I first met him when I came to Amsterdam for the first Hafler Trio lectures. he sat in the front row and asked 'tricky' questions. I had wanted to meet him for years. and so I did. he was living close to the Central Station with his then 'partner' Dr. Dorothea Franck, and later we would become Mother Tongue. slowly but surely we saw each other most days and most nights; I did live sound for him so many times I lost count, mixed tapes, remastered cassettes so they could be released on LP, treated tapes so they could be further played around with, composed tracks for him with his material while he lay in bed with the 'flu, and delighted him when he arose, designed promotional material and record covers for him, and a great deal more, generally involving carrying odd-shaped pieces of metal and encountering difficulty with trains. we played Dutch billiards at a bar across the road from where I was living in a squat, very close to the centre of Amsterdam, the name of which I forget because we always referred to it as "The Second Office." we were pretty good. we listened in awe to the production on Neil Diamond's greatest hits. really. Z'EV and Doro were incredibly kind and generous to me in my ridiculous, self-imposed nightmare of a transition period of moving from the UK to Holland. I took his tsing-tsa (Tibetan hand bells) to London to record his composition "Geelgalayah" and they broke in the middle of the session. actually shattered into several pieces, without having being abused in any way. I tried to hide this fact, and he discovered the broken pieces before I had a chance to even try to replace the bells. it is impossible to convey how guilty and terrible I felt.
I saw Z'EV play many times, mixing, equalising and effecting his sound as part of the performance with him; and on a good night, I swear, there was nobody to touch him. nobody. what is a painful fact is that much of what was amazing either a) did not even record onto tape (the frequencies were so extreme that no cassette on earth would have held them) or b) were so badly recorded as to be useless. no amount of treatment could save them. I tried. really. a few made it through. so bear in mind when you hear his work that much that would completely blow you away is lost forever, and much of what you can hear was many times greater in actuality. it is of course possible to say that about many people, but in Z'EV's case, very much more than just true.
Z'EV had many stories, and I listened to all of them. this was a man who told me that he had seen The Doors perform before they were signed to a record label, after all, just to give one example. but some of them were somewhat painful. there was a double attitude; on the one hand, his pioneering work was truly neglected, and it was indeed obvious to anyone with half a brain cell that it had been copied wholesale and watered down for great career effect by others. however, on the other, there was an undeniable self-destructive side to him of which I could tell many stories but will not, that he himself revelled in, in a perverse sort of way. this was coupled with a bitterness which while understandable, was also clung to a little too tightly and paraded a little too often for comfort.
Mother Tongue once performed at the AIR Gallery in London; this was to have been a major opportunity to get a financial backer, and big things were going to happen. supposedly. Genesis P-Orridge (as was) videotaped the event, and captured a horrible, ugly, quite unbelievable fight after it between Z'EV and Doro, revealing the side that was desperate to have what "he deserved," and blaming anyone he could when it did not arise as he wished. I truly hope that tape does not exist any more. the "deal" never materialised, and a major breakdown took place which was a very disturbing thing to witness, which we all did for a day or so. so it can be said with certainty that I saw him at both ends of the scale and a great deal of what was in-between.
|Your Humble Narrator, Z'EV, Doro Franck = Mother Tongue. photo by Esther Wollheim.|
I sat with him and helped him edit his entire history up to that point, which became "One Foot In The Grave" and was his first real release outside the channels he had been 'stuck' in, his first real 'retrospective' and his first CD(s). I was still involved with Touch, and introduced him. I thought he deserved a professional, properly done package of quality to show how incredible some of the work he had done was (and is). he nearly destroyed this by coming to the appointment to master it all with me and lighting a huge joint. after me strongly suggesting to him that dealing with the presentation of his life's work might be better served with a clear head, he left, and came back the next day. not under the influence.
gradually, I left Amsterdam, and eventually Holland. Z'EV went through a series of ever-more bizarre living situations, including a room which was surrounded by doors, and in someone's office, sleeping under a desk, so that he for the first time in his life worked office hours, I recall him telling me. he helped me understand the Qabalistic/Numerological processes and details so that "I LOVE YOU" (the third, unreleased part of the so-called "Sexual Trilogy") could be finished. (well, it isn't really, but it got to the stage that it could be presented live.) I learned that his hearing had deteriorated somewhat, which is not suprising, given the battering his shell-likes must have taken over the years. this was confirmed when I heard some work where I recognised the signs of top-end hearing loss that I had noticed with a few others that I had worked with, and heard from some mastering engineers that the tapes which Z'EV submitted were quite some work to make useable. but in the end, I think he knew this, and worked with it, and if anyone could make it work, it would have been him. after all, the sound was only a small part of what he was dealing with.
we planned to do a US tour in 2003. the artwork and an extract from the CD that was to accompany it are here:
and of course, like most of these things, it never happened. the title of the CD came from an actual toast I once heard in a Liverpool bar, and Z'EV truly loved it. it took years between me telling him of it and it getting used. and it didn't, eventually. and now it does. ironic, to be sure.
we also planned to re-release the Mother Tongue record "Open In Obscurity" with extra material on CD. Z'EV had it mastered by a friend of his in the 'states, and the dreaded and now defunct Phonometrography were to re-release it. again, some sort of offence was caused in the communication stream, and this never happened. a sketch for the typography for the sleeve is here:
between this and today, something happened, and it seems I will never know quite what it was. a month or so ago, I wrote to him to invite him to have a conversation as part of the podcast "WWHWW?" the reply was so extreme in its hatred, that I was quite taken aback; I had been aware of some stories floating around, but nothing so savage that would generate such a response. and now, I cannot ask, and I cannot even try to repair any damage, real or imaginary.
I subsequently discovered that he had removed me from his history; Wikipedia page, home page, everything. he is not the first, and possibly not the last, but it is still very odd and unfathomable to me why such things happen, and that the erasure of someone from history is thought to be even possible, let alone desireable.
Z'EV was always someone that you were either 'for' or 'against'. there were no half-measures. principally from his side.
I was always 'for' him, even in the dark times. he taught me a huge, actually unquanitifiable amount, which I will never, ever be able to repay. my gratitude will endure.
it is not how I would have wished to have this story end, but that's how it has to be. he would have called everything I have written here "bullshit," but I hope that he would have been wrong about at least most of it, at least this time.
(if anyone is interested in releasing the two items mentioned here, please get in contact.)