SELECTED TRACKS NOW PLAYING ON PHAWKER RADIO!
BY JONATHAN VALANIA Mikael Jorgensen is the keyboard player for Wilco, who open for Neil Young Friday at the Spectrum (tix still available, yo). He’s the one in the Clark Kent glasses and untucked Oxford and Charlie Brown sweater combo, hunched over his MacBook and triggering disembodied sonic filigree and sine wave surrealism, like a mischievous child coloring outside the lines of Wilco’s horse-drawn Americana. Jorgensen — a Leonardo, New Jersey native who recently moved from Wilco’s HQ in Chicago to Brooklyn — first made Phawker’s acquaintance back in the mid-90s when he was a member of Lizard Music, and Phawker was a member of the Psyclone Rangers and both bands were on the World Domination label and going nowhere fast. Next thing you know — SHAZAM! — he’s playing keyboards in Wilco Version 2.0. In between, he has been nursing his obsession with early 70s AM radio pop with a revolving cast of collaborators (members of Iron & Wine, Cat Power, Califone and Antibalas) under the nom de rock Pronto, which just released the damn swell All Is Golden (Contraphonic).
PHAWKER: What, no mention of Lizard Music in your bio? It’s like it never happened. It’s like Stalin with Trotsky. It’s like the disappeared of Argentina! What’s up with that? That’s, like, a crime against humanity, especially what happened in Argentina.
MIKAEL JORGENSEN [pictured, right in red sweater]: OK, I cut my teeth on the mean New Jersey streets in a gleefully apoplectic pop band called Lizard Music during the early part of the Clinton administration. At mid-winter all ages weekend matinee shows (in seaside bars that saw brisk business in the summer months), our Beatles cum XTC cum Captain Beefheart band was surrounded by scores of bands using sludgy guitars, tuneless yelling and shoe-in-the-dryer style drumming. We made a record. It made a little noise. If you’re lucky & dogged, you can still find them in places that also sell bric-a-brac. I left Lizard Music to form Movere Workshop in ’96. This is where Greg O’Keeffe enters the picture, and we’ve been pals ever since, see?
PHAWKER: Listen, if they take you to the Hague, the best defense is to do like that dude from Serbia and stall for years on end until you die in jail. Genius, really. So what prompted the move to Brooklyn? (And by all means, enjoy it while you can. Not to keep harping on it, but this ‘crimes against humanity’ thing is pretty serious business.)
MIKAEL JORGENSEN: It’s like living on Sesame Street, complete with an actual, honest-to-god grouch that lives in the basement and hangs out by the trash. Instead of having a pet worm, this grouch has two disgusting pit-bulls and they share a studio garden apartment next to the boiler room while he complains relentlessly into a blue-tooth earpiece while sucking down Heinekens. Pronto mainstay and co-conspirator Greg O’Keeffe and I have a rehearsal/recording space in his favorite part of town, SLUMBO (or RAMBO depending on who you ask), where we toil on new Pronto material. I swear to god there are gypsies living in a mini-van with a camper trailer on the street outside our space. I hope to see their documentary on Current TV someday.What’s not to love?
PHAWKER: What is a typical day in the life of a guy in Wilco who lives in Brooklyn? Do you just ‘text it in,’ as the kids say? (In my day, we ‘faxed it in,’ but that’s another story.)
MIKAEL JORGENSEN: I spend a lot of time arguing with cabbies who always make a face when I tell them I’m going to Brooklyn from either the airport or late night East Village escapades. Then I rise, cook up some espresso based drinks — a “cup-of-chino” if you will, dice potatoes & whatever vegetables are laying around and make a frittata. Deal with email for a spell and then head down to our studio and work on Pronto music with Greg. Pick up the laundry and head home for dinner with my wife, friends and, when he’s around, Stephen Colbert.
PHAWKER: Do you ever get the feeling that Tweedy is sweating Pronto? Like he’s scheduling more Wilco shows just to keep you from Pronto?
MIKAEL JORGENSEN: No one knows this, but I actually wrote all of “A.M.” and Jeff has been stealing my songs ever since. I had to start a new band to put him off the trail, so thanks for blowing my cover. He’s totally gonna read this and now we’re done for.
PHAWKER: If Pronto had an arm wrestling contest with Autumn Defense, who would win? What about a wheel barrow race? Or would it all just devolve into an argument about the proper way to wear a scarf? In which case, who is right? I mean, people need to know that shit.
MIKAEL JORGENSEN: We would tie, but they would get a 1/4 point extra for style. The competition heats portion would be an exciting montage of Pronto beating the snot out of Gary Coleman, Gary Cole, Cole Porter, Porter Wagoner, Natalie Portman, Natalie Merchant, Stephen Merchant, Chan Marshall and Marshall Mathers.
PHAWKER: Do the other guys in Wilco ever complain that you get to sit down and play your laptop while they have to stand for the whole concert?
MIKAEL JORGENSEN: After every show, the guys are all, “I’m so tired from standing and playing my vintage instrument – made long before touch-tone technology with care and love by humans. Hey Mike, when are you gonna give us *our* chance to take it easy and Type-Along-With-Wilco?!” I grow ever so weary of these incessant laments.
PHAWKER: Do you ever check your email or surf for porn during a Wilco concert? C’mon, be honest!
MIKAEL JORGENSEN: I’m liveblogging every possible second of the show and the data gets submitted to a computer program that graphically interprets my posts and returns images like this:
PHAWKER: Yikes. That’s what Kings Of Leon is gonna look like if they don’t start taking care of themselves. Pronto reminds me of a band from the future that discovers ’70s AM radio in a time capsule, and they like the way it makes them feel, and even though they can’t really relate to the words on the surface, they always feel better when they sing along. I mean that as a compliment.
