January 2012 - Hello! Thank you for visiting this site... a rather rag-tag batch of writing and rambling.
I'm hoping to use this “Public Noise” site for some random expression and freak-outs. It will also collect short articles and reviews I've written for the LEO city paper, Magnet & other publications. Thank you to all the folks who agreed to be interviewed over the last few years - and the editors that have given me a chance to contribute. All the best – JN

PS: I've been in a cancer treatment program since August 2009 and my wife and I have shared some of that story at this address: http://www.caringbridge.org/visit/jasonnoble/


Wednesday, June 1, 2011


Public Noise Private Noise (published June 1st, 2011 in the LEO Weekly)

Welcome to the first in a series of new music columns that will run in the LEO. I’m tremendously excited about this project and grateful to share this space with three very talented writers - Erica Rucker, Nathan Salsburg and Sarah Ivens. Each columnist was asked by the editors to focus on music that inspires them. We hope to offer moments of sonic joy, celebrate good work, explore creative intrigue and encourage vigorous debates.

I’d like to look at the exhilarating (and terrifying) moments between private creation and public sharing … the path an idea travels to eventually become a piece of vinyl, or digital codes, or live spectacle. While pondering these notions, I met a musician and visual artist named Laurel Sprengelmeyer, who performs under the name Little Scream. Her debut album, The Golden Record (Secretly Canadian), combines autumnal folk with bracing up-tempo marches and sonic adventure. Sprengelmeyer, who lives in Montreal, conjures lovely and ragged landscapes, often disregarding genre expectations. While the record features many incredible guest musicians (from the bands Arcade Fire, The National and Bell Orchestre), I wanted to ask Sprengelmeyer about her lyrics, and how the words propelled the unusual composition of the songs.

LEO: The album seems focused on damaged but heroic characters. From the mention of the character “Amahl” to the “scarred” boys and normal people just holding on, there’s a narrative of how life can deform all of us.
Little Scream: Sometimes I feel like the whole reason I create is to valorize the lives of the people I grew up loving — the colorful and romantic characters who filled up the pages of my youth. The further out into the world I got, the more I realized that most people didn’t care about their experiences or who they were, even though to me they are the most beautiful and interesting creatures on the planet. So if I don’t write songs or paint pictures or tell stories about them, who will? Who will ever care that they existed? More importantly, how will they ever know how much they mean to me, how beautiful they are in my mind? That is a large part of what has motivated me to make these songs.

The reference to the opera “Amahl and the Night Visitors” is significant, because it’s the first piece of recorded music I remember hearing as an infant. There’s a personal parallel in that story — a boy who becomes unwittingly healed when he offers up his own crutches (to someone in need). It’s a beautiful metaphor … somehow it’s important to me on a subconscious level.

LEO: It feels like these songs often embrace the idea of “singing through the storm.”
LS: Whenever I find myself writing about a dark or troubling subject, I’m always reminded of how much I love Motown. In that music, there is a persistent joy that is made more powerful by its relationship to hardship. It is a defiant joy, the triumph of spirit over circumstance. That’s a spirit I always want to embody in my music.

LEO: At the end, you include a fragment of an Elgar classical piece that’s often used at graduations … but it’s also a song touched with farewells and the end of a special part of youth.
LS: The title “Pomp and Circumstance” was taken from “Othello” about the pride, pomp and circumstance of “glorious war.” But was I thinking about any of this when we recorded that? Heck, no. I was just thinking about how cool the graduation song sounded when we were checking the tremolo setting on the amp before recording the song “Cannons.” We were almost finished with the album, and I was definitely having a feeling of accomplishment, a sense of passage. A graduation of sorts from a life I had only imagined … toward a life where the imaginary was becoming more concrete. Later that night, I decided to look that song up and was really struck by its poignancy in relation to war — the strange social significance of that combined with the personal meaning. It was a message I wanted to include, even if only as a gesture. It makes me reflect that perhaps a lot of the greatest moments on this album come from the serendipity of my unconscious intentions. I feel like that about a lot of things in my life.

