“Tav Falco’s Panther Burns on Marge Thrasher 1979” is the title of this video on YouTube. The lads play a song, and then Tav is interviewed by the host, who is not only chagrined and shocked, but also a bit disgusted.
It’s great, though, because Tav really sheds a light on the nature of the exercise. I’d be the first to admit that it’s not immediately clear just what the act is all about.
This appearance was not long after the band was formed. Tav, given name Gustavo Antonio Falco, calls the band’s product “anti-music,” telling the host that “[we] are the live orchestra to accompany this video feed.”
Marge Thrasher was way less than impressed. “Was any Federal grant money spent on this?” she demands to know. In her critical opinion, “we’ve hit an all-time low this morning on ‘Straight Talk’.” She called the music, “possibly the worst sound that I’ve ever heard come out on TV.”
Mr. Falco keeps his cool, and responds to her questions with admirable clarity and artistic integrity. “I don’t think anyone else is playing music like this, in Memphis or anywhere else in the world.”
“(This music is) not part of the establishment, not part of our everyday environment.”
“We create an anti-environment to make real musicians more visible.” The idea being that otherwise, the real rockabilly and blues artists are “invisible.”
“We create contrast.”
Marge is highly indignant at being tricked into providing a forum for this kind of artistic hijinks. “Do people pay you to play?” she asks, as though that will prove something. “Occasionally,” answers Tav, “but we’re not in it for the money.” The very definition of gentlemanly dedication to no-commercial-potential.
“Is it art?” demands Marge. “I don’t know if it’s art,” says Tav, “it’s Art Damage.”
There’s a lot about this fascinating man on the ‘Net. He’s got an interesting Wiki page, and a web-site of his own. He was born on the East Coast in 1945, to an Italian-American family, and he was raised in Kick Stump, Mississippi Valley, American Deep South, ending up in Memphis, where he made his mark in the multimedia art community.
The Wiki page quotes him as saying that his artistic purpose is, “to stir up the dark waters of the unconscious.”
The band here includes Alex Chilton, famous for his lead singing with the Box Tops, including the giant 1968 hit, “The Letter.” Also famous, or infamous, for his high-level involvement with Big Star, the greatest Southern Power-Pop band ever to record two LPs that went nowhere. Alex became disillusioned with glossy pop music and returned to Memphis in 1978, meeting Tav and co-forming Panther Burns in early 1979. He is introduced here as “Axel Chitlins.”
Tav Falco’s Panther Burns is like an onion: there are many layers to peel back, and after you do, you still don’t really know too much.