MIKAEL JORGENSEN: Accurate. I grew up in a classic-rock-free household. A chance hearing of “Another Brick In The Wall” on someone else’s car radio was as close as I got to that world. I am a complete tourist to the mythical 70s AM radio stations. As a kid, I was listening to the records my Dad, who was a recording engineer, brought home after work. Most notably, he worked extensively with Bob James and recorded the theme to the TV show TAXI, the basketball theme on the soundtrack to the 1984 Olympic games (totally true) and many other records that have percolated through pop culture, mainly as samples utilized by hip-hop groups.
PHAWKER: “Good Friends Gone” is a real gem. That is not a question, it is a statement of fact.
MIKAEL JORGENSEN: Many thanks. We’re quite proud of her – she’s going on two and a half, almost three now.
PHAWKER: True or false: The new Randy Newman album is fucking excellent!
MIKAEL JORGENSEN: Firstly, I take offense to this Gotcha!-style journalism! Secondly, true. Thirdly, Randy is an obvious hero, and while listening to the record, see if you can figure out which of the songs is the secret Randy Newman tribute! In fact, you’ll need to buy two copies of the record and play them both at the same time, flip one out of phase, and thanks to Newton’s* Law of Common Mode Rejection, you’ll be able to hear super-secret messages! So be sure to camp out all night on March 9th, 2009 in front of your favorite, finer record store with enough cash to buy yourself a pair. Then prepare for utter rapture and bragging rights that should last well past the anniversary of the discovery of Uranus (March 13th, 1781).
* Not to be confused with Sir Isaac Newton. Commonly attributed to Myron Thaddeus Newton**, Lafayette, IN, [1912-1975]
** Doesn’t actually exist. Don’t bother the Newton heirs, they’re innocent pawns in this sad game.
CHANGE: Obama Taps Nobel Prize-Winning Physicist For Secretary Of Energy
CNN: President-elect Barack Obama is likely to name Steven Chu, a physicist who runs the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, as his energy secretary, three Democratic officials close to the transition told CNN.The three officials said that the announcement is expected next week in Chicago, Illinois, and that Obama will also name Carol Browner, former administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency in the Clinton administration, as the newly created “climate czar” inside the White House itself. Chu won the 1997 Nobel Prize in physics and is highly respected in energy circles. But some Democrats have privately expressed concern that Chu has no political experience as he takes on the monumental task of passing a landmark energy reform bill early next year. Although Browner is seen as a shrewd inside player who could help the incoming energy secretary navigate Capitol Hill, Obama will face questions about how effective his team will be going up against oil companies and other special interests that do not want to change the status quo. MORE
WIKIPEDIA: Steven Chu (Chinese: ???; pinyin: Zh? Dìwén) (b. February 28, 1948, St. Louis, Missouri) is an American experimental physicist and according to MSNBC and other media outlets, President-elect Barack Obama‘s choice for Secretary of Energy. He is known for his research in laser cooling and trapping of atoms, which won him the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1997. His current research is concerned primarily with the study of biological systems at the single molecule level. He is currently Professor of Physics and Molecular and Cellular Biology of University of California, Berkeley and the director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. As global warming warnings grow more dire, Chu is currently pushing his scientists at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and industry to develop technologies to reduce the impact of climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Chief in Chu’s campaign is an unprecedented research pact reached between UC Berkeley, oil industry giant BP, the Lawrence Berkeley Lab and the University of Illinois. Nearly US$400 million in new lab space will expand energy-related molecular work centered at Lawrence Berkeley that involves partners around the world; a US$160 million Energy Biosciences Institute (scheduled to open in 2010) and funded by BP will include Chu’s separate solar-energy program. MORE
RELATED: Efforts by the Bush administration and Congressional Democrats to fashion a government rescue of the foundering American automobile industry hit an unexpected snag on Wednesday, as a dispute over the precise wording of the bill led the House and Senate to put forward competing versions of the legislation. The last-minute disagreement centered on a single word — with the Senate bill requiring the automakers “to comply with all applicable federal fuel efficiency and emissions requirements” and the House bill referring to “all applicable fuel efficiency requirements,” which would also include state emissions rules that the automakers oppose. Aides to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said that she was prepared to push ahead with plans for a vote on the legislation Wednesday afternoon, while Democratic Senate aides warned that the House version of the bill was doomed in the Senate because it would be rejected by Senate Republicans and would never be signed by President George W. Bush. MORE
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: Our bailout of Detroit will be remembered as the equivalent of pouring billions of dollars of taxpayer money into the mail-order-catalogue business on the eve of the birth of eBay. It will be remembered as pouring billions of dollars into the CD music business on the eve of the birth of the iPod and iTunes. It will be remembered as pouring billions of dollars into a book-store chain on the eve of the birth of Amazon.com and the Kindle. It will be remembered as pouring billions of dollars into improving typewriters on the eve of the birth of the PC and the Internet. MORE
UPDATE: WASHINGTON — The House voted 237 to 170 Wednesday night in favor of a $15 billion rescue for the automobile industry, but the fate of the measure was uncertain because of shaky support among Republicans in the Senate. The House approval of the Democratic-backed program was not a surprise, given the Democrats’ 236-to-198 advantage in the chamber. The bigger test will come in the Senate, where the Democrats’ edge is only 50 to 49 and where 60 votes are needed to advance the legislation because of procedural rules. MORE