Saturday, August 01, 2009

I can't remember what it was that induced me to buy this album back in '82. I'm sure I hadn't heard it on KCR and don't know, at the time, where I would have read about Ms. Galas--maybe Cadence or Coda? I wasn't then (and still am not) a fan of histrionic vocalization, male or female but Galas, at her best (and this is an example, imho) transcends that. Heh, this is one that really drove Linda nuts when I played it loud. A 12" 45rpm, two side long tracks. The title piece makes superlative use of multi-tracking, Galas sounding like a swarm of Baudelaire-reciting demons; fine tape and electronics work as well.

And then there's "Wild Women with Steak-Knives" ("for solo scream"). Of its kind, I can't think of anything more powerful. Pieces like this have always made it difficult for me to listen to the Shelley Hirsch's of the world. When Galas pins you to the wall and shouts, inches from your nose, "And I'm not talkin' about meatballs, I am talkin' about STEAK!", you hie yourself to the meat market. Holds up extremely well, happy to say.

Galas' brother Dmitri, a playwright, was an early victim of AIDS and she would go on to concentrate on AIDS-related themes, more effectively than anyone I've heard (see below). At the time of this recording, 1981, AIDS wasn't quite recognized as a single phenomenon, but some of the brutally sarcastic lyrics point that way:

I commend myself to a death beyond all hope of redemption
beyond the desire for forgetfulness
beyond the desire to feel things at every moment
But to never forget
to kill for the sake of killing,
and with a pure and most happy heart,
extol and redeem Disease.

Her second record (1984), self-titled, appeared on Metalanguage, the SF-based label that was also early home to Henry Kaiser & ROVA. It's more controlled in many ways and features more electronic processing, splitting of her voice via multiple mics and overlays. Two side-long works, "Panoptikon" and "Tragouthia Apo to Aima Exoun Fonos", the latter her first foray into Greek, I believe. Excellent record, maybe the least known of her good work? The outrage seethes but remains just below eruption level, very tense, the odd spatter of molten lead burning one's cheek.

I somehow missed her third album (Divine Punishment). This one I didn't have a strong memory of--never liked the cover, maybe that's it. She begins with the co-option of that spooky organ music you hear in every other crappy Gothic film (Berlioz, right?). But again, it hold up pretty well. Five pieces, a step towards song-form from the previous efforts, some of her effectively dark pianistics and spat vocals on cuts like 'Artemis'. And "Cris d'Aveugle" ain't bad either--bitter, bitter, bitter, with those lamma lamma sabacthani's, as corny as they sound on one level, still capable of producing a chill. Great mix of crone cries, innocent babe plaints, deep-throated sibyls and, for all I know, norns (look it up). I have to say, this play-through is turning out to be far more rewarding than I expected....

This one, the last vinyl I have of Galas (another 12" 45rpm), has always been a small favorite of mine, if only because of the presence of the single most powerful, most ruthless AIDS-related song I've ever heard, "Let's Not Chat About Despair". Worth quoting the lyrics in full, I think:

You who speak of crowd control, of karma, or the punishment of god.
Let’s not chat about despair.
Do you fear the cages they are building in
Kentucky, Tennessee and Texas
While they’re giving ten to forty years to find a cure?
Let’s not chat about despair.
Do you pray each evening out of horror or of fear
To the savage God whose bloody hand
Commands you now to die alone?
Let’s not chat about despair.
Do you taste the presence of the living death
While the skeleton beneath your open window
Waits with arms outstretched?
Let’s not chat about despair.
Do you spend each night in waiting
For the devil’s little angels’ cries
To burn you in your sleep?
Let’s not chat about despair.
Do you wait for miracles in small hotels
With Seconal and Compazine
Or for a ticket to the house of death in Amsterdam?
Let’s not chat about despair.
Do you wait in prison for the dreadful day
The office of the butcher comes to carry you away?
Let’s not chat about despair.
Do you wait for saviors or the paradise to come
In laundry rooms, in toilets or in cadillacs?
Let’s not chat about despair.
Are you crucified beneath the life machines
With a shank inside your neck
And a head which blossoms like a basketball?
Let’s not chat about despair.
Do you tremble at the timid steps
Of crying, smiling faces who, in mourning,
Now have come to pay their last respects?
Let’s not chat about despair.
In Kentucky Harry buys a round of beer
To celebrate the death of Billy Smith, the queer,
Who’s mother still must hide her face in fear.
Let’s not chat about despair.
You who mix the words of torture, suicide, and death
With scotch and soda at the bar,
We’re all real decent people, aren’t we.
But there’s no time left for talk.
Let’s not chat about despair.

She has a band here and her direction is clearly rock-ward. Chilly rendition of "Let My People Go":

O Lord Jesus, do you think I've served my time?
The eight legs of the devil are crawling up my spine.


I kept up with Galas for a good while, though the recordings became somewhat less focused. She moved towards blues, which I largely enjoyed but didn't need to hear so often.

I saw her Plague Mass at St John the Divine in 1991, I guess. Quite the event. A full (very large) church, Galas took the stage in a topless evening gown, drenched in stage blood, put microphones to mouth and intoned, "Give me sodomy or give me death!".

Quite the evening.

A year or two ago, I received a rare live review assignment to cover her on the West Side at the Highline Ballroom, a swankish little night club. I wrote it up for Bagatellen (here) "Gloomy Monday" has stayed with me, I must say.

1 comment:

Caleb Deupree said...

Galas was broadcast on the New Music America concerts in 1980, which made it to Ohio on the local public radio station. These late night broadcasts were my first exposure to her, Laurie Anderson, and many others who went on to become major artists in the following decade. Galas played the Tragouthia from the ML album. As with many other artists, I never caught the same chill on repeated listenings, although the night I sat in the dark listening to the Plague Mass CD was pretty memorable.