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an interview with LD Beghtol by Matt Dornan / pictures by Jorge Colombo
I'm awaiting the online arrival of LD Beghtol, guiding light of New York collective Flare, on the eve of the release of long-awaited album, 'Hung'. With keyboardist and co-producer Charles Newman alongside, LD (and a cast of nineteen) has fashioned a compelling and original album that draws from his diverse interests and obsessions, the result an anomalous amalgam of twisted love songs and piercing social commentary with a mischievously malevolent heart.
Drawing musical inspiration from a well of expected pioneers (Beatles, Beach Boys, Love) and less predictable sources (Philip Glass, Kronos Quartet, classical music innovator Charles Ives), and literary stimulus from Terry Andrews' 'The Story of Harold', Edgar Allen Poe and Rainer Maria Rilke among others, 'Hung' is, in its creator's own words - "all pretty psychedelic," a place where "mutating structures, false endings, loops, weird instrumentation and random noises" find their place amidst "pretty pop melodies and layered harmonies."
Besides his extracurricular musical excursions [as co-leader of The Moth Wranglers, and as a member of The Magnetic Fields and offshoot The Three Terrors - with Stephin Merritt and Dudley Klute], the prolific Beghtol writes for the likes of Rockpile and Time Out New York.
A message appears in the corner of the screen: "What's up, pumpkin?" Oh, hi LD. I just got home from a few hours out of the house - been cooped up here too long. So, checking email, eating, drinking iced tea, listening to excrutiatingly bad British 'country' music. You?
Housesitting for my pal Chuck who's in London attending his boyfriend's sister's wedding. So I've been watching 'Murder She Wrote' and cuddling with his Bichon Frise. The high life, for sure. Indeed, it's all go in NYC.
Well, otherwise my life is very, very dull, I think. I mean it would be to other people, I suspect. "You monsters have such interesting lives..." - my favourite Bugs Bunny quote.Monsters?
Yeah, it's a great scene with Bugs in drag, giving some random monster a manicure - and Bugs looks and talks like the gossipy manicurist from 'The Women.' I always say that to Stephin [Merritt] when he starts complaining about his life.Onto matters music then, perhaps literary. The book 'Wound Culture' by Aidan Baker is among your online 'suggested reading list', and you have a similarly titled song on the new album.
I was fascinated by the book because it has an interesting notion about replication of experiences. About how serial killers repeat their actions over and over trying to get the experience 'right'. That's so modern to me - like Warhol, or the Brill Building songwriters perfecting the formula for the perfect pop song. Assembly-line Fords, silkscreens, corpses... You told me that the new album has "a focus on metal textures and sounds, though it's all very warm and organic and a bit primitive in a way." Would it be fair to say you're intrigued and inspired by conflicting elements in song, both lyrically and musically?
Yes, of course. Conflicts and digressions from the norm are very important to me: setting up and confounding expectations, making interesting diversions from the norm, creating something new and different from the usual elements... Rote art-making isn't so interesting after a while, 'til you come through the other side of it. Anyone can write a good pop song or a romance novel or whatever. There are formulas for all that. But ideally you throw a spanner in the works and it mutates somehow and is more interesting. The role of the artist in any media is to find something different to show the world. Learn the rules before you bend them.
Or totally ignore them from the get-go. But I'm too well-read to pretend ignorance of all that stuff, so with anything it's always been a case of study up, muck around with it and then do some damage control before anyone sees/hears/reads whatever you've done. It's like Stephin confining himself to the 1-4-5 loop songs - if you hobble yourself in some way, thereby decreasing your choices, it make you work harder at making it all interesting with a great melody, lyrics, or whatever. I'm a big fan of that - same as only designing in black and white or limiting yourself to one typeface.Designing in black and white I'm very used to, somewhat determined by the financial mess that CwaS permanently resides in.
Well, yeah - you choose your battles. I'm so hugely in debt right now, but I don't know what to do. I mean other than make music twelve people like and design magazines, I don't really have any other skills. And yet, with the music, I feel like I've made the world a slightly less dreadful place for those people - and that's something. So, like your lovely magazine, we have to think it has some validity, though it seems not so good at putting bread in the bread boxThat's precisely the motivation, abetted by the encouragement I receive from readers... except when the alt.country die-hards moan about an 'experimental' track on the covermount...
