Friday, March 19, 2010
The cops were here for a minute
I'm afraid of the shaking main - left side
Miho - not famous and drawing bigger than expected
Is pointing, her arms like whips, body ghostially
Under our fluorescent lamp
That's stage lighting
This isn't loud?
MY ears are too full of rigor and cum
I've decorated my life
Like musicians aught to do
But not necessarily
The Kinds of musicians that
I want to be
I am my senses
among Other Things
Some of them are decoractions
Which I sense
Ugly, clashing, unmatched
And the music in the katch
Riled, strident, complex
Wound up around abstractions
Of concepts designed
To Make physicality
Words don't do that.
Words are music.
Wednesday, February 10, 2010
…And I try to find myself, as casually as the vast region of anti-impulse power in my brain cares to allow, on the damp concrete that glitters with embedded gold dust, soaking slightly in the imagined moisture of the meta-space above an Indian basement in the rainy season. The power to simultaneously Be in that place and in Brooklyn is wielded with ease and casual expertise by one of the best psychedelic bands in the world. Powers like those I attribute to yogis and Tantra masters as described by early-20th-century pulp classics that I’ve never read. They can pierce the veil of matter. They can read my mind. The band is three people, mostly women: Prince Rama of Ayodya, the conduit to higher.
…And outside, Spirit Family Reunion is bringing together a broadening network of my acquaintances. They are dressed, Appalachia in hi-tops, with the hi-tops hidden by work boots, chins hidden by beards and fiddles, young men who walked out of 1910 trying to be five years older and carrying on with the music from on the mountain. It’s superb. It ain’t bluegrass cause they ain’t Nashville cats. They don’t shred, and they ain’t got no shed. They howl at the fuckin’ moon with the same stark-raving sanity coy-dogs’ll get ter doin’ when you put the cat out. Let’s you know you’re the lonely one in the equation. The cat’s a take-of-itself. The coy-dogs'll take care o' th' cat. Where was I? Catterwalling. And the Reunion is damn good at it. The bar doesn’t applaud, they literally sing out in harmony because the band seems to include space for that in their repertoir. They have pretty girls sashaying and kicking by the bar, like ‘twer gay Pairee.
…And parting a curtain made of heavy rubber flaps, I hear the Jesus Lizard fronted by a saucy minx, which makes the regular Jesus Lizard sound positively pedestrian. The woman is Denise Barbarita, her band is called the Morning Papers, and they mean it. There is very little fucking around going on. They’ve got robust professionalism and practical tastes, which lets them to play big notes and big chords with authority that begins and ends in Barbarita’s voice. It seems mostly to be regular rock music, but the odder numbers are both fascinating and moving. She concludes her set with “I Don’t Like You,” a song about a frank discussion that leaves the narrator in a state of emotional break down, described by this “regular rock” band with the mangling of their instruments and the throwing of broken glass at the audience. This turns me around. Then the narrator picks her herself up and continues to tell her object to politely fuck off.
…And on to the stage, from the ceiling of the dapper gray cube that contains the Cameo Gallery, is the steady motion of colored light on paper or thread, which looks like rain and draws the eye right down the performance and nothing else.
Prince Rama plays music that has a lot in common with bands commonly found in Williamsburg. They make it using synthesizers, generally three to four layers of saw-tooth-wave-based pads, occasionally a guitar, repetitive, tribal, eminently danceable drums, and a small choir. The emphasis of their songs is the sensation of the textural blend, rather than the transition and resolution between harmonies as guided by melody in support of poetry. Prince Rama’s voice arrives from a thousand ago, reverberating between the crust of the earth and the ozone layer, the words rarely, and then barely, distinguishable from the infinitude of their counterparts. It’s music made behind itself, where the supporting roles take center stage. Prince Rama is not the shaman taking the peyote and thereafter distributing wisdom to the tribe. Prince Rama is the peyote itself. The presentation is flawed only in that Prince Rama is a band, and this is a performance with pauses between songs and decisions about what to play next. This music would be better suited to a primal rave where thousands of people copulated with the thin air surrounding thousands of others. I wish that it would never stop.
Prince Rama has a particular brilliance in that they make music derived from the same post-modern post-guitar urge that is common in Williamsburg, but are unique in that they aren't at all ironic. They seem to be inspired by all the music they've ever heard instead of vaguely reacting against it. They play with textures more than songs because they love texture, not because the song is a dying form. So many bands in Brooklyn are impatient to see the old tropes die, like lovers who hate goodbyes so they never say "I love you." Prince Rama is the pulse that quickens when lovers say "I want to see you again."
I love it so. This band now resides in Brooklyn and is gigging regularly. Go see them now!
