THE WORD is out. And the word is in. Los Angeles scenemaker/producer Harvey Kubernik has just released the third in his trilogy of "spoken word" recordings, which collect the incantatory rhythms and self- indulgent musings of the city's punkers, rockers and "real" poets.
Each double-record set contains nearly two hours of "performances," spontaneous and scripted, varying in length from four-second snippets to five minutes of rambling reminiscence.
The incredible variety and density make it tough for this stuff to go stale. A warning: Though there's plenty of humor, the language and situations are often shocking.
Is it poetry? Maybe not. Maybe it's just company.
Although it's almost exclusively about the experience of Los Angeles, there may be something here for everyone with an open ear, no matter the geographic location. As Guggenheim Fellowship-winning poet Wanda Coleman says in a written preface to the third part of the trilogy, "Neighborhood Rhythms": "This is an ear-experience beyond the realm of the spoken word. This is social document. This is a warning to the world. This is L.A. and a preview of the America of decades to come."
Here's a capsule commentary on the talking trilogy, plus a word on a related release, Washington native Henry Rollins' spoken debut.
VOICES OF THE ANGELS -- (Freeway Records). The original. A travelogue full of purely California inflections and idiosyncrasies, "Voices" reflects the movies, cults, the beach, the street, the barrio, the Valley. Highlights: "Hard to Have," Pleasant Gehman's detective magazine fantasy of sour romance; Walter Lacey's shuddering wouldn't-want-to-meet- him-in-a-dark-alley "Meatrack Man"; rock critic Richard Meltzer's funny "Wednesday Is a Day for Baldies." There's plenty of junk between the gems, but even the filler is entertaining.
ENGLISH AS A SECOND LANGUAGE -- (Enigma Records E 1031). The mood darkens on the second LP, as the "trilogy" progresses and the poets find their voices and purposes. Some offer true stories, others imagined; some blur the distinction between the two; some read open letters to a person who turns up a few tracks later. Lighter moments include Dennis Dragon's surf punk memories; future Bangle Susanna Hoff on how she discovered rock, circa 1966.
NEIGHBORHOOD RHYTHMS -- (Freeway Records FRWY 213). The third and most cogent compilation is subtitled "Traffic Patter," and the audio "visions" are jammed up next to one another, bumper to bumper. It's like studying the people in the car next to you, being able to hear their thoughts. "Neighborhood," divided into four sides or "On Ramps," establishes some unforgettable voices: the rancid observations of Charles Bukowski, who has been scorching ears for more than 20 years; Ivan E. Roth, man of a thousand voices, reading his gleeful, goofy "When They Nuke L.A." against a wall of funhouse noise; Tuff Muffin's territorial ranting about the "locals" versus the "Vals." The darkest side, "On Ramp IV," contains two especially concrete works: a you- are-there prison scene by Wanda Coleman and "My Neighborhood," Dick Whitney's harrowing middle-of-the-night confession about violent crime and his reaction to it.
(All three records are available for $12 apiece postpaid from Freeway Records, P.O. Box 67930, Los Angeles, Calif. 90067).
FAMILY MAN -- (SST 026). Washington native Henry Rollins, now the lead singer for L.A.'s notorious punk band Black Flag, is attracting attention for his fiercely dramatic readings as well. Rollins has his moments on two of the spoken anthologies, but here he gets a whole side (20 minutes) for his dark and doomy words. The flip side is for true believers: four metal dirges by Black lag.
Rollins comes home this Friday night to read from his work at D.C. Space. Shows are at 9 and 11 p.m.