Published on April 16th, 2016 | by M. Milner0
Art for Art Jackson’s Sake: Solving the Mystery of Art Jackson Atrocity’s Gout
(1) In May 2007, Never Get Out of the Boat, a now-defunct mp3 blog, shared a mysterious find: Gout, a never-released record by a group called Art Jackson’s Atrocity. Everything about it seemed weird, mysterious and compelling: a near total lack of information, a lengthy and bizarre back-story and the music! It was a droning, frantic mess of, well, something left of jazz and funk and just south of a horror movie score, with a distinct, tense and nervous edge.
The 2007 post relayed a brief sketch of Art Jackson’s Atrocity as laid out on its MySpace page: the band was a collection of musicians who jammed long and hard over free beats. “No charts, no songs, no rhyme or reason,” wrote Never Get Out’s Willard. The music was tied somehow to Miles Davis, who helped pay for the session and got Columbia records interested. Their interest didn’t last long, however, and the record was never released; only a vinyl promo, released in a plain back sleeve, remained.
As things stood in 2007, the music was supposed to speak for itself. It did, and over the years, it sparked controversy, debates and filled column inches in outlets like MOJO Magazine, Julian Cope’s Head Heritage and elsewhere. What exactly was Gout? Who exactly was Art Jackson? Why was this music never released? What should’ve been the end for Art Jackson Atrocity’s Gout was really only the beginning.
So, let’s go back to the beginning.
In January 2006, a MySpace page for Art Jackson’s Atrocity popped up online, along with a streaming version of Gout. The page was short on details, but offered several interesting tidbits about the group: a St Petersburg Times profile on Jackson, a couple of photos, a list of members and even a discography, showing a few other releases by the band: Live in Europe and Tribute to Sun Ra. Most interesting was a lengthy back story for the band: they were full of ex-Black Panthers, the music was drug-fuelled and entirely improvised, and Jackson refused to try to sell his music. Or as the profile puts it, “If he had to make music, he probably wouldn’t… and that’s the definition of Art.”
Things sat on the site for a while before Willard noticed Gout, but in 2007 he released a vinyl rip on his blog. His copy was far from pristine: it’s scratchy at times, sounds distant at others, but generally it’s more than listenable. Still, he wasn’t able to add much – any, really – information about the band or it’s music. For years, it sat on his blog, listed under Miles Davis, no doubt to drum up interest, but also because that’s who was behind this record, right?
Well, maybe. As Head Heritage and MOJO weighed in on the contents and cultural value of the record (“it’s a fine, percussion-fuelled, invigorating free-for-all,” wrote Fred Dellar), questioned arose to the record itself. For example, the production sounded too modern, the drums especially, for it to be mid-70s recording.
But the weirdest bit of all was contained deep inside “Tomato Reign,” a quote of someone saying “fuck it, let it rot.” It’s actually taken from Full Metal Jacket, a movie released in 1987, which makes it pretty hard for it to be in a record from 1974.
Still, as questions and likely candidates kept popping up – an Italian band was fingered enough times they officially denied any connection – so did aftermarket material. Although the music and information could only be traced back to Willard’s 2007 post, vinyl and CD bootlegs started appearing, some going for as high as $50 a pop. Then, late last year, a promo copy showed up on eBay for an expanded, remastered edition, claiming it was the first official CD issue of the record.
Only one problem: the label, 418INK, was even more mysterious than Jackson: no other releases, no website, not even anything on Google. The mystery continued…
(2) Willard’s blog, meanwhile, went through a few permutations, but kept reposting Gout, alongside other curios and esoteric music. One of these was a release by a Florida collective called We’re Late For Class, a group of like-minded friends. This band recorded their jams and packaged them as releases with a smart-aleck sense of humour. One that Willard went for early was Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun’ As Played By Vanilla Fudge Imitating Iron Butterfly When Fudge Were Forced To Open For Butterfly At The Fillmore West After In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida Went Top Ten which purported to be exactly that: a smartass jab by the Fudge at the Butterfly.
Of course, it’s not what it says it is. Of course, is also is, in another sense: it’s a long, droning performance by a band who knows their rock history and isn’t afraid to fuck around with their listeners a little bit.
It was a nice introduction to the band, which on other releases make contact with the ghost of Jim Morrison (as Morrison breaks into free verse about native Americans, the producer chimes in with “let’s go easy on the Indian stuff, Jim.”), mix a 911 call about OJ Simpson with a tense funk jam and made a release that’s equal parts Beatles and Krautrock: Vunderball Musik.
“Most of us have been friends since grade school. But, we kinda started around 2005. Then We’re Late For Class began around 2007,” said the band in an email. They’re still recording and playing together, although nothing new has been posted in about a year. “Part of the problem is that we don’t have as much time these days. Paying bills and feeding ourselves has an adverse effect on everything.”
Their approach to music is generally the same as to how they release it: free. As of this writing, they have over 24 hours of music spread out over their blog, all of them available for free. “You know how listeners are… most will only go as deep into a blog or website as our attention spans will take us. We’ve got 75 releases, but who’s going to download all that noise, except for the keenly disturbed,” they said.
