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One of the (substantially true) cliches about the British is that we’re fixated on the two world wars of the early-to-mid 20th century. Certainly the subject comes up remarkably often and is a surprisingly constant source of reference given there are so few living participants or witnesses remaining (someone who was five years’ old in 1945 is now 78-79, someone who was five years’ old in 1918 is now vying for position as one of Britain’s oldest residents.) In some ways it’s understandable: to be British is to live in a relatively crowded country where most streets follow courses laid down hundreds of years ago, where digging down any depth reveals we’re walking on past settlement, where we’re rarely far from a physical remembrance of decisions hundreds of years old. The British character seems to have drawn something from this shrouding in memory – we mostly live in the property and belongings of past generations. I can’t help but think of that when I listen to Ghost Box, Trunk Records, The Caretaker, Burial – it’s a very British musical form, this eerie invocation of relatively recent cultural heritage: rave, jungle, the BBC – things that once sounded like the future and, of course, faded to become just an accepted and steady present before acquiring a dusty vibe that marked them as the past. Maybe it’s an aspect of life in a wet climate, that crispness and sharp decisive lines become mildewed, warped and mangled.

Anyways, ramble over. I had the pleasure of seeing Bikini Kill over in Brixton on Tuesday evening supported by the deeply cool Big Joannie and The Tuts.

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Remarkable seeing how Bikini Kill’s significance as a band that meant something more than music has given them the ability to fill a venue of this size so many years later. My friend was disappointed there was no music from any of the participants’ later bands (Julie Ruin? Le Tigre?), but maybe that’ll come (perhaps accompanied by new music) if the band stays together – there’s surely only so many times Bikini Kill’s nineties catalogue can be reiterated. Musically, it’s very much of it’s time and there’s a fairly stable and relatively unvaried palette at the centre of it all – sounded great on a big stage though.

Kathleen Hanna is such a wicked front person: a whirl of movement, eye-catching body language and captivating anti-rock god posture. She’s also a voice of rationality taking the chance to share her observations on the state of modern politics, then/now comparison, positivity and forward motion. Definitely not a ‘holier than thou’ figure, what I heard was both someone committed to their beliefs but equally committed to be humane and celebrating common humanity too – to not lauding herself over anyone.

My friend was determined to head to the front so we ducked our way through gaps in the crowd until she was ensconced in the first/second row and I held myself a couple of rows back. It was really enlightening hearing her thoughts afterward: “this is the first time I’ve been to a show and felt safe at the front.” It was so notable that the girls  were looking after one another even as the mosh-pit surged as heavily as at any other show. I really value being challenged in day-to-day life and I realised immediately that, as a bloke, I’ve never had to think twice before heading to the front. With my eyesight being less than brilliant I’ve always needed to be fairly close to feel that connection to a performance, plus I actually like seeing not just hearing the creation of music. It felt like a flash of the blindingly obvious to be reminded that it isn’t necessarily such a thoughtless decision for a woman to step in close. Great to attend a show where this was called out and people were asked to make an individual choice – some went forward, many stayed back.

It was funny to see that crowd-surfing has become a bit of an embarrassing relic indulged in only by a tiny number of people: I remember losing the appetite for it at a Feeder gig in 2000 or so when someone’s boot cracked down on a friend’s nose and she had to spend the majority of the show in the toilets trying to stem a substantial flow of blood before we took her home because her head was spinning. Part of me wishes the mosh-pit would follow, I’ve never had much interest in slamming other humans – I bounce, pogo, headbang and vibrate to my heart’s content but I just feel sheepish when my energy collides with someone else’s space.

For me, what was interesting was to be placed in a position of awkwardness, where I couldn’t relax or just be thoughtless – this was NOT a bad thing. A lot of the time, faced with discomfort, the most human reaction is to reassert one’s own righteousness and lash out – it’s worth resisting this and taking time to question oneself. Very quickly, just by virtue of following a friend, I felt I was too close to the front. I was never able to really let go during the show because I was trying my best to not let the mosh-pit crush the front rows, trying to keep my balance and not get hurled onto the people around, passing water back between songs, stepping alongside one girl’s male friend so she had a bit of cover while replacing a contact lens…But, in truth, one’s own perception of one’s gig etiquette isn’t really relevant: it’s all eye of the beholder – I could never be sure what I thought was good behaviour was being thought of that way, my friend’s assertion that “you’re not a dick,” really didn’t cover it.

