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>> newsletter #2, June 2005 <<

 

Prague, June 2005

Yes, I know I've been lax these last three and a half years. Wild and wonderful things have been happening, and I haven't transferred them into print for the edification of music fans and students of the bizarre everywhere. What can I say? I'm not Nikki Sudden, a man with a hyper-active keyboard hand and a mission to enlighten the world with news about his innumerable musical activities. Neither am I Michael Gira, who also manages to keep track of a million and one things while at the same time running a record label and releasing one excellent CD after another. It's not that I'm lazy - I just seem to get easily distracted, which is a lame excuse, I know, but it'll have to do. So maybe I should just make a quick summary of some of the things that have happened since December 2001 then cut to the chase... Here goes...

Fatal Shore and Phil Shoenfelt & Southern Cross (now shortened to SHOENFELT as most Czech people can't get their tongues around "Southern Cross"), continued to wend their chaotic ways across large chunks of the continent of Europe. (If you're a member of the genus known in England as "Trainspotter", you might like to check out our progress on the "Gigs Played In Your Hometown" section under "Concerts"...) There were concerts in Greece and The Ukraine as well as Austria, Switzerland, the UK, Slovakia, Denmark, Germany and Poland. In between all this musical activity came the floods of 2002 which nearly wiped out Prague (luckily we live in Zizkov, an elevated area of the city that should be safe from flooding except in the event of total meltdown of the polar icecaps...), and the two auto accidents which nearly wiped out me. The first was on July 6th 2002, when I failed to see a gold Peugeot that came hurtling out of the afternoon sun on a switchback road in Southern Bohemia. My beautiful old BMW was a complete write-off, but luckily neither I, my wife Jolana, nor the occupants of the gold Peugeot were seriously injured, even though the collision happened at a bone-shuddering 100 kms per hour. It was my fault too, so thanks to God and my guardian angel for keeping a watchful eye over me and those I nearly killed. Then, six weeks later, as we were negotiating traffic jams and diversions caused by the previously mentioned floods, our replacement car suddenly erupted into flames and nearly succeeded in incinerating the two of us. The car was a twelve year old Skoda, donated to us by Jolana's dad, and as old Skodas have a tendency to overheat in traffic I was keeping a watchful eye on the temperature guage. Unfortunately, I wasn't aware of the related tendency for the petrol feeder pipe to slip off its mooring and pour petrol onto the red hot engine. We were on our way to a wedding party on the lake shore in Slapy at the time, and my friend Ollie Peters from Once Upon A Time was in the car behind us, along with Chris Hughes and several other musical types from Berlin. Ollie had his digital camera with him, and so we have some excellent footage of the event (complete with crackles and whooshes as the petrol tank exploded). Long before the fire trucks arrived the car was reduced to a smoking heap of twisted metal, but again nobody was injured and the whole thing was really quite dramatic. "Wow, that was great," said Ollie as he hit the playback button on his camera and savoured the carnage. The fire chief who arrived with three fire trucks to douse the flames wasn't fazed at all. "Yes, I have seen this many times with old Skodas. The rubber petrol pipe gets hot, you see, then it tends to slip out of the clip that is supposed to hold it in place..." Well it's good to know these things in case I'm ever tempted to buy one of these death-traps again. Needless to say, after these two little mishaps I didn't feel like driving for quite some time...

OK, back to the music and writing! I notice that in my last newsletter I boast of having finished writing the first part of "Stripped", my follow-up to "Junkie Love", which documents my debauched years in New York between 1979 and 1984. Well rewind and edit - I'm still working on the damned thing, and it's probably gonna be the death of me. Or if it doesn't actually kill me, the chances are that it will drive me completely nuts. After reading it through, I decided there were large chunks of it I didn't like so I deleted them and basically started from scratch. This was after the manuscript had been read by my good friend Laura Conway, the Prague-based American poet who also happens to be an excellent editor. "Too much repetition," she said, "and the characterisation sucks. There are some excellent bits, but then you lose the plot entirely and everything goes out of focus. And why are you using this strange syntax? You're not James Joyce or William Burroughs, so why don't you just tell the damned story..." I put it away on a shelf for three months then read it through, and I had to agree that she was mostly right. So I started the whole thing again after ditching the parts I wasn't happy with, then wrote entire new sections and tried to weave the whole thing together. The problem was with the structure, which is far more complex than the "plot" of "Junkie Love". I wanted to capture the chaotic nature of the late '70's and early 80's punk scene in NYC, and so the structure is similarly free-form and chaotic and jumps around all over the place. The challenge is to write about the chaos without allowing the chaos to take over the writing, but I THINK I'm almost there now and I'm just polishing up the prose and making sure the whole thing hangs together. Bear in mind that this is just the first book of what was originally intended to be a trilogy - as it is now about 320 pages in book form, I've decided to be a little less ambitious and make it into a "biology", or whatever it is you call a book in two parts. Otherwise it's gonna be up there with "War and Peace" and the King James Bible. This long period of gestation is pissing off my Czech publisher Lubor Mat'a, though, who has had the book in his catalogue as "forthcoming" for the past three years. But as I pointed out to him, Gogol took eight years to write the first part of "Dead Souls", ten years to write the second part (most of which he destoyed), then went mad and starved himself to death before he could start Part 3. So there's hope yet, I suppose...

