Gail Butensky’s “Every Bend” is out today on Bamboo Dart Press

Gail Butensky has honed her unique photographic style over decades. Her hard fought for angles and shots at thousands of live concerts over the years has served her more recent work of equally fleeting moments: shots of the desert shifts or of trains or of flora. Hers is a style rooted in nature and chance. When shooting photos of bands like Big Black, The Thinking Fellers Union Local 282, Fuck, The Minutemen, Husker Du, Virginia Dare or Pavement, you can see the connection between subject and photographer. Sure, some wacky poses or taking the piss out of photo shoot antics is at play, but you won’t find much in her canon of work that utilizes anything other than natural light, stumbled upon flowerings, or abandoned settings. She is not a set decorator, she is a gum shoe on the fly. In her first commercially available book Every Bend which it out this week, Gail has shorthanded her life in twenty six photos with commentary about each photograph. It is as weighty and personal as any poetry or revealing autobiography that I have read, tricking the reader/viewer that it is all happenstance, really nothing at all. You, of course, will know better. Good photography has the ability to stop you in your tracks. Her work does that.

Your photographs have appeared in and on a myriad of magazines, record covers and books by others over the years.  You mentioned when we first started this project that you had put together small books built out of the same cloth of Every Bend for friends, minus the writing that you did in this book.  Was it a similar process putting this book together?
The books I  put together in the past were each for a specific trip- more as a souvenir and thank you to whoever I traveled with! They had words, simple captions, with the photos pasted into a sketchbook. This book was different because the photos were from a long stretch of many different times and places. For this book I spread finished prints all over the dining room table and ordered and reordered and edited until I had what I thought was some sort of semblance of a cohesive ‘story’. Then I made up words. A general overview travelogue.
You have done quite a bit of commercial work for magazines, record labels, bands, but that work is near impossible for me to sort from your work as an artist, a photographer shooting what and how she likes.  Do you approach work on the commercial side in a different context?
Maybe sometimes…. It seems a lot of my ‘commercial’ work ( I even hesitate to call it that) is published by happenstance. Photos I may have taken anyway, I was there, I took pictures, now someone wants to use them. In the small amount of time I was more formally assigned to shoot something, I pretty much shot it all the same way. No studios or set ups for me. Mostly on the fly.
A number of artists harden, get set in their ways with age.  I love in the work I have seen of yours from the last few years that you continue to play with the medium of photography.  There is a playfulness and inquisitiveness in your early work that is still very much alive in the present.  Once photos are taken, do you play with filters, process et al still?
Oh I’m an instagrammer now! I do miss the darkroom and real film, very much, but without that access (and time), I’ve had a good time playing around with digital toys. Not much in real retouching  or photo shop (I never did that on prints anyway), just fun stuff. And since I ‘ve always had a camera in my pocket, now I just have my phone. The only difference is its a little bit lighter… and I probably shoot even more because you can delete and save so easily. Maybe too easy?
Does your eye disrupt your day to day life?  Do you find you have to stop what you are doing to snap something?
Ah, it disrupts me when I’m not feeling lazy…. Driving a lot in LA, I do sees stuff and think ‘pull over!’ But I’m usually in a rush to get someplace. I may note the spot and think on going back, but…. Walking is much better. I stop to take pictures a Lot. I’m usually behind anyone else I’m walking with… (except Greg- he’s a slow poke).
What is likeliest to catch your eye?  Make you stop what you are doing and snap pictures?
So many different things! I’m obsessed with square hedges lately. Why???? Still trying to come up with the acronym for my hashtag. But whenever I’m out walking, a lot more these days, it can be a view, a small strange thing by the side of the road, a juxtaposition, who knows… it’s so easy to stop, look, take a picture. Sometimes it doesn’t translate, and I can save or delete, but sometimes it’s even funnier in the relooking!

