At Secret Meeting we all have disparate tastes, from howling white noise to barely audible ambience. But we like to think of the site as a place of curation, where the acts we feature are tethered in some invisible way by a common thread, whatever that be; a perfect melting pot of our collected interests. And every so often an artist comes along that unites the team and seems to sum up what we try our hardest to promote. Being released on the fantastic Dear Life is usually a good sign, but even that left us unprepared for the 2021 release of Evil Joy by Fust, an album of sun cracked, soul baring Americana that lingers long in the memory.
Excitement levels have therefore been high for the follow up Genevieve and when we reached out to the bands Aaron Dowdy for a Sound & Vision feature we could not have hoped for a more thoughtful response, that not only gives insight into his influences but to his philosophy on art in general.
I think what we all hope for in art is honesty, and on Genevieve Dowdy once again interrogates the quiet spaces where we do our deepest thinking. So read this, buy the record and join us in celebrating one of the year’s finest releases.
Three favourite albums:
Billy Marlowe – Show Me The Steps
I often tell people that my favourite music is the music made by my closest friends. I don’t mean that sentiment to be trite or to come off as biassed or partisan, as if they were my children and my judgement was necessarily hazy. And I don’t even mean that their music is better than other music. Something excites me about the fact that my friends make music, in a way that I really hope anyone, anywhere might also have friends who make music that is their favourite music, and that they wouldn’t think it was better than anyone else’s music. What having friends who make music has taught me is that anyone has the capacity to make music as good as the best music out there. That’s been one of the biggest history lessons of my life.
To turn the screw once more, though, I would say that generally my friends who make music tend not to be very successfully received musicians and don’t aim to be. They write songs, record them, and most often self-release them. A few of us hear it, and the ones who do regard it as genuinely astounding. This to me is the real glimpse at something pretty utopian, that local to any person would be a group of musicians with the capacity to make music as good as anyone else around, made available without a music industry, without it arriving to them via a dominant music culture.
I tend to like songs. My friends John, Ryan, Peter, Sasha, Justin, Frank, Michael to name a few are some of the best songwriters I’ve ever met, and the world will not really hear their music. And while I would like more people to hear them, I’m not lamenting this fact. Rather, to me it is in their failure to be heard that makes me feel like I am glimpsing in the here and now a future yet to come. Or I guess I could say that the fact that my closest friends or any one’s closest friends make the best music and that this fact would not be a big deal or warrant notoriety would be no surprise to someone from the future I wish to belong to.
My friends and I have long tried to trace a kind of prehistory to this phenomenon: to people recording songs in their room, sharing with a few people who think it equal to the greatest music ever made. It seems like so many people in love with music are on this tip as well, trying to find lost records, especially private-press recordings where someone believed in their own work despite the music business. Honestly, I think there are a lot of us trying to find this history to help make sense of our present.
Yes, like many I like the way these records tend to sound, as if they don’t have the wherewithal or technical competence to sound finished, or to sound… standard. They often sound like they are barely being held together, like they might fall apart at any second. But it’s more than that. I think it’s often called pretentious to seek out unheard music from history and to fetishize certain sound qualities there, but I like to think it involves becoming something like a caretaker of history, which ultimately includes finding a way to continue to realise ourselves within that history. Rescuing people from history is really just rescuing ourselves: giving ourselves some indication that our music belongs here.
My favourite “lost” record is Billy Marlowe’s Show Me the Steps from 1987. Recorded in the lower east side with what seems to be local session players (Tony Garnier!) and released on a little private press label, Tundra. It sort of came into the world with a forceful light that no one saw and disappeared just as fast, even to its makers. It’s a seriously perfect record by a basically anonymous person of history. And above everything, it has become a favourite all time record of every person I have shown it to. This is what I am talking about when I talk about the untimeliness of music: these recordings found us 35 years later, a small few of us who really champion it. Billy’s record gives us all a compass, a marker for thinking about a history of unheard music that we can belong to. Rest easy, Billy…
Ron Cornelius – Tin Luck
Tin Luck is a perfect counterpart to Show Me the Steps, a real California record to Marlowe’s inadvertent capture of NYC. Tin Luck was released by a major label—Polydor—and written by a minor figure, Ron Cornelius, who had what I consider to be a pretty exciting form of success in the music business. Cornelius played on New Morning, my favourite Dylan record, as well as a few Leonard Cohen records. But despite all of this, Tin Luck didn’t do well, and was kind of buried the moment it came out. Like private-press records, records backed by labels that were subsequently undermined during promotion is a kind of record I immediately sympathise with, and that I actively seek out.