For more information (and to listen) please CLICK HERE >>>


Well, I’m more than a little unclear if I should write this one. Hopefully, the Bee Gees reference is funny enough to balance the following subject. When I first mentioned writing a little for MAGNET, my wife suggested this, and I want to be open with people. In August 2009, I was diagnosed with cancer (as my little bio blurb mentions). It’s called synovial sarcoma, and I laugh (a small awkward laugh) because this cancer type usually affects much younger people (and I took it as evidence of my immaturity and kid-like sense of humor). It’s actually not funny at all, but you have to hold on to little things to make you feel empowered, y’know? Since then, we have both been on an incredible adventure. I say that not implying that my journey was unique; in fact, it’s sadly very common and I’ve met dozens if not hundreds of people fighting cancer in the last 14 months. Beautiful people who show me what actual courage means. Through the generosity of friends and family—and an incredible amount of help from bands and artists who have donated and played shows to raise money—I’m somehow here, still on earth. Still loving the movie Alien and still looking into the heavens and seeing only heavens (atoms, stratosphere, milky rings, Laika and whatnot) but no angels or divinity. Although I can see the appeal. It’s really enough for me to say: Nature is amazing. And even include my illness as part of nature’s unpredictable (and ferocious) creativity. Many people have done so much for us, and unfortunately I can’t mention them all here. But, if it wasn’t for all of them … wow. No more nothing! It’d be the great silence for me.

A wonderful surgeon in Louisville stepped in during our first big crisis (in the early weeks) and said he could work it out. This was after we had been told it wasn’t gonna fly and I should punch my timecard for the last time. Yet he and his team, they made it happen. Next, ICU nurses, cardio people, support staff, volunteers. Then there were radiation technicians, x-ray technicians, MRI, CT Scan and I think at least one guy playing Sega all putting their time and life into our struggle. There was my oncologist and also an incredible person who runs clinical trials who choose to help guide us when we were lost. Then we were lucky enough to travel and receive treatment at MD Anderson in Houston. Because of Greg King’s (and also Patrick M’s) family experiences with MDA and their advocacy, we found ourselves at one of the major research facilities in the country. In the last year, MDA has worked tirelessly to control my cancer, which—without being overly “movie of the week”—was rapidly advancing and being generally rude to my body. As Jeff Mueller said, “It wasn’t paying rent and was basically a freeloader.” Chemotherapy, transfusions, then “targeted therapy” followed. We took a breath, then, somehow—I don’t know how—we were still here.

I don’t discount prayer or human kindness or belief in any way. I receive high-tech scans and also get treated with 1,000-year-old Chinese accupressure and Jin Shin Jyutsu. I was in a wheelchair, but now I’m able to walk (most of the time). We’ve found that people are unbelievably good (I don’t know which ones were Republicans or Democrats or Green Party or Knife Swallowers), but they all helped. Helped us onto planes, into cabs, up stairs—they were literally taking a stranger’s hand and saying, “Here, let me.” I can basically eat, sleep and lately have been able to make art again. My friend Christian was just here in Louisville recording with me. We even got to hang with Rachel and our extended family of musicians. Can I be a little obvious? I found out when your life is draining away that you cherish everything. The hem of your sweetheart’s coat or the philodendron that Agostino Tilotta bought for us or a sweet “battle-action” Dr. Lizard action figure from our pal Edward. Perfection, all of it. And I found that art comes from some life force or something because I was silent (on the inside) for the first time in my adult life when I was just out of surgery. To the family and friends to the bands and the printmakers and the person who carved a homemade cane for me, I can only say: You are equally responsible for keeping me alive with the doctors, and your decency and warmth has inspired us forever.

My wife Kristin has experienced this whole year with full clarity. When I had weeks and even months of dreaming (or narco-drifting), she was there. No amount of words can express my gratitude. What can I say but that you hope in your life to have someone actually love you for what you are. When I was battered and bent, she never looked away. When I was sick (and was frankly really gross and stuff), she never wavered. I still don’t know what to say—don’t know how to live a semi public life—without sharing this all. I ask your pardon if I got too personal or made you feel like you stumbled into a bad Lifetime movie. One big thing I would like to say: I’m doing well, right now, and we’re so glad to be able to share that. It’s literally a day-to-day experience. Sometimes we falter. And I hope to walk better. And I hope to play shows someday. And I hope we can one day have a “normal” kinda life again. But, for all the work and sometimes tears, for all the incredible efforts by our community, I know it’s not about what you “deserve” or being special. There are people that work just as hard, and are loved just as much, who can’t overcome this disease. I’d like to say to them: You are in our thoughts and with us everyday. And, always, thank you for listening.


