; I was not impressed by his voice. But he turned into such a wonderful writer, such a wonderful artist.'

"'In Scorsese's documentary, you describe the intuitive rapport you developed with Dylan.'

"'The connection I had with Bobby was telepathic, and when I use that word, I mean it. Telepathic. Between the two of us, that level of communication was always very strong. I played on every song on Bringing It All Back Home. Some of those numbers were barely rehearsed. Some were done in one or two takes.'

"'And Dylan said that you inspired him to write 'Mr Tambourine Man.''

"'He did write that song about me. I used to have this drum - a kind of huge Turkish tambourine that made a sound like a whole percussion section. He saw me playing it at a party. It's in a museum now.'"

* Nice little Frank Zappa interview (from a tv show called "the cutting edge").

* "They've already proved Einstein. I mean, all you have to do is look at the way the sun shines on a leaf, and it's round. They proved that light goes in a circle. So, I imagine as long as I'm light, I'm in a circle. Everything is in a circle. When people try to roll a square they get a lot of bumps. Spontaneous things are true things. Society is so anti-spontaneity because they can't get past the idea of The Switch. Some people think they can throw switches on other people. They switch them on when they want to hear them and switch them off when they don't. You know as well as I do that if you turn off a switch you couldn't turn a light back on if the electricity wasn't moving. See, electricity never stops moving. That's the *spark of life*. How can you turn life on or off?" -- Captain Beefheart


Blogger Leafy Green said...

Fantastic story about Langhorne...wow!!

5:13 PM  

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