Don’t Let the Glasses Fool Ya
George says the first time I saw Curlew was a gig they played on Times Square in the late ‘80s. I do remember seeing a show high up in the building where the news comes out in a ribbon of lights—I remember belly dancers, or anyway women who’d been made to dress like belly dancers walking around…some kind of sinister Indian bordello motif in a large room of big windows with a spectacular view of stark-lit cloud formations…also saxophones and someone wearing a fez. Whiskey was a factor. I enjoyed myself immensely, but can’t say for sure that Curlew was playing that night…
The first time I can conclusively say I saw Curlew was a show they played at CBGB, also late ‘80s. I want because I worked a day job with George- we were employed to test the patience of a painting contractor-and I felt sort of obligated to go see the band. You never really expect someone you know to be any good, so I was prepared to start thinking up polite things to tell George later on from the minute they hit the stage. But the minute they hit the stage I forgot all that and spent most of my energy trying to keep from flying out of my seat. I was like a kid taken to an amusement park for the first time. Excited, scared, ecstatic, violated, overwhelmed. Spills, shills, hairpin turns, that kind of thing. I didn’t throw up, but that would’ve been as good a response as any. The stuff they were doing was dangerous and troublesome. Dangerous because anything good is dangerous, and troublesome because A: I didn’t know how to classify it and that’s always troublesome , and B: because I didn’t know what to do with what they were handing out. I remember turning to the person I was with and exclaiming "But what do you do when you listen to this stuff! Go crazy! Run around in circles? Drive your car off a bridge?" I lived in Brooklyn and I was always driving over the Williamsburg Bridge-even now when I hear Curlew I imagine the thrill of that plunge…nothing but trouble all around. I’d been expecting some kind of jazz thing, which always sounds to me like people running up and down staircases opening and closing windows and doors. Curlew realigned my perception of what’s possible that night. Happens every time I hear something good. Anyway I never went to see them out of obligation again.
One time George paid me to paint his apartment. He was out of town, and I spent most of my time there digging into his records. Not just Miles and Sonny Rollins and Albert Ayler, but Elvis and The Band and Bukka White.
Another time he invited me to open a couple of Knitting Factory sets with readings of prose I’d written. I did my thing, and after Curlew started up I asked a friend of mine what he thought of the. "Really, tight," he said "Too many eyeglasses though." I think I laughed and then winced at him for saying something so vulgar and hard-headed.
You could easily spend a Curlew gig concentrating on any one of the band members-each is a world to him or herself. George creates these scrimmages among them-each of them comes up with the ball and runs with it. George just calls the play and steps in now and then to throw the long one.
I’m out of New York these days and George is too, back down In Memphis, soaking up the mud. I think this is the toughest, coolest Curlew record yet. It all works in a lean way together like muscle, sinew and bone. think of driving a big Buick fast through he glare and lance of traffic, of a sad jerky train making its way through hills, of moonlight in a small graveyard, of bricks and reclaimed by graffiti and bricks receding into the wall of time; of the smell of the human hive and the smell of the river mud where things are still given birth; of the sweet scent of danger and the sweet scent of pork; of bridge girders and the shine on the water below. It's good to be home.
San Francisco, 1995