The London fashion / style magazine, I-D, ran a super short interview with Leslie Winer, when her album Witch was first released. I checked it primarily because Jah Wobble was involved, plus Winer cited Adrian Sherwood, and obviously I’m a huge fan. The most striking statement in this tiny article was Winer`s aim to de-mystify all the male macho bullshit that existed (exists?) around music making. She said she was the witch, come to reclaim the mixing desk, and redress the balance. It stayed with me, I can still see the words on the page, the layout. I’m kinda cursed like that, though the booze and the drugs have served to dampen it. Recorded in 1990, and in a few very select stores in `93, I was struck, but didn’t go searching for a copy `cos it only came out on CD. I didn’t / don’t do CDs. When San Franciscan label, Superior Viaduct, pressed the set to vinyl in 2014, however, I jumped on it. Staggered by its brilliance, I bought copies for friends.
Sonically there were / are similarities with Sinead O`Connor – in places the two shared players, while Winer wrote and performed a song – Just Call Me Joe – featured on Sinead`s debut. Winer`s public persona was / is as fierce as that of Ms. Grace Jones – who Winer has also penned the odd tune for. When I published a review I drew comparison to On-U Sound, Massive Attack, J. Saul Kane`s Depth Charge, Steve Jesse Bernstein`s Prison, Bomb The Bass, and Laurie Anderson. Ascribed the album a significant depth of dread knowledge. Made allusions to language, viruses, white lilies, and the Big Apple stretching. Duane Eddy riffs, David Lynch movies, and King Tubby.
Seattle`s Light In The Attic now have put together a retrospective of Winer`s “anti-career”, When I Hit You, You’ll Feel It. I`d like to call her Leslie, but I’ve a strong sense that she’d take offence at such unearned familiarity. While the compilation collects subsequent solo work, and decade-spanning sparring with collaborators, such as Jon Hassell and Jay Glass Dubs, the bulk of the tracks are taken from Witch. Its hypnotic mix of hushed harmonies and dub boom. The beat poetry, opulent with occult, largely cinematic and literary, references*. As someone who attempted at prose, and found solace and salvation in the process, I could tell straight away that this wasn’t tossed off, this was the real deal. No goof ball pomes. Its authenticity attested to by the fact that Winer acts as co-executor for Herbert Huncke`s estate. If Jack Kerouac stole his cadence and stance from Neal Cassady, then William Burroughs did the same with Huncke, a true Times Square savant.
In the late `70s / early `80s Winer was a close confidante of Burroughs, and her time spent shooting dope, and being charged by his orgone accumulator, in the infamous Bowery Bunker, is evident in her lyrical observations, and her method. Both poems and tracks constructed through Burroughs, and Brion Gysin`s “patented” cut-up. Stitched together – Witch was made back when everything was still tape – from myriad samples and takes. Collages, where so much truth is revealed between the seeming non-sequiturs. For example Dream 1`s cryptic, narcotic, flipping of Ricky Lee Jones` “little fluffy clouds”, for a nod to needles, spoons, and dirty cottons. Dylan-esque lists, peppered with pop – right and left – hooks, fleshed out from nights frugging on clubland`s frontline, of film, fashion, and art, in both London and New York. Skin, with its melancholy acoustic strum, and heart-invading bass – that I read as a song of lust, and love, torn from AIDS` emerging spectre.
Witch sank, only to be mentioned in cult whispers. Lost in the legal wrangling as then label, Rhythm King, was sold to the major, Epic. In addition, I guess marketing were at a loss, since it wasn’t really a dance record – except for the buoyant The Boy Who Used 2 Whistle. Fat and squelchy, like a contemporary William Orbit outing, spliced with digital dancehall Sleng Teng sections, with a sing-along New Orleans Mardi Gras chorus. Overhauling Dr John`s hoodoo, and strolls on glided splinters, for the E-generation.
When it comes to the “non-Witch” workouts on WIHYYFI what caught my ear immediately were the broken beats, bruised but still dishing out a beating, the Muscle Shoals organ, and mantras, of Box. RoundUp Ready is a dangerous raggamuffin son-of-a-gun, wild wild west Rawhide rumble, recounting roughneck Runyon-esqe Lower East Side tales. 2012`s Tree is a bastardized Irish jig & reel. Its serrated strings droning like a Hindi devotional. Then there’s Fragment #2. A late night, lonely, diary entry, dating from 2015, co-produced with one of Winer`s five daughters. Ethereal and weary, but occasionally cockily copping a curled lip mock Elvis croon. Way past strung-out, standing, surviving, on the other side. Where hard-earned wisdom lives. Songs as spells, tracks full of totems – “these three sad things” – of an incredible cross-continental life of countless chance collisions with cultural icons, who consequently became friends and co-conspirators. When I was a kid one piece of cockney lore that got bandied about was, “You make your own luck.”**
Leslie Winer`s When I Hit You, You’ll Feel It can be purchased directly from Light In The Attic.
*The song 5 references John Wayne`s ill-fated film, The Conqueror (Wayne as Genghis Khan (!?)), which was filmed downwind of a Nevada Desert nuclear testing site. Of the 220 cast and crew, 91 developed cancer. 43 cases, including Wayne, his co-stars and director, proved terminal. The tragedy is said to have haunted the movie`s producer Howard Hughes – something qualified by his attempts to use his money and influence to halt further testing. Winer runs hidden histories, like this one, within poetry peppered with Biblical prophecy, The Gulf War, and crimes against Native America.
**In Wyndham Wallace`s amazing, book-like, liner notes, that allude to Winer`s trials, when asked if she was / is a “badass”, she somewhat sadly says that she had no choice.