Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Prague-Rock and the Giger Gang Rides Again

Poster for Gary Lucas - "The Golem" performance in Prague, 4/13/05 | poster photo by Arjen Veldt

Gary performs "The Golem" at opening of "HR Giger in Prague" retrospective, National Technical Museum, Prague, 4/13/05 | photo by David Julian

Click on an image to enlarge (images hosted by flickr)

So synchronistic... check my early November blogs relating how Swiss avant-guitar slinger Gerald Zbinden, whom I was visiting in preparation for recording a duo album, sheparded me from his chalet on a mountain near Geneva into the valley (ahoy! ahoy!) of neighboring Gruyere there to visit the creepy Goth mansion museum of monster magus HR Giger, said Usheresque digs housing the vast Giger art oeuvre, a sprawling collection of nightmarish bio-mechanoid alien lifeforms in paint and metal and wood where, after supping one's fill on fresh horrors from the skull of Giger one can nip next door to the Giger Bar for a spot 'o alright (tea in my case).

Fast forward then to NYC's euro-eccentric Gershwin Hotel a couple months later where I was improvising a live soundtrack to Paris-based ex-pat erotic photographer Roy Stuart's latest gaudy gallimaufry, a DVD that comes with his new Taschen coffee table-sized opus "The Fourth Body", featuring elegant unshaven French women cavorting wildly without their clothes on in naughty poses (my music is featured in that DVD by the way)...I start rapping after the show with this intense guy I've seen around NYC on the fringes of other gigs of mine name of Les Barany, a landsman, a mad Hungarian-American Jew who (blammo!) tells me he's HR Giger's business rep...and I eagerly relate my recent escapades in Giger-land, how Gerald Z secreted his camera into the Giger Museum where such activities are strictly verboten to snap the shots of me lounging in front of Giger's cyber-monstrosities which I posted back in November... one thing leads to another, and I am invited shortly thereafter by Les to Prague to perform my original solo guitar soundtrack (co-composed with my childhood friend Walter Horn) to accompany a screening of the 1920 The Golem silent film in honor of the opening of "HR Giger in Prague", a three month installation of the Swiss master's works at the National Technical Museum (turns out that the Golem, the Gustav Meyrink literary variant thereof, is one of Giger's favorite touchstones in his art and sculpture).

So there I am in magic Prague, just about my favorite city in the world, on very short notice last week as the booking literally came through at the last minute, and I am housed in the ultra-swanky Moevenpick Hotel with a tram car to take you up the side of a hill to your room, the whole process taking anywhere from 5 to 15 minutes each day...but what the hey...it was a cool refuge with a magnificent view of Prague, which was very much in Prague Spring mode, 60 some-odd degree sunny days every day of the week I was there. And the exhibition opening drew thousands, posters for Giger were all over the city, and my gig attracted a packed house in the museum's movie theater. MC for the night was quite coincidentally my old friend Halka Tresnakova, an actress/scenemaker/dancer/performance artist of "physical theater" I hadn't seen in years, who once upon a time was part of my act in Prague at the Zelesna Club off Prague's Old Town square; while I played appropriate ethereal guitar fantasias Halka would dangle over my head upside down suspended on a rope and stick out the longest tongue anyone had ever seen at the audience (this is how the NY Times described said appendage when she came to NYC a few years ago with her troupe and performed her infamous rope trick).

The crowd for The Golem was filled with other old friends like saxophonist Vrat Brabanec of the Plastic People (whom I have jammed with many times, you can hear some of our improvs on the Free Flying album), the brothers David and Andrej Nemec and their fantastic mom Dana (a Charter 77 martyr who was jailed twice with Havel before the Russians split from the CR), the Giger Gang posse, a coterie of rabid collectors of the work who journey all over the world to take in various Giger shows (previous one was in Paris last fall), and assorted strangers who came up to me after the gig...which went really really well, got a standing ovation and they were cheering loudly when the film ended...strangers who said stuff like "I saw you play in Oxford at the Jericho Tavern in 1991" and "I booked you playing The Golem in Innsbruck in 1999"...what a great feeling to get feedback like this, to have these kinds of reunions with total strangers who feel they know me because of attending live performances of mine wherever I've performed over the last 15 years or so when I started doing music fulltime for a living...I've performed in about 18 countries to date...there are pieces of me scattered all over the globe, traces of energies from such shows I've given that live on, and once in a while someone comes forward randomly to relate that yes they were on that particular night, yes they remember the gig well, yes they caught the vibe alright-- connecting the dots and re-illuminating peripatetic trails I've blazed in the past, zig zag wanderer that I am...and this a very very good feeling indeed, kind of makes the whole thing worthwhile.

