Gutbrain Records

2019 March 22 • Friday

Well, here's an unusual book. The Big Love by Florence Aadland is the author's account of her underage daughter's affair with Errol Flynn in the late 1950s.

It's kind of a car crash of a read: thoroughly unpleasant but fascinating. Aadland herself isn't a reliable narrator, apparently lying about her age and also coming across as delusional.

She insists that everything that happened to her (and her daughter and to this other guy who kills himself) was preordained. If this is something you genuinely believe, then it follows that nothing that happens can be your fault or responsibility.

She also casually mentions that she joined the Rosicrucian order, "made a detailed study of life and the universe", "obtained all the Rosicrucian degrees", "studied science and telepathy and learned as much about the human nervous system as a doctor does" and "learned about psychic phenomena and discovered by experiments that I myself was an excellent psychic subject".

This is all pretty intriguing. And it sounds like a lot of this knowledge and these skills and abilities could be very useful in life. But strangely, none of it ever comes in handy at all. Aadland doesn't share what these experiments might have been and at no time does she seem to have any special insight or foreknowledge other than her vague assertion that everything was already written by destiny.

She's the proudest of proud mothers, constantly declaring that any quality her daughter Beverly might possess is the most superlative such a quality can be. She doesn't mention that Beverly's initials are the first three letters of "beauty" and this seems out of character, though perhaps crosswords and such aren't her line.

While this is her book, it's presented as "told to" Tedd Thomey, a writer who delivered a book called The Loves of Errol Flynn as well as novels with names like Homicide Honeymoon and The Sadist.

According to Big Love, Errol Flynn violently raped Beverly Aadland when she was fifteen years old. And, also according to Big Love, it was true love.

Florence doesn't hear about this for a while and when Beverly finally tells her about it, at which point she and Errol are very much a thing, Florence is able to get angry at her daughter but somehow never finds the right moment to tell off the rapist.

When Errol Flynn attacked Beverly Aadland, Beverly apparently "hit him", "told him not to" and "tried to get away". She "cried and cried" and "was petrified with fear". "And after it was all over she ran out of there, ran out of the bedroom to get away from him."

Later we learn about some advice Florence had given her daughter. It seems bizarre to me.

Because she was such an unusually attractive child, I taught Beverly the facts of life very early. When she was only two years old, I tried to get it across to her that she should never let any strangers touch her or pick her up. Later, when she was old enough to understand, I told her what to do if she should be molested.

>"Don't get panicky," I said. "Don't say anything foolish like 'Let me go or I'll tell Mama!' That's the worst thing you can say. It just makes a man like that act crazier and wilder. The best thing is just to act like you don't notice what he's doing. Talk to him calmly about something else and you'll probably get away without any trouble."

It's a strangely compelling story, adapted both for the stage (with Tracey Ullman) and as a movie (with Susan Sarandon).

You'll learn that Errol Flynn didn't use underarm deodorant and had a vasectomy. I think there are at least three times when he screens his own movies at home for guests. (Was this a common thing? It seems kind of nuts to me.)

Florence Aadland tries to portray herself as a kind of chaperone but it's hard to believe she was very effective since Errol and Beverly can just take off to Jamaica for a few weeks and leave Florence behind.

Tacked onto the end of the book is a reprint of a fairly snarky article from the August 1960 issue of Master Detective magazine. It's called "Beverly Aadland — Precocious Femme Fatale" and is written by Chris Edwards, who paints a much more sordid picture but also doesn't seem like the most reliable of authorities.

The Big Love is dedicated "To The Swashbuckler, Himself, With All Our Love" and the first line is "There's one thing I want to make clear right off: my baby was a virgin the day she met Errol Flynn".


2019 March 20 • Wednesday

There are many books about the British TV show The Prisoner. I know this because I collect them.

One of the most recent and most entertaining is I Am Not a Number: Decoding The Prisoner, by filmmaker Alex Cox of Repo Man fame.

A few things make Cox's book different from the rest. The first and most obvious one is that this might be the first such book written by a filmmaker, and Cox is a particularly interesting filmmaker whose imagination and eye are easily aligned in sympathy with the restless and critical vision that Patrick McGoohan struggled to realize in The Prisoner.