It was a very positive gig, the spirit was wonderful, it was nice to see girls being able to get together and set the course…But beyond gender, beyond any group identity based on a shared ideology or belief, people are still people. Hanna made a point of stating that the left wing needs to stop spending so much time applying purity tests to fellow travelers, to accept diverse of practice and approach, that individuals needed to stop trumpeting their own righteousness over others. Amen! But still, in the audience, there were authoritarian personalities who were more interested in asserting this opportunity for power by policing those around them. A gentleman had accompanied his girlfriend to the front row – legit! He’s entitled to stand with his partner. One girl took issue with this and used “girls to the front!” to barrack him until he bluntly refused to move. Crazily someone thought it was alright to then punch him in the head. Agh…No, nothing as low stakes as a musical performance should ever justify physical violence and ‘girls to the front’, I’m pretty sure it was meant to be a positive encouragement not a statutory regulation or a club to thud over someone’s head. Certain girls in the moshpit were as keen as any bloke could ever be to hurl themselves, or other human beings, into one another – at one point the back of someone’s head connected with my nose and I saw stars for a bit. I spent a lot of the gig trying to brace so the surging bodies wouldn’t hit others on the outskirts of the pit – equality does mean the right for anyone to be as self-centred as anyone else – as I said earlier I’d still like to see mosh-pits vanish into history.

Another incident erupted close by me and, after the gig, my friend commented “he looked like a typical Incel…” which made me wince – judgment by appearance when, in truth, he just looked like a skinny punk kid. Whatever the argument that sparked it, it was notable how quickly a dozen people had lined up against this guy to force him out. I can’t comment particularly, I didn’t see what occurred so I have no opinion, but mobs make me uncomfortable – I don’t believe for a second that all those people had a clue what had happened or were acting on a thoroughly accurate perception. I took the opportunity to head right to the back and watch the rest from there. A small cluster of guys were definitely going for it in the mosh-pit and I’d been very nervous about being lumped in with them already. People often privilege their own perception over a more rational acceptance of uncertainty or a belief that other people aren’t to be lumped into friend/foe categories and dealt with accordingly.

The crucial thing for me is that none of this soured me on the righteousness of Bikini Kill or the assertion of female-friendly gigs! It was a privilege to, for once, be the person who had to question whether I was doing the right thing at a show; and the vast majority of people were a courteous and fun-seeking bunch. Like anything, there’s always that 5% who can’t or won’t be decent – ah well. There are people on the right who would likely claim that the behaviour of a tiny percentage of people says something about the wider cause of liberalism, humanitarianism, feminism – rubbish. Pointing out a few difficult people doesn’t say anything at all about a cause that transcends individuals (just as fiscal rectitude, respect for historical/cultural roots, etc. are not bad things at all and the bad behaviour of a few people on the right does not say anything about the wider intellectual currents.) People have great difficulty remembering that they are simultaneously (a) an individual and (b) part of numerous wider impersonal groupings.

There are some hard lives out there. I’m always appreciative of how lucky I’ve been in life – without ever using it as a complacent reason to say “this is good enough, no further, no more.” There always seems to be a pull in much dialogue about the world to either say things are awful, or things aren’t bad – my view is things don’t have to be awful to believe that we can look to the future and say we can make it better. I dislike hysteria on the one hand, and defeatism on the other. It seems to be a very British trait sometimes to declare everything to be crap (all politicians, all business, all of the left/right wing, all classes, all people…) as a defensive posture in which an individual gives themselves permission to not engage, not get involved, not even try. Ah well!

In the nice things of my current year – are we really a third of the way through it already? – I was invited to write an entry for the exhibition catalogue accompanying Chris Gollon: Beyond The Horizon, an exhibition at Huddersfield Art Gallery running from 5 October 2019 to 11 January 2020. My connection to Gollon’s work arose directly from the Thurston Moore book We Sing A New Language. Gollon was one of the invited artists who took part in the ROOT project of 1998 and, interviewing him, I was enthralled by the way he spoke of his creative process, the way ideas merged and combined within an overall work – stellar stuff. One thing led to another, David Tregunna – Gollon’s friend and manager – was kind enough to invite me to a showing in London where Eleanor McEvoy performed pieces from her album Naked Music which was entwined with artworks from Gollon…And at the end of the evening I headed off having agreed I wanted to buy an artwork and the connection continued. My only regret is I was trying to be so polite and respectful of Gollon’s time that I didn’t go over and say hi – a chance I’ve lost forever more, a true shame.