My final post this week is about places that offer us weary human creatures a place to reflect, react and rebuild. Over the years, I’ve been fortunate to see a small piece of the world. Touring in bands, however aggressive the schedule may be at times, still allows you to make contact with people from every climate and persuasion. It also allows a robust amount of visual input, of change. My favorite thing is seeing home after being away, having a chance to renew my perspective. So, here are just a few places that are special to me. Not all of them are places of quiet reflection, but all of them increase human connection and hopefully empathy.

Garfield Park Conservatory
Built in 1907, this 4.5-acre nature conservatory is truly breathtaking. Located in Garfield Park on Chicago’s West Side, this vast conservatory houses thousands of plants and brings together the talents of architects, landscape designers and artists. With an entrancing combination of wildly thriving plants and industrial design, the feel of the Garfield Conservatory is hard to describe. As you walk in from the street, you sense the clamor and bustle of Chicago soften and the throb of quiet thoughts (pleasantly at ease) take over. Honestly, I kinda feel like this is what Captain Nemo’s Nautilus may seem like at more peaceful (non-squid) moments. Remarkably, the Conservatory is open every day of the year, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., with rare exceptions.

Cave Hill Cemetery
This is one of the few places my wife and I bring every out-of-town guest. At first, the idea of “let’s go to the cemetery” gets a few sideways looks. But, we do our best to describe the more than 500 species of trees and beautifully manicured landscapes. We talk about the central lake and the somehow timeless swans that live there. We talk about some of the famous inhabitants, the Victorian architecture and how peaceful and reassuring it makes people feel. Initially chartered in 1848, Cave Hill has evolved into a 296-acre working cemetery and arboretum. It’s best if you can give yourself lots of time to explore and enjoy this unique historic site. A well-kept jewel in Louisville’s Highland neighborhood, located near downtown, Cave Hill imparts a stately and timeless grace. Oh, they also have peacocks.

Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum
When we toured with Shipping News in Japan in 2006, we traveled by van with three excellent young guys: Shino, Yoshi and Takeshi. When we realized that we would be near Hiroshima on our day off, we somewhat tentatively suggested visiting the Peace Museum. We wondered if it could be insensitive or uncomfortable to be standing in that city after what the United States had unleashed there. Thankfully, our friends were interested, and our experience there was, for me, life changing. The Genbaku Dome (now known as the “A-Dome”) was almost directly at the center of the blast on Aug. 6, 1945, and it’s still there. You see it standing in black-and-white photos, an ocean of destruction as far as any human eye could see. Today, it’s still central to the museum, near a large peace bell that people from all over the world ring daily. In fact, the bell probably rang many times today, for the 70,000 dead (in an instant) and the 70,000 more who died of radiation exposure. And those numbers do not include the later bombing of Nagasaki. The museum has a haunting and startling collection of artifacts: news documents and also large recreations of the devastation. The one small item that really affected us was a piece of paper, gently displayed in glass. The heat from the blast had made the ink on the page heat so much that it burned through, leaving sentences of empty space. The resulting years of struggle, the absolute horror of radiation poisoning but also rebuilding and rebirth, are all in full view. The Peace Museum has dedicated itself to working to end proliferation and has a strong activist mission. To stand in that place, 65 years later, is to urgently hope that the lesson will taken to heart before it’s too late. It’s also a lesson that this issue is not in our distant past; we must act. The name says it all—it’s a memorial to peace and request for more connection between all rational people.

