Times Past: Catching up with 1960s Ann Arbor psych-rockers The Beau Biens

MUSIC INTERVIEW

Beau Biens

Beau Biens rocking WCBN's April 1967 mixer.

This story was originally published on April 4, 2017.

The Beau Biens would have been entirely forgotten were it not for the single record they released: the "Times Passed / A Man Who's Lost" 7-inch, released in March 1967. While this Ann Arbor-based group didn't last long, and the single wasn't particularly popular at the time, over the past 50 years the record's status as a lost psychedelic classic has grown and grown.

"The Beau Biens 45 is considered one of the best garage band singles of the '60s," said Frank Uhle, media consultant for University of Michigan's Instructional Support Services by day, Ann Arbor rock encyclopedia by night. "A couple of years ago a book was published that listed just about every American DIY record that came out then, and a panel of experts voted 'Times Passed' number 427 of the more than 8,000 records included."

Though it's been bootlegged on several garage-rock compilations, the original 45 is nearly impossible to find. That's one reason why Uhle has reissued the record; another is because he located Joe Doll, the man who had the original master tapes because he was the one who recorded it at WCBN-FM during an all-nighter. Even the first pressing of "Times Passed / A Man Who's Lost" was pressed from a second-generation copy of the tape, so this new edition is even better than the real thing. The quintet consisted of Tom Kleene (vocals), Don Tapert (lead guitar), Tom Hartkop (rhythm guitar), Jim Masouras (bass), and Rick Fine (drums).

Originally a folk group, the Milk River Jug Band, the group's sound got turned on its ear when Tapert witnessed a Rolling Stones concert and only wanted to rock. After some resistance from his bandmates, the group changed its name to The Beau Biens and the train started rolling. The ensembles sound evokes a garage-ier version of The Yardbirds, powered by a fuzzed out Vox amp stomp.

We talked to Tapert about The Beau Biens' beginnings, seeing the Stones, Yardbirds, and The Velvet Underground and Nico, and Ann Arbor in '60s. We also tapped Uhle's bottomless well of local-music knowledge about the '60s Michigan rock scene and how the reissue came about.

Valencia Robin’s poetry collection "Ridiculous Light" spans time, space, and seasons -- from Milwaukee in the 1960s to Ann Arbor in the 1990s

WRITTEN WORD PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Valencia Robin, Ridiculous Light

Author photo by Jennifer Walkowiak.

This story originally ran August 12, 2019.

Valencia Robin’s new poetry collection, Ridiculous Light, spans time, space, and seasons -- from Milwaukee in the 1960s to Ann Arbor -- and offers moments of distinct observations. The speaker invites readers into specific recollections and, within them, shares not just what happened but vivid descriptions and sublime reflections on the natural world, people, identity, and experiences. 

A poet and painter, Robin is one of the founding members of GalleryDAAS at the University of Michigan. She now lives in Charlottesville, Virginia. 

She will return to Ann Arbor to read at Literati Bookstore on Friday, August 16, at 7 pm, and Pulp interviewed her before her visit.

Funtime: Photographer Paul McAlpine's "BARE + REAL" captures Iggy Pop at the height of his solo career

MUSIC INTERVIEW

Iggy Pop by Paul McAlpine, Brixton 1986

Iggy Pop at London's Brixton Academy in December 1986. That's steam rising off his body. Photo by Paul McAlpine.

This story originally ran March 11, 2019.

Iggy Pop is a photographer's dream.

The Ann Arbor native's sinewy body, hollow cheeks, intense eyes, and manic contortions make for photos that leap with life.

And that's exactly what photographer Paul McAlpine wanted to convey in his new book of Pop pix.

"BARE + REAL is a book about life -- passion, art, music -- keeping your eyes open and friends near," McAlpine said. "The book is filled with wonderful images that I feel have aged well with time."

McAlpine first shot Pop in 1977 at the first American concert of The Idiot tour in the photographer's native Boston. For the next decade-plus, McAlpine toured with Pop numerous times and amassed a huge collection of concert photographs featuring one of rock 'n' roll's greatest frontmen.

The limited edition BARE + REAL is 236 pages of the best of those photos, plus introductions by McAlpine and Pop, all housed in a 12" x 12" LP-sized slipcase.

