Friday, October 7, 2011


The other day I got a nice email from a guy named Fred Champion, who used to own the CD Alley record store in Wilmington, NC for over a decade (until music "fans" downloading music for free--an activity known as "stealing" when applied to most other industries--made it nearly impossible for record stores, indie bands, and indie labels to make any dough from selling albums).... In any case, without asking Fred's permission because I'm lazy, I just thought I'd post part of his email. I thought it was a pretty funny story about how people discover unusual music like mine. The following text is excerpted directly from Fred's email:

i owned CD Alley in Wilmington from 1998 until i closed it down in January 2010 - for a while, i lived off selling my ebay stash of records i had accumulated over the years and some music equipment until a friend hooked me up working with him on some TV show.... fast forward a few months to "money is really thin" and i am organizing all of my possessions in stacks... Garage sale / ebay / keepers.
i had a storage room beside my apartment stacked to the Ceiling with the old CD ALLEY inventory.. and i started planning for a Garage sale.. i have over 5,000 cds laid out everywhere and post it on craigslist.. about half the cds are new but nothing great because these are titles that my distributor would not take back before i closed CD ALLEY doors.. Anyway.. Garage Sale goes great.. i sell cds at 25cents each or 50 for $20 bucks .. that tells you how bad most of the CDs were.. but still a few gems here and there.
i sold about 2800 cds in one day .. and about 2000 of those went to just 2 people who had little barcode readers on their phones and software applications that told what each cd was listing for on ebay and amazon..
ok.. during on this time your "Burdens of Genius" CD from '98 is right there hanging out with all the other CDs not drawing a bit of attention..
so that still leaves me with around 2200 CDs but still some gems hanging around.. so i start sorting through these.. now i put them in different catagories LOCAL/CRAP/ NO NAME PUNK & METAL bands / LOOKS COOL give it a quick listen and check it out Section.. 90% of these were still crap but every once in a while i would throw a cd on.. and usually you can tell when something is crap in about 30 seconds.. but others i give them a fair chance if i make it through one or two songs.. or if they were on a cool label like Matador/kill rock stars or merge.. but there is definitely some stinkers on those labels too.. which brings me to : i picked up THE BURDENS CD priced $5.98 from our used been.. my guess is that someone who bought it in chapel hill or maybe a "friend" of yours traded it in here in Wilmington.
So cover made me think it was some reissue of a dude from the late 60s or 70s and then i also noticed the THANK YOU to No. 6 records.. and i knew Dean Wareham and a few other cool bands i like where connected to that label .. so i threw the cd on and went back to sorting through the rest of the cds.. and it was the first and only CD where i thought to myself.. "damn, this is actually Pretty Good" and good enough to make me search for this CHARLES DOUGLAS person on Wikipedia, google and youtube.. and finally to your website.. which i throughly enjoyed... THE END"

So yeah, that about sums it up. And i think Fred's email is great! "Burdens of Genius" was my first album. And yes, he's probably 100% right that I was kind enough to give a "friend" (glad i don't have too many of those anymore, haha) a copy and they just sold it for a few bucks the next day. As I get older, I find that I need less and less music "friends" anyway (unless they are cool, funny people like fred, or my good friend alun who puts out my stuff on broken horse records in manchester). In fact, i really regret even working with certain musicians (just a couple) on my albums along the way (i won't name them, because they know who they are, and also i realize that i am a difficult person to get along with, so the fault is probably partly mine)... Anyway, people like fred restore my faith in indie rock music.... as do people like alun.... and dave (who has tipped me off to so many great bands over the years)... and terry and bobby (the guys at elektra who discovered me back when i was a teenager)... and all the FANTASTIC musicians i was lucky to work with (moe tucker, kurt ralske, joey santiago, wharton tiers, bill whitten, phil costello, and a bunch of others)..... and all the great bands who have covered my songs (including The Long Winters, Brakes, The Comas, Wye Oak, Alina Simone, Mark Robinson from Unrest, Steve Turner from Mudhoney, and many more)!!! [PART 2 of this long ramble coming soon....]

