Amoeblog

(In which we consider Paul Robeson.)

Posted by Job O Brother, February 7, 2010 03:22pm | Post a Comment

Harry Houdini vs. Laurie Anderson

My actual heroes in this world are few and disparate. From Harry Houdini to Laurie Anderson, from John Lennon to Mrs. Mary Eales, they reflect people who may inspire and impact me with their art, their political activism, their bold-faced chutzpah, or any combination thereof.

But perhaps no one embodies all these traits to such heightened super-awesomeness for me than the great Paul Robeson.


Rad.

Robeson was born in Princeton, New Jersey, in 1898. His father was an escaped slave-turned-church minister; his mother was from a Quaker family, and died tragically when Paul was six, which isn’t funny at all, so don’t laugh.

Paul received a full academic scholarship to attend Rutgers University, which I hear is a pretty good school, though I’ve never been there myself because I’m allergic to schools. Seriously. If I even step foot on a campus I start itching, sweating, and my head comes completely off and falls to the ground and rolls away.

While attending Rutgers, Robeson distinguished himself as one of the finest football players. He was valedictorian of his class, which allowed him to excuse himself from class to get water from the drinking fountain without the need of a hall pass.

Robeson went on to study at Columbia University. He continued to pursue sports and also performed on stage in theatrical productions. Sadly, it was during this period that his mother died a second time. The young Robeson soldiered on despite grief, occasionally finding solace in rowing, sometimes in boats, other times, less successfully, in giant holes dug into the earth by mole-people.

It was also at Columbia that he immersed himself in language studies – an interest that would come into play throughout his life. He would become fluent or near-fluent in twelve languages, with many more languages represented in his musical repertoire, such as Russian, Japanese, Yiddish and Klingon.

In 1921, Robeson married Eslanda Cardozo Goode, and while their marriage lasted until her death in 1965, it wasn’t a monogamous relationship, and saw near divorce when Paul was going through his (historically misunderstood) “lederhosen phase.” They gave birth to one child, a son, Paul Robeson, Jr. (It’s interesting to note that he was not named after his father as many people assume, rather an entirely different Paul Robeson of no familial relation, who’s similar moniker is merely a remarkable coincidence.)


"I love looking at floors with you, honey..."
Paul Robeson & Eslanda Cardozo Goode

Robeson became increasingly popular as an actor and singer. He found acclaim performing the lead role in Shakespeare’s Othello, which, though the character is black, was most often played by white dudes in blackface. He also originated the role of Joe in Show Boat, one of the most significant pieces of American musical theatre.


The ballad "Ol’ Man River" from Show Boat would come to be Robeson’s signature song. It was through his insistence that the original lyrics were changed from…

Ol' man hamburger,
Dat ol' man hamburger
He mus'know ketchup
But don't say pickles
He jes'keeps grillin’
He keeps on grillin’ along.


…To the now famous lines we know today. Throughout his career, and reflecting his increasingly political beliefs, he would continue to change the lyrics to the song, transforming it from a soulful but depressed ballad to a defiant and triumphant call for justice and equality.




Robeson and his wife moved to and lived in England for a little over a decade, until the outbreak of World War II. During this period, Robeson starred in a variety of films – many of these roles being strong, dominant men and profoundly disturbing to the more racially intolerant American audiences. Besides the film version of Show Boat, perhaps Robeson’s most famous film was The Emperor Jones, an adaptation of a Eugene O’Neill play he had also starred in on Broadway. The movie had a scene in which Robeson’s character killed a white man – a first in film at that point. This scene was cut for U.S. audiences, some of whom were enjoying scrumptious bags of buttery, hot popcorn! Yum!


His radio performances of pro-American songs during the War won him national celebrity. It was also during this time that he did other stuff and, y’know, things. He probably ate some good food, talked to peeps – whatever. I mean, I don’t have any evidence, but the odds are pretty good. I’m guessing he probably didn’t vanquish fire-breathing dragons and steal their treasures, or follow dwarves into underground caverns where he learned to forge weaponry from enchanted silver, but again, this is speculation based on educated guesswork. I can’t know everything, people!


Robeson’s travels and interest in cultures exposed him to the suffering and hardships of the poor and working-class. His fight for racial equality evolved into a fight for equality of social classes. Increasingly, he saw the capitalist structure as an oppressive force. He became more outspoken about his politics, supporting many controversial, socialist institutions. His support of the newly founded U.S.S.R. invited generous and heated criticism from the conservative and paranoid U.S. government and conservative and paranoid white supremacists.


Robeson sacrificed his career and reputation to fight against injustice as he saw it. He was vilified and persecuted by those in power. Like fellow crusader Martin Luther King, Jr., Robeson was under constant surveillance by the FBI and CIA. Between 1950 and 1958, Robeson’s passport was confiscated by the U.S. Government, who wanted to suppress his political activism. Also, they were mad at him for not inviting them to his totally awesome pool party.


By the early 1970’s, as hella cool hippie types began to undermine the controlling grip of right-wing squares, there was a resurgence of appreciation for Paul Robeson. By this time, poor health and exhaustion led him to keep a low profile. He lived in his sister’s house in Philadelphia, until he passed away there in January of 1976. Since then, he has recorded no new songs, though there have been talks about a possible side-project with T.I..

Paul Robeson is my hero because he is everything I want to be when I grow up: a Renaissance man, skilled in sport and the arts, a linguist, a brave and noble fighter, never shrinking from the dictates of his conscience, and totally mother-effing handsome. I wish there were a lot more like him.