Peter Cherches “Tracks: Memoirs from a Life with Music” is out now

Peter Cherches is a vital member of the New York literary scene. Sonorexia, the avant-vaudeville music/performance group he co-led with Elliott Sharp appeared at a wide range of venues in New York City. Peter’s first album as a jazz vocalist, Mercerized! Songs of Johnny Mercer, featuring Lee Feldman on piano, was released in 2016. In his new Bamboo Dart Press book Tracks: Memoirs from a Life with Music, Cherches reflects on the artists and the sounds that have informed his life. It is a fascinating diving board for Cherches to jump from but will not leave the light music listener stranded on the shore as he pairs music history with his own.

The entry on Sam Rivers struck me as a large part of what your book is about.  Music as a companion.  The entry on the series of shows you saw Jazz artist Rivers perform in his loft could have been a book in and of itself.  There is quite a bit revealed about you in this chapter, in what you valued about these experiences as you veered from teendom to adulthood.

You can get a group of three or four hardcore jazz fans together and they’ll happily reminisce for hours about the shows they’ve seen over the years, but it would make for a pretty boring book. When I started writing these memoirs I thought carefully about what I could convey that might resonate with readers regardless of their specific musical interests, and for me that’s giving form to my enthusiasms and trying to recreate the experience of the moment as well as the echoes over a lifetime.

Writing about music is as difficult as writing about dance.  It is not a concrete form.  A good portion of the book is about your experience in and around the edges of music, but there are passages that delve into the artist and the artist’s work such as your dissecting of Steve Lacy’s Micro Worlds.  On writing these entries, did you revisit each work?  Leave it to memory?

I think it’s the same for all arts. If anything, I find writing about writing more difficult because one is using the same tools, while with music I feel I have more leeway to find my own entry point via language. In some cases it was to situate the music as a soundtrack to an experience, and in others I was more consciously, in part at least, writing tributes to artists who have inspired me–and in most cases it was music that I think had an impact on my prose writing. I did listen to all the music again. In the case of Lacy, I knew I wanted to write about one of the tracks from that album, but I reviewed the whole thing to decide which track would be the most fertile place from which to riff on Lacy’s art.

A number of entries feature your brother or your grandparents or others acting as guides be it to the store, or from records pulled from their collections. 

I feel fortunate to have grown up in a family that had definite musical enthusiasms. My older brother wasn’t especially interested in rock, but he encouraged my interests, whatever they were. I think the essence of the book is the enthusiasms, the specifics being the armature to hang them on.

Refrigerator Deluxe LP Components Unveiled

Refrigerator’s new LP “So Long To Farewell” is out on May 15th. Preorders of the regular edition LP and the Deluxe colored vinyl LP with bonus CD and Bamboo Dart Press book are available from Revolver USA and Grapefruit Distribution. The deluxe version is a one time pressing strictly limited to 150 copies. The Jean Smith cover art houses the marbled green & white 160 gram vinyl, download code, bonus CD with six exclusive tracks and the 68 page Bamboo Dart Press book. The regular edition is a 160 gram black vinyl LP + download code.

Deluxe Edition on colored wax + extras pictured here
LP w/ hype sticker on sleeve
Book cover
Bamboo Dart Press book

Bonus CD cover

Bonus CD back cover

Refrigerator Announce New Record

Check out the lead off track from the forthcoming Refrigerator record below. The LP is available for presell as a deluxe swirled green marble edition with a bonus CD of exclusive tracks as well as a bound 60 page Bamboo Dart Press book featuring artwork and writing by the band as well as a standard edition 160 gram black vinyl edition. Cover art by Jean Smith will be auctioned off week of street with all proceeds benefitting the Free Artist Residency for Progressive Social Change program.

Romaine Washington’s forthcoming “Purgatory Has An Address” book is available for preorder now

Romaine Washington is the author of Sirens in Her Belly (2015, Jamii Publications). She is a fellow of The Watering Hole, South Carolina and the Inland Area Writing Project at the University of California Riverside. She is an active member of the poetry community in the Inland Empire, through the Inlandia Institute and elsewhere. Romaine is an educator and a native Californian from San Bernardino. Her new book Purgatory Has An Address is out April 15th and available for preorder now. The book boils down Washington’s talent of sifting out the superfluous without sacrificing the beauty of language.

Purgatory Has An Address reads to me like an economical autobiography.  You write in a number of the poems in the book about a little girl that I am assuming is you, about your Mom and Dad and brother.