Friday, September 30, 2011


Broken Horse Records in Manchester, UK will soon be releasing a 60-song retrospective of my 90's home recordings, titled NOT YOUR KIND OF MUSIC: THE BASEMENT TAPES '95-'99. It's going to be packaged as a double-disc set, with a 26-page booklet of really demented liner notes and other cool things! More details coming soon...

Thursday, April 7, 2011


My 1999 album THE LIVES OF CHARLES DOUGLAS is now available in limited edition vinyl from Broken Horse UK for Record Store Day. If you want to pre-order a copy, just visit

Here's a review from Record Collector:

Lost indie gem uncovered

It is unlikely that Charles Douglas could have predicted how appropriate the title of his sole studio album would become. In all, the man has written several screenplays, authored four novels, and at the age of 22, recorded this album that, before it even got released, seemed destined to remain a niche concern.

Douglas had spent years accumulating material in his bedroom before somehow convincing Velvet Underground drummer Moe Tucker to produce and play on his debut. The result is an eccentric collection that concerns itself with subjects as diverse as girls, fast food, drugs and the death of The Notorious BIG. The whole has a loose, first-take feel that calls to mind the spontaneity of Jonathan Richman’s solo records, while also being clearly indebted to Lou Reed. There’s a simplicity and immediacy here that’s difficult not to enjoy, including loser power-pop anthems dripping with charm, such as Earlybird School and A Boy Like Me.

If The Lives of Charles Douglas had been released a few years later it would have very neatly fit into the New York “anti-folk” scene with the likes of Jeffrey Lewis and Moldy Peaches. Instead, it was an oddball curio. Thanks to Broken Horse, however, the cult may just expand...

Saturday, November 27, 2010


A few weeks ago, I was asked to submit some questions for Joanna Newsom to Uncut Magazine. This was because, for some reason, Uncut was doing an article about her. I was elated to get the opportunity to ask Joanna a couple things that were weighing on my mind, so I scribbled my questions on the back of a cigarette pack with a coke spoon and mailed them to Uncut World HQ. Now, something tells me they probably won't run my questions (see below) so I thought I'd post them here!

Anyway, the following questions were what I sent to Uncut and to Joanna Newsom's publicist as well.


So ok, here are my quick questions for Joanna off the top of my head. I am of course a fan of hers, having first heard her spellbinding tune "Sprout and the Bean" in the Oscar-winning slasher flick The Strangers. So here are my questions:

1. If you lost all your fingers, and your head got cut off, would you continue to play music somehow?

2. When are you going to sell your harp? Because I need some firewood, lady. I can offer twenty dollars... and the clock's ticking.

3. Who's better in bed? Will Oldham, Devendra Banhart, Andy Samberg, or your harp?

4. Do you ever wonder why The Beatles didn't have a harpist?

So that's it for now, but I'm sure I could come up with more questions for her if you need them. Best wishes, Charles

DISCLAIMER: Joanna and I dated for several years in the 1990's (in my head)

Wednesday, October 6, 2010


So last week, I got a bunch of emails about Moe Tucker being a Tea Bagger (sexy!) oops I mean, a Tea Partier. I think it's great that Moe is finally generating the press she deserves! Nothing wrong with using kooky political beliefs in the service of self-promotion. And like Johnny Ramone said, "Punk is rightwing" and "Reagan is the best president!!!" Er, I mean, wait, Johnny Ramone was insane?

Anyway, I thought I'd just type up a few "Memories of Moe" for my own amusement. For those who don't know, she played drums and produced my 1999 album "The Lives of Charles Douglas" (recently reissued by Broken Horse Records UK)

Moe Tucker was really cool, and incredibly great to work with. But she was definitely eccentric. Here's some of the stuff that sticks in my mind the most:

1. Moe hated hippies with a passion. When a guest musician/engineer (Kurt Ralske from Ultra Vivid Scene) raved about a 60's hippie band called The Music Machine that he loved, Moe barked at him, "That's the kind of hippie shit that kept the Velvets off the radio!" She got really upset about it until Kurt had to back down and finally admit that The Music Machine sucked compared to the Velvet Underground.

