Various Artists

Soundtrack to “The American Dreamer”

A soundtrack to a 1971 documentary centered around Dennis Hopper during the making of The Last Movie, a film whose title was almost a self-fulfilling prophecy regarding his career. The Last Movie was a project near and dear to Hopper’s heart and he bankrolled his success and notoriety from Easy Rider to get a million dollars in funding for a disjointed, and sometimes fascinating skewering of Westerns and Hollywood in general. Centered around Hopper’s role as Kansas, a stunt coordinator who quits the movie business after a tragic accident during a shoot in Peru and falls in love with the culture. Somehow, he gets roped into a bizarre scenario where lines between reality and fiction have blurred and he tries to navigate his way through a surreal situation where some Peruvians are shooting their own homage to the American Western, but the violence is very real and they are shooting the film with “cameras” made out of sticks. Needless to say, it’s reception upon release was hostile and it caused him to take a step back from the industry for years.

If that wasn’t enough, he was the centerpiece and subject of The Last American Dreamer, a documentary that captured him at his most delusional, addicted and hedonistic moments as he rambles about the nature of art, sex, filmmaking and politics. It’s an utterly fascinating portrait of a man walking on the edge of his own sanity while remaining lucid enough to remind you why there were aspects of brilliance about the man. However, the viewer must wade through clumsy hookups with groupies in bathtubs and an impromptu nudist strut through a Los Angeles suburb. I wouldn’t exactly recommend either movie, but they are interesting since you don’t really see stars toss fame aside in such a surreal fashion these days.

You wouldn’t expect such an introspective, lost and forlorn soundtrack to accompany such orchestrated chaos, but then again it is kind of the perfect canvas for a tale of a man clutching at the end of his rope. I am totally unfamiliar with any of the artists besides Gene Clark, but each and every song on here captures that existential hangover that occurred when the Woodstock era of peace and love began to decay and folks began to spiritually prioritize their lives when the party was over and the drugs and excess began to take its toll as it always does in any era. Each song is an examination of the collective psyche of the time and each artist sings a paean to the search for something to replace what was once fulfilling, but now seems increasingly empty. In that regard, it might be one of the most fitting soundtracks I’ve every heard.

Gene Clark kicks things off with “American Dreamer” and it echoes Hopper’s rejection of success and its trappings as he crafts a narrative of a man who once thought money would solve all his woes until he realizes dollar bills will never purchase true love or contentment in one’s soul. There’s something optimistic about how it lionizes the search for meaning, but utterly depressing in how it paints the American dream as a farce that has tainted an entire generation.

Hello People follow it up with “Pass Me By” which another soul crushing sentiment as they sing “Sitting on a high fence watching time pass me by, hoping for an answer before its time to die, which side is a side to bring a man a piece of mind, the longer I sit, the harder it is to find, Pass me by, this is my price to pay, so pass me by.” They go onto some convoluted, but sad metaphor where they compare life to a birthday cake where everyone just wants to stick their fingers in your icing and tear you down. It’s a pretty nihilistic song about desperate moments where life loses its luster and your foundation slowly crumbles in slow-motion.

John Buck Wilkin contributes “Screaming Metaphysical Blues”,  a somewhat schizophrenic song that starts out as a tribute to Dennis Hopper’s hoodwinking of Hollywood via their funding of The Last Movie and eventually devolves into an invitation to take his hand as we travel beyond space and time and espouses the ideology that we can only be free when we die and “reach the universal mind.” It’s a weird juxtaposition of sentiments, but I can only imagine that Hopper would approve of such a jumbled, but occasionally eloquent summation of the path to the afterlife.

If you heard only one track from this soundtrack, you would just pleasantly nod in appreciation of the mellow country/folk emanating from your speaker. Taken as a whole, it is a complex chorus of troubled voices trying to make sense of their individual ideologies as an era comes to close and the old comforts no longer alleviate your woes. It’s an album about the search for something meaningful when the lexicon has suddenly shifted and you have no way to make sense of it all when the highs no longer lift you off the ground and all that’s left is an endless low.


