Thursday, March 7, 2013

Always In Trouble: An Oral History of ESP-DISK', the Most Outrageous Record Label in America; Jason Weiss; Wesleyan Press,2012

 "[I]t was eerie music really, and you would totally forget where you were and what time it was"
           --Marc Albert Levin, on ESP-Disk'

Disaster Amnesiac first became aware of ESP-Disk' in the early 1990's, through Forced Exposure magazine and Val Wilmer's As Serious As Your Life (a book I must have checked out monthly from Fremont Main Library for a few years straight). The music of this famed label was much harder to find in those days, even with their then-current distribution through the German XYZ label. I can recall the ecstasy at finding Giuseppe Logan's LP in Berkeley, or the frustration at not being able to listen to the Milford Graves Percussion Ensemble LP, spied at the KDVS radio library during an in-studio appearance by my band.
Needless to say, Jason Weiss's Always in Trouble: An Oral History of EDP-Disk', the Most Outrageous Record Label in America had been on my want want list for months after finding out about its publication.
Always in Trouble  gives an exhaustive, frank, no b.s. accounting of a label that dared to be different, even within the parameters of its own "framework". Founder and head fall guy, Bernard Stollman, makes it pretty clear that one of his main guidelines was to only produce records by musicians or poets or movements that he found compelling. Disaster Amnesiac finds that approach wonderful. ESP Disk's varied discography, with its polyglot focus on all things strange and other-worldly,  has long been an inspiration for my listening habits.
Following Stollman's opening interview, Weiss gives the floor to many musicians and artists who were involved with, worked near, or inspired by ESP. The one uniting factor is that no one made any real money from the venture, but most if not all interview subjects cop to the fact that the label was never in a position to generate windfall profits. Disaster Amnesiac sees ESP-Disk' as an index of possibilities. Just as with poetry, you're probably not going to get the mass audience interested. I say, "so what", and choose to be inspired by the visionary artists documented by the label and the book.
Given the opportunity, Disaster Amnesiac would amend the subtitle to "the Most Righteous Record Label in America", because, really, what's so outrageous about  people flexing their creative muscles in liberated ways?

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