Monthly Archives: August 2009

Chris Spohn Interview


Chris Spohn’s name may often conjures thoughts of capes and speedos, fireworks and feedback, but the longtime noise-maker has carved out quite the diverse skill-set. A wily veteran of the music scene, Spohn has maintained a fascination with eastern rhythms and harmonies, while last year’s Sing Along with Chris Spohn was a sparkly little gem of acoustic folk. And now he comes forth with a Bossa Nova project, which sounds almost like a rib. Happily it is not. Newly-opened, the Sinclair (formerly the legendary Voodoo Lounge) hosts “Chris Spohn & Chris Phillips – Bossa Nova!!!” on Saturday, September 12, in their second gig after debuting at TSI during the August Artwalk. Erzuile opens. Spohn makes an easy subject; he knows exactly what he wants to say, and phrases with an aerodynamic economy almost musical in itself:

Q: What are you calling the project?

A: We are calling the project Chris Spohn & Chris Phillips – Bossa Nova!!!. We are a duet. Chris Phillips and I have been friends/musical collaborators for over ten years. We are also founding members of Gothic and Crack Rock Asteroids in the 90s. He is a full time music instructor as well as a multi instrumentalist in many musical projects of his own right.

Q: Are you doing original material, covers, or a mixture of both?

A: We are doing mostly original Bossa Nova songs as well as a few Soft Psych numbers and few unexpected covers in this style. We will also feature some electric guitar as well as sitar in these numbers,which will surely be highlights of our set. This is a fifty-fifty split of Chris’ and my original material. A spontaneous endeavor that some how magically arose.

Q: How does your approach to Bossa Nova differ from the stuff you are more commonly associated with (Noise/Acoustic)?

A: We don’t approach it any differently at all. I’m not a Folk or Noise or whatever artist, simply an artist of any and all possible styles. It’s whatever the universe wants really. Being a disciple of John Cage/Al Hanson etc. It all still follows the Happening/Fluxist principals. The only difference is we are forced to work much harder on this project to achieve the desired result of our original proposals and propositions for this particular endeavor.

Q: How long has this kind of music appealed to you? Who exposed to you this stuff, and how did you first like it?

A: We are disciples of all musical forms. Both sharing a mutual admiration for the Brazilian style for many many years. This covers the traditional Jobim/Gilberto styles as well as the later Tropicalia movement i.e. Ben/Veloso/Mutantes etc.

Q: In what ways is the Bossa Nova stuff consistent with what you’ve been doing before? Is it in any way related to the kind of stuff you were doing as part of Tropic of Cancer, or previous experiments with Eastern sounds and rhythms, like Percussion Psychdelia, or “Futuristic Sounds of Chris Spohn”?

A: Many of the Experimental/Noise artists have musical talent and ability beyond the public’s common perception. This should be a trend soon in Jacksonville with many artists coming out with surprises and new bags of tricks. I personally believe in the evolution of the artist and this is a showcase of our evolution and ability to blow minds in a whole new genre. At some point it is sure to become something else as the style evolves. We don’t plan to play this set/show more then a few times before this evolution is inevitable. I have also contributed original Bossa-type numbers into Tropic of Cancer and Acid Magick.

Q: What kind of comments did you get after the first show?

A: We played our first show at TSI to rave reviews. Everyone loved it, but we knew it could be better. This was the inspiration to do the Sinclair show. We envisioned a high class production in a classy establishment. The Sinclair was perfect. Dress to impress, emulating the 60’s Bossa scene, champagne toast, long stem roses for the ladies, a first class act. It’s always important to set the bar high. It challenges you, as well as the future artists to come. This has always been a top idea at the forefront of all productions I have concived. That is the artist/intellectual aspect behind all my work.

Q: Do you have any other shows lined up for Sept-October yet?

A: As for other shows, it’s Sinclair Sept 12th, then retreat and analysis to further better our best, and the best is yet to come!

Robert Novak, 1931-2009: “Bye-Bye Sourpuss!”



