Saturday, August 16, 2008

steven jesse bernstein: postcard from the edge

a los angeles flop-house during the Great Depression, 1938.
photographer uncredited.
looks fine to me.

More from long-term Seattle resident and 'underground' writer, L.A. born, Steven Jesse Bernstein. I must confess, I am constantly saddened by his suicide and the ferocity of it whenever I play this album. His self-contempt seems so utterly groundless.

From Wiki:

"The concept for the Bernstein album Prison was for Jesse to do a raw, live performance at Monroe, Washington State Penitentiary Special Offenders unit in 1991. Jesse went with his manager Barbara Buckland, Bruce Pavitt from Sub Pop Records, Grant Alden (then with Seattle's Rocket Magazine, now known as the co-founder of No Depression Magazine), photographer Arthur S. Aubry, and various tech people. None of the session except for the photos taken by Aubry was usable. SubPop later contracted Steve Fisk to finish the project. The album was intended to be produced along the same lines as Johnny Cash's At Folsom Prison, but Fisk later decided to score the recordings with jazz and ambient music. The album was only partially completed when Bernstein committed suicide by stabbing himself in the throat three times with a knife. He was 40 years old when he died - about a month and a half before his 41st birthday."

postcard of downtown seattle, 1912.
"nightlife at 2nd ave looking north".

I would be especially interested to hear from anybody who knew Bernstein personally, or who witnessed his performance at Monroe Penitentiary.

Emerald City. Are we talking 'Oz' ?

STEVEN JESSE BERNSTEIN: NO NO MAN (PART 2) from "Prison" CD (Sub Pop) 1992 (US)



Unknown said...

"...the little ears stuck out..."

Yeah, that "flop-house" doesn't look so bad to me. I've lived in similar-looking digs in my day. Hell, I even lived "in a VAN down by the RIVER!"

Alas, I discovered this many years too late to track down Mr. B in real life. But I still talk with him during some of those long, black-out nights...

ib said...

Yeah, These Californians don't know they're livin'. It's the same with Bukowski; cardboard suitcases, be damned, some of those guest houses I've seen on 'Skid Row' look pretty okay to my eyes. As for those gangs of LA, living it up in bungalows in all that OJ sunshine; a back and front yard; air conditioning. Fuck y'all. Come and swap home with me and see for yourselves. I'm SERIOUS. Pussies.

Still. It's the day to day drudgery that kills you in the end.

Your driver said...

When I moved here from the East Coast, people had to explain to me what neighborhoods were bad because they all looked good to me. Many years ago I was shocked to discover that there was a big cowboy heroin scene in Wyoming. What do cowboys need to wipe themselves out for? I mean they've got the old campfire and the lone prairie and the lonesome dogies, right? Then I found out about the heroin problem in rural beautiful tropical Hawaiian towns. I guess people will find a way to hurt where ever they end up. I will say that Californians are unusually self absorbed and sociopathic. Not getting exactly what you want, as soon as you want it is considered suffering by all levels of Californians.

I have been to some places in California that will kill your soul on contact. Few of them are in big cities. Parts of downtown LA are pretty bleak, but almost all of the Imperial Valley is a nightmare. Let's not forget that Cali's main industry is still agriculture. City people are living at some distance from the knives, who ever they may be. There are horrible, irrigated desert towns where, if you are lucky, you work in the maximum security prison and if you are not you work in a cloud of toxic chemicals out in the fields.

New Yorkers consider the UK's slums to be quaint. A lot of bad areas in your part of the world look like New Jersey to me. I worked with a guy from Brighton for a while. He showed me a book of pictures of Brighton. I was really surprised that it looked like a somewhat cleaner version of Bruce Springsteen's own Asbury Park.

Your driver said...

Check it out. No whining here. God Bless America.

ib said...

Tonga! I thought that place was a figment of the Tubes' imagination.

I only know about the heroin/ice problem in Hawaii from watching too many episodes of "Dog The Bounty Hunter". It seems an odd juxtaposition ; the images of even the built-up urban areas are as beautiful as in New Zealand, where the Maoris have a similar propensity for wiping themselves out.

I can easily buy into the clouds of toxic chemical scenario from what I've read.

One thing I will say. Brighton is an extremely affluent sea-side town with a big gay and student population. It has an air of slightly avant garde prosperity to both its architecture and thriving club scene.

Where I live is just out and out nasty. That's no exaggeration. The closest I have seen to it architecturally are the high rises in Harlem, but I will guarantee you those flats of mine are considerably less well maintained. Neglected would be more appropriate. We live above mounds of decaying refuse with scare a complaint. Those who aspire to better living conditions have long since exhausted themselves going nowhere fast.

Out of curiosity, what is Davis, California like ? I know it must be rural, but i'm guessing it might be a predominately middle class collegiate area or suburb. I'm probably way off the mark.

Your driver said...

Davis is a very pleasant college town. It is the home of the University of California's agricultural programs, so it is sort of industrially rural. Hard to describe the central valley. It has almost nothing to do with most people's picture of California. Very flat. Unbearably hot. Fields are tilled by computer operated, laser guided gigantic tractors while crop duster biplanes swoop back and forth dumping weird chemicals on tiny figures working far off in the fields. It is agriculture on a scale like nothing else I've ever heard of. Literally mile upon mile of one crop. Every kind of food crop known to man is raised somewhere in the central valley. UC Davis is the center of agribusiness for the state, and a lot of the world. "The Green Revolution" was imposed, with mixed results, on much of the world by academic agribusiness based in Davis. All of the horror stories about genetically copyrighted plants originate in Davis.
The central valley is like a science fiction movie mixed with a Merle Haggard song.
Interestingly, the valley is probably the most racially and ethnically diverse place in the whole state. For example, there's an enormous group of Sikh farmers in Yuba City. They've been there for over a hundred years. I used to do Ag Tech visits for a tour bus company from San Francisco. I've spent hundreds of hours driving through fields in the valley. My passengers were ag people from all over the world. The ranches and farms were run by people from all over the world.

In some ways I like the valley and the high desert more than I like the coast and the mountains. The beauty spots are beautiful, but they don't have much to do with most people's lives.

I was just talking to my friend, Corey. Her daughter, also a friend, is a student at Davis. How do you know about the place? It's about an hour from here.

ib said...

Interesting detail. Thanks. The question about Davis as a result of Thin White Rope - the subject of another post today - hailing from the valley there. I know from reading a little about their home town that there are makeshift migrant workers' shanty towns dotted about Davis.

I assumed that the area was collegiate from gathering that singer, Guy Kyser has close ties to UC Davis. I think I may have read somewhere that he is on the faculty there, but I wouldn't swear to it.

Maybe your pal, Corey's daughter would know ?

Unknown said...

I came across this fan-made video for "This Clouded Heart" and thought you might be interested...

ib said...

Thanks for that link, Matt. Pretty wesome video. And just as crucially, I haven't even heard this track... I am tempted to post this video, if you don't mind ?

Unknown said...

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Do it.
Do it Do it Do it.

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