I am honestly not surprised that Tin Luck was brushed aside. Unlike Show Me the Steps, most people I show Tin Luck to really don’t like it and are actually put off by it. There’s something quite jagged about it, something uncomfortable in the arrangements, his voice, the sound, the songwriting. In fact, when I first heard it, I didn’t like it either. But I think I identified with it immediately in a way that kept me coming back to it: not just because it was a buried major label record by someone who played on some of my favourite records, but because it was like an ugly or misshapen version of a kind of song I’ve been chasing my whole life. I love the usual suspects—Van, Browne, Zevon, the Dead, The Band, Joni, Asylum records, etc. etc.––and I think Cornelius belongs here, but Tin Luck is not as apparent: you have to bend and contort in order to adjust to it, to make yourself available to it. There’s something immensely pleasurable in loving something that others, even you, find a bit ugly or difficult—it gives the sense that you’re single-handedly keeping something afloat amid a sea of super agreeable things that need no help. A record you had to learn to love not because an authority told you it was good but because of a pure compulsion to like it despite itself is something I can’t promote enough, or even really describe. I hope others feel the same about other things out there.
It’s strange: Show Me the Steps sounds pristinely professional despite being ostensibly home-recorded, while Tin Luck sounds jarringly poor despite having a major label budget. But it’s the kind of poor that we all strive for, the way something “worse” can sound better. We follow this amazing guy Dollar Country who has a sticker and slogan that reads “I like music that sounds like shit” and he means it with all his heart and so do me and my friends. In this way and only in this way can it be said that, yeah, Tin Luck sounds like shit. The best part is that this isn’t anyone’s fault. It was produced by Robin Cable who also did Jimmy Webb’s Land’s End (a Fust favourite) and Neil Wilburn who did the early Guy Clark records (everyone’s favourites), so it was in good hands. In this way, it gives me a model for something I can’t quite figure out surrounding how something “bad” can ultimately be the exemplar of what we are all striving for.
In interviews, Cornelius says that the title of the record describes a kind of good luck that I really, really identify with. Not the golden luck of those who really flourish in what they do; not the silver luck of those who have been able to make the absolute most out of their lives; but the tin luck of those of us who got out of the town we grew up in or got out of a pattern of behaviour or situation that would have been torturous for everyone: the tin luck of a survivor. Anyways, this record not only professes tin luck, but I think itself has had a bit of it, surviving the situation of its commercial failure and finding not a big audience but, at least, me. Thanks, Ron…
Alison Knowles – Frijoles Canyon
(we would normally post a link to the album here, but alas no such link exists)
A particular experience has happened to me while driving a number of times––one I hope I am not alone in––where at some late hour on public radio a precious combination of sounds, songs, and stories on a variety hour feels like the most sublime expression of America. I am generally drawn to thinking about montage, drawn to making playlists, lists in general, to the act of bringing disparate things together which may have otherwise never touched. Making an album should, I think, strive for this kind of variety show. Whatever we want to call this public radio hörspiel that I have in mind has become a kind of lodestar for me: to make an album that can take this form. I think maybe Tom Russell has pulled this off, but there’s something else that must be brought together for me, something of combining the everyday-ness of sound with song.
My friends Xander, Nick, and I were in a sort of sound project called Foraging around 2017 and it was one of my favourite groups I’ve ever been involved with. I thought of us as something like a Small Cruel Party or Farmers Manuel. I guess we were people aiming for a form of concrète whose source was our everyday lives in NYC. At the time I think I was also trying to figure out why I was so attracted to figures like Rolf Julius, Philip Corner, David Tudor. I wasn’t interested so much in the Fluxus or Downtown mythos, but to their rejection of song that, as a songwriter, was the most exciting refusal of what I love most that I had found yet. Basically, what I love about their work is that they approach sound in a way that feels like it doesn’t have much musical history attached to it, like it is concerned with sounds that don’t immediately demand musical associations. Nick still works on the cultural form of this problem in his podcast Flavortone with our buddy Alec. In the end, for me, I didn’t feel like all of it was ultimately that divorced from song, and I really wanted to understand that: to think the compatibility of this tradition with song. I think Fust initially came out of this. We were also listening to certain black metal like Brenoritvrezorkre and Moevot, quiet black metal or black metal that felt empty of ideas. And those felt like non-songs that still had song inside them. Or Flynt’s Hillbilly Tape Music. My search was always this implicit relationship between song and non-song.