And so while Cox isn't the first author to give each episode of the series a close reading, his perspective includes substantial knowledge of the realities of film production: and while The Prisoner was a television program it was produced as a series of short films shot in 35mm.

Which brings us to the next point. Cox insists on examining the episodes not in their broadcast order but in their production order. This makes sense, considering what the production was actually like, alternating filming on location in Portmeirion, in Wales, and on an MGM soundstage in London. Work on one episode would begin before the previous one had finished.

There are various writers and directors for each episode and perhaps only two people with a unifying idea for the series, and those two people, George Markstein and Patrick McGoohan, had differing ideas and inevitably grew to be more in conflict with each other.

Alex Cox has been around and seems to have compassion for everybody involved. He's also quite witty:

As an actor, McGoohan seems to have two speeds, like my old Chevy Impala: low, in which he is entirely credible, low-key, and frequently charming; and high, in which his voice suddenly leaps in pitch, he often shouts, and he tends to smash things.

This is followed by Patrick McGoohan saying much the same thing about himself. Elsewhere Cox is persuasive in his deductions about why McGoohan made certain choices and decisions and since his tone is consistently positive and lovingly critical, it's a pleasure to go along with him.

Going along with him is not the same as agreeing with him, though. His astute analysis and puzzle-piecing of the series grants him an entirely reasonable and defensible alternative theory as to the identity of The Prisoner's main character and the enigmatic "No. 1", but it didn't dislodge my previous, admittedly messy and inconsistent ideas about same.

The show itself, after all, is wildly inconsistent, as Cox acknowledges, and I suspect that it started as one thing and ended as another. Following a trail of textual breadcrumbs to arrive at a conclusion that was intended from the beginning might not be possible. But Cox's analysis and interpretation are, I think, the best I have ever come upon, and his book is a delight.

Among those delights are his spotting what has been previously overlooked. Had anybody before drawn our attention to the vital role played by casting director Rose Tobias Shaw? Or to a possible connection with the CIA's psychedelic drug experiments and the death, possibly murder, of Frank Olson?

Cox is an erudite guide who can suggest a connection with Jean Cocteau's Orphée on one page and with McGoohan's starring role in a 1958 episode of a television anthology drama on another.

I do think, however, that he makes an error of judgement in calling Operation Mincemeat "obscure", since it was the subject of a successful 1956 movie (The Man Who Never Was, which was even parodied on The Goon Show as The Was Who Never Man), and was a very well known World War II story, possibly even better known in the U.K. in the late '60s than it is today.

Cox's thesis depends on The Prisoner's not being a continuation of Danger Man and McGoohan's character not being a spy. To support this, Cox points out No. 6's lack of tradecraft. As a "spy", at least as a fictional spy in the fictional spy world of 1960s pop culture, which probably involved some small amount of overlap with real-world espionage of the time, Cox makes the case that No. 6 is surprisingly bad at being a spy appearing to lack both knowledge and experience.

This is fine as far as it goes but it would be more convincing if supported by counter-examples. Going by the same standards, John Steed and Emma Peel are probably pretty lousy spies too, I think. Though they aren't really spies. They aren't really anything. The vagueness of their identities is part of the charm of The Avengers.

But what of Napoleon Solo and the others we might encounter? What of George Smiley and Harry Palmer? How does No. 6 compare to them? I honestly don't know but here's an opportunity, perhaps, for Cox to strengthen his argument.

Nothing exists in a vacuum, and Cox's book delicately addresses how much has changed since McGoohan's series first aired. In his analysis of the episode "Hammer Into Anvil" he writes:

The apparent 'bomb plot' references contemporary events. The 1960s and 1970s saw a series of bomb explosions, set by the IRA, to undercut support for English control of Northern Ireland. We all grew up with the possibility of bombs, and with bomb threats, but we got on with out lives regardless: the media-stoked paranoia, imprisonment without trial, and armed troop deployments which we know today would have been unthinkable in England in 1967.

Later, in an epilogue, the final episode of the series brings forth this observation:

Anyone who visits Parliament today, with its bomb-proof crash barriers, surveillance cameras, security guards and armed police, can see where the Imperial Project has led us over the last fifty years. A few years back I and a small crew were stopped and cautioned by the London police for pointing a video camera at the Houses of Parliament from across the Thames. In 1967, McGoohan, McKern and company just showed up, without permission, and shot The Prisoner's closing sequence there.

