Who Are You Staring at
02. John Giorno Stretching It Wider
03. John Giorno We Got Here Yesterday, We're Here Now, And I Can't Wait To Leave Tomorrow
Side A commissioned by the Twyla Tharp Dance Foundation.
Guitars: Glenn Branca
Guitars: Thurston Moore
Guitars: Lee Ranaldo
Guitars: David Rosenbloom,
Guitars: Ned Sublette
Bass: Jeffrey Glenn
Drums: Stephen Wischerth
Tracks 2 & 3:
Vocals: John Giorno
Drums: David Van Tieghem
Bass: Philippe Hagen
Keyboards, synth & guitar: Pat Irwin
John Giorno (born 1935) started his Giorno Poetry Systems record label in 1972 with a series of ‘Dial-A-Poets’ LPs (see also UbuWeb for more GPS), a project he initiated in 1968 with friends William S. Burroughs and Brion Gysin. Through GPS Giorno has championned a kind of DIY spoken word poetry embarking cut-ups, performance, rock guitar and electronic rhythms. If Burroughs foundness for tape recorder and tape splicing delights is well known, his relationship to rock appears a bit cynical and un-sincere. Giorno, on the other hand, was part of that Downtown scene where so many things had been happening since the 1960s – from Cage and Rauschenberg to No Wave frenzy. But chances are he envisionned rock music as a suitable medium for his poetry in the same way he used telephone to spread his poems. There’s pragmatism at work here. Some of the guests musicians on Glenn Branca‘s track appeared on his monumental ‘The Ascension’ LP on 99 Records published the year before (1981): Stephan Wischerth, David Rosenbloom, Ned Sublette and Lee Ranaldo. I more or less expected monolithic guitar walls, but this soundtrack to a dance performance is quite varied and structured into various moments, including sudden rhythm changes (at 8:15), quiet guitar feedback drones (at 11;30) alternating with fierce guitar parts, while drums are a prominent feature throughout. The whole track is very well conceived and entertaining from start to finish. The John Giorno side has 2 tracks of poetry reading along heavy beats. The poems are deliberately matter-of-fact and delivered in the typical Giorno high pitched voice. Nice slice of Downtown avant-whatever.
The aggressively titled Who You Staring At? is a split LP, one side each for Glenn Branca and poet John Giorno, on whose label it was issued. The side-long Branca composition was written to accompany a dance choreographed by Twyla Tharp and is performed by an ensemble essentially the same as that on his first release, The Ascension, with the addition of future Sonic Youth co-founder Thurston Moore. The piece bolts out of the gate with rich guitar fanfares hurtling over a rampaging rhythmic base. For much of the first half of the it's as exciting as anything on that first album but midway through, perhaps in response to choreographic needs, it lurches to a halt. For the remainder of the work, Branca utilizes an awkward semi-funk rhythm with splintered guitar chords that fail to hold the listener's ear, especially after the promise of the initial section.
On his two pieces, Giorno declaims in his bitter, sardonic style over a fairly basic funk trio. His observations on the aggravating rigors of daily life (as evinced by the title to the second song) often hit home and, to make sure, Giorno has a habit of repeating them several times in the manner of a gospel preacher hammering home a point. If lines like, "I'm spendin' my whole life being with people I don't want to be with" strike home, you may warm to his attitude.
For Branca fans, this LP is worth owning for the partial pleasures of his track. Listeners interested in discovering his work might be better served by The Ascension or one of his later "symphonies."