Category Archives: GUEST EDITOR

From The Desk Of The Sharp Things’ Perry Serpa: Politics

Having actually included MAGNET as one of my favorite things (and I promise that’s not sucking up, I really love the publication), you can imagine how chuffed I was at the prospect of a guest editorship. Over the past, well, several years of the Sharp Things‘ existence, Eric Miller has been a friend and an advocate, even when no one else was, so I’m honored to be able to ramble on a bit about a bunch of shit that I dig, because I want everyone to know about it and, more significantly, because it makes me feel important. ;-) Over to you, me …

Politics

OK. Let’s talk politics. Sorry, I know this is uncomfortable terrain, but fuck it. I like it. In fact, I love it. Before 2000, I tried desperately to avoid the subject, partially because of my ignorance of it. But, the palpable events that followed that particular election were just too obvious to keep me swimming in the warm pool of oblivion. I’ve recognized since then, that we live in a cold, cold place. It is not what it thinks it is. It does not know what it is. It is fractured. It is bullshit. It is perpetually ignorant, racist, misogynist. It is our United States Of America. And before you get all up in arms, take a look at who you are and what you struggle with everyday. What is happening to your family, your money, your time, and you let me know whether you are on the right side. So, if I come off like a traitor, who gives a shit? I don’t even know what this is enough to feel connected to it, enough to feel ashamed. If you’re fed up with what you hear on Fox News. If you’re tired of the hypocrisy of the GOP, a party so up its ass, it doesn’t even realize how truly nefarious and destructive its collective voice has been, then fucking say something. Say it with your votes, say it with your mouth—at parties, on the internet, to the douchebag next to you on the train who just has to espouse everything Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Coulter, whomever, said today. It’s politics, right? Well, we’re at war. Fuck ISIS. We’re at war with ourselves. Grab your bullhorn and fight.

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From The Desk Of The Sharp Things’ Perry Serpa: Antonino D’Ambrosio And The Concept Of Creative Response

Having actually included MAGNET as one of my favorite things (and I promise that’s not sucking up, I really love the publication), you can imagine how chuffed I was at the prospect of a guest editorship. Over the past, well, several years of the Sharp Things‘ existence, Eric Miller has been a friend and an advocate, even when no one else was, so I’m honored to be able to ramble on a bit about a bunch of shit that I dig, because I want everyone to know about it and, more significantly, because it makes me feel important. ;-) Over to you, me …

Antonino

My friend (the one with the coffee press) is a fellow Italian named Antonino D’Ambrosio. If you don’t know Antonino, you either should or you will. Antonino is not only a noteworthy filmmaker/producer (he produced Lewis Black’s No Free Lunch), he’s the author of a handful of some of the most important and powerful books this side of the millennia. The most heralded, perhaps is a book originally published in 2004, released in paperback in 2012 and slightly re-titled: Let Fury Have The Hour: Joe Strummer, Punk And The Movement That Shook The World. Initially using the activism of the punk movement, the Clash and Joe Strummer as its springboard, the book pays tribute, moreover, to the idea … or the ideal of creative response.

Antonino produced a documentary of the same name featuring folks like Billy Bragg, Eve Ensler (The Vagina Monologues), Ian McKaye, Wayne Kramer, Tom Morello and many others (not just music), giving voice to the concept and the history of generating change in politics and society through art.

Coming of age around the late ’70s/early ’80s, I mean, starting to pay attention to music around that time, there was a dichotomy of aesthetic leanings in most of my friends. Most of us, especially the ones who actually played music, fought an inner conflict between the complicated structures of classic and prog rock and the three-chord fervor of punk rock, and later, hardcore. I realize it’s odd for a musician who’s primarily a keyboardist, but I chose the latter.

While the former addressed what little instrumental prowess I aspired to, it was punk that really resonated with me. At first it was the unbridled brashness of its sound alone, but anyone with a sense of social duty—anyone who was restless and unfulfilled and poor and put upon and pissed off could hear the strains of the Clash, the Jam, the Damned and, later, Minor Threat, Agnostic Front, Fugazi, the Descendants, etc., and feel something profound, and far more frightening than Dio or Gene Simmons because it was real shit issued forth by real voices. Those with a social conscience who are making music these days have to take their lessons from the aforementioned and get over the jaded fuckery that prompts them to soak and bury their own words and pander to a fractured industry. We don’t need to look for trouble, it’s all around us. We just need to point to it. Take your cues from Mr. D’Ambrosio whose instrument is The Pen, and be fucking dangerous. The world needs it. Again.