In memory of Robert Novak, the ace political reporter who died earlier today, below follows a reprint of a column from almost exactly a year ago, written shortly after he’d announced his retirement due to the brain cancer that ultimately claimed his life. Novak’s fight with cancer was consistent with the man’s working method–he exceeded expectations after a diagnosis presumed to be imminently fatal. Instead, he was even able to return to work, sparingly, later in 2008; his courage was rewarded by getting to watch the major changes that have occurred in this country over the past year. To paraphrase Diamond Dallas Page: You may have loved him, you may have hated him, but you will never forget Robert Novak. RIP.

Bye-Bye, Sourpuss!

The sad news of Robert Novak’s pending demise offers yet another opportunity for those who remain to ponder our world as reflected in the life of a major figure in this history of American journalism. He was, above all else, an exemplar of tradecraft. Words are, first and foremost, instruments of control—or, at least, influence—and Novak’s application of them, for better and for worse, has shaped the future he will not live to see.

Novak, now 78, was old-school down to the nucleus of individual cells in his bone marrow. Never met him myself, but I would bet my tab at Steamworks that the man’s feet carried the permanent smell of shoe leather. Seriously, who else but Robert Novak would title his own memoir The Prince of Darkness? Working first with the late Rowland Evans, and alone since the 1980’s, Novak wrote one of the longest-running political column of his time. He “achieved” the contemporary record upon the death of William F. Buckley in February; it ended after 45 years, two months and 20 days.

His final week in the business really sucked. He got fed bogus information that John McCain intended to time the naming of his running-mate for Barack Obama’s now legendary first foreign tour. When it didn’t happen, Novak cut a promo on his sources and his days were numbered from there. A couple days later he hit an elderly pedestrian, in broad daylight at a prominent Beltway intersection, and just left; he was eventually stopped by a bicyclist, who just happened to be a high-level Washington lawyer who may or may not have already known him, and subsequent tests revealed a malignant brain tumor. That would explain why he didn’t know he’d hit someone, and also why he believed anything coming from the McCain camp. Robert Novak3

Novak was unabashedly ideological; his slants and biases were never concealed, but he rarely did anything that was cruel and unfair. Except, of course, for the time he got caught up in that Yellowcake hype and passed a poison meme about Valerie Plame, for which he and his associates paid an awful price—expulsion from the federal government, for certain officials, and the beginning of the end of Republican control of Washington. Never mind that what he wrote was true, though stated sloppily; that operation was a catastrophic blow to his reputation that he hadn’t time enough to work through. 

It says something of the man’s character that he was willing to tangle with a woman who can shoot her initials into a wall with an Uzi—allegedly—on behalf of an administration that he was always skeptical of. Like so many of his peers in recent years, Novak traded his credibility for access. His last five years were as good as the 40 before it (and isn’t everything good after a 40?), but tainted by his association with a war that he didn’t have any real passion for. It was not even a month ago that this writer spent damn near an hour trying to sell the skills of Novak on a colleague who had touted the vastly inferior hack David Brooks as the current high-water mark of political columnists. That two such writers could even be rationally compared speaks directly to the dangerous condition their business, and our country, is currently in.          

Novak’s situation is, in his professional parlance, “perilous.” He made the formal announcement after suffering a seizure at Cape Cod, where he had presumably gathered his loved ones to tell them. It remains unclear whether the accident or the seizure was the impetus for the tests that revealed his cancer, but maybe he already knew. Novak’s May 15 column contained an ominous note: “I would like to die in the saddle without retiring. … I cannot write a column without reporting, and hope I can continue to do so and newspapers see fit to print me so that I can celebrate my 50th anniversary. In case I don’t make it, however, I thought it proper to note 45 years of columns.”

Robert Novak

It’s about over now, that era, those days when journalism was populated with giants and wizard wordsmiths who functioned at the highest levels of American Power. As is typical of election years, the attrition rate among journalists has been intense, but Novak, like Tim Russert, cannot be replaced, merely remembered. It is an unfortunate consequence of the serious work he’s done that many people will celebrate his death and hope he suffers on the way out. (A list might start with all the people who lost money, and worse, working with Brewster Jennings.)

August 4, 2008