Diamanda Galás: Why I Love Hal Willner
August 10, 2012
Published in: The Quietus (London, UK), August 10, 2012
I have known Hal Willner since 1989. He is one of the three reasons I moved to NYC, after having lived in Paris, Berlin and London. One morning in NYC, after two shows of The Masque Of The Red Death, I got a call from a Mr. Hal Willner from NBC.
He was selecting the artists for a show called Night Music, the most radical music series on television, and in order to freak him out and get him to quit, some executive producer sent him my music. Unfortunately for them, he liked it, and he invited me to play on the show. Of course the show had already presented, with Hal’s direction, Charlie Haden’s Liberation Orchestra, Screaming Jay Hawkins, Carla Bley, Bootsy Collins, Pharoah Sanders, Leonard Cohen, Henry Rollins, Al Green, Sun Ra, and Mary Margaret O’Hara, so Hal and Dave showed the kind of range I could appreciate in any case, although I knew nothing about the show.
For years Hal has worked in the sound department providing bizarre soundtracks for Saturday Night Live, with an available archive that no one else has. That is his mainstay work while otherwise traveling the world producing shows and artists.
He has produced WIlliam Burroughs, Alan Ginsberg, Marianne Faithfull, Jeff Buckley, Macy Gray, and I have asked him to produce an album soon. His first major tribute record to Nino Rota won a Grammy, I am told. Having heard it, I am not surprised.
I am crazy about Willner. He is a MOTHERFUCKER and is one of the stars of the radical music scene in NYC and Hollywood. If you do not catch him you are missing out on one of the greatest shamanistic figures in music today. The man produces records by looking at the artist, and all he or she has done, and suddenly he knows the songs, the people to call for the arrangements, the musicians from his mammoth selection of musical geniuses, including Leon Theremin’s invention, which he discussed beforehand with the man himself, the Harry Partch instruments, and so on, and he does not censor his radar because some conventional fool does not understand him. He is a visionary.
For the record, I appeared on the Mingus tribute recording Weird Nightmare: Meditations On Mingus (1992, Eclipse) along with Art Barron, who is also the arranger for much of the recording, Leonard Cohen, Charlie Watts, Geri Allen, Robbie Robertson, Gary Lucas, and many others.
And I have performed and recorded Poe’s ‘The Black Cat’ on his Poe recording, which featured Abel Ferrara, Ken Nordine, Iggy Pop, Ed Sanders, Eric Mingus and Keith Richards.
He did a De Sade evening in the late 90s, in which I appeared solo along with the great Lili Taylor, Eric Mingus, and Michael Flanagan, who was the sickest looking creature there, with white eyeballs and half naked (and lovely), and many others. Michael was also the editor of all the texts chosen for the performers.
Hal is my brother and he is talking about the Black Man being shut out from the world, the way so many of us have talked about the homosexual and every other exile shut out at home, in the street, in another city, another country – like a person whose forehead says, “INFECTIOUS.”
You may think you have heard this music. You have NOT. You have NOT heard it before. If you are homosexual, remember the man who sat at the back of the bus – and how much we all learned from his experience – how to mobilize, male and female, lest some forget the past in the West and the present everywhere else. The enemy is strong and the war against personal freedom will never end. Fighting is a privilege. I know that.
And Hal knows that, CHECK HIM OUT.