Video after the jump.

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From The Desk Of The Sharp Things’ Perry Serpa: Scott Walker

Having actually included MAGNET as one of my favorite things (and I promise that’s not sucking up, I really love the publication), you can imagine how chuffed I was at the prospect of a guest editorship. Over the past, well, several years of the Sharp Things‘ existence, Eric Miller has been a friend and an advocate, even when no one else was, so I’m honored to be able to ramble on a bit about a bunch of shit that I dig, because I want everyone to know about it and, more significantly, because it makes me feel important. ;-) Over to you, me …

ScottWalker

He was a crooner once, Scott Walker. But then, thankfully for all of us, something went terribly wrong. Not to say that his Walker Brothers catalog was anything to scoff at. There are few pop songwriters who could hold a candle to the likes of “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore,” but by the late ’60s, he’d broken from his “bros” John and Gary and set off on a path of creating some of the most influential, and progressively, sublimely off-the-wall recordings ever made, in my humble opinion. I can listen to Walker’s renditions of Jacques Brel’s “Mathilde,” “Montague Terrace (In Blue)” and “Jackie” (Scott and Scott 2, respectively) on loop for an entire day. Not to mention Scott 4’s “Boy Child,” and about 50 other tracks he recorded between 1967-1974. Then, there was Tilt, which he put out in the mid-’90s, which pretty much introduced the avant-garde period of the man’s incredible canon. Same guy, even darker, more mysterious—his voice like a cracked, cavernous Sinatra, the songs, the arrangements floating around minor chords and shadowy words. The Drift and the brilliant, Bish Bosch. Wow! And now, he’s got Soused, which is a collab with metal band called Sunn O))) that features five “songs,” clocking in at 50 minutes (you do the math). It’s Walker’s lyrics and Sunn O)))’s industrial drone: a perfect union!

Video after the jump.

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From The Desk Of The Sharp Things’ Perry Serpa: Coffee

Having actually included MAGNET as one of my favorite things (and I promise that’s not sucking up, I really love the publication), you can imagine how chuffed I was at the prospect of a guest editorship. Over the past, well, several years of the Sharp Things‘ existence, Eric Miller has been a friend and an advocate, even when no one else was, so I’m honored to be able to ramble on a bit about a bunch of shit that I dig, because I want everyone to know about it and, more significantly, because it makes me feel important. ;-) Over to you, me …

Coffee

I am not a snob. In fact, I not only find coffee snobs to be insufferable (much like folks who can’t stop talking about wine), but I also think that they’re limiting themselves. The other day, after my daily Dunkin’ Donuts coffee, the only complaint of which is that they persist in putting the medium size in Styrofoam cups, (which does affect the taste), a good friend with whom I was having a home-meeting pressed me some imported Italian coffee. I loved both equally, but for different reasons, much like I love my sister for different reasons than I love my wife, and so on. And I felt compelled to take the pressed café pure black, not even with sugar, while I drank the DD fully loaded. I get the objective “good” cup vs. “bad” cup, but it’s a matter of effort, not entitlement. I could get a great cup of coffee from the truck on the corner of 25th and Sixth avenue, and a shit cup of coffee at a the brand new, well-advertised joint up the street, and I would not be in the least bit surprised. It’s happened many times and it’s pissed me off each time because the purveyor of the weak coffee always comes with the expectation that I should like the shit solely on the basis that they’re a café. Come to think of it, it’s a lot like wine labels. The pricey vineyard had better taste like an orgasm feels, cos that glass of inexpensive Mark West Pinot Noir is pretty freggin good.