Alison Knowles’ Frijoles Canyon is the greatest record that brings these two ideas together: the public radio variety show as America’s proper form and the implicit song within sounds evacuated of music. I know this is a ridiculous set of ideas, but I am trying to express something I have long found difficult to piece together. Knowles forces the New Mexico landscape to sound itself aloud, and she talks and talks and talks, and when put together I can’t help but think of it as a hörspiel, an American Album for public radio. And those sounds are so perfectly dull. I think because of all of this, I hear songs there. So I think one day, I will make that record: Frijoles Canyon with song. I hear Alison isn’t doing well these days. Be well, Alison…
Why is Yellow the Middle of the Rainbow? – Kidlat Tahimik
If I had to sum up my general view on cinema it would be that I like films that promote a sense that anyone has the capacity to make a film. In other words, I like films that feel “makeable,” that when you finish watching part of the impulse is to think I could make a film. That doesn’t mean I don’t love films that feel unmakeable. I love Chaplin, Ozu, Renoir, Eisenstein, Vigo, Hawks. I love Frankenheimer’s Ronin, late Tony Scott, Mission Impossible. But I will always hold up films that seem like they show us how to make a film: Straub-Huillet, early Kelly Reichardt, James Benning, It’s Impossible to Learn to Plow by Reading Books, Jon Jost, Penny Allen’s Property, Eagle Pennell, Haile Gerima.
I like films whose footage seems somewhat arbitrary, that are bursting in such a way that it feels like the film could extend beyond the frame. And I think this sense that cinema can go beyond its frame and that there is a history to this idea is something that really motivates my commitment to cinema. It’s this kind of mix of amateurish filmmaking and the grander sense that cinema could be lurking anywhere that makes me especially champion makeable films that become what Jacques Rivette called monumental in form: films that don’t need pre-written dialogue, that just seem to find cinema around us. I think this is Lav Diaz, Boris Lehman, Robert Kramer, Anne Charlotte Robertson. It’s also Wang Bing who, alternatively, finds cinema lurking especially where cinema was historically banned and forbade. It is diaries, travelogues, home movies taken to the point of filmic exhaustion, somehow allowing history to seep into the frame hiding somewhere in the background.
One of the greatest instances of this is Kidlat Tahimik’s Why is Yellow the Middle of the Rainbow? released in 1994. It was filmed over a decade with his son as a kind of look from a Filipino perceptive at why imperial America still seems to loom so heavy (it starts in Monument Valley as a kind of family road trip). Filmed across Aquino’s assassination, the rise of the “yellow” movement against Marcos and its relegation to the “middle” on the political rainbow, the film seems to happen upon history inadvertently. It feels unfinishable, and yet entirely complete in its frustrated anti-colonial capture of the 1980s. It feels open-ended, “never-ending,” made without a script. And yet what is said therein is as moving as anything ever written. In the beginning they build a structure out of trash and call it a third-world projector, which suggests a projector from a world in which things are made by people, by labour power––a way of seeing from the perspective where the world is made by yourself and others around you. If Tahimik’s films feel makeable, it is because they are very aware of what it means for something to be made by labour power, by people. And of course I must add, the movement of history looms heavy where people are concerned. Tahimik is currently working on a monumental project about Ikeng, the indigenous slave of Magellan who, after Magellan died, was actually the one who completed the circumnavigation of the globe. Time forward, Kidlat…
Bertolt Brecht – Arbeitsjournal
As with films I would say that I like books that somehow give a glimpse of history, but which by virtue of this fact come across like a work in progress. Maybe something like Let Us Now Praise Famous Men would be a good example or The Eighteenth Brumaire which both respond to a specific time of crisis that they somehow documented, narrated, and critiqued so fully and yet both remain somehow increasingly relevant today. I also read a lot of art history, about the particular capacity of art to do this kind of historical work. Some combination of this documentary form of thinking, art history, Marxism, and historical narratives that feel somewhat ongoing and open in their descriptive reach is what I guess I am really after in a book.