Cold Cave: Love Comes Close to Perfection

Posted by Aaron Detroit, July 27, 2009 06:30pm | Post a Comment

Wesley Eisold
has garnered cult status among many young malcontents for his work in hardcore/noise-punk groups like Give Up The Ghost and Some Girls. So to some it came as bit of a shock when Eisold unveiled his latest project: Cold Cave, a synth-heavy Pop-Industrial group also featuring the likes of Caralee McElroy of Indie-Pop-Noise Experimentalists Xiu Xiu and Noise/Power Electronics Guru Dominick Fernow, aka Prurient.

Early Cold Cave recordings (collected on the CD compilation Creamations, released earlier this year) feature Eisold, mostly solo, building the skeleton for the group. Those tracks lean more towards the noisy and atonal side of things. However, on two now-out-of-print 12" vinyl singles released in late 2008
(The Trees Grew Emotions and Died ) and May 2009 (Etsel & Ruby) the project slowly began to lift its more oppressive atmospheres and mine and expand its dark retro/futurist pop-scope as more members fell into its ranks.

This month saw the release of the group's first full-length album, Love Comes Close, a near-flawless slab of 9 inspired dark-wave and synth-pop anthems. Eisold and Co. wear their influences unashamedly on their sleeves, from the heavily Joy Divison/New Order-esque title track
(featuring former Hatebreed axeman Sean Martin on guitar) and the all-around highlight "Youth & Lust" with its Technique-era pulse and fever-dream litany to the immense Gary Numan-throb of "Heaven Was Full." There are also nods to early OMD, Psychic TV, and Chris & Cosey.  Beyond the more obvious '80's pop, post-punk and noise influences, Cold Cave also looks to early electronic music for inspiration -- and maybe not where you'd expect -- "The Laurels of Erotomania" sounds like the sinister mope-pop step-child of Hot Butter's version of Gershon Kingsley's "Popcorn." However, none of its love for bygone eras distracts or takes away from the group's own creative merits. The album somehow moves the synth-pop genre forward with its shambolic, distorted, scourged and unpolished (qualities not usually associated with synth-pop) atmosphere, while still remaining lovingly evocative of its predecessors. Much of Cold Cave's special and singular flare also has to do with Eisold's intense, love-lorn and world-weary lyrics (sung jointly by McElroy and Eisold) which chime simple but rich profundities:

"Love comes close/But chooses to spare me/ Death comes close, but ceases to take me." 
 

This also sets Cold Cave far apart from a whole host of lesser bands trying to mine similar territory.

(Bonus Trivia: Eisold settled out of court with pop stars Fallout Boy when they admittedly plagiarized Give Up The Ghost lyrics.)

Love Comes Close is easily one of 2009's best and most vital collection of songs in the genre and beyond, and will likely set the standard for many to measure against.

Amoeba Hollywood has VERY LIMITED copies of Love Comes Close on LP in this week. The CD Digipak version will be available from the store the first week of August. Hurry in for the LP, they're going quickly!

Also, don't forget to pick up a copy Jessie Evans' amazing, year-end-list-worthy, debut solo LP/CD, Is It Fire? at Amoeba Hollywood!

Video: Cold Cave play "The Laurels of Erotomania" at No Fun Fest '09



Amoeba Hollywood’s Goth/Industrial Section Featured New Releases:

Nachtmahr - Alle Lust Will Ewigkeit CD [Trisol]
L'ame Immortelle mastermind Thomas Rainer's industrial project's new album.

We.Got.this.Far - Bluntforcevolume CD [Spiral Chords]
California Industrial Rock, debut album.

Dope Stars Inc.
- 21st Century Slave CD [Metropolis]
Italian Industial, features the club hits
“Criminal Intents” and “Morning Star.”


In Next Week, Amoeba Hollywood:

6 Comm - Like Stukas Angels Fall: Retrospect 1984 -1990 CD [Kenaz]
Re-recorded album of classic tracks featuring songs from the early 6comm period and also a few tracks from his previous work in Death in June. Electro - Folk - Classical- Martial- Experimental -- 16 great songs, including new versions of "Torture Garden" and "Carousel" with new vocal sections. Nice gold foil blocked Digipak!

Black Sun Productions - Somwhere Between Desire & Despair CD [Torurette]
Awesome full-length new collaboration between
Black Sun Productions and Val Denham! Recorded live at the Transformer Festival, Biel, Switzerland, March 31, 2007!


Still Fresh...

Frozen Plasma - Momentum CD [Metropolis]

Tor Lundvall
- Sleeping and Hiding Limited vinyl LP [Dais]
Dais is flawless! Not a bad release in the bunch! Dreamy bliss in the vein of Talk Talk’s later stuff and Slowdive’s Pygmalion.

Death In June - Braun Buch Zwei CD [Neroz]
(Digitally remastered edition was the bonus CD accompanying the 20th Anniversary Stone Circle Edition of DIJ’s seminal Brown Book album issued in 2007, and contains 7 songs from the original album coupled with 7 remixed, re-recorded and rare versions of the remaining songs. Basically, it’s Brown Book II. The completely recycled paper booklet and 'Repak' is brown with black 'Ultra Coated' images and runes featuring never-before-seen photos from the period.)

Njurmannen - Terror in The Dollhouse [Old Europa Cafe]

Naevus - Truffles of Love (Remastered Reissue) [Old Europa Cafe]

Rome - Flowers from Exile CD [Trisol]
Great New Full-Length at DOMESTIC price!

Les Paradisiers - More Tales From The Garden LIMITED vinyl LP + MP3 card [Disques De Lapin]
Awesome full-length new collaboration between Thomas Nola and O Paradis! Swinging dark cabaret!