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From The Desk Of The Sharp Things’ Perry Serpa: Steve Gonzalez (My Hero)

Having actually included MAGNET as one of my favorite things (and I promise that’s not sucking up, I really love the publication), you can imagine how chuffed I was at the prospect of a guest editorship. Over the past, well, several years of the Sharp Things‘ existence, Eric Miller has been a friend and an advocate, even when no one else was, so I’m honored to be able to ramble on a bit about a bunch of shit that I dig, because I want everyone to know about it and, more significantly, because it makes me feel important. ;-) Over to you, me …

Steven

He was the Sharp Things’ drummer for most of its 17 years and perpetually, unfalteringly, my BFF since 1975.

Back then, I didn’t know what to think of this kid. He suffered from a genetic disease called cystic fibrosis, which at the time, I had never heard of. He was thin, almost frail, but with a mouth twice as big as the rest of him. His condition, in many ways, made him more daring, less tolerant of bullshit, less afraid. If he felt wronged, it didn’t matter if the culprit was the biggest, meanest doofus in the schoolyard, he would get right up in their face, insult their mother … and run like hell. I didn’t realize it then, but being forward and competitive as hell, Steven was the perfect counterweight to this wallflower of a boy. And on we went …

Steven started playing music before I did. He was a year older than me, and when we were kids that might as well have been an eternity. He was suddenly hanging out with doods a few years older than us who wore army parkas and played guitars and were into Zeppelin and the Doors. It felt incredibly rebellious and attractive, but I was an outlier. I was just dabbling with the old piano in my parents’ living room, but I could hardly play a chord yet. Steve was already messing around with the complicated patterns of Neil Peart. I hung out in his basement and watched six other guys and a bunch of girlfriends (girlfriends!) enlisted as “backing vocalists” while they bounced, sweat and warbled through a set of classic-rock standards meant to actually be played in front of a real audience. I was so jealous. I would have sat down at the piano, but I knew I was over my head.

But, Steven knocked my door one Saturday morning with the entirety of his drum kit in tow. “Let’s jam!” he said, and so we set up in the living room and we did our best to lock in. I think the song was Billy Joel’s “The Stranger.”

I sucked, and Steven could have just as easily continued on his path without me, but he wouldn’t let it go. And it was that little homespun jam session that would springboard a musical union that would span almost four decades, three bands and various incarnations of each, hundreds of songs, stages, recordings and a thousand wonderful memories.

Together, Steven and I shared countless inside jokes, experiences and dreams. He had beat the odds of life expectancy for cystic fibrosis patients twice. When we were younger, it was 21, so getting up into our teens, we worried more about him, as he did himself. But he sailed right past the mark, making friends, traveling, working with the mentally handicapped, and eventually getting married—all the while playing his drums. When we got into our mid-30s, advances in the treatment of CF pushed the life expectancy up to 37. He sailed right past that one, too—buying a home, adopting a fantastic son, Dougie, named after his brother who had died of the disease at the age of 12, when Steven was only 10 years old, and still finding the time to play in the Sharp Things. Of course, he’d made it that far. He had more will power than anyone I’d ever known.

In 2012, his son was diagnosed with brain cancer. Steven and his wife, Bridget, spent the better part of the next harrowing two years putting him through treatments: chemo, radiation, more chemo. Finally, on July 25, 2014, Dougie was given a clean bill of health. It was finally over. That evening, we played a stripped down set at Piano’s NYC and celebrated with a few beers afterward. Steven was ecstatic. It seemed like life would probably get on a normal track for him, but soon afterward, his own health started to falter. Over the next month or so he’d go in and out of Beth Israel Hospital in downtown Manhattan with various CF-related maladies. It was unsettling, but not altogether unusual.

Steven had been at Beth Israel for almost a week when the rest of the Sharp Things rolled up at the Mercury Lounge to soundcheck for our show. The date was Sept. 11, 2014. Just a few days prior, Steve and I had communicated about how much he wanted to play, but this just wasn’t going to be the show. One more stretch of convalescence and he’d be back to it. But then he’d fell silent. Text messages went unanswered and a cold, dull fear became pervasive in me. I stepped off the stage after soundcheck and found out then that Steven had passed away that morning. I had spoken to both Michelle Caputo and Steve London earlier in the day about how Steven was going to handle being in the band, whether he’d be up to the task, that it was something he very much wanted, etc. He was already gone.