Nick Soulsby, Thurston Moore & ‘House of Sleep’

Friday I depart for Lisbon for a long overdue few days away from work where I’ll sit in sunshine, work on the upcoming book on Lydia Lunch – and attend the premiere of Marco Porsia’s movie SWANS: Where Does A Body End?

I’ve seen several cuts of the movie over the past couple years and it’s been amazing watching the shaping and crafting that goes into it, the multiple dimensions being taken into account, the energy that Marco has had to put into it. The other amazing thing has been to see a film that many times and always be enthralled – there’s just so much great material, the story is compelling, the way it’s been constructed is hard to turn away from. I’m really looking forward to see it on the big screen on Friday evening. A week later I’ll then attend the showing in Brussels. Keep watching, lot more showings to come:

https://www.wheredoesabodyend.com/new-events

I’ve also been invited to attend the Pop Kultur Festival in August in Berlin – my first ever visit to the city and, typically, my friend who lives there is going to be trekking in Bavaria! I’ll be taking part in a panel at the festival then giving a workshop on oral history and music – really looking forward to putting the work in ready for that.

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Another odd link back to We Sing A New Language came when Oltrarno Recordings got in touch to ask if I would be willing to take a look at Massimo Farjon Pupillo’s first solo album. The answer was a definite yes. I’ve seen Massimo’s work in ZU – love that band – and he’s been a regular collaborator with numerous groups and individuals inhabiting the ‘out there’ realms of music. Glad I did look at it, two gargantuan twenty minute compositions plus a cover of the always beautiful All The Pretty Little Horses:

https://www.popmatters.com/massimo-farjon-pupillo-review-2635385964.html

I also took time to go back through my front-to-back catalogue of Sunn O))), definitely one of my favourite bands of all time. Life Metal, pleasant, definitely nowhere near as glorious as Monoliths & Dimensions – ‘Alice’ is an immaculate composition.

https://www.popmatters.com/sunn-o-life-metal-review-2635722537.html

Anyways, it’s an honour to get the chance to encounter the people and their works – constant delight.

 

 

First things first, where am I going to be on Friday May 3, 2019? Attending the premiere of Marco Porsia’s film “SWANS: Where Does A Body End?” at the Indie Lisboa International Independent Film Festival. And the 6th May? Right back at the same venue for the second screening. How about Friday 10th May? Oh that’s different. I’ll be in Brussels for a weekend break…And watching the third screening of the movie.

Over the past couple of years I’ve had the honour of seeing several rough cuts of the movie at various stages in it’s development and it’s amazing how much has gone into the work – and how powerful I’ve found it each and every time. Breathtaking.

Busy past month beavering away on various endeavours – around which there’s still been time for music. Record Store Day, I visited Specialist Subject Records at The Exchange here in Bristol – it’s on my front door and jeez…This crew make me feel like I’ve only scratched the surface of the current music scenes afoot in the U.K. and around the world. Just a sea of underground and indie vinyl from bands I find myself looking up over and again. I wound up walking out – after a very pleasant chat with the staff – with:

Birds in Row “We Already Lost The World”

https://birdsinrow.bandcamp.com/album/we-already-lost-the-world

Television Personalities “Some Kind of Happening: Singles 1978-1989”

https://recordstoreday.co.uk/releases/rsd-2019/television-personalities/

And, finally: Bossk “Audio Noir”

I had bought the I/II reissue on a previous visit so I was helpless to not wide up with Audio Noir this time around (https://bosskband.bandcamp.com/album/i-ii-reissue-3).

Around that I’ve been taking time to fill in my collection of Burial 12″s and spending time with Leyland Kirby’s latest (final?) utterance as The Caretaker – things of beauty. check out Bliss Signal too!

