And once again VNV Nation killed it

Great set at Club Nokia last night, the fourth time I’ve seen them now — while I’d heard that this was to be the case, I’ll admit to a tiny smidge of disappointment over one thing: there were very few songs played from Of Faith, Power and Glory. “Pro Victoria” served as the introduction while “Sentinel” and “Tomorrow Never Comes” both got powerful run-throughs. But I was all kinda geared up to also hear songs like “The Great Divide,” “In Defiance” and “Where There is Light” — perhaps next time, though, as Ronan mentioned that they would be returning in November or so. Meantime nobody was complaining over performances of solid warhorses like “Darkangel,” “Beloved,” “Chrome,” “Honour 2003” and more besides. The photo above is from the conclusion of “Perpetual,” as ever a fine way to wrap up the evening.

Ronan was in a very garrulous mood as well — a compliment! He admitted at one point that the jet lag was making him feel a little off but if anything I think it just translated into more fun with the crowd. (Highlights — noting the one guy on the balcony and wondering if his date had made him come, plus an extended break for drink orders from the rest of the band.)

Meantime something I’ve been keeping under my hat — without wanting to tell the whole story (it’s not mine to tell, really!), my friend Fern has become a big fan as well in recent years and so have her children, especially her son Logan, for whom the song “Illusion” in particular has meant much. To make a long story short, with much thanks to everyone involved, especially Ronan, Mark and the band’s manager Biggie, they all had a chance to meet up briefly before the show and I was on hand to snap a photo (that’s Fern’s youngest Moira there as well — her first concert, at seven years! And she loved it!):

I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Ronan briefly before and chatting with him a few times online; as ever he’s a warm and thoughtful fellow, and I don’t say that lightly. Chatting with Mark briefly was good fun as well, he’s no less a solid guy. Much thanks again!

I’ll conclude by recommending another of the amazingly detailed and reflective long-form interviews that Ronan’s given over the years that have left me very impressed, in this case for This just went up the other week and it’s well worth a detailed read, especially if you want to learn more about the overall sense of design and visual interpretation which has come to define the band. Also, you get to learn that Ronan’s been learning how to do the Lindy Hop with his girlfriend!

And tomorrow, VNV Nation at Club Nokia

Can’t wait — and here’s my preview of the show at the LA Weekly. A snippet:

“California may have its stereotype image for so many but not for us,” said VNV Nation’s lead figure, Ronan Harris, recently, explaining the start of the group’s new tour for its latest album, Of Faith, Power and Glory, tonight. While the Irish-born, Hamburg-based Harris referred to his band’s regular return to the area and its noticeably passionate, varied L.A. fan base, it’s a description just as easily applied to VNV Nation itself.

Going away on a strange day

The first time I consciously heard Michael Jackson and knew who he was and knew his name, I was snowbound in upstate New York, listening to my radio at night somewhere around Christmas, in late 1982.

I had already heard him by then, of course, I had to have. Most of what passed for pop radio in the seventies, or at least the late seventies, had settled into my brain in some way. I didn’t have my own radio then but my mom had the one in the kitchen that I always heard songs on — this would have been a couple of years earlier to that, in the Bay Area — and years later I would reencounter songs and realize where I had first heard them. Donna Summer’s “On the Radio,” Gary Numan’s “Cars,” things like that. But anything Michael Jackson did around then I seemed to only get back to in a kind of osmosis, a sense of “Hmm…I must have heard “Off the Wall” or “Rock With You” at that time, surely.” But that was years later.

So upstate New York, my first real winter, the first of my three. The first real winter is the best, especially around Christmas, because then everything seems right, you get the white Christmas you keep hearing about, all the carols make a little more sense somehow. I’m very certain I would have been in my room on the second floor, looking over the side lawn over to the neighbors’ house next door, maybe out a bit into the street. It’s a vague impression but still a strong one, I’m very conscious I first heard it at night, not in the morning. Memory could play tricks on me but I’m not sure that’s the case here.