And:

Freedom of movement, freedom to point a camera, freedom from detention without charge, freedom to enter a building without being pushed, filed, indexed, stamped, briefed, debriefed and numbered by uniformed security sentinels, all this and much more has been swept away. What is London today but The Village, surveilled, monitored, under the watchful eyes of private security companies, the police, MI5, GCHQ, NSA, and all the other acronyms which give us limited permission to function according to their terms?

That's certainly one of the strongest impressions left by the conclusion of this remarkable television program. Patrick McGoohan wasn't a perfect person and The Prisoner not a perfect creation, but there is much in both worthy of our respect and consideration.

Respect and consideration are certainly due also to Alex Cox and this book of his. Be seeing you.


2019 March 18 • Monday

François De Roubaix's music for Daughters of Darkness is the 561st Soundtrack of the Week.

The main theme, a waltz with dabs of fuzz guitar, haunts the score, returning over and over to maintain the proper spectral mood. The melody is played on an instrument with a strange watery sound, perhaps guitar through some kind of effect though it could be keyboard.

“Love on the Rails” is another theme that the composer gets a lot of mileage out of. It’s deceptively simple, with a relaxed backbeat and a spacious, restrained voicing on top with some subtle accompaniment by horns.

“Red Lips” is the main theme in a different key and with what sounds like a zither taking the melody at some point with acoustic guitar in the background. The same watery instrument plays it, as does violin. You can hear accordion in there too. There are a lot of textures going on.

There seems to be some Bernard Herrmann influence in “Arrival at the Manor”, particularly in the Psychoish writing for strings.

It sounds like solo keyboard is responsible for the contrapuntal calliope sound of “Countess Bathory (Halo)”, a short but pretty track.

“Ballad in Bruges” is another take on the main theme but this time as a bittersweet accordion-voiced number with some assist from cymbalom and an unexpected freak out ection at the very end with piano and electronic noises.

A mixture of short statements from cymbalom, fuzz guitar, harp, celeste and other instruments introduce another variation on the main theme in “The Countess and the Inspector”.

Male and female voices wordlessly crooning a descending line with choir-like harmonies kick off “Tale of Torture and Vampires”, which is otherwise familiar from what we’ve already heard.

“Valerie, Ilona and Stefan” brings back the mellow backbeat we heard before but has some different guitar and string parts.

The harp gets featured in “The Dunes of Ostend, Flagellation”, a hypnotic piece of music that eventually reprises “Love on the Rails”. You hear this again as “Pursuit on the Dunes of Ostend”.

A very eastern European-sounding version of the main theme describes “The Countess’s Kiss” while “The Countess’s Bite” is a sparser arrangement of “Love on the Rails”. This comes up again as “Accident and Cymbalom”.

After a brief string introduction “The Phantom Organ and Piano” does deliver on the promise of its title, a reiteration of the main theme.

Strings and crickets kick off another visit to our main theme in “Daughters of Darkness (Ending)”, a typically mesmerizing, moody, atmospheric and romantic conclusion to this haunting and beautiful score.

And then there are some bonus tracks.

“The Bruges Band” is presumably source music and while not the cheeriest music you’ve ever heard it sounds quite peppy in comparison to the other cues here.

One of the most interesting tracks on the CD is the reverb-drenched electric guitar-driven “Dracula 68 Woodstock (Of Fish and Men). Besides the guitar there are a wooden flute and some minimal hand percussion. It’s as bewitching and mysterious as its title.

And then there are a few remixes of the original tracks. Not sure what this is all about but they’re kind of cool.

“Ilona’s Jazz” is like an electro acid jazz piece that took a bunch of valium and features trombone and synth.

“La nuit sous la mer” and “Le rap des lèvres rouges” are both fairly groovy and have French lyrics.

Finally there’s a bonus song called “Vampire” that’s clearly based on the main theme and also has French lyrics.
2019 March 15 • Friday

Loafing around Paris for a few days is hard work. Fortunately Paris Jazz Corner is there to take the edge off.

I hadn't been to Paris in almost twenty years and I was thrilled to find this wonderful store still going strong.

I was even more thrilled to find this fairly obscure record from 1958: Lee Shaefer and Jim Hall: A Girl and a Guitar.

Lee Shaefer was a folk singer and this is an album of a dozen folk songs sung by her and accompanied by Jim Hall on guitar.