Reading-wise, I can’t speak highly enough of How To Survive A Plague by David France (https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/dec/12/how-to-survive-a-plague-review-david-france-activists-aids-treatment-hiv). By the final chapter, when there’s finally a true chink of light and hope, I found myself tearing up and gulping with relief – totally sucked into this account of people striving to survive, to protect loved ones, to claw their way into the consciousness of a world that wanted to pretend these weren’t real people deserving of care or attention. Amazing.

Well that’s nice. Back in 2015 I put together a brief story based on the ‘I Found My Friends’ oral history I’d put together from the memories of the bands who performed alongside Nirvana 1987-1994.

View at Medium.com

There’s not much I really have to add about Cobain at a quarter century distance from his death. Amid the clickbait and web-space filler there are plenty of respectful and insightful pieces out there, so much information! In terms of modern figures, Cobain might be one of the most reviewed, video’ed, recorded, written about…What can I say?

https://www.scenepointblank.com/features/regular-columns/guest-column-nick-soulsby-let-sun-come/

Loren and the team at Scene Point Blank were kind enough to let me provide a rambling description of the kinds of thoughts that motivate me when looking at music, musicians, books, life in general – then to point to why I feel SWANS and Michael Gira are so unique in this respect.

Page two offers some cheerful easy-listening tunes to accompany thought time this afternoon. Viva Swans!

 

 

https://www.gofundme.com/w6ste-genesis-breyer-porridge

Genesis P-Orridge, to me, is a rare example of an individual who has been brave enough to make their entire life a site of experimentation and change. With true artists there’s sometimes an air of ‘they go there so we pedestrian civilian types don’t have to’ – that’s definitely true with Genesis but what I admire most is that, throughout all these transgressions over the decades, there’s a person who values humanity and kindness at the centre of it all.

Reading the various works looking at his music history, his art work, even some of the volumes related to his esoteric magick interests, there’s a breadth of thinking and energy there that awes me. Across Coum Transmissions, Throbbing Gristle, Psychic TV and beyond there’s always an attempt to explore an idea, then move on and seek something new. I admire that kind of questing behaviour because it can be so easy to settle into a single groove and dig it deeper to no great end.

Currently, Genesis is extremely ill, I’m hoping people have a little spare change and so forth that they’d be willing to drop into the Go Fund Me to keep him comfortable at this time.

https://www.stitcher.com/podcast/new-books-network/e/58779912

This was a bit of an honour and a pleasure. An author called Steve Naish caught me late last year and inquired whether I was open to being interviewed for the New Books Network (it’s also available on iTunes.)

Always a pleasure to have a conversation with someone: as a basic philosophy, I think humans require input in order to process it into meaningful or worthwhile output. That seems simplistic (it is) but what I mean is all the time in the world sitting in a room dreaming and musing doesn’t add up to anything compared to the momentum created by external stimuli and impetus. One would think that writing was a solitary business, something one did alone, but I think it’s swifter and more productive when it involves other people day by day to keep it moving and give something to play with or push against.

Steve’s most recent work is Riffs And Meaning: Manic Street Preachers and Know Your Enemy. It immediately appealed to me personally because, on the first dubbed cassette of Nirvana I ever heard, way back in 1993, the space at the end of Side B had been filled with two Manics songs: ‘Vision Of Dead Desire’ and ‘You Love Us’. Killer tunes. But then I dived so completely into American music that I lost track of them altogether. Worse, MTV played that fecking awful ‘Design For Life’ song over and over for an entire summer of my teenhood and I couldn’t bring myself to touch the band. A few belated attempts to return to The Holy Bible never really picked up pace…

…Which is where I’ve been verrrrrry pleased to find this book and gain a context that made me want to go back and look over Manic Street Preachers. There’s something about reading passionate words and analysis that makes me look again with fresh eyes – gets me every time.

https://headpress.com/product/riffs-and-meaning/

https://www.popmatters.com/green-river-2019-re-issues-2628275330.html

I reviewed the two new Green River reissues for Pop Matters last week: so darn good! A definite recommendation on my part.

 

 

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Everyone gets stress dreams. They’re the visual imagery representing mental pressure – the most common motif is being chased by someone or something, falling dreams have a similar impetus behind them (things being out of control, no longer having one’s grip and so forth.) I’m aware that ‘telling people your dreams’ is high on the How To Bore list…But what the hey, feel free to stop reading here.