Paul McCartney I already knew about, of course, he was that Beatles guy and he had sung that song with Stevie Wonder. That’s all I needed to know and all I cared about, really, but I’d liked “Ebony and Ivory” a lot and I’d liked the Beatles songs I’d heard — I remembered when Lennon was killed and was surprised a bit but I was only nine so I wasn’t really crushed, I don’t recall my family being upset. Anyway McCartney was doing this song with Michael Jackson and it was all kinds of pleasant.

I liked “The Girl is Mine,” it was immediate, fun, catchy, all that. Goofy, of course, way goofy, all those spoken word trade-offs, the politest trash talking ever, but it sounded lovely enough, one of those things to enjoy on the radio at the end of a year where I’d enjoyed a hell of a lot of stuff on the radio. I grew to look forward to it when I heard it again, must have been vaguely aware that Jackson was famous for other things somewhere along the line, didn’t think much more of it at the time. “The Girl Is Mine” was a top ten hit and treated with all due care and attention such songs would get, a general nodding recognition.

A couple of months later another song from his new album was released.

I never owned a Michael Jackson album. I didn’t need to.

Did anyone, really? And yet it sold and sold and sold, Thriller. But I never got around to it, and after a certain point, I didn’t need it. I’d heard…well, almost all of it. Two songs from Thriller were never released as singles. The rest were and all went top ten. They were everywhere. They were EVERYWHERE.

Omnipresence is a contextual thing, depending on mood and inclination. They weren’t really everywhere and yet they were. I was a couple of years into the phase of my life where I could and did define everything by the music around me, and 1983 into 1984 was Michael Jackson’s time, and every hour, every time I wanted to, a song would be playing, somewhere. I had a couple of favorite stations, sure, but if I was impatient I could flip around, and something would be playing from Thriller. All I had to do was wait a bit.

I didn’t have MTV at the time, our family didn’t until a couple of years later, though I caught some of the videos here and there on other stations. “Billie Jean” and “Beat It” I remember clearly, the others less so. But I didn’t need the videos, I had the songs, they were always there. I loved them all.

And so it went on, the later songs, the abortive Jacksons reunion and tour, another McCartney collaboration, Bad, Captain Eo (saw it twice), Dangerous, The Simpsons, this, that, the other. At the request of a friend overseas I sent a huge Michael Jackson poster to her in full Bad cover mode for her sister, around 1988 or so. I heard about the chimpanzee at some point. I read the Bloom County strips where he featured, sometimes as distant unintentional role model, sometimes as Opus’s interview subject:

MJ: “E.T!”

OPUS: “No no, don’t pick me up!”

And onward.

I had just left an annual library staff reception, reviewing the year and looking forward, the handing out of awards and a chance to chat and catch up with others. I walked back to the library and doubtless thought a bit about what a full day it had been already in terms of stuff and news. The passing of Steven Wells, the passing of Sky Saxon, the passing of Farrah Fawcett. Mark Sanford’s public collapse still playing out in the political world. Vile stupidity in Iran courtesy of vile fools. All sorts of things happening in Congress. The state budget crunch.

I got back to the library and I forget which friend at the desk said it first but it was something like “Michael Jackson’s dead.”


The last time I had heard a truly famous musician had died when I was on campus was when a student of mine told me after a writing class that Kurt Cobain was dead. Didn’t believe it when he told me. Didn’t believe this now.

Scrounged up some sites, noted that so far he was only reported as being in a coma.

That changed.

I tried just now to dig up what I had thought was a trenchant commentary about Michael Jackson back in 1993 in an old Melody Maker issue I had. I found the issue but the unsigned commentary was kinda secondary, aside from this, referring to his troubles with the law that broke wide open that year:

Much has been made of the fact that Michael Jackson was himself mistreated by his father (following the classic vicitim-becomes-abuser pattern). If guilty, this is no reason for more lenient treatment than any less famous abuser. If innocent, one still can’t pity anyone with such immense personal wealth to insulate them from painful reality.

I’m not sure what I thought of this at the time. Now, I’m even less sure. It apparently seems to go to the heart of it but doesn’t seem to really address anything beyond overlapping platitudes, like it frames a person and a life and something horrific but can’t approach it.