Denise Barbarita gave me a copy of her first record because she is fucking awesome. I want to tell everyone about this woman, who plays a mean guitar, has an un-Hollywood body and must, I imagine, drink whiskey. It’s an attractive looking CD, and sounds crisp and full; the mix, which is the third thing that caught my attention, is impeccable and tasteful, and notable because Denise is the one what done it. She also recorded and produced it. And wrote it. The first thing I noticed is the spacey and slightly discordant ringing of synthetic bells that open the record and smooth over into the kind of motion one feels lying on one’s back in the ocean: it’s almost a drone, because the inertia of one’s body breaks up the momentum of the peaks and valleys in the oceans waves. The effect is the product of an orchestra of guitars and voices, the envelopes of which open immediately and eventually respectively. …And then the track switches over and the guitars get heavy. Denise seems to have absorbed all the rock music in NYC over the last fifteen years and fed it piece by piece into a hopper. In “Hush Hush” she takes the post-ska of early No Doubt and time-warps to last summer in a break-down that anticipates the Dirty Projectors. “Hold On” is noise rock, but made a producer who knows how to use an SSL 4000+ G-Series console, and not by punks. It grows by leaps and bounds and grows on me, but this style works better live, when the sound works on me physically. At its height it's an exhibit of what Denise does best on the record, which is the transition between dense arrangements, which are generally more successful on the acoustic guitar-driven numbers that comprise two-thirds of the disc. Therefore my favorite part of the album is the final untitled track, which is neither a rocker nor a sensitive acoustic menagerie, but a chant built around close-order harmonies, which resemble those used by the Bulgarian State Radio & Television Female Choir, and their reverberation through actual, virtual, and solid spaces. Catch the live show and you’ll get weirder songs and more heft. I like it!
...And there are five, maybe seven people in the room. I'm a foot off the ground and falling and I land on a blind man's toes. I think about Cara, Nick Cave (the performance artist who makes sound suits, not the singer/songwriter/author/screenwriter), and those Alvin Ailey posters in the subway as I dance, wishing that I had the space to myself and also that Prince Rama had a capacity crowd. I dance and think of those kids flailing at Fugazi shows in "Instrument." I dance and try to take deep breaths from the cool air close to the ground. I dance. I dance. I dance. Thank you Prince Rama. I'll see you again.
Friday, August 28, 2009
Let’s begin at the end, so that we express our belief that nothing ever ends. We know that this is true because we end our stories in the middle of others, we begin them at the end in reverse, and we sometimes make stories that never stop. It is inconceivable to earnestly begin a story. It is outright arrogance, assumed ascension and portentous pontificatry! To begin a thing is to know Nothing and then to change it. Pause a moment and ponder the varied impossibilities and absolutes contained in that statement and then read this: I will not claim access to Nothing, nor to her entourage, though I think I saw them once at a Meatpacking District after-hours club. Sometimes I ride my pedicab through those wobbly alleys looking for the as-yet elusive magic ride: a near-endless journey that involves a satanic sum of money, and hopefully some drugs and sex. Anyway, Nothing, being neither here nor there, wasn’t likely present. Her attractive and hollow hangers-on however, exited an unmarked brick warehouse-style building filled to bursting with couture and cocktails, then, Illuminated by three flashes from a camera, they stepped into an extended black SUV and trundled drunkenly into the deep of Thursday morning. I couldn’t help but imagine a lonely Nothing, not frolicking in eternity, neither with nor without Anything else for company, deserved some better friends.
That would be me and my mind in my mind. Sometimes I feel like a wallflower at the Sock Hop where Nothing is playing the part of Belle-of-the-Ball. We, me and my mind, are standing there together, one of us the body and the other the wall, neither knowing our job but doing it anyway. At this dance, Phish is the band. The time that the dance happened at Darien Lake on Aug. 13, 2009, I held an embodied Nothing in my arms at the moment Trey sang “…and set a different course.” Then I saw the pinnacle of a blasting and bizarre narrative arrive from within: everyday, every lifetime containing every day and every fraction of a day between the first day before history began and the moment that my brain registers as now, which is actually 0.0000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000004 days before that moment, appears as a shadow of the now, approaching in silence, and arriving somewhere just a step into the future as a fully-golden throat trumpeting its own arrival. Phish must be made of Supermen, for the weight of such a truth merely brings them to their knees.
In the distance, at the moment I write this, Bono is singing, “It’s not a hill, it’s a mountain.” Take that Authorship.
I was rumpled and in love.
The First Mutable Law of Phish: We Want You To Be Happy!
When I look at my face in the mirror, I see many things: the second is the apparent spatial distortion cause by warped mat silver. I see a canine countenance; cheek bones and shape to my jaw that changes every few weeks ears that are large enough to imply the letter V, which reminds me of V for Vendetta and bolsters my self-esteem; perfect and mismatched eyebrows, a long and winding nose; a Greek theater mask moving and winding ever-so-slightly, as if the viewer were on the tiniest bit of acid; my history or my future depending on how much I’ve been drinking and when I woke up; the place where my mustache should go; an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 in which a guy wears tightey-whiteys on his chin; Vegeta from Dragonball Z; the water of Long Island Sound lapping at the side of the New London ferry; a camel; fascination; a library; a loudspeaker.