My stress dream has been pretty consistent since I was in my late teens. What happens is I’m in a record store or at a market stall. I note that they have a load of Nirvana bootlegs, I mean, a TON of Nirvana bootlegs – more than I’ve ever seen in one place. My excitement becomes sheer awe when I realise there are song names I’ve never heard, or song names that have only been rumoured, song names that I’m sure no one knows. I’m seeing ‘Suicide Samurai’, I’m seeing ‘Lullaby’, I’m seeing ‘Song in D’. I’m seeing an array of covers, I’m seeing bracketed notes telling me ‘alt lyrics’, ‘instrumental’, ‘early version’, ‘demo’, ‘acoustic’, ‘electric’.

The detail is amazing. I can feel the pressure building – I only have enough money on me to buy one CD. You can tell I’m a child of the nineties given that particular physical media is at the centre of my dream. I’m flipping CD cases and reading the brief descriptions on the back – which gig was this song supposedly from? When was this song recorded? It’s an indication of how powerful the Outcesticide series was for me as a teenager that the backs of these discs are formatted like Outcesticide II and III and give summary details for each song.

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The guy running the stall, the guy running the shop, he won’t allow me to put the discs on his stereo and flick through before I buy. The dream seems to be pre-modern because I don’t whip my phone out and start browsing YouTube or checking for information online about these mysterious songs. I have no way of figuring out which one to buy. I’m just going to have to choose. Tension builds.

I realise I’m looking at songs that no one realised Kurt Cobain created. There’s a showcase gig listed that no one knew took place where, in 1994, Nirvana present three-four brand new songs with names that only exist in my dream. I’m in holy grail territory: the final Cobain demos, the last songs Nirvana had finished – and not a single soul ever let on they existed, never in 25 years…How do I choose? What do I have to leave behind?

And that’s it. I’m trapped. I’m stuck there reading details and trying to use that data to make an impossible choice. I wake up inside a moment where I’m sweating and stressed, reading and re-reading, juggling dates and names and descriptions trying to add up what might theoretically be more valuable than what, all the time aware of the proliferation of fake songs and incorrect song titles and minor rather than substantive differences that haunted bootlegs…

Yup. Geek dream – that’s for sure. That’s what my visits to certain record stores used to be like though, so it’s partially a memory, not just a dream. I remember finding a disc – relatively late in my bootleg-collecting spell – that listed ‘Meat’ as a song title. It was the only thing on the disc that particularly interested me, the rest was a hodge-podge of live cuts siphoned from elsewhere. Luckily the store allowed me to listen and, of course, it was Dave Grohl’s cover of the Unleashed song ‘Onward Into Countless Battles’ – nice to hear but hardly worth the marked up price point:

I’m not too sentimental about some aspects of the bootleg days: bootleg discs with the name Nirvana on tended to be way overpriced – £15 a pop. You’d get home to find the disc sounded like it was recorded through the echoing pipes of a toilet cistern. Tempting song titles would turn out to be mislabels or gig/session details were wrong and you’d find it was something you’d already heard. It was a real quagmire at times.

On the other hand, how often in life does something feel like buried treasure? It’s hard to describe how excellent it used to feel walking into a store and seeing something special. The anticipation, the spirit of discovery. Circa 1998-1999 there was a pretty common perception that the the words on the back of Outcesticide II about ‘record company vaults’ were literally true: that there was the kind of big metal cell you’d see in a heist movie, full from floor to ceiling with perfectly preserved Cobain/Nirvana demos – that there might be hundreds of entirely unreleased songs…It’s that spirit, the sense of unlimited potential, that is at the root of the dream – that moment in time.

Of course reality intervenes. I was reminded of it though when I walked into X Records in Bolton (https://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/Attraction_Review-g187053-d13110119-Reviews-X_Records-Bolton_Greater_Manchester_England.html). There came a point where I had to turn to my mother and inquire whether she could go and complete the Christmas Eve family shopping and I would walk home…What I couldn’t tell her was that I quite literally could not leave – there was no way I could walk out of that store. None. I searched through barely a fraction of the shop’s selection before Christmas early closing – it’s a real Aladdin’s cave! Rarities, bootlegs, old CD and vinyl singles…I was in seventh heaven. And the staff were great! I felt sheepish that I was still swapping stuff back while at the counter…

The photo at the top is the Nirvana shelf. Sure, it’s 2018, I know now that there’s only a hundred unique originals written by Kurt Cobain that have been released publicly. I know that the record company isn’t sitting on a treasure trove of polished perfection. I browsed the back of the bootlegs and recognised gigs and songs that I knew pretty well because it’s all out there now pretty well…But it was nice to remember that moment of ‘anything possible!’ And to still believe there are surprises.