I emailed with McAlpine to find out more about BARE + REAL and how he came to be Pop's go-to photographer -- or Jim, as he calls the man born James Newell Osterberg Jr.

Jimi Hendrix's Experience: Jas Obrecht's "Stone Free" goes deep into the guitar great's transformative 10 months in London

MUSIC WRITTEN WORD PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Jas Obrecht and Jimi Hendrix

This story originally ran February 11, 2019.

The life of guitar legend Jimi Hendrix has been explored in numerous biographies and documentaries, so you could be forgiven for being skeptical as to why the world needs another book about the man widely considered to be the greatest guitarist of all time and a major influence on the sound of rock music. Jas Obrecht's new offering on the subject, however, takes a much closer look at a specific period in the life of Hendrix.

Stone Free: Jimi Hendrix in London, September 1966-June 1967 is a detailed, day by day look into the guitar great's arrival in England and his rapid rise from obscurity to fame. Obrecht's book puts into perspective just how quickly and completely Hendrix revolutionized pop music. The supporting cast is a who's who of British rock icons including The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Who, The Animals, and many others. I had the pleasure of sitting down for an interview with the author, who has written nearly 200 cover stories for Guitar Player and other music magazines as well as a number of books on blues and rock.

Obrecht will be reading from his new book on Thursday, February 14, 7 pm, at Literati Bookstore in Ann Arbor. Below is the conversation we had, slightly edited for flow.

Interview: U-M Professor Stephen Rush, author of “Free Jazz, Harmolodics, and Ornette Coleman”

MUSIC WRITTEN WORD INTERVIEW

Ornette Coleman

Ornette Coleman, the least understood person in the room.

This story originally ran December 5, 2016.

Ornette Coleman’s music can be inscrutable to unprepared ears. The jazz giant, who died in 2015 at 85, developed a music theory he called “harmolodics.” It’s a style that goes beyond the “free jazz” tag that frequently accompanies Coleman’s name -- even if the alto saxophonist/trumpeter/violinist did release a genre-defining record under that name in 1960 -- and relies as much on a philosophical idea as a musical one. Simply put: Harmolodics is about race.

Harmolodic theory can baffle experienced musicians, too. Even guitarist James “Blood” Ulmer, who played with Coleman for 6 years, said, “I don’t get it!” in a new book called Free Jazz, Harmolodics, and Ornette Coleman by Stephen Rush, professor of performing arts technology at the University of Michigan.

But Professor Rush, who has taught at U-M for more than 30 years, breaks down Coleman’s complicated theories in a series of free-flowing interviews with the legendary composer that clarify harmolodics’ underlying philosophy. Plus, the book’s in-depth musical examinations will help students absorb the style into their own playing.

In addition to being a U-M prof, keyboardist Rush has a staggeringly wide body of work that includes everything from chamber jazz and opera to digital music and sound installations, and he explores harmolodics (and all sorts of other styles) in his Naked Dance quartet.

To celebrate the release of Free Jazz, Harmolodics, and Ornette Coleman, Rush is doing two area readings: Wednesday, December 7, at Literati (Ann Arbor) and Sunday, December 11, at Trinosophes (Detroit). Both are at 7 p.m. (For the Literati event, Rush is joined by Jason Corey, associate dean and associate professor of music at the University of Michigan, who just released a new edition of his book Audio Production and Critical Listening: Technical Ear Training.)

Rush answered questions over email about Coleman and the book, and he gave Pulp a list of recommended recordings that illustrate harmolodics at its finest.

Two new books by Ander Monson consider the West, Midwest, gun violence, and extreme situations

WRITTEN WORD INTERVIEW

Ander Monson and his books I Will Take the Answer and The Gnome Stories

Author photo by Patri Hadad.

Ander Monson, a native of Michigan who lives in Arizona, has not one but two new books that were published this year.

His book of essays, I Will Take the Answer, begins with an account of exploring storm sewer tunnels underneath Tucson and concludes with a reflection on filming a ceremony with an infrared camera. In between, the essays span gun violence, rivers, mines, the Midwest, the Upper Peninsula, music and mixtapes, a Renaissance festival, a reflection on “I,”, and holiday lawn decorations. There is also a mention of the Sea Shell City Michigan’s Man-Killing Giant Clam.

