Thursday, November 5, 2009

IAN NAGOSKI: Exciting Monkey Times!

Ian Nagoski & daughter June

Record collector Ian Nagoski has been many things: experimental musician, vocalist, trader, journalist, cabbie, and part of the brains behind the first years of True Vine Records in Baltimore. These days, Ian's time is given over to his beloved 78s; collecting slabs of the fragile format, trading with other enthusiasts, and sharing his knowledge of the music's histories at occasional listening parties. After the success of The Black Mirror, Ian's extraordinary and thorough compilation of global music on 78s, he formed Canary Records. He remains a font of enthusiasm for the world of endangered song, deeply committed to the genuine experience of music.

What do you do? What are you doing the most lately?
Dream into sound... Hustle sides...Like a lot of artists and many other people, I'm trying to re-balance a world out of balance. There are mistakes to rectify and lies to be replaced with truth. I'm one of those who sees their purpose in working from deeply held beliefs toward adjusting the course of things. For me, it's music and the ideas and stories that surround it and the qualities of the pleasures it can give, particularly the pleasures of the operation of memory, that keep engaging me. Lately, over the past couple years in particular, I've been learning the stories and musics of good musicians, long dead, to answer questions about the recent cultural problems of group relationships in the U.S. - the problems of "us-and-them." I'm trying to create feelings of compassion and wonder by presenting old recordings and suggest irreducibility of human dignity through the meaning of the brief lives of the performers - heartening evidence of universal human genius and a question about where feelings come from. What are they? Shortly, there will be another expression of my own sound to finish, but those things take a long time for me.

How long have you done these things?
I liked studying and listening to music since I was a little kid, and somehow I was identified socially pretty early for my passion for it - certainly by 11 or 12. Through my 10s and 20s, I mostly worked on my own music, wanting to be given appreciation and understanding for it. Even through that time, I gathered stories, wanting to be educated, and celebrated people who I thought ought to celebrated.

Why do you do them? How does it make you feel?
It makes me feel a little less like a pair of eyeballs floating in space.

When was That Moment in your life that told you you would become what
you are? What happened?
There are many, but the first one that jumps to mind: I remember watching the film of the Coltrane quintet with Dolphy in Europe in '61 when I was in my late 10s, sitting at a monitor in the library and thinking that I understood dignity and grace and honesty for the first time. "That's how a person should behave," I thought. It was as if they had invented themselves. It just seemed obvious that every person would want to play a sound that was like that, full of crying out and deeply intelligent, and make statements as bold as that.

How has your life changed or not changed to accommodate that moment's effect on you?
I've given myself over to those feelings and that image in my mind, totally.

How has your work affected your life in return?
It has given me purpose and comfort in the face of death. It has been a good way to open lines of communication with people. And it has opened me up to the world experientially and intellectually.

David Lee Roth?
= exciting monkey times!

Do you have anything you'd like to ask me?
Knowing that you're Lebanese, I've been meaning to ask you about your family history. You sister told me about your grandmother and her hand tattoo, which was wonderful to hear, although I didn't quite understand the story. But it made an impression. Can you tell me that story? Were you raised in the Eastern Church? Can you tell me about the Maronites? Were you exposed to music in Arabic in Massachusetts?
It was actually our grandmother's mother who had tattooed hands; according to Kadra family lore at the age of 15 she bore five children and when they all passed away she traveled to the Unites States and had five more. Our grandmother Julia was one of the last surviving members of this family; she herself passed away before I was able to get much out of her besides the above story. She was Catholic, and since the man she married was Catholic and Italian-Irish to boot, she went with him to his parish St Tarcisius in Framingham, Massachusetts. They are both interred in that church's yard. She never mentioned the Maronites, didn't speak any Arabic, listened to Nat King Cole and preferred the Pope above all. She did, however, tell our father that we're related to Kahlil Gibran, and as far as her cooking goes she made a mean kibbeh. Raw, with the fist print in it and everything.

Black Mirror/ Canary Records

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