And that's it. Just the two of them doing these songs. No band, no soloing, just intense, haunting, intimate music that casts a spell.

Anybody interested in Jim Hall should hear this record, as it might be unique in his discography. I don't think I've ever heard him play like this, dancing outside of genre borders or at least creating some kind of jazz folk blues rock and roll hybrid.

His guitar's lowest string is tuned down on several of the songs but I can't tell if the tuning has been altered beyond that.

Shaefer's voice is the perfect instrument here, clear and dynamic with perfect feel and phrasing. It's really an amazing duo and a recording that deserves to be much better known.

The liner notes acknowledge how Jim Hall's work in the Jimmy Giuffre 3 provided him with some experience playing folk music and blues. This won't come as news to most people.

More remarkable is Hall's referring to his playing on "Jacob's Ladder" as his "Mildred Falls background", Mildred Falls being the piano player for Mahalia Jackson.

So Jim Hall listened to Mahalia Jackson, and with enough time and attention to absorb influence at least from her pianist. This was news to me.


2019 March 13 • Wednesday

Here's a magazine I never heard of before, called Sofilm. I always like to take a look at newsstands in other countries, for comics or interesting magazines. Since this had Robert Mitchum on the cover, it was an immediate purchase.

Inside is what appears to be a decent feature on Mitchum, with some lesser seen photographs and even a couple of his poems (in English and new French translation).

There's a cute play on words in one of the headers: "Bob et le flambeur", a twist on the title of the famous Melville movie Bob le flambeur.

The magazine is nicely designed and the content looks like it might be rewarding, though of course I don't actually know much French.

There's a feature on the Yellow Vests, an interview with James Caan and a brief editorial that looks like it quickly and unfussily dispatches as silly and wasteful the tedious monstrous "art" thing called DAU.

I mean really, talk about unambitious. Of course the whole thing is on a huge scale but it's really the least challenging thing you could ever decide to do.

You want to get a bunch of money from a Russian billionaire to recreate an oppressive totalitarian environment so you can shoot over 700 hours of abuse and misery and boredom? The DAU guy did it.

But that's easy. This is torture porn on a Mount Rushmore scale. Not good, or new, or well done, or meaningful, just large.

Suppose they'd gone the other way? What if they wanted to spend three years with an immersive cast living on set and in character 24/7 but create the opposite of one of our real world nightmare states?

What if they created a world in which everybody was taken care of and fulfilled and free to live as they wanted to in a community that was designed to benefit everybody?

That would be a lot harder to pull off, and probably a lot less appealing to most billionaires, considering the lack of sadism and abuse of power.

And even if such a project were only partially successful, it would be dangerous in a way that DAU could never be, by presenting ways in which every society could change for the better.

Instead we just have jumbo-size torture porn and dull misery, some faked, some real, all pointless.

Which reminds me, I have a new modern art piece that's even bigger and longer running than DAU. It's an installation but it's also "found art". It's called The Mall of America. Maybe Brian Eno can make some Muzak for it.


2019 March 11 • Monday

The 560th Soundtrack of the Week is Patrick Gleeson's music (and a song by Alan Price) for the movie The Plague Dogs.

The Plague Dogs opens with the song “Time and Tide” by Alan Price. He begins with just solo voice: “I don’t feel no pain no more / I don’t feel no pain no more / I’ve left this cruel world behind / And I’ve found my peace of mind / I don’t feel no pain no more”.

A mixture of electric and acoustic instruments of different timbres then create a musical flurry that provides a transition into a straight, mid-tempo piano ballad. Halfway through it goes into a double time country feel, complete with steel guitar. Then there’s a flourish of Hammond organ and the song morphs into an even brisker gospel number.

He’s still not done, though. The song slows way down again for kind of a big rock musical number. It’s very well done!

This is a hard act to follow but Patrick Gleeson nails it immediately with a mysterious and entrancing cue called “Freedom” which combines strings and horns with otherworldly electronic instruments (and some kind of piano) as well as anybody ever has done, including Jerry Goldsmith. Parts of it reminded me of parts of James Horner’s Star Trek music and that’s never a bad thing.

“Wondering “ alternates between still, atmospheric ideas and some insistent pulsing figures that suggest forward momentum. Whatever the synthesizers are, they sound great. It ends up in something of a sonic cloud.