Yes, most of the poems in the book are autobiographical based on family experience. A few years ago my mom died and left a packet of photos that allowed me to put together her homegoing program. These photos were evidence of the many life stories she shared with me. Sifting through her snapshots spun me into a place where I could give myself permission to ask questions and voice ideas that I had previously kept at bay. Some emotions spun around like a car tire stuck in the mud. Other feelings expressed themselves as these long meandering journeys that walked around old neighborhoods.

Yes, most of the poems in the book are autobiographical based on family experience. A few years ago my mom died and left a packet of photos that allowed me to put together her homegoing program. These photos were evidence of the many life stories she shared with me. Sifting through her snapshots spun me into a place where I could give myself permission to ask questions and voice ideas that I had previously kept at bay. Some emotions spun around like a car tire stuck in the mud. Other feelings expressed themselves as these long meandering journeys that walked around old neighborhoods.

Your poetry is not built to be a reflection of the reader, a mirror. There are not pluralities of “we” referencing yourself and the reader, it is an unabashed portrait of you.  I think about how welcoming it is to the reader though. How the coldness and starkness of what you write in some of your verse is often presented between a curious naked painting of emotions without frills. It is incredibly effective and moving.  Are you consciously boiling down these memories in verse to their base?

Yes, in my editing process I try to remove extraneous words and capture the truth of the experience. I have a writing friend and we share our writing on Google doc and read each other’s work. One of her mantras is “vulnerability”. I have a tendency to get lost in the music of language. At one point the Meditation in Dissolving Boundaries was almost about a jazzy cow going to high school and gossiping as the girl in the poem uses her imagination to meld with the cow to become a happy heifer. My friend’s response was – I like all of this, but what happened to the original flow and rhythm of the poem?

Another instance of conscious distillation of the emotions in the poems was with Decommission, Norton AFB, 1994  poem. It was a long rambling four pages of colliding senses and emotions. I brought it to a workshop and the wonderful facilitator’s suggestion was to write the poem as a letter to Norton AFB. Following her advice brought me to the core of what I was really feeling.  Some of the poems in this collection were new and others were five years in the writing and revising process.

There is a grouping of poems halfway through the book that are about the Inland Empire of your youth, my youth.  The Chino winds, the horseflies, the baked dirt.  South Carolina and San Bernardino County have a lot in common.  That these writings are in this intensely personal book seems to point to how much your surroundings shaped you.

Yes, I do believe that the rituals we adopt as part of our way of seeing and navigating our surroundings is based on where we live and they become a part of who we are. For certain, it is the setting of all of our personal narrative.  For example, because my father was in the military, Norton Air Force Base wasn’t just a place of economic stability for San Bernardino, but for our family. When my father died, the air force base was a constant that I, like many residents, thought we could rely on.

When we talk about images of black children and women in stories and movies, the last thing that comes to mind for many people is not the life of someone who lives in a middle-class home next to a farm but this was my lived experience. It is not glamorous nor profane, it is not urban-dangerous, edgy or sexy. My memory of place and the  everydayness of hopes, disappointments, and searing boredom are part of my life’s snapshots.

Religion and magic are given equal time in your book filled with minor or missed miracles, resurrections, performers on stage with wands, wizards behind glass withholding sealed documents of origin and the dissection of a couple of disappearing acts. You do not fall on the side of one or the other but utilize the attributes of each of them in the place of loss. Could you speak to that?

I love this observation because faith and hope are so much a part of our existence, whether we are Christian, Catholic, Jewish… As we know, life is a series of choices and walking through or running from their consequences and the residual effects. Things happen, either by choice or design and oftentimes, there is very little we can do to change or control it. The opening poem asks, “What’s Your Story?”. Our stories are embedded in our faith in and hopes for and being able to even speak to the event or events, requires perseverance and sometimes a reframing of our experiences to support our perceptions, real or imagined.

Inside a Burning Building is one of the last poems in the book written during the full bloom of Covid-19.  Like other good writing, this poem could be about any mental or physical malady.  There is a striking final stanza that relates to your life in the poem about imploring a friend to write, suggesting that writing is life.  You have dedicated your adult life to teaching, to other writers, and the writing that you do.  Can you give advice to young writers about how to find their unique voice?

