Review by Andrew Choate
When I got the ‘new’ (sort of a reissue) Second Life: Light Bulb (1977-1981) box in the mail, I had been repeatedly listening to Steve Lacy’s “The Sun”, a 2011 CD comprising both unissued and previously issued tracks recorded in New York, Hamburg, Roma and Zürich between 1967-1973. It’s amazing stuff, and more people should hear it, so I decided I was going to spend a bunch of time in this review talking about all the different bands on this record, the surprisingly agile combination of Lacy’s soprano sax, Richard Teitelbaum’s synthesizer and Irene Aebi’s voice featured on the 1968 Roma recordings, the final performance of Lacy’s piercing, hypnotizing and yet somehow still light on its feet anti-war cycle “The Woe,” captured in Zürich the night before the Non-Proliferation Treaty was signed, and, of course, Lacy’s giant, all-consuming mastery of the fit between timbre and truth in music.
I thought talking about Lacy would be a nice way to circumventilate the agile counterpoint and playful juxtapositioning of humor and noise and profundity and harmony that the members of the Los Angeles Free Music Society have been pulling off for more than four decades. And then I opened up Light Bulb’s box of loose papers, and found this on the ninth page:
steve lacy ate soprano american
but; he could not digest the resounding ignorance
of the patriotic diet
so he went to paris italy
there he dismounted the state of the arts
and rebuild what monk had so carefully formed
from the black ivory the black finger anger
and steve so carefully ripped the remaining threads
from the flesh of his horn fleshed a new feeling
–Juan Gomez, Aug 31, 1977
So much for my tangent: Steve Lacy was already IN THE BOX! That’s how the LAFMS work though: you think you can catch them off-guard and approach their work from a hidden vent you self-drilled into their oeuvre, but by the time you stand up, and clean off the ooze you used to grease entry, they’re all there, waiting for you with a big welcome sign saying “Thanks For Using The Porch.”
This LIGHT BULB box is literally a cardboard box with a hundred or so loose pages of xeroxed reproductions of drawings, interviews, show flyers, Bern Portery found poetry things, elementary school homework, a story about a woman caught like a fish with a line and hook and dragged into the water, an encyclopedia entry on “aardvark” cut up with some administrative document referencing African psychology and San Francisco, ads for friends’ cassettes and books, collages–most notably the one of “baby with a gun or two”–and other cordial manic self-splattering society-critiquing ephemera previously xeroxed and distributed by the band in the late ’70s and early ’80s.
After a Lacy concert in Chicago in 1997, I was lucky enough to be tasked with taking Steve, Jean-Jacques Avenel and John Betsch out for tacos and drinks. On the way to the hotel, Lacy fell asleep leaning against the window of my car. That was a forehead mark not to be wiped off.
The line “temporarily grateful and always out of phase” appears in this box.
The Los Angeles Free Music Society, Ed. by Chip Chapman, Second Life: Light Bulb (1977-81), (East of Borneo, 2013)
Images: Cover and image from Second Life: Light Bulb (1977-81)