We played our show anyway. I didn’t want to, but I knew it’s what he would have wanted being the sort of person he was. A fighter. I thought that I’m too old for rallying cries, and “the show must go on” bullshit—collective commiseration, et al. Ugh. You could have it. I just wanted to go home and cry. But I know I would have dishonored his memory by walking away, and so we played, with Billy Polo on drums. It was a special night, shrouded in sadness, but also reveling in the essence of the man. The band, friends, our family and we all traded sentiments. The wounds were fresh, but we all appreciated it, as he was a man who spent all of his life at the threshold of death, but was so much more focused on living—filling that life with things and the people that he loved. Creating and cultivating a beautiful world around him, that I’m honored to say, including me and my music, and of course, enriched it in ways that only he could.

Steven Gonzalez is my hero. No one will ever fill those shoes in quite the same way.

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From The Desk Of The Sharp Things’ Perry Serpa: An Intro

SharpThings

Having actually included MAGNET as one of my favorite things (and I promise that’s not sucking up, I really love the publication), you can imagine how chuffed I was at the prospect of a guest editorship. Over the past, well, several years of the Sharp Things‘ existence, Eric Miller has been a friend and an advocate, even when no one else was, so I’m honored to be able to ramble on a bit about a bunch of shit that I dig, because I want everyone to know about it and, more significantly, because it makes me feel important. ;-) Over to you, me …

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The Sharp Things: Storehouse Of Treasure

SharpThings1

The Sharp Things honor the talent of a dear friend and founding member

Drummer Steven Gonzalez loved Rush. And that Sugar album, Copper Blue. He also dug AC/DC, Green Day, the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, Led Zeppelin and Three Dog Night. In short, Gonzalez’s personal tastes were, like those of a lot of intensely talented musicians, all over the map. And it was that eclectic curiosity that drew Gonzalez and Perry Serpa together when they were—to cop a line from Patti Smith—just kids, living and listening and bopping around NYC.

In the beginning, Serpa and Gonzalez were the Sharp Things. (The band’s PR material lists each player’s “member since” join date; Serpa’s and Gonzalez’s are their birth years.) The duo’s first demo recordings, cut during a trip to Pennsylvania in 1995 as a kind of experiment in crafting artfully arranged indie-pop, came off so promisingly that the bogus band name they’d concocted for that project stuck. Within a couple of years, the Sharp Things had coalesced into a full band, gigging around the East Village.

Since 2002, the Sharp Things have been releasing a series of albums mostly on the loose chamber-pop model, but accented by forays into other styles, making the band’s output a treasure trove for listeners whose tastes run to thoughtful composition and big-sound acoustics.

When Serpa found himself in the middle of a songwriting blitz around 2009, during which he composed close to 40 songs, he decided to hustle the music onto tape without worrying too much about how it would eventually see release. Serpa recorded those tracks with the rotating roster of members the Sharp Things had come to enjoy throughout its decade-long history. A loose album series titled The Dogs Of Bushwick, drawn from those sessions, began to see release in 2013 on two records, Green Is Good and The Truth Is Like The Sun. Now comes the third, Adventurer’s Inn, its title taken from a bygone amusement park Serpa and Gonzalez used to frequent as kids in their shared hometown of Flushing.

“It’s a short, sharp part of a very self-indulgent whole,” says Serpa. “Almost a mini-LP, really good for those with attention-deficit disorder. We bounce around genres a lot, and on this record, we found ourselves pushing the sides out a lot further.”

True enough. In fact, Adventurer’s Inn may be the shortest release in the series to date, but it’s the most freewheeling, aesthetically. “The Libertine” is a punchy, punkish workout, complete with distorted vocals; “All But These Beautiful Faces” mines a Summer Of Love-era Beatles vein; and the irresistible “Don’t Trust That Girl” is a flatly gorgeous Burt Bacharach-style swooner. Song by song, diverse as the collection is, each song is a standalone knockout. It’s a record for listeners who, like Serpa and Gonzalez, grew up loving all kinds of music shamelessly and indiscriminately.

Adventurer’s Inn is also an understandably bittersweet listen for the Sharp Things these days: Gonzalez passed away this year on September 11, after a lifetime battling the effects of cystic fibrosis. Gonzalez’s drumming anchors Adventurer’s Inn, as it will be the final installment in the series, due next year.