For instance on this trip I ran into Bovi, the self-styled "Child of the Plastic People" who I performed with at the Kitchen here in 1989 at a tribute concert to the Plastics that impresario/producer (Yardbirds et al) Giorgio Gomelsky mounted, and I had last set eyes on Bovi at The Loft in Berlin in '91 where Bovi had traveled from Prague to see me play at the Berlin Independence Days festival. Since then I'd not encountered him, but in the sweaty basement of the Futurum Club in Prague the night before the Giger opening I ran into him for the first time in 14 years, and what a fantastic story he had to tell, since last we met he had gone to jail, found religion, was freed eventually, made a fortune (in real estate!), and was soon to move to the Phillipines...and to reconnect with Bovi if only for a moment was absolutey magical, the kind of mystical experience I have had repeatedly in this particular part of the world, some of which I will relate in a later entry...it always feels like homecoming to me to play there as my roots are literally Bohemian (my grand dad on my father's side was born there), my family name was originally Lichtenstein before some immigration functionary at Ellis Island deemed it too foreign sounding and changed it to Lucas, and when I once related this story on the Czech Breakfast with Nova tv program before literally millions the host laughed and said "We've got a Lichtenstein palace here Gary, surely you must be a blue-blood!" I laughed and told him that when I cut myself shaving my blood was indeed red...sorry to disappoint!

That tv show was broadcast during the time I was recording The Ghosts of Prague album with Richard Mader a/k/a Faust. I went to visit Faust one evening in his studio in Dejvicka while I was there this time, and we had a sweet reunion, the guy never stops dreaming of new creative vistas, and I plan to work with him on a project this summer. In his subterranean studio I also met Jaz Coleman, an intense and funny guy, who was there with his Killing Joke band working on a new album. Prague is a hive of industry these days and is attracting the most creative individuals from around the world...it definitely boasts a cultural scene to rival any city now.

I do really regret not being able to perform at the DG 307 concert my pal Pavel Zaichek was giving on Sunday, we go back many years (to the Plastic People tribute at the Kitchen in fact, where he jumped through a paper emblazoned with a Yonic symbol) but I did have to get home after all the revelries in order to rehearse my band as Gods and Monsters are playing in Philadelphia tomorrow at World Cafe Live...

And yes I did get to hang with Giger a bit at the Swiss Ambassador's house at a reception one sunny afternoon on a terrace of the embassy, with liveried butlers pouring drinks and offering canapes incessantly, Giger was there with an entourage from Switzerland and looking very much the eminence gris, but a charming smiling one with a twinkle in his eye, a guttural growl of a voice that fit the rude imagery of many of his paintings, and a certain shyness...and we spoke of Meyrink whom I also adore (I recommend strongly you check out The Green Face, my favorite book of Meyrink's after The Golem) and also my pal the Swiss artist Henry Meyer whom I have written of before, in fact a sculpted totem-bedecked chair of his resides in the Giger Museum in Gruyere on the top floor which houses Giger's own private collection of artists' work he collects. I liked Giger in the flesh very much (his beautiful willowy companion Carmen is also very cool), it is hard to reconcile the eldritch science fiction phantasms and howling bestial creatures red in both tooth and claw spewed forth from his dark psyche now haunting the Prague National Technical Museum with the kindly and charming demeanor of this world famous reclusive artist whose designs have mapped new landscapes of heaven and hell so intensely. Kudos to organizers Ivan Mecl, Alesh Suk and Katerina Reilly for their magnificent efforts in literally duplicating much of the contents of the Giger Museum in Gruyere in Prague thanks to loaners from many private collectors, and also thanks to the Prague museum's Jiri Zeman for helping promote the event so effectively. I was honored to be part of this dark carnival, it was quite awe-inspiring to perform in Prague again, to retrace and revisit my old stomping grounds and summon forth the spirit of the Golem once more there, a Prague homeboy if ever there was one.

Thank you Les Barany (and the sponsoring angel Dr. Zdenek Kaufmann) for making this dream a reality.


ps D Cals, a masked and anonymous member of the Beefheart Fireparty posse came up with correct answers to my last quiz (Street of Lost Brothers and Du-Tels for Mahzel and Ling Ting Tong respectively--though actually me and Stampfel never got around to committing Ling Ting Tong to a record, oh well, it was/is a staple of our live show) and for his quick response he receives a copy of my new Golem DVD.


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