On this day in 1929, Alfred A Knopf published Dashiell Hammett’s “Red Harvest”, which had been serialised in the pulp magazine Black Mask in the previous year. It became the template for the hard-boiled detective novel. Its hero is the nameless Continental Op (he’s an operative of The Continental Detective Agency) who is called to Personville by the local Press Baron. Personville is known as “Poisonville” by the locals, and the plot turns on police corruption and gang warfare, and Red Harvest refers to the staggering amount of bloodshed that ensues, caused (mostly deliberately) by the Continental Op. It inspired Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo, which in turn influenced Sergio Leone’s Man with No Name in the Dollars trilogy. The Coen brothers’ film Blood Simple takes its title from a line in Red Harvest, and In the early 1970s, Italian director Bernardo Bertolucci considered filming an adaptation of the novel with Jack Nicholson or Clint Eastwood in the lead, but it never happened. I took the name Poisonville to use on a project with Mark Pringle and my daughter, Jordan, a decade ago, where we recorded skewed versions of songs from the 60s. Here’s a song called “Hammett” which uses cut-up loops and samples welded onto a narration of a dream sequence from the 21st chapter of ”Red Harvest”, which we recorded as a kind of theme song for the project. It features a sonorous cello part by Mark, as well as a guitar solo that, to this day, is one of the greatest I’ve ever heard. Read the book — it’s a cracker.
Here’s a try-out for an idea that shows the track make-up of various songs, starting with the loop-driven theme to Poisonville, Hammett. The screen shot of the Garageband file shows how the various tracks were layered and chopped, and what exactly makes up all those strange noises… The narration is a dream sequence from Red Harvest.
Hammett (Plays on Opening Screen)
A dream sequence from Red Harvest, Hammett’s great book about the cleaning-up of a corrupt city, Personville. His private dick masterfully pits the rival gangs against each other, breaking the Pinkerton Detective agency rules, but achieving his aim. Here the words are underpinned by treated guitars, rain-soaked traffic, orchestral percussion, and distorted and eerie jazz pianos. Mark’s cello tracks the narrator as he darkly crosses the Continental United States in the grip of a nightmare. At the centre of the song is a guitar solo that owes a debt to the great Jeff Beck. It was created by Mark playing six separate takes and then jamming phrases together in the editing so that they don’t sound like a ‘played’ solo (well, Jeff plays like that, but few others do…)
I loved this song when I first heard it on Celebration, an album that captured the highlights of the 1970 Big Sur Folk Festival. The whole record is pretty great, the Beach Boys playing Wouldn’t It Be Nice, Kris Kristofferson terrific on The Law Is For The Protection Of The People, even Linda Ronstadt backed by a protean version of The Eagles, ripping through Hank’s Lovesick Blues. Joe McDonald played this wonderfully as an acoustic 12-bar blues, all stalking menace. We’ve done it as an electric 12-bar with an oud put through a bass amp and Mark playing Middle Eastern guitar on a keyboard with a pitch bend. Raise Your Hand!
Windmills Of Your Mind
An early single purchase, on Reprise, if I remember correctly, if my mind wasn’t spun and twisted by the psychedelic nonsense of the Bergman’s attempts to be down with the freaky kids. I remember playing it over and over again, that circular melody the hook. I recorded this drunkenly, late one night, having downloaded some approximate chords from the net. I didn’t know the chords (You could tell? Really?) and I sell short the beautiful melody. But hey, what’s wrong with the sense-memory of thirty-five years ago? My wife, Michele, had been transcribing hours and hours of interviews with and about Scott Walker for Steven Kijak’s great documentary 30 Century Man, and I had become obsessed, watching him in the studio on the DVDs she was working from. So some of his approach filtered in to this, especially in the ‘clouds’ of piano, an instrument that I can’t play. But Scott teaches that one should not be afraid of such small inconvieniences. It’s the intent, dammit!
This Land Is Your Land
First thing I ever recorded on Garageband, as detailed in a piece I pitched to The Guardian, (read it in the Info section of the site). I’m not sure why I chose to record this as a test, but it is such a great song, and the chains of images are fantastic, still inspiring Bob Dylan years later to write all those great from/to lines (“from the Grand Coulee Dam to the Mardi Gras” in Idiot Wind, for example). Mark felt compelled to get Jack White on its ass one day (it was originally all done with Apple Loops) and it thus entered version 2, the one you hear on the site. I was trying to get the drum feel and sound that Ry Cooder got on his soundtrack for the lamentable Ralph Macchio film Crossroads. The drummer he found, Frank Frost, I think, dragged an extraordinarily wild and primitive sound from his kit.
It Ain’t Me Babe
One of a great songwriter’s great songs. Jordan’s friend Alan dropped by and played a couple of blazing solos, which Mark then mixed, and mixed up. Folk Rock (with a side order of psychedelics) Lives!
Look What They Done To My Song Ma
29 shillings and 11 pence from Dobell’s in 1970. What more can I say.
Special thanks to Bob Gumpert for allowing me to use his great photos.