Jet Boys of NW

November 10, 2014 § 3 Comments

The underground music culture of mid-eighties DC is fondly remembered by its participants as a continuous spectacle of club shows as documented in the pages of fanzines and broadcast on WMUC. Everybody was in a band or at least had a roommate who was. Punk rock was the core of the scene, but it should be realized that punk was already becoming a legacy genre – the first wave – Minor Threat, Government Issue, etc. had already moved on. The Revolution Summer soundtrack was provided by Rites of Spring – they didn’t have a record out, but the cassette is around here someplace. Cool kids hung around Food for Thought and tried out new noise at DC Space. We read Truly Needy and WDC Period, fanzines that are now archived at the University of Maryland.  I played in a band called Donut Safari.


I moved to DC from Richmond VA after a few months of hanging out with a band called Holiday – to even dip a toe into the lineage of that group would amount to getting dunked in the zeitgeist of the era I’ll save it for another time. Holiday cut one record that I know of and it was one side of a 45 that they shared with another band. I might still have it around here someplace.

That summer I washed windows with (Donut Safari founder) DJ Tommy B, listened to records and wrote reams of lyrics. I played guitar about as well as the next person – I was less of a punk anyhow and liked to listen to Television, Small Faces and Big Star – old bands. My housemates Neil Haggerty and Tom Rafferty had a band called Jet Boys of NW – this was the coolest band I had ever heard. They played about four gigs (one at WMUC where I got to play along on a de-tuned autoharp with a beercan slide.) Definitely influenced by Sonic Youth – they were the gold standard then – but certainly not a lesser entity.

Tom, Neil and his music/life mate Jennifer moved to New York I guess right after I moved to San Francisco. I had a couple of letters from them, and from DJ Tommy B, who is still my LinkedIn “contact”. One time Pussy Galore played at a club near my apartment, so I went to see them and Neil came over to hang out. I gave him a pair of pants.

Sometime after that, Tom, Neil, and Jennifer moved to San Francisco where we shared a place. Royal Trux had been their side project in NY – the record was mysterious and damaged – entirely unique – and they were bringing it to the coast. We booked studio time and played two songs I had never even heard before. Some kids in Chicago had offered to put it out on their new label, Drag City. Listening to it now is still a slightly disorienting experience.

Seeing some lukewarm reviews in Forced Exposure and other fanzines (where had the fanzines gone? SF was the shittiest excuse for a music scene I had ever lived in…) validated this effort so we continued on for a while – I’m not sure how long – before I quit the band. Well, I wasn’t really ever in the band. But we were friends and there are some fine moments captured on old cassettes around here someplace.


Still Bill

December 6, 2012 § Leave a comment

Recently at work I came across a handwritten note dated 1986 from Verna Arvey, the widow of William Grant Still (1895-1978), suggesting that the San Francisco Symphony undertake the world premiere performance of her husband’s last work, The Path of Glory (1962). For whatever reason, the Orchestra declined, and so did everyone else evidently, until 1990 when the Grand Forks Symphony finally took it on. The work turned 50 this year, and seems to remain unrecorded despite its promising subject matter- “the glory and fall of the Aztec empire,” (according to the Google Books snippet of William Grant Still: A Bio-Biography) and a quick 15 minute performance time. The libretto, for baritone and narrator, was written by Arvey herself.

A quick WorldCat search for the score to Path of Glory reveals library holdings at University of Arkansas, University of Ilinois, University of Florida and, of course, NY Public. all great places to start the process of resurrecting this final, nearly unknown work.

The above-linked WGS site has much information on the composer and his legacy. It’s hard not to be interested in an American twentieth century composer who worked with Eubie Blake and studied with Edgard Varèse. Here is the Centennial Celebration Orchestra, conducted by John McLaughlin Williams, performing William Grant Still’s Archaic Ritual which premiered in 1949 at the Hollywood Bowl. 

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