It’s difficult, though, to get all the themes together in one book. Two works really come to mind here. The first is perhaps my favorite novel, Peter Weiss’s Aesthetics of Resistance, which follows a group of working-class students in search of a form of political life amid the rise of fascism and a growing fracture of leftist organising. We get this search primarily through their commitment to art, to thinking about art during, say, the fall of the Spanish republic. Some say it is a thought experiment on how Weiss wished he had experienced 1930s Germany, a thought experiment I often identify with as a fairly anxious person.
But I think if I had to choose one book that really consolidates my interests it would be Bertolt Brecht’s Arbeitsjournal. These are “work journals” from the rise of the third reich to his death in 1956. Image clippings and musings not meant for publication form a montage of Brecht’s attempt to recognize history happening before him. This very act of assembly is the “arbeit” or the work that the title names: he is working to make the present somehow legible to himself. He becomes a veritable filmmaker without film, piecing together script and image, art analysis and political analysis in a way that, for me, offers an example of what the practice of writing is really capable of doing. Think of us forgivingly, Bertolt…
A song that means a lot to you
Womack & Womack – “Missin’ Persons Bureau (Paradise Ballroom Mix)”
My friends and I always try to disentangle the difference between a song and the recording of a song. I most often can’t do it: the recording of the song is the thing I latch on to, because sometimes a song seems to only work in its given container. For instance, I love Little Feat’s Roll Um Easy but boy do I wish it wasn’t on Glen Campbell’s Reunion, an otherwise perfect record. We often talk of a song’s playability, its coverability, its listenability, its recordability. Sometimes you record a song that can’t be played; sometimes you perform a song that can’t be recorded; sometimes you write a song that only you can perform and others who try to play it necessarily fall short; sometimes you record a song that’s super listenable and when you play it live that listenability plummets, and vice versa. Certain older songs like Washington Phillips’s Take Your Burden to the Lord and Leave It There which were probably meant only to be played live are now perfect in their recorded form. Phillips seems to me the only person suited in the world to play it, and if you try to cover it you will flounder. If someone plays a song meant to be sung live like Bonnie May I will probably like it, but June Tabor’s recording is the song for me. I get somewhat nauseous listening to the album version of Caroline Goodbye because I so deeply prefer another version Colin Blunstone made that was featured on his Greatest Hits—a version I admit is only infinitesimally different. Anyways, as silly as this argument seems, when I talk about favourite songs I really do mean favourite recordings.
I am especially attracted to two kinds of song in particular. The first––as you can probably guess––are songs that are in effect anonymous. For instance, Warfield Spillers have a song called Daddy’s Little Girl which is an all time top song for me, but I have no idea who they are. No one does except those privileged few as far as I can tell. Or Lee Royal’s I See the Love There In Your Eyes. Who is he? Such stunning music is being made outside of the spotlight. Indeed, we live for comments on YouTube that are basically like this is me or this is my family member.
The second kind of track I tend to love are something like cult songs, songs that certain groups of people or friend groups have really rallied around. I love witnessing people just truly bond over––to use a favourite expression of my friend John––dumb crap. Fust, for instance, has a number of culty theme songs like Everything is Everything’s 1969 peyote chant Witchi Tai To, Bobby’s Darin’s self-released hippy acab romp Me and Mr. Hohner, or Ilovemakonnen’s underheard and underrated American Epic Wishin You Well. A personal favourite cult classic in this regard is a kind of audiophile treasure, Bill Henderson singing Send in the Clowns at The Times. I don’t mind other versions at all, but this one is the best. He knows how to be quiet, how to whimper when he sings, and he alone makes me realise the radically embarrassing and pathetic ways that I too send in the clowns to make other people comfortable.
Anyways, the cult song I want to end this with is the Frankie Knuckles edit of Womack & Womack’s Missin’ Persons Bureau (i.e. the paradise ballroom mix). I don’t know exactly who the cult is, but I know it’s out there, and that we are bound to each other unknowingly by this quiet slapper. It’s so simply put together, so awkwardly synchronised. It’s nine minutes long and I never feel ready for it to be over. Linda’s yelps, Cecil’s murmurs, Frankie’s repositioning of all the elements into their proper space. The sappiness of calling missing persons when your love has left you is my kind of sentiment. Linda is the only one still alive. Catch and don’t look back, Zeriiya…
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