Rothko Chapel
This remarkable museum/meeting place in Houston, Texas, was started in 1964 when John and Dominique de Menil commissioned painter Mark Rothko to create 14 large-scale (site-specific) works. While Rothko didn’t live to see its opening in 1971, this wonderful meditative space is a testament to the power of his work. To experience this modernistic gallery room—lit by natural light—is to feel a sense of being submerged in color and texture, although the works at first glance seem to be only shades of black. Magnificent 20th-century composer Morton Feldman created the piece Rothko Chapel (1971) in honor of this unusual creative project. Peter Gabriel has also written music inspired by the powerful personal experience that many visitors describe. It’s located on the same site as the radical and beautiful de Menil Collection (a museum that is absolutely worth your time), so you can spend a full day with transformative visual art and culture, nestled in a leafy Houston neighborhood of parks and local businesses. The large reflecting pool on the Rothko Chapel grounds inspires us to pause and repair ourselves, with the large sculpture Broken Obelisk by Barnett Newman surrounded by a gentle wall of bamboo. It’s interesting to me that so many different types of political groups and artist collaborations happen in Rothko Chapel. It can be an overwhelming and somber place—if that’s what you bring to it. The chapel can be viewed in multiple directions and from many different angles. It feels like a room that doesn’t just offer a visual experience but also suggests to the viewer that they have something to say and create themselves.


One of our most precious meeting places is the humble and ever-changing record store. Almost any person reading this website probably knows of the life-and-death business struggle that our independent music stores are facing. So, without dwelling on the bad times, how about we remember all the good? If anything, a record store is the most open-minded and liberal place you can every find yourself, only bested by a library or a really great book store. Although economics can play a large role in what is stocked, in the end, a genuinely fine record store opens its shelves, its bins, its hidden hooks and knooks and skull-candled corners to all music with wonderous abandon. Between secondhand LPs, hand-printed fanzines, sharpie-drawn divider cards, incense-infused flags, shirts, patches, more flags, import mixtapes and homeburned four-song EPs, there is the freedom to stumble into the very best humans can express. Music may have its own hierarchies and clicks and “too cool” and all that—really, it accepts all the freaks and champions the lonely and disaffected and welcomes in the best joys and even lets you find something to agree with your parents about. Where else can you find the new Parlour album next to M.I.A. while searching for Osvaldo Golijov’s wonderful Oceana disc that features Kronos Quartet, which reminds me I need to pick up another copy of that Philip Glass Quartets CD they made in 1995, and wait do they maybe have a 12-inch of “Bullet With Butterfly Wings,” and while I’m getting to the used-vinyl section I might need to see if they have Ali Farka Touré’s In The Heart Of The Moon and Young Widows’ Old Wounds and Low’s Trust. It’s impossible to summarize how local record stores vastly contribute to music culture. We have to act and really support them. Those people behind the counter are living archives of something precious and human, the memory in the body of our collected songs.


With a master director like Akira Kurosawa, it’s a challenge to pick any one of his films to praise. He’s made so many wonderful and thrilling movies (30!). Yet, until a few years ago, I was strangely in the dark regarding his incredible crime drama Stray Dog from 1949. Starring Toshirō Mifune (Kurosawa’s longtime collaborator in a very early role) and the magnificent Takashi Shimura, this seemingly simple “cops and robbers” film subverts the expectations of the audience. Not to spoil the hardboiled plot—basically, a cop looses his gun in a moment of chaos and then chases down a criminal that is using that stolen gun to wreck havoc throughout Tokyo. With beautiful acting and an unusually graphic visual style (including a montage that seems incredibly modern), a sense of epic struggle and determination fills what could be at first glance a very basic narrative. To see post-war Tokyo is somewhat shocking, and the film has a real sense of scale and historical weight. As with Kurosawa’s other urban crime films (the excellent High And Low and The Bad Sleep Well), there’s a moral discussion at the heart of this story that seems to predict the current work of Michael Mann, Jacques Audiard, Carl Franklin, Christopher Nolan and David Simon. Without easy heroes or villains—and with a painful empathy for each person in the story—Stray Dog is bracing, existential chase film that hasn’t lost any relevance in the last 50 years. Good news? There’s a recent Criterion Collection release of the film with a new English translation. (Thank you to Leon Ingulsrud and Stephen Webber for their input for this article and for being awesome.)