2. Moe only ate "American food," which she announced within the first half hour of meeting her. I initially thought she was kidding, until I realized she was serious. If it wasn't American then she wasn't going to be eating it. I tried to get her to go to an Indian restaurant, but I lost that battle pretty fast! After that, we just took her to a deli every day. I always thought her choice in food was a gastronomical issue, but now I realize maybe it was a political one!

3. Moe didn't take crap from anyone. Although she was really nice and incredibly cool to the (surprisingly large) number of New Yorkers who recognized her, she definitely had a no-BS persona. She insisted on lugging her own gear aka her drum kit. No mean feat for a (then) late-50's woman who stands about 5 feet tall. She was hardcore.

4. Moe chain-smoked at least 3-4 packs of cigarettes a day. She often smoked while she played. The whole studio was filled with smoke. Once, partway through recording a drum track she inexplicably strolled out of the studio. We were like, "Where did she go? Did we piss her off or something?" No, she'd just run out of smokes and had gone downstairs to buy some.

5. Moe told me she used to mock and laugh at Andy Warhol and say his paintings weren't really art. She said he thought it was funny and that he always agreed with her and admitted he didn't think his own paintings were that great either! She also said there were paintings laying around everywhere and at times he couldn't even give them away as gifts. Everyone who knew him was sick of his paintings. I don't think Moe dug modern art at all. She totally got it, she just didn't like it and thought it was pretentious.

6. Moe had worked in a Wal-Mart distribution center (an office job basically) and not actually on the floor of a Wal-Mart. Still, she definitely thought the job sucked and was bummed out that her contribution to the Velvets (which was appreciated by the fans) was less appreciated by some of her bandmates (mainly John Cale). She was still good friends with Lou Reed.

7. Moe really didn't give a crap what anyone thought of her. She pretty much spoke her mind, and was always honest (not in a mean way, just in a really direct way, but sometimes people found that jarring). When the topic came to politics, even back then, Moe was bummed out about the way the country had turned out. She (correctly) thought most mainstream music and culture was total garbage. She also thought that America should focus more on itself and fix its own problems (education, urban decay, etc) rather than meddling in international affairs. It doesn't surprise me that she would vocally support whatever cause she believes in, whether that cause is crazy and unpopular or not. She definitely struck me back then as right-leaning. She was definitely not a fan of "big government," or being told what to do, etc.

8. Moe's life in the south is very far-removed from her days in the Velvets. She has a bunch of grown kids, many of whom play in local southern rock bands. She likes the country life. Kind of keeps to a circle of friends. She's like the indie rock Harper Lee! She still plays drums. Every year she sends me and a bunch of other people a nice Christmas card.

9. I really doubt that Moe takes politics too seriously. I think mainly what happened is that she's mad about the economy (she got a raw deal when it came to money and the VU) and probably has too much time on her hands. I don't know why exactly she's mixed up in the Tea Party, but it's probably (hopefully?) just a fad for her. A year from now, she'll probably be shaking her head and saying "Man, the tea party turned out to suck and be filled with losers, etc." Or maybe not!

Anyway, I think Moe should run as a Tea Party candidate! President Moe Tucker in 2012! (okay, not really).

(Zabriskie Point Studios, NYC, 1997, during the recording of "The Lives")

