Another Beauty

Sometimes wandering the streets of New York I hear whining about how “far from nature’ someone is; or how there’s too much concrete; or how the exhaust–filled air is hurting their lungs. Well, boo hoo. If it’s purple mountains majesties you seek, NYC ain’t the place. You come here for the human culture not the natural beauty—although now that I think of it, there are other, very compelling forms of natural beauty in NYC, if you catch my drift, wink, wink, nod, nod, say no more, but I digress.

In any case, this is a town for museums and clubs and shopping, not hiking above the tree line. Which brings me to one extraordinary day last week when in rapid succession, I attended a Serge Gainsbourg biopic in the afternoon, a Norwegian Black Metal seminar at 7 pm and finished the day in a cabaret seeing friends of mine do their thing in a husband and wife act called Champagne Pam. Needless to say, I rode home in the cab with a big smile on my face.

As for the film, Gainsbourg, Je t'Aime... Moi Non Plus, I hate to be a tease but check out my Aural Robert column in the July issue of Stereophile magazine for the scoop on the film and also on much of the Gainsbourg catalog that is available in the U.S. on CD and LP.

Norwegian Black Metal has always fascinated me since it’s early 90’s heyday when churches in Norway began going up in flames thanks to a couple of zealot, anti–organized religion musicians who played in Black Metal bands. Along with the church burning—over 50 were burned—the subgenre remains chiefly famous for two things: the shotgun–to– the–head suicide of singer Per Yngve Ohlin (better known as Dead) of the band Mayhem and the brutal murder two years later of the guy who found him, Mayhem guitarist ystein Aarseth (better known as Euronymous) by Varg Vikernes of the band, Burzum. Euronymous, who found Dead, supposedly took photos of him before calling the police and one ended up on the cover of a bootleg Mayhem live record. I was gonna post it here but it’s probably best if you make your own decision on whether or not to visit the Wikipedia entry which has a color photo of the album cover. Be warned it’s fairly nasty. Click Here. The music itself is heavy and dark, sometimes satanic, sometimes vaguely horror filmesque, but at base just amped up metal, often riddled with odd time signatures, and widely diverse arrangement changes within the same song. Nordic themes, so to speak, are often the subject, although Norway’s inclement weather and Norwegian society’s predilection towards conformity is what really fuels most of the music’s obvious angst.

This program at New York City’s Scandinavian House on Park Avenue, punctuated with very little music and five musicians from Norway who were Skyped in despite the late hour there, was a disastrous mess, thanks to its leader, a scatter–brained Brit metal scenester, Patrizia Mazzuoccolo, who says she’s writing a book on Norwegian Black Metal yet ought to writing a treatise on loving the sound of your own voice. As a historian and storyteller, the woman was hopeless. The story of Norwegian Black Metal is really compelling material yet she turned it into boring, droning drivel: without much music used to illustrate her points. Endlessly stroking her own ego by showing the audience via Skype what a big dog she is in the Black Metal world, Miss Pee as she likes to be called (need I say more), had clearly not rehearsed her presentation at all. Her stories wandered and went nowhere. She often lost her place. She tossed around her dyed black hair with its red strips woven in. She harped on about how Norwegians don’t have any ambition and generally made a pompous ass of herself in a program that could have moved faster, had more music and been half the length. This idea was an ambitious concept that was only going to work with lots of practice and clearly she had had none. It’s not only musicians who need to rehearse.

Her big coup was supposed to be an interview with Gaahl, former vocalist for a band called Gorgoroth whom she peppered with amateurish questions like, “Are you a Satan worshipper?” or “Do you believe in Justice?” The problem, as she quickly found out, is that black metal bad boys don’t do so well on Skype. It got embarrassing pretty quickly with Gaahl who seemed very nervous, spending more time adjusting his hair and his earpiece than answering her silly questions. The guy who was supposedly flying the flag for the bad old days of Norwegian black metal, didn’t have much to say really. In the end, a really dumb presentation of an interesting subject.

Finally, it was on to see friends John Hurley and Pamela Lewis in their new cabaret act, Champagne Pam, at a nice little Manhattan venue called The Metropolitan Room. Pam has always had a big voice and this new context which allows her to belt out tunes, many with the word “Champagne” in the title, kibitz with the audience, tell some pretty funny tales and engage in some absolutely hilarious husband and wife shtick with John, may be the context she’s always been looking for. I loved it. Pam has never sounded better. John Hurley on guitar and pianist John Colianni (of the Les Paul Trio), were both stellar accompanists. But in the end it’s Pam, sorry, Champagne Pam, who’s the star of this act, which judging by what I saw, has a very bright future.