These essays contemplate our relationship to the past and our memories alongside who we are now, what it all may mean, and what the future may bring. One essay called “Facing the Monolith” reflects on how a palm does not survive when transplanted and determines that:

Removed from our worlds, our histories of self, the things and songs we love, our spectacles or the spectacles we have become, the outlines of our lives -- that constant backward looking, searching for what we might contain or in what we are contained—we might well disappear.

The extent that history and self and the world around us are interconnected shapes our realities, suggests Monson. Yet, despite our reliance on our individual collections of history and memory, they do not guarantee security. Monson writes, “I consider, as if floating above some other northern city, the sprawling of the lit-up interstates as fathers drive their children home through snow on winter nights, thinking themselves safe. What is safety, I wonder, when at any moment our life could be torn apart?”

This idea of upending a life is contextualized by Monson’s discussion of the 2011 Tucson shooting in which US Representative Gabrielle Giffords was injured. At the tragedy’s memorial outside the grocery store where it occurred, one of the essays aptly depicts that, “I find a balled-up piece of lined yellow paper. I do pick it up. I open it. a shopping list with six items: ‘triskets, jello, oranges, mayo, peanut butter, sm. eating apples.’ It’s not a note or prayer. Sometimes it’s not clear what the difference is between these kinds of documents.” While this book just came out this year, I sense these sturdy yet vulnerable essays will hold up over time and that I’ll find myself rereading them or returning to them in thought in the future.

Monson’s other book, The Gnome Stories, is a collection of short stories that are, in some ways, a counterpart to the essays. Reading the two books in quick succession may have influenced me, but the stories do present similar situations examined through the lens of fiction, while also standing alone. They investigate how people will respond to unique circumstances, ranging from shooting a burglar to working in a cryogenic facility or a radical weight-loss clinic. Characters find themselves both at extremes and reaching toward extremes at the same time as wondering what defines them, how they can change, and, “[w]hen will it be enough?” As one character who maps people’s memories reflects, “[m]y father once asked me: What are you willing to wreck to get what you want?” The question moves beyond the hypothetical when this character and others undergo this test. Through clear prose and introspective characters, the stories reveal strengths and weaknesses of these characters, as well as question which is which.

Monson’s reading in Ann Arbor is rescheduled as an At Home with Literati event via Zoom video conferencing on Tuesday, April 14, at 7 pm, when he will speak along with author Deb Olin Unferth. 

I interviewed him by email, and we talked about his books, connection to the Midwest, and how the pandemic has affected his plans. 

Megan Giddings' debut novel investigates what's really going on in a research study in a small Michigan town

WRITTEN WORD INTERVIEW

Megan Giddings and her novel Lakewood

The town of Lakewood, where you don’t know what’s part of a research study and what’s separate or real life, provides the setting for a new book of the same name by Megan Giddings, a University of Michigan graduate. This shifting ground calls into question what is true in the experiences of the main character, Lena Johnson, who moves to Lakewood for the promise of good pay and health insurance (albeit as a subject in the research study). A dystopian novel apt for the times, Lakewood moves quickly and constantly probes what lines people will hold or cross for the sake of science or their family.

Early on, Lena mulls over a foretelling comment by another character:

To make life easier, we have to agree there is no such thing as normal, the doctor had said while typing on her laptop. If you think too much about how things should be, you forget how they are.

As the novel unfolds and Lena joins the study, supposedly on memory and funded by the government, she has to grapple with whether the increasing physical and mental side effects of the tests are worth it. She furthermore undergoes surveillance, notices that the town is predominately white while research subjects are black, and must endure extreme circumstances, including taking unidentified medications. Whether Lena will forge ahead with participating and if the purpose or outcome of the research will be revealed become the questions that propel the novel.

Giddings was scheduled to speak Wednesday, April 1, at Literati Bookstore, and the event was canceled owing to COVID-19. I interviewed her by email as planned prior to the pandemic.

Nessa’s new album explores an “Otherworld” as well as our own

MUSIC INTERVIEW

Nessa's Kelly McDermott

The third album from Ann Arbor's Nessa showcases an ensemble remaining true to its roots while stretching out thematically.

Led by flutist/vocalist Kelly McDermott, the band continues to develop its own particular strain of Celtic-inspired world music. And on the new album, Otherworld, that sound serves to explore two specific themes: of women finding truth and a prayer for the planet.