On one of the major ILx threads about this, a friend said, “The inside of his head was a snakepit, so it’s hard to be really sad.” True, but pity and horror aren’t excluded from this judgment, a sense of catharsis. When Momus started a thread many years back on ILE called “The Tragedie of Michael Jackson, King of Pop”, he had a point.

I laughed at him at times. I shook my head at others. I loved some of his stuff. Hated other things but not with a fierce hate, more of a ‘well dude, that could have been a better song.’ Mostly I ignored him in recent years, vague senses of ‘oh he’s doing that now’ or ‘lord what is this weird crap they’re auctioning off’ or ‘farewell performances, I’m sure’ aside.

I’d always defend those songs I loved and knew and internalized, of course, the ones I grew up, the ones I discovered after the fact, the older stuff, the Jackson 5 era, the initial solo stabs. Never did give the newer stuff much of a chance, my mind was elsewhere, I don’t apologize for it. I knew him as I knew any celebrity, through the public gaze, he owed me nothing, I owed him nothing in return, the handiest of anonymous exchanges.

I’m not crying over this. Others I know are or mention people they know that are. One person texted me just now to ask if I could take his TV because he didn’t want it anymore because it would be full of nothing but retrospectives. The jokes are flying, so is the backlash to them. (My own joke was a status update — namely that Sanford and his advisers must have been kicking themselves that they didn’t wait a day.)

But if I’m not crying, that’s not to say I’m not moved. If his head was a snakepit then he had no control over the initial placement of the demons in it. Would you have done any better? Would I? We’d like to hope so, but would we know? And yet this doesn’t excuse him and can’t, and only wretchedness remains, a wretchedness of irresolution, of someone whose construction of a brighter and innocent world grew out of a need and a context that none of us would want to experience from either side. If we could completely and totally divorce him from whatever internal hells he experienced, whatever damage he took and then inflicted, then we could rest easily, but we cannot.

And if I pretended I never thought a song like “Wanna Be Starting Something” just absolutely, totally, perfectly KILLS note for note, then I’d be a liar. And that was just one of ’em.

Just look over your shoulders, honey:

Be at peace.

Take a tour of the garden…

…as filmed and narrated by myself!

Told you I’d be doing more of things like this…

Zucchini salad

As taken from this recipe. Parsley instead of mint but otherwise pretty much as described! It’s a hot day and I didn’t want to make something either too heat-intensive or too heavy for dinner.

Stir-fried wheat noodles with kohlrabi and basil

Another example of random inspiration — I wondered idly last night what a search on kohlrabi and noodles would do in Google and found this recipe via Food and Wine.

It’s important to note that as ever I made some necessary on the fly changes — I had no rice noodles so made do with wheat, while the kohlrabi didn’t end up browning much and I substituted tofu in place of the red pepper (and, implicitly, the mung bean sprouts) in order to ensure some protein was included. Point being, though, this worked very well!

My VNV Nation reviews for the AMG are up

They’ve actually been up, but now that the new album has been released over in Europe and will be released here in a couple of days, might as well call some attention to them!

Ever since I became a fan of the group one of my goals has been to see if there’s a way to help them gain a greater profile outside of their general fanbase and musical milieu, so getting in reviews via the AMG is one of the bigger things I can do. Hopefully it’ll help.

The review of the Reformation 01 box set is here while the one for Of Faith, Power and Glory is here. To quote a bit of it:

Some bands make their mark from the get-go and never quite seem to escape that first burst of creativity, while others build on what they started with to reach newer heights over time. Over the course of many years and albums, Ronan Harris and Mark Jackson have proven themselves to be a stellar example of the latter, with the work of VNV Nation turning from a series of sometimes overly stern homages to pioneers of electronic body music to an increasingly warm and romantic approach combined with an equal love of rabble-rousing punk shoutalongs and stadium-scaled rave celebrations. Of Faith, Power and Glory continues a run of albums in this vein since Futureperfect and is arguably the pinnacle of the approach…