Tav Falco’s Panther Burns is polarizing, yet danceable
The framework is important for Tav Falco. As he takes this phone call on a pleasant morning, he describes relaxing on the porch of a friend’s turn-of-the-century bungalow in the hills outside Berkeley, California. He looks at a garden and a tree full of lemons.
He takes a moment to remember the band playing a show on July 31, 2020. Another beautiful setting, in a castle in Italy. And the last show he played before the realization that a disease, COVID-19, was raging across the planet.
Tav Falco’s Panther Burns is finally back on tour, with a Sept. 13 date at Photo City Music Hall, 543 Atlantic Ave. Anonymous Willpower in Rochester opens at 8 p.m.
Falco has not yet contracted COVID and is wary of it. Beware, so many other people have long since moved on, forgetting the over one million dead Americans. “I wear two masks, gloves,” Falco says. “I would wear a hazmat suit if I could find one quickly.” He quotes René Descartes: “Masked, I’m moving forward.”
The context must be added to Descartes. “Masquerades reveal the reality of souls. As long as no one sees who we are, we can tell the most intimate details of our lives.
It’s Falcon. He is a man of many masks. It reveals many details. During this 55-minute phone conversation, it appears that Falco speaks for 50 minutes.
Tav Falco’s Panther Burns sound like wild roots rock, sometimes described as psychobilly, but with… style. Beyond music, Falco talks about making films, playing small roles in films, writing books, learning to tango. He’s a Roots Rock Renaissance Man, easily dropping words like “aegis” in his conversation. He speaks softly and his Arkansas roots are evident.
He lived in Paris and Vienna, then sold his vintage 1960 Norton Midget Dominator motorcycle and used the money last November to move to Thailand. It is a country ruled by a military junta. But a relaxed junta, says Falco. He never sees the army, maybe sometimes a policeman. “Nice-looking, well-groomed police officers, very friendly.”
Falco’s apartment setting is in the south of Bangkok, overlooking a beach on the Gulf of Thailand. From his balcony, he sees architecture with Greek motifs, gardens, waterfalls. He smells the sea breeze. Thailand is, he says, “Interesting, exotic. I can’t imagine it being more different from the West than it is. You don’t feel a competitive advantage among people. People move quickly, but that’s a different kind of haste. It’s a different kind of velocity, it’s not as neurotic.
He contrasts this setting with America, where “you are always looking over your shoulder. When violence hits you in America, you don’t know where it’s coming from, it comes out of nowhere, most of the time. I don’t sense that imminent danger where I am now.
Nestled in this inspiring setting, Falco is editing a feature film that he wrote and directed. The first part of the Urania trilogy, as he calls it, is complete. It was screened in “various cinematheques around the world”. Yes, he uses the word “cinematheque”, where you and I could settle for “theaters”. Or “theaters”, even. Two other parts still need to be completed.
Part was shot in Arkansas, the last parts in Vienna – where Falco lived for four years – and in Venice. Falco’s story is full of one-way tickets.
Falco describes his Urania films as “a trilogy of intrigues”. The accompanying poster describes the story as “An EMBODIMENT of SUBVERSION, the INSOLENCE of DECEPTION, the EXULTATION of VENGEANCE”. It’s about an American from North Little Rock — “riding her convertible BMW, fending off rednecks” — stopping at a travel agency and seeing a poster of elegant Vienna and its baroque architecture. She buys a one-way ticket, and immerses herself in a decor of the café society of Freud, Jung and a Leon Trotsky playing chess, and Nazi looting buried at the bottom of an Austrian lake.
Falco compares the main characters to “the devil’s tarot card.” He has a slave at his feet on this card, by his cloven feet. And there is a chain connected to the waist of the devil, and around the slave there is a collar connected to this chain. But this collar is very wide, and all the slave has to do is pull this collar over his head, and the slave is free.
But the slave does not attempt an escape. The characters in the Urania trilogy are “too blind and too innocent to pull it off,” says Falco. It is a story of innocence and the perversion of greed and lust.
Stories of Nazi looting aside, he seems to have used the COVID break well. Internet courses in German and Italian, and now Thai. And, “music theory, after all this time,” he says. Falco refuses to reveal his age, but Tav Falco’s debut album Panther Burns was released in 1986. Alex Chilton of The Box Tops and Big Star was in the band’s first release, one of many.
Music theory… isn’t it a bit late in the game for that?
“I try to learn what music is,” says Falco, “in terms of form, structure and tones, and the whole European way of writing music, notation. It is a rather difficult undertaking.
He may be a roots rocker, but he’s also a romantic. Learning tango and samba. “I became fascinated with cabaret,” he says, and while COVID raged he sequestered himself in his apartment, developing a cabaret persona he calls “L’Ultimo Gigolo.” And dance to 1930s music with a cane and a hat, like Maurice Chevalier. “I couldn’t even get anyone to dance with me in my apartment,” he says, “so I started dancing alone.”
He writes many of his own songs, but also records many women’s songs. Like “Strange Fruit” by Billie Holiday.
“I’m totally captivated by women,” he says, “and I celebrate women, and I’ve suffered with women. But I still love them, and I worship them in all their mythical aspects, and their physical manifestations, and their elegance, their charm, the way they walk, their fingers when they pick up a towel. And I see all that, and it’s lovely.
And we see a rocker from Arkansas dancing the tango in his living room in Thailand. The story is secondary.
“The only thing people care about is an artist’s personality,” Falco says. “They only care about an artist’s secret eye. What he sees, and what they don’t see, or maybe they see part of it, but not in his own way. Everything else is kind of an exercise in, you know, I don’t know, sensations or forensic information or whatever. That’s why we’re fascinated by Hemingway or Fitzgerald or Stendahl or Camus or whoever it is. And so, that’s all I have to offer.
Falco admits the trip from Arkansas to Thailand “borders on classic culture shock.” But we shouldn’t be shocked. It’s the same song.
“I only sing one song in all media,” he says. “It’s the same, it’s the song of unrequited love, brother against brother, burning mansions, lost causes. Unbridled emotional entanglements and all the consequences. Rekindling romances when they should probably be left alone, that sort of thing. That’s what people want to hear. »
So, given all of that, what will we hear from Tav Falco’s Panther Burns?
“Panther Burns was greeted with howls of contempt on the one hand, and cries of ecstasy on the other,” he says. “We are a polarizing factor.”