As you know, I like my classicism totally defiled by experimentation and such. Perfection and purity are so tiresome. Tell those die-hards to get lost. Is Flare Americana? I think Moth Wranglers is, but I don't think Flare is so much, even at our most rustic.Not in my book, which is why I'm pleased you're in there to balance out the high 'alt' content of this issue... Buckner, Richmond Fontaine, Handsome Family, Radiogram, etc.
Love the Handsome Family, I'd adore doing an album with them.I can hear you on a Handsome Family record...
They're very sweet, and I adore his voice. She's such a kook. And I have a huge crush on Brett.Really? Is he your 'type' or is that an insulting generalisation?
Well, I like nerdy guys with glasses and weird facial hair - and his voice is very dreamy and sexy. So, yeah - he's pretty much my type!My girlfriend has a weird thing about facial hair... your picture didn't quite fit with her more 'delicate' mental image.
Did she think I was really young, delicate and ethereal? I love it when people think that then sort of get sick when they see me in real life. I agree with Joe Orton that artists are not delicate creatures, by nature. Morris looked like a fucking Viking, and yet he wrote some of the most beautiful, intense poetry of his era, designed the most gorgeous wallpaper and fabrics and, even better, taught his wife how to embroider. That's so sexy. I think by now it's probably common knowledge that my idea of a hot date would be William Morris in about 1870. What are you reading at the moment?
Just finished a Ruth Rendall mystery; 'Anna's Book', about a murder and kidnapping from 1905 revealed in a Danish woman's diary of the period that, in 1988, became a literary sensation. It's really smart, intense and full of interesting stuff about London in 1905 and the late '80s, and the publishing world, too. And I've also just finished the Mitford sisters bio, which is heavenly, and a nice bio of Whistler, and 'Justice' by Dominic Dunne - all about the Menendez brothers, OJ Simpson and such... LA crime in the '90s... That sounds like it could provide an educated alternative to the usual crime stuff. Not just a catalogue of atrocities, but some insight...
Oh, sure - and it has that nifty society slant like Truman Capote, since Dunne knows everyone, and is very well connected in LA circles. The first chapter is his piece about the travesty of a trial of the man who killed Dunne's daughter. Sounds like source material for an Ellroy novel. We love that James Ellroy - he looks like a sexy, dirty-minded Teddy Roosevelt.I used to find Ellroy books too daunting, always huge and complex. Finally took the plunge at the behest of fellow scribe, Stav. Started with 'The Big Nowhere', and haven't looked back.
I've only read 'Black Dahlia' and 'American Tabloid' by Ellroy. He has such style, and no sentimentality. Do you get obsessive about writers?
I don't think I'm obsessive so much as thorough - if I really like a writer, then I usually try to read whatever is available. Even with writers I like, like Martin Amis or Will Self, or Margeurite Duras, there's so much of their work I don't like at all. I've read all the Will Self, which don't you like?
'Great Apes', and one of the others. I adored 'Cock & Bull' and especially the short stories and the very great 'How the Dead Live' - that got me through the weeks following September 11th. I remember 'Great Apes' didn't stay with me in the way that 'My Idea of Fun' did. Has Denis Johnson impressed? Don't know him at all - booklist, please! 'My Idea of Fun' is glorious. As cheerfully sinister a Dennis Cooper, who I adore.Johnson was recommended to me by Chan Marshall and I've read the lot... 'Already Dead' is 'the one' but I really loved 'Resuscitation of a Hanged Man' and 'Jesus' Son' which survived a movie adaptation very well. Those I'd recommend no question, along with anything by Paul Auster or Douglas Coupland. Thom Jones for short stories, Carver likewise. For sleazy crime Joe R Lansdale and Andrew Vachss.
Andrew Vachss! What are you - a fourteen-year-old girl?! Ditto Douglas Coupland - I only really liked 'Shampoo Planet'. Ha! I did say 'sleazy'! I really enjoyed 'Life After God' and 'Miss Wyoming' by Coupland. How do you find the time to read so much?
Oh, I never sleep. And I'm a quick reader with high comprehension... and I almost never have romantic or sexual involvements anymore. So I guess I just keep busy. Obsessive, over-literate loner, I guess is the term.I'd guess that music is the ideal medium for you, a way to indulge your loves?
Well, yeah - better than making paintings or whatever. Since we can do it over and over again - wound culture?! - And hopefully get it right. Nice analogy, the serial songwriter. Is there a 'right'?
'Right' in the sense of satisfying for me. And for you, the listener - my 'victim.'So, how many versions of The Way We Live Now did you try before settling on the 'right' one?