The synths sound like they do most of the work on “The Change”, which combines lyrical writing with strangely beautiful electronic noises, before a burst of Baroque-style music on acoustic instruments that itself gets interrupted by crashing electronic voices.

Low menacing long tones and some high-pitched piano noted with lots of space between them are most of what you’ll hear “In the Pens”.

A jaunty piece with synth horns taking the lead voices and establishing a triumphant mood describes “Sheep Dogs”. It ends on an ominous note, though.

“The Escape from the Incinerator” is a short cue of less than a minute and a very effective blend of strings, piano and timpani.

After that we get to go “Frog Catching”. Introduced by upright bass and with some light jazz drumming and a very strong blaring trumpet, this is reminiscent of some of Peter Thomas’s music.

Then it’s synthesizer-land again with “Rowf’s Kill”, a still musical atmosphere that has a complex emotional range.

“Lack Loud’s Death” continues in this vein but is more apprehensive and suggestive of danger.

Some more directly “horror” music is found “Inside the Laboratory” and it's easy to imagine a creepy scene to go with these unbalanced musical lines and washes of synth textures.

Crashing piano and keening synths announce “The Beginning of the End”. Electric bass guitar and drums come in and anchor the cue with a groove that stops and starts while lyrical melodic ideas float above it. It all comes crashing down again at the end.

“Chase Music” isn’t what I expected. There’s a driving low pulse and some vigorous snare work and some interesting statements from saxophone and keyboards.

Saxophone opens “Rowf and Snitter Run to the Sea” but the same ensemble from “Chase Music” soon joins it. Some of it is very intense scoring but it can shift into a gentler and more lyrical phase immediately, and just as soon shift back.

The record concludes with a reprise of “Time and Tide”, but instrumental and done almost in Vangelis style.
2019 March 08 • Friday

One of the most affordable and most regional souvenirs you can pick up on a trip these days is a mini-comic.

Probably you have to be in a big city and you have to find a comic book shop or at least some kind of cool book store that carries a range of independent and alternative titles.

Paris is a big city and Europe in general takes comics a lot more seriously than the United States. And so we were pleased to bring back these three mini-comics from our recent vacation.

The first title, Cavalcade Surprise, was an easy pick as I was already a fan of all three creators: Jessica Abel, Matt Madden and Lewis Trondheim.

I haven't tried to decipher the text yet. I think even with my extremely limited French it might not be too hard.

Diablotus is a Trondheim solo work and, like some of his other titles, has no text at all, only pictures. No translation necessary!

The name Marc-Antoine Mathieu didn't ring a bell but I was very taken with the art and design of Labyrinthum, so this one also found its way into my luggage.

These came from Philip the Bookseller, 32 Rue des Vinaigriers, right near the Canal St Martin and were published by L'Association.


2019 March 06 • Wednesday

John Blackburn's first novel is also the first in a series of books to feature General Charles Kirk, "head of Her Majesty's foreign office intelligence". A Scent of New-Mown Hay is a killer-virus thriller written mostly as a procedural story.

The actual copy I have traveled quite a ways to me and has presumably been enjoyed by several other readers.

The books moves along very quickly, which is a good thing since there are several extreme coincidences and contrivances.

Blackburn is presumably hoping that you'll want to turn the pages too quickly to stop and think such things as "How fortunate that the Chief Constable of that small remote town happened to have served in the war with General Kirk" or "What a stroke of luck that these two important characters just happen to be neighbors and colleagues" or "Thank goodness that that random person on the train happened to start a conversation and accidentally dropped an important clue".

Such things do happen in real life, of course, and when they do I often reflect on how unacceptable they'd be in a novel.

A youngish biologist is more or less the central character, summoned back to his government post from a sleepy college town once reports of strange activity in Russia demand investigation.

General Kirk, who's missing some fingers on one hand and can never be sufficiently warm, always overheating his office and bundling up, is also a major character here, of course, though we don't find out much about him.

Blackburn directs our attention to a handful of other characters whom we follow around to get peeks at what's happening in various places and how the plague is spreading.

The biologist's wife turns out to be a crucial character, discovering and placing important pieces of the puzzle.

But the best part of the book, in a way its best character, is the virus itself. The plague turns people into walking mushroom monsters, and Blackburn gives out just the right amount of description and information for readers to supplement with their own horrific ideas.

