STOOGE YOUR ENTHUSIASM (17)

By: Marc Weidenbaum
November 19, 2023

One in a series of 25 enthusiastic posts, contributed by 25 HILOBROW friends and regulars, on the topic of proto-punk records from the Sixties (1964–1973, in our periodization schema). Series edited by Josh Glenn. Also check out our proto-punk playlist (a work in progress) at Spotify.

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ORNETTE COLEMAN | “WE NOW INTERRUPT FOR A COMMERCIAL” | 1968

There are various milestones in the early discography of the late Texan saxophonist Ornette Coleman where you can hear him pushing firmly back at jazz convention and using the resulting elastic tension to propel himself toward something bold, something new, and, to borrow the title of his debut album as a band leader, Something Else!!!! (1958). His was, from the start, a perpetual outward-bound event horizon deserving of no fewer than four exclamation points. You can recognize in these discordant instances a precognition of the more difficult and intractable approach Coleman would eventually become synonymous with: cacophonous, angular, vivacious — which is to say: punk.

A key such moment arrived a decade after Something Else!!!! at the very end of New York Is Now! (1968), the second of three studio albums Coleman recorded for the Blue Note record label. The track is “We Now Interrupt for a Commercial,” on which Coleman temporarily dispenses with his saxophone in favor of a raucously bowed violin, not so much soaring above as sawing through the supporting trio. His crew on the record consists of drummer Elvin Jones, who barely leaves slivers of rest between beats, fellow saxophonist Dewey Redman, tracing rapid arcs of ecstatic freedom, and bassist Jimmy Garrison, whose pulses are all but lost in the hectic mix. Technically Garrison gets the last word in the form of a dazed thrum, but it feels as if the sound is simply his instrument resonating from the instrumental chaos that suddenly ceased all at once.

“We Now Interrupt for a Commercial” is not even three and a half minutes long, minuscule by genre standards of the day. In that time it is interrupted thrice. First, just shy of a minute in, comes the title of the track, spoken sweetly by Coleman. The brevity of what preceded it, culminating with an on-the-dime pause, brings to mind the later micro-compositions of the Minutemen and of John Zorn’s Naked City. The band dives back in, and almost a minute along, a second interruption comes by way of an apology: “Sorry, this product cannot be seen,” emphasis oddly on the “not.” And then just under a minute further still comes the final break: “This commercial is brought to you by…” — with the final word repeated a couple times. The sentence never finishes, as it is swallowed by more merry noise-making. The conceit has been reversed: now it is free jazz that sponsors the commercial, rather than the other way around. Jazz in the late 1960s was starting to flirt with heavy metal, prog rock, and new age, but this piece — the frenzy, the anti-consumerism, the snarky humor — is proto-punk every which way.

New York Is Now! was the final of four studio albums to which Coleman appended exclamation points, the others being his sophomore Tomorrow Is the Question! (1959) and the otherwise self-titled Ornette! (1961). One might argue that “We Now Interrupt for a Commercial” is, coming at the record’s end, itself a mark of exclamation: singular, feisty, attention-demanding. Coleman had made his point, and from here on no such punctuation would be necessary.

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STOOGE YOUR ENTHUSIASM: INTRODUCTION by Josh Glenn | Mandy Keifetz on The Trashmen’s SURFIN’ BIRD | Nicholas Rombes on Yoko Ono’s MOVE ON FAST | David Cantwell on ? and the Mysterians’ 96 TEARS | James Parker on The Modern Lovers’ SHE CRACKED | Lynn Peril on The Pleasure Seekers’ WHAT A WAY TO DIE | Lucy Sante on The Count Five’s PSYCHOTIC REACTION | Jonathan Lethem on The Monkees’ YOUR AUNTIE GRIZELDA | Adam McGovern on ELP’s BRAIN SALAD SURGERY | Mimi Lipson on The Shaggs’ MY PAL FOOT FOOT | Eric Weisbard on Frances Faye’s FRANCES AND HER FRIENDS | Annie Zaleski on Suzi Quatro’s CAN THE CAN | Carl Wilson on The Ugly Ducklings’ NOTHIN’ | Josh Glenn on Gillian Hill’s TUT, TUT, TUT, TUT… | Mike Watt on The Stooges’ SHAKE APPEAL | Peter Doyle on The Underdogs’ SITTING IN THE RAIN | Stephanie Burt on Pauline Oliveros’s III | Marc Weidenbaum on Ornette Coleman’s WE NOW INTERRUPT FOR A COMMERCIAL | Anthony Miller on Eno’s NEEDLES IN THE CAMEL’S EYE | Gordon Dahlquist on The Sonics’ STRYCHNINE | David Smay on The New York Dolls’ HUMAN BEING | Michael Grasso on the 13th Floor Elevators’ YOU’RE GONNA MISS ME | Holly Interlandi on Death’s ROCK’N’ROLL VICTIM | Elina Shatkin on Bobby Fuller’s I FOUGHT THE LAW | Brian Berger on The Mothers of Invention’s WHO ARE THE BRAIN POLICE? | Peggy Nelson on The Kingsmen’s LOUIE LOUIE.

MORE ENTHUSIASM at HILOBROW

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Categories

Enthusiasms, Pop Music, Punk