Thursday, September 23, 2010



Yeah, check out that photo of me to the left. Nice! "Take that man back to the mental hospital, stat!" Haha! Okay, so I better write something here every now and again or else I can't really claim to be keeping a blog. I guess I'll just ramble for a bit. So like I talk about in the liner notes of the reissue, the best story Moe Tucker told me during the recording of The Lives of Charles Douglas was how she knew Phil Spector in the 60's. She said that one day she congratulated him on how awesome "River Deep, Mountain High" sounded (which is indeed an awesome song, although famously it was not a hit in the US), and in response he suddenly screamed at her, "Then why didn't you buy the product?!?!?!" Moe was understandably horrified/scared/amused by his apparent bitterness. But I always thought that story was hilarious. So yeah, whenever I sit and reminisce about the good ol' days (which is rarely because they were so traumatic and awful, haha!) Phil Spector's quote comes to mind. But unlike Phil Spector, even though I'm definitely bitter and crazy, I've decided not to live in a huge mansion, get shitfaced every day on drugs and booze, and shoot people in the head! (it was a tough decision, though. I guess maybe if I had his millions I might have given it a try? But still, murdering people and running around a mansion all day sounds like a lot of work. It's entirely possible I'm just too lazy to be as insane as I want to be.)

Anyway, in terms of "River Deep, Mountain High," I understand where Phil was coming from! I mean, that's probably one of his greatest productions. It's totally huge and demented, and the work of a genius. But no one in America dug it at the time (because most people are stupid and have horrible taste in music, haha). But yeah, Phil asked a good question: WHY DIDN'T THEY BUY THE PRODUCT?!?!?! If they had, maybe he wouldn't have been forced to go crazy and kill that chick and do drugs! The public is at fault, you see. Not Phil Spector! ahahahahahaha! I wonder if people realize how much of an influence Phil was on the VU. I can hear him in there especially on the first VU album, from Moe's drums, to the production, to all the other cool, crazy shit that Lou and John and Sterling put in there. Lou Reed is a genius, right? I've only heard a handful of records that are as good as "The Velvet Underground & Nico" (and then on top of that, think of how many other great songs he wrote). But as an obsessive teenager, I realized that Moe's drums were definitely the secret weapon of the VU. Lou even realized that too, I think (which is why she plays on some songs on his boring 80's comeback album, "New York").

So yeah, what even are my fave albums? Might as well list a few... I guess The VU & Nico, Surfer Rosa, White Album, Computer World (gotta have some Kraftwerk in there), Dirty Mind, i mean really, anything between 1978 and 1988 by Prince is great.... Oh yeah, and there's so many great David Bowie, Rolling Stones, Nick Drake, Miles Davis, and Neil Young albums too... What about the obscure stuff, you ask? well, i guess it's not too obscure, but i really dig stuff like Beat Happening, Pastels, Unrest, Big Moe/DJ Screw ("City of Syrup" yeaaaah!), those Song Poem comps, my friend Manish Kalvakota's odd solo albums, i dunno, there's tons of great stuff out there... What new stuff do i dig? i guess typical annoying hipster stuff, like Dirty Projectors, etc. Oh yeah, I really love a band from Chapel Hill, NC called "The Strugglers" which is just the life's work on one dude named Brice Randall Bickford (great name--he should just record under that). Here's an as-yet-unreleased track of his called "On the Caesura of Paying Attention." If you're high and listen to the song like 26 times in a row, you'll start to understand that it's an amazing, complex work of genius (seriously). give it enough time, and his stuff will really grow on you. Of course the band is completely unknown, but that's because they're good, haha. Maybe a decade from now, people will be like, "Oh yeah, that Brice Randall Bickford dude is a great songwriter." But of course he has to find a way to fill the next ten years! Just don't go crazy, haha!

So how did I get Moe Tucker to agree to play drums on The Lives of Charles Douglas? people always wonder that. Well, she agreed to produce the record, and then when she showed up at the studio, there was no drummer. This was because we were all so high, we'd decided to use a drum machine (in emulation of Big Black, and all these cheesy disco records we were into at the time). But no one had actually brought the drum machine (or programmed it--i'm not sure we even owned one that worked reliably). So there was no one to play drums. So we just looked at Moe and I said, literally, "Oh, I guess we don't have a drummer. WTF should we do? This sucks. Would you like to play?" haha! And this was after she'd taken a 2+ day train ride from Georgia to NYC, etc. I'm sure she was really puzzled and confused (we had like 4 guitarists there and no drummer!) but of course being the sweet person that she is, she was like (after a few moments of internal deliberation) "Sure!" And then everything fell into place, because she is, truly, one of the greatest drummers of all time. I knew that with her on drums, we'd make a great album (or at least I hoped that we would--I was probably so drunk and high, I don't even know what I was really thinking. I remember one night telling Kurt Ralske who engineered and played on it, that I had seen a dog in the hallway, and the dog was freaking me out by its barking, etc. Kurt explained there was no dog--I was hallucinating. Haha!!! He had to take me into the hall and talk me down. I'm sure Kurt was overjoyed to have a bunch of crazies in his studio, but he handled it all with aplomb. Apparently we were saner than the previous bands he'd just recorded there--Laguna Meth, whose singer supposedly stripped and cupped his balls whenever he sang--and Adam Schlesinger's band Ivy, who drove Kurt crazy with their relentless, diva-like demands).