So while everything is free, devoted fans can hit their bandcamp for lossless files (only a $1 each) or buy a USB stick with everything on it for $20. “Obviously, it’s not designed to make money,” is how they describe the complete recordings. “There are only going to be a few twisted individuals willing to pay for what we do. It’s just a convenience store version of our blog, and, after expenses, we’ll end up with a six-pack of premium ale out of the deal.”
You could call it making art for art’s sake.
(3) For years, the mystery of Gout led back to one place: Never Get Out of the Boat. At the same time, it featured music by We’re Late for Class. And so, just a shade before April Fools and approximately on the tenth anniversary of it’s original upload to MySpace, Willard’s blog was the first to report the truth behind Gout: We’re Late For Class pulled a fast one on the internet.
Although nearly everyone who thought about it seriously figured the Art Jackson story was a prank – between the too-good-to-be-true backstory and the dialogue taken from Full Metal Jacket – but for some reason, this group of musical pranksters was never fingered as the culprit, even at the blog that shared both records!
“He did give us some shit a few weeks ago for not telling him about Art Jackson’s Atrocity before we announced it, but it was all good-natured,” said the band.
So how did this all happen? How did a group of friends not just fool the internet, but fooled them so well that other people started bootlegging their record? To answer that, we have to go back even further, back to early 2006.
Although We’re Late for Class formed around 2007, they’d been playing together and hanging out for years. In the period before they became that band, they hung around and recorded some of their impromptu sessions.
“Gout is some of our earliest stuff. We’ve done home recordings since high school, but lacked the adequate equipment to do what we really wanted, which was live recordings featuring 5 to 10 or more players at once.,” said the band. “For Gout we went into a recording studio so we could play live, but time and budget constraints meant that we had to crank up and go. The track “Gout” was the first track we taped. Our only self-direction was, on the count of four… ‘have at it.’ No blueprint or design. The rest of the session wasn’t much different in terms of planning.“
Still, the record wasn’t always meant to be a prank on the Internet, explains the band. “Gout really sprang from the notion that’s it’s sometimes impossible to tell if free-form experimental jazz is any “good” or not,” they said. “We’ve all heard some noisy, outside, experimental music and said to ourselves, ‘Chimps could do that!’ So we put that notion to the test.”
It was only later, when they put together a MySpace page, that the notion of a long-forgotten experimental jazz collective came together. “The details’ we included in the tall tale about the Atrocity being drug users, discovered by Miles Davis, and rejected by CBS, were partly designed to explain away the noticeable discrepancies, and our obvious musical shortcomings,” they explained. The snippet of dialogue was a mistake in mixing they forgot to remove. “That alone might explain how serious we were about trying to “fool” anybody,” they added.
Of course, these romantic details created an aura of mystery around the release, which, once listeners really started looking at the details and found they didn’t add up, added to its mystique as a long-lost record. “What we did discover was that… no one was talking about us NOT being experimental jazzers,” said the band. “Most seemed to buy into the idea that we were a real band, just not who we said we were. So, in that respect, it was a victory for the belief that most of us can’t always tell the difference between real avant-garde and fake avant-garde music.” Score one for the little guys.
At the same time, as We’re Late For Class started issuing music under their own name, they were quick to move on in their own direction. They bought a mixing board and polished up their rough-sounding recordings for release. “Post-production is what enables some of what we do to sound structured or thought-out, when it isn’t at all,” explains the band. “Editing out bum notes makes what’s left sound spontaneously planned. So, our noise is typically live and improvised, but molded after the fact. This way, we never have to practice or rehearse.”
But over the years, as Gout got press and inspired debates among jazz nerds, enterprising bootleggers realized their was money in the record. Bootlegs sprung up online, claiming they were remastered when really they just removed fake record noises from mp3s.
“As the 10th anniversary of Gout’s release was coming around, we got the bright idea of offering a remastered and expanded version, with a bonus track, to counter the bootleggers,” said the band. “In addition, our low-run CD production deal gets us digital space in outlets like Amazon. So, we’re only taking our marketing and music back from others who don’t deserve it.”
(4) Perhaps Gout is best explained by another too good to be true story the band related in an email. Early in their career, they went to a Jack Kerouac reading and Lonnie, their sax player, offered to go up and play a demonstration for the crowd.
“Lonnie introduced himself and began talking about Sonny Rollins, then started squawking some sax in his style. Then he name-dropped Albert Ayler, and start blowing some noise. Then Ornette Coleman… then Pharoah Sanders… then Eric Dolphy… This went on for about 10 minutes, with polite applause and a surprisingly generous ovation at the end. But, the rest of us had to immediately vacate the premises, because we couldn’t contain our snickering and laughing any longer.
“The truth was, that Lonnie couldn’t play the sax… at all. He’d been at it for about four months, but only mastered a handful of notes and some impressive squeaking and squawking. And, he knew nothing about the styles of the players he was referencing. If anyone in attendance knew what was actually going on, they didn’t let on… and everyone at least appeared to believe the presentation – primarily because of Lonnie’s enormous gonads and straight-faced presentation. One guy even stopped Lonnie on the way out the door and said, ”Great sax, man.” We almost lost it.
“So, the lesson learned is… gonads, straight faces and a really good drummer is what you need.”