I don't know how successful or widely read this book was, but I wonder if there's any connection between A Scent of New-Mown Hay (1958) and Matango (1963).

The first line is "At the corner of the old cathedral building he turned right and began to walk up the long slope towards the station".
2019 March 04 • Monday

Mark Barkan and Ritchie Adams's music from the Olivia Newton-John movie Toomorrow is our 559th Soundtrack of the Week.

The first song, “You’re My Baby Now”, is a sunshine pop masterpiece and one of my favorite songs. Olivia Newton-John shows up about two minutes into it to add support and be part of a call and response section.

“Takin’ Our Own Sweet Time” starts out as a tough organ funk jazz rocker but then these outer space synths grab the wheel and when the vocals come in they drive the whole thing off a sunshine pop cliff. It’s another completely awesome song.

Then it’s lounge time for the “Toomorrow” instrumental with smooth horns, twinkling electric keyboards, roving electric bass and of course a laidback groovy beat.

Things get just a touch acid rocky with the relatively aggressive “Let’s Move On”. It’s a decent number but not as special or as interesting as the others. There’s an instrumental (with wordless chorus) version of it later that I like better.

This is followed by another instrumental, “Walkin’ on Air”, which reminded me a bit of Lesley Gore’s “Consolation Prize”.

Olivia Newton-John and the male vocalist duet on “If You Can’t Be Hurt, You Can’t Be Happy”, an inspirational song whose title pretty much gives you all the information in it. Some sick drumming and keyboard playing, though.

After that comes the vocal version of “Toomorrow”: “Toomorrow is the answer that I will give / If you ask me where do I live / Where do I stay”. It’s a soft rock/pop/lounge sort of song and Olivia Newton-John gets a good chunk of it, much to the listener’s benefit.

“Look at the rainbow / Look at the moon glow / Look at the clouds roll by / Baby just you and I / Walkin’ on air” is how the vocal version of “Walkin’ on Air” starts and since Olivia Newton-John sounds so good singing it, I’m not going to question the probability of being able to look at a rainbow, the moon and clouds all at the same time. It’s kind of crazy but it just might work.

A change of tone is the first thing you’re likely to notice about the next track, “Spaceport”. The change in tone comes with a change of composers as well, as this outer-space secret agenty cue that sounds somewhere in between Lalo Schifrin and John Barry is brought to you by Hugo Montenegro. It’s excellent.

“Happiness Valley” brings us back to sunshine pop but this time in a minor key and with a quality reminiscent of the Velvet Underground. Though more restrained than the other songs I love here, this one is great too.

Finally, there’s “Goin’ Back”, an Olivia Newton-John feature with a country feel to it though there’s still that synth in there. It’s a bittersweet song about nostalgia and really nice.
2019 March 01 • Friday

“When Grandmother vanished, the glass of the large, handsome mirror in her bedroom was found scattered on the floor in small, glittering pieces, like the remains of a collapsed, bleached mosaic.”

That’s the first line of Elizabeth, the first novel by Ken Greenhall. First published in 1976, it’s a masterpiece of supernatural suspense, written with flawless and unwavering focus, power and intensity.

The title character is about thirteen years old when we meet her. She’s one of literature’s most enthralling psychopaths: “I remember being surprised at how easily everyone had accepted the categories of good or bad. Most things had seemed not important enough for such classifications”.

She’s also sexually active with her uncle: “When I was younger I saw James, my father’s brother, look from our dog to me without changing his expression. I soon taught him to look at me in a way he looked at nothing else”.

But the real subject of this book is power and its uses for manipulation, in this case unnatural powers that come from witchcraft. Elizabeth is descended from a sixteenth-century witch named Frances, who appears in mirrors to speak to Elizabeth, to guide her and to teach her or perhaps to destroy her.

And so begins a very small and quiet sort of war, or chess game, in an old house on the waterfront of lower Manhattan, in which the living are not necessarily less mysterious than the lingering spirits of the dead.

This book is only about 150 pages long but it’s so perfectly constructed and precisely written, with a smooth and unerring pace and rhythm, that you might not get through it that quickly. I found myself savoring it and consuming it in small quantities, as I would an especially excellent bourbon. And this particular distillation is cask strength.