In between the re-writes, I did manage to play a fair number of concerts, though. And my short play "George and Tony and Dick and Don - a 21st century morality play" got published in the Slovakian literary magazine "Vlna" ("Wave"), as well as in the Prague Literary Review. I wrote this satirical play in a fit of rage in August 2002, when I realised that Bush and his cronies were succeeding in their con trick of using the World Trade Center attacks as an excuse to invade Iraq. Horribly enough, much of what I wrote in the play has come to pass, even down to the building of the "security fence" in the occupied Palestinian territories. My music these days isn't at all "political", because I don't want to repeat what I've already done with my old NYC band Khmer Rouge; plus, I'm now a little cynical about music which purports to be political and which ends up being marketed for mass consumption by the very corporations that are contributing in various ways to the destruction of the planet. Even so, sometimes the shit you see and hear necessitates making some kind of statement, and the way the US administration got away with their blatant lies and their campaign of deliberate misinformation really pissed me off. The play is printed on this homepage under "Writings", if you'd like to check it out...

Speaking of Khmer Rouge (horrible name, I know, but I was reading a lot of Situationist texts at the time and wanted to make a statement...), a double CD of our music was finally released on the UK label Voiceprint in Sepember 2004. In 1984, the band relocated from NYC to London, and I remember walking around just about every independent record label in London, knocking on doors and trying to get a deal. Nobody was the slightest bit interested, and the tapes mouldered away in boxes for the next eighteen years. As I didn't want to lose them forever, I contacted my old bass player Barry "Scratchy" Myers and we agreed to make a selection and burn it onto CD. As it turned out, there was enough material for a double CD, and after Barry had mastered it all in London Volker Regner burned several copies and, unbeknown to me, advertised it on the homepage. Lo and behold, a Belgian music journalist called Pierre-Michel Doutreligne contacted me, wanting to review it, and when I told him it hadn't been officially released he said he'd review it anyway. He also suggested that I contact Rob Ayling at Voiceprint, an English label that also releases stuff by The Fall among others, and upon receiving the burned version Rob was sufficiently enthusiastic to press up 500 copies and launch them onto the unsuspecting world. Which just goes to show that everything happens in its own time, a thought I use to comfort myself while poring over the ever-expanding manuscript of "Stripped"...

Late 2004 also saw the release of "Deep Horizon", a double "Best Of..." CD on the German label Phantasmagoria. Again, this offer came like a shot out of the blue, shortly after Pavel Cingl and I returned from doing a short tour of Greece, and I have to say I'm really happy with the way it has turned out. I spent ages selecting the tracks and the running order, but thanks to the combined efforts of Lothar Gärtner, Roland Popp and Volker Regner (plus the design skills of Friedel Muders and Rolf's excellent mastering), it's turned out to be the CD I'm most proud of. Thanks also to Nikki Sudden for his sleeve notes, and to all the musicians I've played with over the years and whose contributions appear on this CD. I think it's a great summation of all my music to date, and I'm looking forward to finishing this damned book and getting back into the studio to take up where I left off...

