By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
There often comes a time in a music fanatic’s life when he finds himself saying, “Not good enough — I want to hear something that sounds different.” Take a shortcut and pick up a copy of Danny Cohen’s Museum of Dannys, available on John Zorn’s Tzadik label. It’s a mere tiny sampling of Cohen’s enormous backlog of home-recorded and deeply idiosyncratic music, whose archiving now dates back 30 years. Here are 20 cuts of simply astounding sounds that play more like small films or short stories than your everyday platter of pacifying pop poop.
These are disciplined constructions; Cohen writes out all the parts, and everything is storyboarded, like a Hitchcock film. Songs about LSD, songs about himself, of course, songs about musicians who can’t play his music correctly, songs about Satan, sex, barrios and bimbos. It might not matter so much what they’re about, considering their stunning instrumental settings, except that Cohen also happens to be a lyricist of sardonic bloody wit and satisfyingly snarly vocal nuance. (Nuance: In “Los Angeles,” he gets exactly the way Sam Yorty used to pronounce our city’s name — Loss Ainguhless — that’s crucial detail.)
In “The Devil and Daniel Cohen” (“He drooled as he pleasured himself/just be a nomad/and never shave”) he intones the title like a scary preacher man in a midnight movie. Cohen makes his clangoring guitar, accordions, rinky-dink chord organs, Ralph Carney’s horns, Joseph Hammer’s tape loops and chugging spoons and drums explode together with inference, and he’ll daub it all with creaky Mellotron or Optigan for that twice-removed filmlike creaky noir you need. Sometimes Cohen will sound like Bob Dylan turned inside out — since Bob’s already wearing his spleen on his spine, it’s quite unusual.
In our homogenized American culture, though, such strange beauty as Danny Cohen’s will always bring patronizing smiles upon its creator, as if there’s something basically pathetic about anyone in the position of having to convey truly personal yearnings to an outside world. Somewhere along the line Cohen managed to interest avant sax-squawker and odd-music archivist John Zorn in releasing his music on Zorn’s Tzadik label, specifically for Tzadik’s rather condescendingly named “Lunatic Fringe” series. The lunatic is a category that doesn’t sit comfortably with Cohen, and why should it? He wants to be taken seriously as a composer.
“I was a little insulted by the first CD’s title, which was Self Indulgent Music, more so than the ‘Lunatic Fringe,’ because the other two artists that were on this CD were completely nuts, whereas my stuff is more accessible.”
Which is true; Cohen’s music, while advanced musically and definitely challenging, isn’t abstract; it’s just great contemporary music from a parallel universe. Nutritious for kids, too, I’d think.
“My philosophy was always to make it organic,” he says. “Captain Beefheart’s songs struck me as being able to do that — there was nothing artificial about it. His music is very much like California vegetation, like chaparral, or Mediterranean vegetation — wildness; even more so than modern jazz, there’s this earthy perfection to it, none of it seemed forced or technological like some avant-garde stuff is.”
Divergent, dedicated artists like Cohen probably would sell out if they could figure out who’s buying — it’s not as if they’ve chosen to be deliberately obscure about what they’re doing (some of them, anyway). Obviously they’d like to get their music heard by as many as possible.
“It’s a difficult Catch-22 sort of a thing,” says Cohen, “because I got the feeling at my label that Zorn took umbrage when I tried to get a little more accessible. If I gave him a tape that was done on a four-track machine that had very poor technical quality and just sounded very, very bizarre, it would have a much better chance gaining favor with him than if I gave him a 50-track studio recording which was highly arranged and that’d probably appeal to a greater portion of people. I might have to court another label for that type of music. But I continue to do the four-track stuff ’cause it has a certain charm.”
DANNY COHEN at “sound.”| At the Schindler House, 835 N. Kings Road, West Hollywood | Saturday, June 28, 7:30 p.m.