Welcome to Syllabus – a new column where we ask our favorite artists to recommend a book, an album, a movie, and a restaurant. This week: Greg Nahabedian of the excellent Western Massachusetts post-hardcore band Dérive.
Syllabus: Greg Nahabedian (Dérive)
Blood and Guts in High School – Kathy Acker
When I interviewed for grad school at Juilliard I explained my dream to turn Kathy Acker’s work into an experimental opera complete with dancers and live projections. I had this idea that when she gets to the parts in the book that are primarily sketches and diagrams there could be projections of those pages with live dancers and an electronic sound collage. I’m not sure if the professors I met were familiar with Kathy’s work but they absolutely gave me that, “Are you doing okay, buddy?” look. Quick summary is: “Pre-teen (or maybe younger?) girl is impregnated by her father, has an abortion, and is sent to New York for high school where she starts high school but is then kidnapped by a pimp and becomes a prostitute before meeting Jean Genet and leaving the country with him where she gets cancer.”
My interest in “disparate collage work that is still strangely unified” was primarily fueled by the weirdness of people like Justin Pearson, John Zorn, Matthew Friedberger, and Kate Soper – I had been searching for a novel that really matched everything I loved about some of that weird music. I wanted something that was intense, immediate, and engaging. Well-crafted but spontaneous. Political, funny, serious, and totally not serious. Blood and Guts felt like the novel’s answer to that musical world. The book is sometimes 3rd person narration, sometimes stream of consciousness, sometimes pure poetry, sometimes a play, sometimes dream diagrams, or pencil sketches. Sometimes pieces of the text are entirely plagiarized or very lightly paraphrased. Blood and Guts is beautifully punk, forward thinking, feminist, and anti-capitalist all rolled up into one wild read.
Let My Children Hear Music – Charles Mingus
This was a landmark-life-changing-wow-wow-wow-wow record for me. Mingus forever altered the way I thought about jazz, improvisation, classical music, and the orchestra as a whole. If you’re new to Mingus (or jazz) this might not be the best place to start but what do I know? I love every second of this album front to back. I believe it was one of his last. Parts of it are heartbreaking and some are hilarious. The song titles are amazing. See: “The Shoes of the Fisherman’s Wife Are Some Jive Ass Slippers”. There’s spoken word, combo improv, fully orchestrated movements that blend style upon style upon style. Mingus was a true blue punk and innovator. He was the only person to ever be fired from Duke Ellington’s band by the Duke himself. He demanded a then unheard of precision and intensity that gives his music a sometimes shocking sense of immediacy. He was one of the first artists to use overdubs in the studio and started his own record label years before any of the punks tried it (take THAT punkrawk elitists!!!!). He wrote protest songs, he wrote laments for his friends and heroes, and he could play both bass and piano like nobody else. He really moved jazz towards a new world while paying respect to the tradition he comes from. What else can I say about a perfect album? Go listen to it!
The Piano Teacher
I watched Funny Games the other day but wanted to talk about this instead. Michael Haneke is a real artist and I love his films. If you aren’t familiar with his work just imagine that Lars Von Trier actually tried to develop his story ideas instead of just trying to be shocking? I’m kidding. A little bit. Haneke’s films are firmly in the world of trying to make you very uncomfortable but it’s done with finesse and it’s done with purpose. The Piano Teacher is this portrait of classism / elitism in society and classical music wrapped up in a “when BDSM and mental illness go wrong” story. There’s also a thing with a weird mother / daughter relationship if that’s your thing.
The Spiral Diner. Dallas, TX
I’m a vegan and you can probably imagine that being on tour for 4+ weeks can be something of a frustrating wasteland of endlessly crossing your fingers that whoever’s working at Taco Bell will actually not put cheese and sour cream in your taco and / or eating the same thing day after day from a Whole Foods hot bar. Maybe this is a lesson in perspective but I never in my wildest dreams guessed that my favorite vegan restaurant would be in Texas. This place is pretty unbelievable. We ate there last July and I had a (SOY FREE) “chicken cutlet” sandwich with fruit and hand cut potato chips. And let me tell you – you want a soda? They’re not just slingin’ any old Coke product. We’re talking that fancy Maine Root Beer stuff. Blueberry flavored root beer? You got it. TOP IT OFF WITH SOME PRIME VEGAN DESSERTS BABY. Pie. Ice cream. Cake. Pastries. I just ate breakfast and I’m getting hungry again typing this out. Bottom line, if I lived in Dallas I would be eating there three times a day. Their food is maybe marginally on the more expensive side (I think everything I just listed was something like $20 with a tip?) but absolutely worth every g-damned penny. I am planning the Dérive summer tour as we type and I can tell you that Dallas is primarily on the list because I want to eat at Spiral (also the shows in Dallas are OFF THE HOOK).
Stream/buy/download Dérive’s newest release, Five Years, here.