Well, I took all the answering machine messages out, redid the vocals, added tons more backing vocals to make it a sing-along and basically made it more epic. It's perfectly lifelike - chat rooms, chance encounters, awful dating scenarios - but if all that had happened to me I'd never leave the house! Oh, wait - I almost never do leave...I'm looking at the coda lyrics now...
Oh, that's very silly - and inspired by Wire, obviously. Hope Colin doesn't sue me.But it's a nice snapshot of 'the way we live now'. It's like a modern day 'Subterranean Homesick Blues' - except everything's been compressed. Like modern life.
Oh, what a nice observation, thanks. Actually Jon deRosa and Catherine Lewis helped considerably with that. We were IM-ing back and forth one afternoon and they came up with all these interesting acronyms. Effexor is the anti-depressant Jon used to take. I actually hate acronyms, so it was fun to find that many silly ones to go along with the other three-syllable words and phrases. I was very proud of 'IBM fallacy.' As if technology really could save the day.Elavil, Retrovir?
Elavil is another antidepressant, very '60s. And Retrovir is one of the new Aids drugs people are eating like candy. They rushed it out a few years ago and since there's no long-term study, obviously, about what it might do to the folks who take it, things just might get really messy in a decade or so. Great... but I suppose the options are limited.
Well, they sort of work. But nobody knows for how long. And what the long-term side effects might be. It scares me that since these drugs sort of work, that people are letting themselves get Aids, thinking it's ok. Actually, Glitter is precisely about that. A pal of mine had repeated unsafe sex with his boyfriend, since they both were monogamous - but of course they really weren't, and my pal got it from his beau. Heartbreaking enough, of course, but that sort of credulity and stupidity is so demoralising. It's not like he was some dumb fuck from the country who didn't know better. This after having seen lots of friends die in the '80s. Very, very sad-making.Yet it's refreshing that they trusted each other, a quality sadly lacking in most people.
But there's the reason why. Such a shame. I could never be that trusting right now. Or that gullible. Good sense is ultimately more important [than trust], alas. Trusting someone doesn't really mean handing them a loaded gun with the safety off.A worrying 'ignore it and it'll go away' attitude towards Aids seems to have taken hold.
Yep, and a lot of the folks getting it really should know better. The whole barebacking thing disgusts me no end. People should of course be able to kill themselves however they choose. But to make it a political act or a literary/academic conceit is appalling. Disgusts you due to the irresponsibility? Within a truly monogamous relationship, I assume you're more lenient? Or am I being naive, as was your friend?
Well, define "truly". I think most people who make that commitment - one I very much believe in, for this and other reasons - mean well, but might slip up. And even if it's just once, then you have a potential problem. And I've seen it happen more than once. I'm not saying people are horrible, just that they're not infallible. I've never cheated on anyone I'd promised that I wouldn't. But I think people like me are the exception. And when the trust is violated, what do you have left?Doubt, suspicion... loss?
Or, rather: discussion, honesty, and precautions. If someone ever said to me now,"if you really trusted me, you'd..." I'd send them packing. Sorry for the digression, this is a bit heavy.Back to the record then. You have a new label...
All I've wanted for the last few years is to be on Le Grand Magistery - it's the right sort of weird but very loving home for us. Matt [Jacobson] only releases music he really loves and believes in so, even though we're nothing like any of his other bands, outwardly at least, it's really a perfect fit. Like if Factory has signed The Smiths, maybe? You were 'let go' from your full-time design job recently... anything on the horizon?
No, I am starving to death. A bit of freelance and a bit of writing, but mostly very dire poverty.I recognise those characteristics. What it is that keeps us going? From where do you derive your determination and resolve?
I've been very, very fortunate to meet people who have been helpful and supportive both personally and professionally, so I feel a certain commitment, or obligation, to folks to keep doing it, despite the fact that it's sort of killing me... I mean I've been poor before, but now I'm in my late thirties and poorer than I've even been.Like that Granfaloon Bus lyric I quoted in CWAS #9, "What matters is what matters doesn't pay the rent."
Precisely - it's because I really do enjoy this and find it infinitely more rewarding than most anything else I do. I was always the guy with a full-time job and "the other thing" - which was making art, curating shows, whatever. Now it's music. I've certainly made more from the Magnetic Fields than I ever have, or maybe will, from Flare. Of course, Stephin would never have know about me if I'd not had Flare. But maybe this record will get decent exposure and sell a bit. It's our best so far, I think.
CWAS #11 - Autumn 2002