That is an interesting question. I am often asked what advice I can give to young writers and I really want to say that any advice about writing could actually be shared with writers of any age. Writing is one of the few things that we can do at any age. So, I offer the same advice to young and old: read for enjoyment, write honestly, and go to workshops so you can be around others who enjoy writing, receive prompts, and feedback.

The person I wrote that poem for was a writing workshop participant in her 60’s who was just starting her personal creative writing journey. So, my best advice is to start writing and keep writing. Know that it can help you discover what you feel and can help you add meaning to your life and the lives of your readers.

Gail Butensky “Every Bend” book out on Bamboo Dart Press May 10th

You may not know who Gail Butensky is, but if you have seen photographs of The Minutemen, Big Black, Husker Du, Pavement, TFUL282 or a rash of others, hers are some of the photos of them that you will recognize.  Her work has appeared in The Village Voice, the book Our Band Could Be Your Life, The San Francisco Guardian, The Chicago Reader and a myriad of other magazines and papers chronicling punk and underground music scenes over the last four decades.  Butensky has not only chronicled some of the most important music of those years, but has shot thousands upon thousands of photographs of the non music world that are illuminating to see through her eyes.  In the first published collection of her photographs, Butensky has chosen a thumbnail journey of her life. Sure, there are photos of bands, and artists, but also of landscapes and portraits of everyday life. Each photo features a newly written reflection by Butensky.  Check out the trailer which features photos by her not included in her new book on Bamboo Dart Press Every Bend which is out on May 10th and available for preorder now.

Trailer for Allen Callaci’s “17 & Life” book on Bamboo Dart Press

Allen Callaci’s new book 17 & Life is out on June 1st on Bamboo Dart Press. A thoughtful and meditative prayer on loss, the book expands upon an early blog post of his that has now quadrupled in length and features photographs by Buzzsaw. The book is stark and painted with the ache of experience and age, lovingly ode to life, not death. Check out the trailer featuring a brand new recording of Refrigerator’s song Seventeen as reimagined for this book by Allen.

Sunday Prayers

Call them libertines or infidels, call us doubting heathens if you want. Still, we dream. Our prayers, you think unheard, but no. All hopes & wishes are heard. I awake at 5:45 AM most mornings, and the first thing on my mind are my ankles. I crack them left to right, and I send up my low rent/high rent versions of psalms and prayers to my pals that are deep into, deep, you, into the depths of sorrow, hurt, maladies. I send up smoke signals that I believe, are seen. Seen. I do not believe that no one is there, though I have no (g)od standing guard over me.

Personal choice, but my family and friends, to the void? Nah. I believe in them. I believe in them. Nah. Repent. For maybe I was felonious for casting them. Casting them out. Casting, not to catch, but to disavow. So we, we live with that. So I, I wrestle in the dark with definitions askew. I can still, to the mountain, pilgrimage and triplicate check for you.

Once a week for a year, for them, from my mole hill of a mountain top, comes one of them mimiographed weekly missilettes. The kind that were tucked into the pews at St. Josephs. Tucked in there for me to read from, though I don’t recall believing, though I don’t recall believing.

Every Sunday, a believer in non-believers. A believer in believers. My heart is with you. I click on the link. I push pull a password and then strain to remember, to write about you. You and me, and our families. It can’t matter that I am unheard. It can’t matter for I have heard the good word. The good word slinks, it hunches in the pit, whispers under it’s breath, please don’t land on me. Too. I too, don’t want to be seen and equally, don’t need no prayers of mine to be heard. We are running, we are stumbling, I try to think back to how long I had been aware that I am bound to fail. The age of thirteen? That sounds about right. Since I was thirteen, I knew I was bound, bound not for glory, but to fail.

Weekly entries for Sunday Prayers are entered every Sunday at midnight Pacific Coast Time in the states. Waves, deleted weekly to make way for the incoming. We are coming. We are in. We are coming, and then with our filthy feet, we enter the in.