Lee Wochner: Writer. Director. Writing instructor. Thinker about things.


Another show I wish I could see

Oh, to be in London on February 12th to see “Carnival of Souls,” screened with a live underscore provided by David Thomas & Two Pale Boys.

Mr. Thomas, as longtime readers of this blog, is to me the most important figure working in music today. Whether it’s with Pere Ubu or with Two Pale Boys, his off-kilter music and sensibility thrill me and speak to me deeply. There are certain sounds that speak deeply to individuals who take the trouble to tune into them. For me, it’s Glenn Gould’s piano, it’s Robert Wheeler’s theremin, it’s one of Thomas Dolby’s specific keyboard noises, it’s Robert Fripp’s guitar, and it’s the certain sound sets that only Brian Eno’s studio wizardry can result in. I can pick these things out from any haystack, because somehow they seem so tuned to me that the haystack disappears and the sound becomes iridescent. Chief among these things is David Thomas’s voice. And by voice, I don’t mean just the singing instrument — yes, that beautifully expressive warble, but also the delightfully blinkered worldview so specific to him that comes through all his work, his unique take on the culture we all live in, but which only he sees in his particular way. To listen to David Thomas sing about, for example, U.S. Route 322, which fronted our house when I was a boy, is to learn anew something you thought you understood but never did.

I also find with artists that I follow that when I arrive someplace newly exciting — they are already there. The skewed sensibility that attracts me to them seems to lead us to the same places. Who produced that first Devo album that I could not get off the turntable? Brian Eno. Of course.  When I discover the era of Beach Boys music that truly speaks to me, I find that it’s all associated with Van Dyke Parks — and who appears in David Thomas’ oddball but thoroughly enchanting live “Disastodrome” extravaganza but Van Dyke Parks? And now, who is providing underscore to “Carnival of Souls,” a relatively little-known movie that got a small rerelease about 20 years ago, which I went out of my way to see at that time? David Thomas.

About four years ago, my son and I went to see Pere Ubu provide live underscoring for “Man with the X-Ray Eyes” — another great low-budget black-and-white horror movie — at UCLA. I had seen the movie several times before, but now it’s forever linked in my mind with the live performance by Pere Ubu, especially when the band played “Drive” during the final big chase scene, as Ray Milland’s character goes insane from everything that he can now see. Does it detract from the film, having it now associated with a song performed forty years after its release? Is the film harmed in any way? No — it was thrilling. The evening provided a new way to experience something I thought I’d already known (again, a specialty of Mr. Thomas’). And this is completely in the tradition of film. Silent movies came with suggested scores for organists to play, but many improvised their own scores; your enjoyment of Buster Keaton was often amplified by the aptness and originality of the attack by whatever organist you drew. I’m sure it will be this way with David Thomas & Two Pale Boys — another fine band that Mr. Thomas plays with, with a sound radically different from that of Pere Ubu — as they bring a fresh approach to a little film that is simple and terrifying in its own right, and which deserves every bit of attention and care that I’m sure the event will bring to it.

“Carnival of Souls” was filmed in and around the SaltAir Pavilion in Salt Lake City, Utah. In 2002, I was in Salt Lake City on business and rented a car so that I could drive out and see the SaltAir Pavilion. Salt is essential for life, but salt flats, of course, kill. Stretched far and wide were the salts left by a distantly receded lake; a flat bitter tang hung in the air, enclosing a pavilion that was remote and almost abandoned. This is the backdrop for the film, and provides to my mind a promising platform for the simultaneously anxious and affectless music of David Thomas & Two Pale Boys. I just wish I could be there for it.  Here’s hoping that some point, they bring it to the states.

One Response to “Another show I wish I could see”

  1. Joe Says:

    I got reminded of voice over trailers from the 1960s for ‘new TV shows’…and thru the miracle of youtube, came up with one from LOST IN SPACE…and emailed it to Lee…


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