Joining McDermott in the core band are Rob Crozier on bass and other instruments; Dan Palmer, guitars; Mike List, percussion; Rick Beamon, drums; and Brian Brill, keyboards. Brill and McDermott produced the record.

The album opens with a composition about another world and devotes its second half to an “Elemental Suite” celebrating our own world. The title track is a haunting, flute-led instrumental that sets the stage for what’s to come. Thoughtful and enchanting, it effectively suggests the idea of another dimension. Written by Crozier, “RGB Reel” -- inspired by Ruther Bader Ginsburg -- showcases his expert bass playing. Dan Palmer’s “Buiochas” is a beautiful take on Irish jazz. 

The music on Otherworld is largely original compositions, but the band also weaves in reinventions of traditional songs, further extending the notion of both staying rooted and reaching out. “Sovay” is mellow and jazzy, while “Wraggle Taggle Gypsies” has an almost reggae feel. And “Stitch in Time” even manages to successfully work in rap elements.

The four parts of the closing suite each evoke their particular element. “Air for St. Brigid” features gorgeous wordless vocals; “Singing Waters” uses water sounds and a flute that suggests a flowing river. “Fire Dance” takes listeners from embers to a roaring blaze.

McDermott answered a few questions about the new album via email.

Video Premiere: Evan Haywood's politically pointed "Do Right by My Kin"

MUSIC INTERVIEW

Evan Haywood's Perfumed Gardens is a gutbucket folk-rock album soaked in reverb and passion. In addition to 11 Haywood originals, he covers songs by Cody ChesnuTT, Gypsy Trips, Dave Bixby, and Roy Acuff, all while evoking Bob Dylan circa his Rolling Thunder Revue stage where he played with loose abandon.

The album came out in August 2018, but the Ann Arbor-based Haywood didn't release a video for songs on the album -- until now.  

"Do Right by My Kin," which premieres here on Pulp, is a screed against the rise of far-right conservatism, racism, and hatred that has increased in the United States since the 2016 election. The song's targets are obvious and so is Haywood's rage when he sings, "Do me a favor and do right by my kin / Better love your neighbor / Or we gonna make you pay for your sin."

I talked with Haywood over email about why he decided to release the video now, how it was created, and the song's influences, as well as the status of two other projects he's working on: the long-delayed new album by the hip-hop collective Tree City and a film he shot about Jamaica's music and politics.

Erin Craig's fantasy-horror YA novel "House of Salt and Sorrows" tells the mysterious story of 12 sisters facing a deathly curse

WRITTEN WORD INTERVIEW

House of Salt and Sorrows by Erin A. Craig

Author photo by Cyndi Whipkey.

House of Salt and Sorrows, a fantasy-horror young adult novel, opens with a funeral and a grim question: which of 12 sisters will be the next to fall prey to a supposed curse and die?

This first novel by Erin Craig, a graduate of the University of Michigan, stars a strong female protagonist, Annaleigh Thaumas, who is the sixth of her siblings. As she ponders the latest death -- that of her sister Eulalie, who fell from a cliff -- Annaleigh imagines, "her falling through the air, the look of confusion on her face turning to horror as she realized that there was no escaping this, no way to go back and make it right.”

Annaleigh, however, begins to suspect that foul play is at fault for her sisters’ deaths, instead of a curse. She becomes determined to figure out who is behind the madness before more tragedies overtake her family. Eulalie’s sudden demise prompts Annaleigh to consider that, “Though it was all conjecture, I felt I was on the right path. My sister’s death had not been an accident. It had not been part of some dark curse. She was murdered. And I was going to prove it.”

Following Annaleigh on her search for answers becomes as tempestuous as the seas on which the Thaumas family lives. Along the way, Annaleigh falls in love, dances at balls both magnificent and grotesque, and sees ghosts and gods.

Throughout House of Salt and Sorrows, it becomes increasingly clear that people and places are not what they seem at first glance -- or even at second glance. Whether it all can be righted again is an ongoing question as tragedies continue to befall the Duke of the Salann Islands and his many daughters.

Craig’s novel was published last year. She currently lives in Memphis, Tennessee, and is planning a return to her Michigan roots. I interviewed her by email about her connection to Ann Arbor, opera background, writing process, reading, and upcoming plans.