Magicistragic Mix for the Advent of Autumn

Time is tight here at my homestead, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a place for a serene soundtrack to make a moment feel like a mellow millennium. Yeah, fall seems a bit distant if you look at the calendar, but the temperature is dropping day by day and an orange tinge has tainted the trees in my neck of the woods if you look closely enough. Therefore, here is a haphazard collage of bruised and melancholy sounds to prepare you for your personal hibernation.

Julia Holter-Marienbad

The Magic Numbers-Mornings Eleven

Bridget St. John-Nice

Tony, Caro and John-The Snowden Song

Paul McCartney-Coming Up

Johnny Rivers-Midnight Special

Dadamah-Replicant Emotions

Bobby Jameson-Vietnam

The Ex-Caitkin

Wild Nothing-Nocturne

Here We Go Magic-Alone, but Moving

Pond-Sorry I Was Under the Sky

Leo Kottke-Vaseline Machine Gun

Goldfrapp-Eat Yourself

King Dude-Lucifer’s The Light of the World


Lemma Demissew-Lezelalem Nuri

Epic Soundtracks-She Sleeps Alone/Love Fucks You Up

Hoapili-Home Grown, Hawaii’s Own

The Lilys-Kodiak (Reprise)

Royal Trux-Stop


Ali Farka Toure-Ni Foli

September 8, 2012

Ali Farka Toure

Ni Foli (Self-released cassette in 1984/reissued on vinyl by Social Music)

This is one of the more surprising revelations I’ve come across in recent memory. I’ve loved Ali Farka Toure for years, but my gateway to his universe came through his collaborations with Ry Cooder, Taj Mahal and Toumani Diabate which kind of envisioned a universe where John Lee Hooker was classically trained and born in Mali. All of his work throughout the late 80s until his death in 2006 center around Toure’s delicate and elegant guitar work that paints an intricate landscape for his bluesy and rhythmic intonations as he sings along to what has been described by others as the “sahara blues.” Now, all of these albums are pretty stellar and not a stinker is to be found in the bunch, but the calm, cool and collected nature of this long string of albums did not prepare me for the raw and raunchy guitar riffs of Ni Foli where Toure’s playing aims for a union of dissonant psychedelic rock, funk, blues and traditional Malian music that is downright mindblowing and life-affirming.

Originally released on a cassette in 1984, Ni Foli was a forgotten footnote until it was recently reissued on limited edition vinyl by the Social Music label this year. Sadly, it is already out of print, which is a shame since it is one of those rare albums that emanate this powerful vibe that is entirely unique to that moment in which it was recorded. You shake the hamster cage in your mind for something else that could possibly compare and you are left scratching your head because there are none because Ni Foli is entirely its own self-contained musical universe that no one ever quite matched or copied because it has that ineffable magic that makes all of your favorite albums so special. I swear there are moments on Ni Foli’s second track “Hondia” that kind of remind me of a Velvet Undergound bootleg of their jammiest, most serpentine moments transported to Mali as Toure just flails away on his guitar and plays one of those riffs that are so goddamn raw and righteous that you wish it would kind of go on forever because it constantly finds a new psychedelic pathway to travel. It is a ramshackle, shambling beast that maintains a graceful aura due to Toure’s ability to rein in the fury and keep his band locked in a sloppily hypnotic groove. Plus, you got to love the flute soloing on this kind of kicks as much ass as Toure’s guitar playing on this one.

Although “Hondia” is the showstopper here, the opening track “Farri” is equally potent, albeit more dissonant and abstract as it seemingly emanates from some alien universe that I would love to travel to immediately. The percussion is spot-0n perfect for this track as it sounds so goddamned stoned as it percolates and stutters in unison with Toure as he slowly unreels an epic solo where the notes all kind of smear into one another, yet maintain some earthly connection with what passes for blues and funk on our planet. In between these long bouts of instrumental perfection, Toure’s vocals almost serve as another percussive element as he always makes sure that his intonations jive with the rhythms laid down by the band.

I wish it was possible to sit down with Ali Farka Toure and discuss how he made the leap from the sloppy and psychedelic African blues of Ni Foli to the pristine and proper terrain he later mastered. I love both phases, but Ni Foli is on a wavelength few ever tapped into during their musical careers and I pray that I discover more who fly the same freak flag before I die because I wish this album lasted for days upon days.


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