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House of Tudor 

Love on the rails, adolescent surrealism, and the resurrection of the original Joe Jackson Band

Wednesday, Mar 19 2003
Like the Rom, most train-hoppers view the past as a bucket of ashes, open to the whim of interpretation and the coercion of need. While the world's greatest spin doctors (journalists and politicians, for example) are reluctant to admit it, gypsies of all kinds know that history is mutable, facts are malleable, and a good story often serves better than truth, so it's little wonder they are wary of outside analysis. Best to leave one's stories to one's own. Thankfully, the line between family and interloper is sometimes blurred, and a testimony survives that is both love song and indictment, a reflection that's as objective as is humanly possible. Such is the case with the feature-length documentary Long Gone. Created by freelance news photographer Jack Cahill and former Ringling Bros. advance man and 12-year veteran train-hopper David Eberhardt, Long Gone is the result of an eight-year-long collaboration on the rails that didn't begin as such. For a long while, the two men -- both recipients of grants for their subjective photography of tramps -- considered themselves rivals, even going so far as to leave scathing messages for one another under bridges, until the hobos themselves called a meeting and brokered a union. The outgrowth is certainly greater than the sum of its parts. Whether a result of luck or miles logged, Long Gone captures the wonder and wither of love through three principal relationships: that of Jessie, a middle-class teenager from a loving home, who takes a break from college to follow her boyfriend Stonie down the tracks to heroin addiction; Dog Man Tony, the notorious hobo falsely accused of murder on America's Most Wanted, who's lured away from the trains for a time by his beautiful young wife and child; and Joshua Long Gone, who seems to die of a broken heart after watching his longtime companion and road dog, Horizontal John, expire. While it's clearly the intention of the directors to capture the warmth, love, injustice, and inadvertent poetry they experienced within these self-realized railroad families, they do not shy away from the violence, drunkenness, and general brutality of life among those who can't stop moving because they don't fit in. The result is a narrative in which no one plays god or devil, and real lives become better than fiction. Long Gone screens on Wednesday, March 19, at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (701 Mission at Third Street) at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $7; call 978-2787.

I count, among my favorite contemporary artists, a Czech violinist/vocalist named Iva Bittova. She plays a violin that trembles on the wings of the classical canon and teases the avant-garde, while her voice bounds through a visceral world of childlike surrealism filled with capricious chirps, golden trills, ferreted whispers, shuffling moans, and fiendish growls that turn dark poetry into dreamtime flotsam. Dare I say: Armenian vocalist Lilit Pipoyan caries that voice into the blushing light of adolescence. Like an ingénue presented to society with the shadows and marvels of childhood still clinging to her skirt, Pipoyan's voice is sweet, pure, and elegant, tinged only slightly by the mythic sorrows and fading secrets of youth. The material, like her voice, hints at the midnight nursery rhyme in Bittova's territory, but follows the dark garden path toward coquettish love songs and wistful daydream laments, to great effect.

Like Bittova, Pipoyan was born to an artistic family and studied music from an early age, only to abandon her passion and discover it again many years later. Both women construct very modern compositions seasoned by the very old musical traditions of Eastern Europe, but Pipoyan would probably be welcome in a greater number of homes, and with some reason. Her songs are staggeringly beautiful and surprisingly accessible. Lilit Pipoyan performs on Saturday, March 22, at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts at 8 p.m. Tickets are $30-50; call 978-2787.

When Look Sharp! came out in 1979, I was 8 years old, but my father and I were in unequivocal agreement: Joe Jackson was never to come off the turntable -- ever. We bounced around to the "Instant Mash," squalling the lyrics to "Fools in Love" and looking forward to hearing "Sunday Papers" just "One More Time." I was deeply envious of my father's ability to wear pointy shoes and leather ties just like Jackson, and I thought our musical paths would never diverge. Luckily for the Tudor clan, the Man is back and a junction is at hand. Called Volume 4, the new album is indeed the fourth recorded by the original Joe Jackson Band, but despite a two-decade gap between recordings, it is the heir apparent. Recorded in 10 days without computer enabling -- similar conditions to those on Look Sharp! -- Volume 4 is rife with the same caffeinated piano, jangly guitars, and jagged humor. Between ballads about lost love and never-acquired sex, Jackson rants and roils about underage beauties, one-night stands, and white-boy thugz on the bus -- topics that slightly date new wave's perennial crotchety old man -- while the music remains firmly locked in the basement of someone's vacationing parents. If the bonus live CD is any indication, the reunited group sounds like a bunch of spastic, giddy kids with 20-plus years of touring under their belts. I guess youth isn't always wasted on the young. The Joe Jackson Band performs on Monday, March 24, at the Fillmore with Mary Lee's Corvette opening at 8 p.m. Tickets are $32.50; call 346-6000.

About The Author

Silke Tudor


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