On the cusp of 2003/2004, the long-awaited second CD by Fatal Shore was finally released on the German label Moloko +. Free Fall was recorded in Cincinatti in the year 2000 (actually, it was recorded across the Ohio River in Covington, Kentucky), and I have to admit I was starting to doubt if it would ever see the light of day. After many re-mixes and periodic losses of contact with the producers Dan May and Jerry Chambers, we finally got a version we were happy with and Ralf Friel at Moloko decided to release it. I've just managed to get distribution for it in the Czech Republic, through X Productions of Brno (home label of the wonderful Moimir Papalescu & The Nihilists), and it's also available in Germany through Moloko + (if you can't find a copy, and would like to buy it, you can contact me directly through this homepage).

And just to back-track a little bit, Phil Shoenfelt & Southern Cross's third studio CD "Ecstatic" came out on the Exupery label in June 2002. Both this CD and Deep Horizon have subsequently been licensed to Hitch-Hyke Records of Athens, Greece. I'm still working on getting distribution in the UK and USA, but you can get Deep Horizon through Phantasmagoria in Germany, and Ecstatic at exupery@exupery.cz.

So, what else have I been getting up to lately? Well, I began a collaboration with the band Wissmut from Leipzig, and their off-shoot band The Russian Doctors. This has resulted in another literary effort on my part called 'A Little Known Episode - Pratajev In Prague", a kind of spoof about a fictitious Russian poet/doctor who is kidnapped by the Red Army in 1945 and ends up having all kinds of adventures here in Zizkov, Prague. (You can also read this piece on the homepage under "Writings".) This story led to my first excursion into film-making, when Makarios of The Russian Doctors asked me if I could make a Hollywood-style epic for inclusion on the "Schnaps & Weiber" DVD (available at upart@p-off.de ). I also "wrote" the screenplay and act the main role in this 16 minute extravaganza, playing the part of one "Charles Cockburn", an ill-fated BBC documentary film-maker who comes to Prague to make a film about the great Russian poet... Southern Cross also toured in Germany last November along with Wissmut (Makarios, the lead singer, used to be head honcho in the well-known German post-punk band Die Art), and they toured with us last month in Czech Republic and Slovakia.

So, I think that's about all the news for now, other than to mention my recent reunion with Mark E. Smith and his wonderful and frightening band The Fall. I called Mark up on Easter Monday to ask if there was a chance of doing some support shows with The Fall in Britain, as it's now several years since I've played there and I was starting to miss the warm, flat beer and the wonderful food the promoters there provide you with (usually a limp baguette wrapped in plastic, if you're lucky enough to get anything at all...). Mark released my fist solo single on the Cog Sinister label back in 1989, and Khmer Rouge did a couple of UK tours supporting The Fall back in the mid-1980's. My ex-wife Marcia even ended up playing keyboards with them for four years before getting fired and turning into a doctor (not a Russian one, but a very beautiful American one...), so the relationship goes back aways, as they say. Mark obliged by offering me two Scottish gigs, one in Glasgow, the other in Aberdeen, and I have to say it was a very interesting and rewarding experience. Usually, fans of The Fall are rabid and frustrated civil servants who hate any other bands/music apart from The Fall, so I was a little nervous when I stepped onto the boards the first night at Glasgow University. I did get a few whistles and cat-calls at first (being a lone singer with an acoustic guitar at a Fall gig is a little similar to being an early Christian pitted against lions in a Roman amphitheatre...), but after the first song they decided to accept me and I ended up getting quite a positive reaction, both in Glasgow and Aberdeen. I also renewed contact with my old buddy Alan Wise, one of the founders of The Factory Club in Manchester, along with Tony Wilson (check out the film 24 Hour Party People if you want to know more, even though Alan was deleted from the movie for one reason or another...). He was promoting the Fall concerts and invited me to drive with him to Aberdeen, where he wangled me a four star hotel instead of the crummy Bed & Breakfast establishment I'd booked myself into. He was also promoting the Little Richard tour in the UK, and insisted on trying to sort out various kinds of chaos via his mobile phone while careening recklessly down the motorway at 100 mph. Needless to say, The Fall were amazing, better than they have been for years. Mark just keeps going on and on and seemingly never runs out of inspiration, and with new musicians, new teeth and a new wife (not necessarily in that order), he seems to have undergone something of a creative rebirth.

So, that brings to an end this installment of the newsletter. I hope it's not another three and a half years before I get around to doing another one, and I hope that by the time I do I will have finished at least the first part of "Stripped".
Bye for now...

Phil Shoenfelt.

 

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newsletter #1 November 2001

 


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