Walter Mosley is an author of detective fiction and crime stories. He’s also an editor, activist and winner of the Anisfield Wolf Award (for writing that encourages the understanding of race and human diversity). His rare gift is to use the mystery genre to bring rich and troubled characters together, while sharply observing the struggle of decent people of all backgrounds to find a safe haven in America. Issues of friendship and trust are central to these stories. The level of detail and sense of place that he conjures is one of his greatest strengths, but the love and human decency he captures (even in the face of true hatred and violence) is really powerful. I’ve read quite a few of his novels over the years including many of the Easy Rawlins series (Devil In A Blue Dress, Bad Boy Brawly Brown). There is one book that struck my heart with such force I’ve had to return several times to just “be with it.” A collection of 14 short stories all linked in one narrative, Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned (1997) is a masterpiece of any genre. In fact, it may not even really be a crime novel. Most of the real crime in his stories is what happens to good people who try to fight the system or ask for forgiveness or dare to be more than what has been forced upon them. The main character, Socrates Fortlow, is an ex-convict haunted by his violent early life who wants only to be at peace. In Mosley’s world, peace doesn’t come easily, and Socrates finds himself mediating, debating, battling and repairing his neighborhood in Watts. Social barriers and tests of faith fill these stories, presenting a side of Los Angeles that is free from its glossy mythology. The moral clarity and sense of purpose will touch readers from any world, and the beautiful craft of his writing will stay with you a long time and possibly give you strength when you think you’ve finally taken all you can. To say something is “inspiring” can be faint praise, suggesting a soft pat on the back, but this book is a swift kick to the heart, saying, “Keep beating. Never, never, never give up.”


“It’s Possible For A Radio To Open A Door.”

I can still recall, vividly, my pre-sexual meanderings in the early ’80s, where the notion of the “wide, wide world” was just forming. I was past the tadpole but not even close to the lungfish stage. I had a few friends—but not many—and when one of them moved to the distant continent of “Ohio,” I was crushed. Silver lining? I was allowed to visit my friend John D. in his new hometown of Sidney, Ohio, that summer of 1984. The resulting bus trip/adventure was a big moment of freedom. On that trip, I saw my first punk show. (I think.) I wish so much that I could remember who it was. On the other side of the spectrum, the world of pop radio was quickly becoming interesting. Even with the mountain of commercial junk, there were those initial stabs of genius by Prince, and “Invisible Sun” was a smash, and things were more open to individual DJs spinning what they wanted. (Remember those days?) But that summer, one song changed me forever, and I don’t really know where it falls in the annals of music history or if was even a big radio hit: “Electric Kingdom” by Twilight 22, released in ’83. From the first second of its metallic/robotic/imported-from-the-future beat, I had a glimmer that music was now different—something new and utterly unexpected was happening. I wasn’t there to catch Planet Rock or be down with Kraftwerk, but this song announced that rap and hip hop had found us. In a very small town on a very large jambox. We were intrigued by its weird blend of world music, freak-a-zoid computer voices and heavy drum drones. There was an Egyptian part, then a kind of Chinese(?) part, then some Addams Family baroque harpsichord section and so on. The hard-edge lyrics described an urban life that I vaguely understood from movies. So far away from my everyday life and current battles. There was a sense of darkness but also bravado that had us crowded around the radio, waiting to capture the song on a (low-bias, red-and-gray) Maxell cassette tape.

The song was created by Gordon Bahary (who had previously worked with Stevie Wonder) and Joseph Saulter (who collaborated with Herbie Hancock). The production style alone captivates the listener, but the lack of inhibition and sense of adventure is what makes it great. The track is almost always featured on Rap Classics or Electro-Funk! compilations nowadays. Back in 1984, this song drew us in, leading to Midnight Star, Art Of Noise, Herbie Hancock’s “Rockit,” Grandmaster Flash, Melle Mel and the Furious Five. Soon, Run-DMC, Public Enemy, A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul and Ice T would all make legendary albums. Outkast, Cannibal Ox, Jay-Z, the Roots, Notorious B.I.G., Tupac, Nas, Dr. Dre and hundreds of incredible talents proved the power of hip hop to transform American and global music forever. No other musical genre in my lifetime has more of an influence on mass culture, broken more technical boundaries and spoken to a wider and more diverse audience. “Electric Kingdom” is a song title that sounded like the future, then became the future of music.