Welcome to 2019, 25 years since Cobain’s death, 31 years since Nirvana’s first studio session…Feel old yet? That’s OK. Onwards to new discoveries and good dreams!

 

 

My writing work, so far, as essentially been a representation of personal fixations and obsessions. As a long-time fan of Nirvana and Swans, how could I not enjoy being buried in learning more of them? The same went for the Thurston Moore book I did in 2017: I’ve been collecting Moore’s music for a significant portion of my life so having the opportunity to understand it’s creation, the context around it, appealed hugely and led to the ‘We Sing A New Language’ volume. With it being a natural part of how I live anyway, always looking out for the rare releases, seeking out Moore’s latest endeavours, the book finished but my interest just continued on as ever.

Link to the official YouTube link below:

My highlight in 2018 was Moore’s collaboration with Adam Golebiewski ‘Disarm’ – released on the Endless Happiness label back in the spring on double LP and on CD. Partially, and oddly, there was a touch of nostalgia for me: I’d become a fan of Moore’s solo records back in the mid-nineties via his duo/trio arrangements involving percussionist Tom Surgal. With just the two instruments usually filling the sound-field I’d found it possible to follow the physical motion of a performer through the sounds created and I’d enjoyed the rock vibe behind what was created – it was a gateway to the wider world of improvisation. ‘Disarm’ shares a lot with that spell of activity when Moore was feeling his way across the rope bridge connecting the wilder ends of rock music to the vast terrain of improv. Of course by this point in time his chops are impeccable and the record is one of the most ‘punk’ outbursts of improvisational clatter seen in Moore’s discography in a while. The first two tracks really load up on crunch and slam like it’s 1995 all over again.

https://endlesshappiness.bandcamp.com/album/disarm

I found the back of the LP slightly disingenuous in that it states Golebiewski is merely supplying ‘drums’ – not true. My attraction to Golebiewski’s work is how far away he works from the clichéd, beat-keeping, four-four focused instrument most recognise as drumming. What lured me into this sonic space was the chance to hear artists reinvent the potential of a physical instrument, not by letting computers take the strain, but through sheer intellectual and creative will. Golebiewski dislocates the drum kit’s palette of sounds, turning it into an array of scrapes, scratches, sudden pummelling and genuinely surprising and subtle effects. I’ve followed his work a while now – 2017’s ‘Meet The Dragon’ with Sharif Sehnaoui was a favourite too as was 2016’s ‘Relephant’ duo with Fredrick Lonberg-Holm – and it’s always great to see that desire to forge forward and do the unexpected. I wind up wondering if there’s a line, if there’s a point where I’ll simply have seen the full bag of tricks possible with a drum-kit but, so far, there’s always something more.

https://adamgolebiewski.bandcamp.com/

Pointing to highlights in improvised music can be tricky, moments come together, cohere briefly, then the whole point is to pull them apart and see what else might live within them. To pick on a few though, on Disturb, at around the two-and-a-half minute mark, the track felt like bird song to me played on guitar and percussion – it awed me, the ability to make something sound so natural on these most de rigeur of rock instruments. Distract, meanwhile, begins tentatively with strings scrunched, metal ringing, the drum-kit possessed by some muted poltergeist who rattles up a dusty storm of small sounds into an unsettling gust. Soon the momentum builds,  both musicians rush toward the boundaries in a hail of destroyed notes and hazing beats – there are even recognisable runs of notes on the guitar, drum rolls, it’s like hearing a song that’s been dismantled into constituent parts . The only disappointment I could point to is common to a lot of records documenting improvised performances: the last track kinda just ‘ends’, there’s nothing to mark that moment sonically speaking, no grand finale. In some ways, isn’t that the most ‘real’ truth? Sure. But I still enjoy something that says ‘here’s where we chose to end, no more.’ I have my fingers crossed that, someday, I have enough left inside of me that I know it’s time to put that full-stop on my life too. Hooray!