The craziest thing is that The Lives of Charles Douglas actually sold pretty well at first when it got released! But then the distributor/manufacturer (that would be Caroline Records, owned by Virgin Records, those bastards) didn't press any copies beyond the initial pressing. So the few thousand copies they pressed got snapped up pretty fast, and then it was over. Just like that! I learned no more copies equals no more sales. Pretty harsh! I guess it just wasn't worth it to them to press more, and the record stores that had ordered a couple copies (and presumably sold them) had made out ok, so without any sort of promotional push, no one was interested in doing anything else. I felt pretty let-down by everyone. I'd never even got paid a single penny (my promised "advance" never materialized, naturally). Even BMI screwed up the meager royalty amount I should have got for writing the songs (which was like, quite literally, eleven dollars, haha!). So really, I never got a single penny from it. The record never got released anywhere except for the US, so it didn't have a chance to get heard in the UK or Australia or Japan, etc. I was a failure, just like all the bands and artists I grew up loving. I supposed I shouldn't have been surprised! and in fairness, the A&R people behind the record at Elektra and No.6/Caroline, Terry and Bobby, both did their best, but they were both dealing with various issues of their own and would soon leave the music biz.

And at the time, US college radio was playing abysmal indie techno and hip hop music (remember when Matador Records tried to be an electronic label and then signed a bunch of unlistenable hip hop acts? I'm sure they try to forget that period in their history, but I remember it ALL TOO WELL!!! Gerard must have been smoking some serious crack for a couple years there. (Hi Gerard, I still love you, haha! don't be mad at me) But yeah, take a look at what was popular in the indie scene in '99 in the US and you'll see some pretty funny stuff (mostly garbage like Sixpence None the Richer, Squarepusher, etc, and again a bunch of bad faux electronica courtesy of Matador).

The reviews for The Lives were great. Pretty much everyone who heard it and liked indie rock music dug it. But no one (in those pre-YouTube/iTunes days) could hear it. I mean, I think Napster was around, but things were really primitive back then. It was possible to find/spread certain things online back in '99, but people were still buying most of their music on CDs and vinyl, etc.

Oh yeah, and then Christgau reviewed The Lives for The Village Voice but wrote something really abstract like, "Into the indie-rock mother drone we go, with mama Moe Tucker at the helm!" Which sounds cool, until you're like, WTF does that even mean?! And the record isn't drone-y at all! Like, Spacemen 3 are drone-y. Galaxie 500 are droney. (both in a good way). But my record sounds like The Ramones!!! It's the opposite of droney. It's just a bunch of raw rock songs. How is that droney, Christgau??? But I was happy at least he listened to it. Back then he was like the big NYC rock critic, so people said it mattered. But most of what people say is either incorrect or annoying, so who cares anyway.

So by the end of the 90's, I'd gotten myself into a big mess. What to do? i'd made a record I thought was great, but the world didn't notice it. I was headed straight for the gutter (indeed, directly after recording it, I spent some time sleeping on the floor of Penn Station). But of course the gutter can be a fun place to be. No one has much expectations for you anymore when you've hit that point! So then you can kind of step back and figure out what to do with your life, because no one's around to care or nag or point fingers, haha! But it's a long way back...