“Steve was my best friend and brother for 40 years,” says Serpa. “We grew up together. I remember him carrying all 18 pieces of his drum kit into my mother’s living room when we were 14, 15 years old. We actually played some shows as a duo before anyone else joined the Sharp Things.”

The band, as Serpa remembers it now, actually grew as a reaction to both of them sensing that they wanted to expand their scope as neophyte musicians. “That was certainly true for me, as a songwriter,” he says. “And Steve totally understood me as a songwriter. He just completely got me, all the time. It’s hard to lose him, first and foremost as a friend, but also as part of the heart and soul of this band.”

That soul is the most evident element on Adventurer’s Inn, the consistent element that binds its assorted songs. And as with the best soul, the sadness is laced with necessary humor. The final installment in the Bushwick series, Serpa hints cheekily, will be “a classic sort of Abbey Road side-two mash-up, with a big orchestral finish. Maybe with a ‘Revolution 9’ sound collage in there somewhere.”

—Eric Waggoner

“Union Chapel” (download):

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From The Desk Of The Wedding Presents’ David Gedge: At The Edge Of The Sea

MAGNET kindly asked if I’d come back and guest edit again. This year has been a whirlwind for the Wedding Present with touring, the festival in Brighton, recording the new Cinerama album, the Record Store Day singles and the deluxe reissue campaign of the first eight albums. There has hardly been a minute to sit still. So here is a little collection of little things in my life at the moment.

YouTube Preview Image

Every August, I curate my own festival in Brighton, nestled in the southern coast of England. I call it a “festival,” but it’s essentially just an all-day indoor affair at a medium-sized venue. I say “curate’” but not a lot of thought goes into it. I just pick bands I love, people I admire, old friends and former musical colleagues, anyone who takes my fancy, really. But the thing is, once I’ve pressed the start button, the thing just takes on a life of its own. I don’t mean this to sound hippy-ish or anything, but it seems to grow organically and always comes together perfectly. I’m not saying it’s easy—it’s actually quite a lot of work—but then the venue doors swing open and the first band takes to the stage with the beach clearly visible through the huge Victorian windows behind them and I will, without fail, have to choke back tears of … I don’t know, satisfaction? Relief? Either way, I wouldn’t miss it for the world.

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From The Desk Of The Wedding Presents’ David Gedge: Vinyl

MAGNET kindly asked if I’d come back and guest edit again. This year has been a whirlwind for the Wedding Present with touring, the festival in Brighton, recording the new Cinerama album, the Record Store Day singles and the deluxe reissue campaign of the first eight albums. There has hardly been a minute to sit still. So here is a little collection of little things in my life at the moment.

Vinyl

I recently bought a record player because all of our albums seem to get released on vinyl again these days, and I needed to check some test pressings. I’ve not owned a record player for about 10 years, I think, and it’s certainly very nice to have one again. What is it about vinyl? Is it just nostalgia? It can’t be because I’m told young people are fueling the vinyl resurgence. Maybe it’s the sound? Or is it the look, the feel, the smell? Anyway, hello, old friend, welcome back!

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From The Desk Of The Wedding Presents’ David Gedge: Recording Cinerama In Spain

MAGNET kindly asked if I’d come back and guest edit again. This year has been a whirlwind for the Wedding Present with touring, the festival in Brighton, recording the new Cinerama album, the Record Store Day singles and the deluxe reissue campaign of the first eight albums. There has hardly been a minute to sit still. So here is a little collection of little things in my life at the moment.

Cinerama

This year has seen a long-held ambition of mine come to fruition. For about 15 years now, I’ve had this dream to record an album—i.e., the same collection of songs—twice. One version would be recorded by the Wedding Present and the other, with totally different arrangements and instrumentation, would be recorded by my “other” band, Cinerama. I just didn’t know how to go about it. Then I met producer Pedro Vigil from the Asturias region of northern Spain, and together we mapped out a version of Valentina (the Wedding Present’s 2012 album) for Cinerama. We then recorded and mixed it in Gijon and Cadiz, respectively, and I had a really great time doing it. It reminded me why I started the Wedding Present but also why I started Cinerama, and I’m looking forward to seeing what everybody else thinks when I release it next year.

Video after the jump.

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