It wasn’t until recently that I recognized the absence of Misery, which used to be a mainstay on my face, appearing nightly in spectacular productions of rage, hatred, bitterness, snobbery and cruelty. Now I see a door, because I can meet each eye in the mirror with its counterpart in the real.
“Joy,” by Phish, is the kindest of invitations to the past to accept and love its future. The world WILLs to know the supreme and abject bliss of quiet love trumpeted to the shores of the river of no-time. We could do it all now. We can step through the door of our eyes. It sounds like fingertips pressed lightly to our shoulder blades, a tender bosom pressing ours, a firmament made soft and a clear bed of stars harboring the smoke from campfires.
The Lot looks like a field of orchids waving gently. The ground is lush and pungent. The tops of heads and shimmering bodies turn, whirl, suspend, dive, twist and breathe. The other side is just above a gate yawning thigh-wide. A mountain is slowly growing like fibers between a Tesla coil. Pockets and rows collide and fumble like water to and from a high green wall shielding the face of a white, three-pointed tent. Somewhere, down low, the band is running through “Sugar Shack.” Hear them practicing their play! You shan’t regret it.
I’m here because of the grand yaysaying, the in of the out, the whole of the soul: the Jam. It’s hard to Jam alone. It’s hard to see the universe when staring at an inerververse, but it’s truly a holy circus with the sun setting behind roller coasters and silhouetted against some contraption dangling people upside down.
The Second Mutable Law of Phish: Beauty and Danger Live Side-By-Side
It’s only hard to understand exactly what it means to have these two in your bed until you get a visit from the Wolfman’s Brother, who sends you through a maze of trials: battle, rattle, cattle, the works! Sure you can fight. Yes, you may dine. Yes, you may get devoured…or bored if you are That Kind of Person. But if you just say YES! O, blissful, beautiful YES! To what the guy has to say, you’ll come out coming on the otherside: a planet of green grass with a wooden chest in the center. When you open the chest, something suddenly leaps at you and squeaks incessantly. If you say NO, you are in violation of some law of beauty.
And should you happen to make friends with the Wolfman’s Brother, even going so far as to include him in romantic interludes, occasion, night drives to the ocean and so forth, what happens when your new friend pulls a knife from Nowhere (the second cousin of Nothing)? Will you run away from your fantastical and rambunctious ally? Could you forget your mutuality? Your intertext? Would you assume some new morality to help you cope with your status as rejecter? Or will you decide to learn just what makes a knife so beautiful to your new friend? Will you get a knife of your own? And just whose brother would that knife happen to be?
No matter what you decide, you will likely live to see it come to disaster. Deal with it. Once I went a-driving, a-very late at night, in an attempt to reach my home, before the morning light. I drove a heavy auto-car, as fast as it could fly, and when it raced under my wheels, a mother fox did die. And how should I cope? Should I cry? Or take it to the erotic earth, where the Centre keeps Its eyes. It’s a tight rope strung across a gorge, with ne’er a helping hand to cross. But the band keeps chugging along due North, as if they didn’t feel the loss.
And should I decide to follow, to the farmhouse ‘cross the way, the band would play perfection, for this earth’s tender sway. “You are on course,” they loudly sigh. “You’ve seen the door behind your eyes. Now follow to with tremulous pace, and just remember, ‘it’s not a race.’” Life’s perfection, delivered swift, is this dance house band’s lasting gift.
Follow the line of the rope on which you crossed the gorge to the backside of the farmhouse. There you’ll find the farmer’s sugar shack. It’s low and grey and sends steam into the sky. A million plastic lines run to it from the nearby forest, where maple trees are tapped with pegs, strung with buckets, and made to deliver sugar to the world. I crawl inside. You crawl inside. We step inside with our blankets and hose and bunk down for the early spring, climbing the walls and regulating the boiler. The air is literally sweet in this room, for the sugar is hot enough to ionize and then crystallize in our lungs. Breathing becomes laborious, and we settle into staring at the walls. When night falls, we’ve forgotten the world outside the shack.
Many winters pass. We’ve produced a lot of syrup, which has stuck up straight up on the ground. We can neither lie down nor fly. And this is a most mundane predicament. How ever shall we get beyond it? However shall we cope? However shall we learn to accept it? However shall we make it feel good? However shall we convince the others that it feels good? However shall we forget the feeling of being unstuck? However shall we taste something unsweet? However shall we stop asking questions? However shall we remember the questions we used to ask?
He came to this planet to begin anew, but found only ennui. He found a world as blank and raw as a codex of sophistry. To look in this book is to beg for madness, a terrible issuance, a fierce and terrible utterance. I’m alone. I am extra and more. Man in body, and altogether sore. But the there is hope, for my madness begs for partners. They come in droves. The answer to their prayers, thinks he: LET’S BE MAD TOGETHER! LET’S DANCE! A demonstration of how to turn world-chaos into harmony.
If you want to get in on Bowie’s trip you have to drink some homemade gin. You can make it in mass quantities in your very own bathtub. Once imbibed you will recognize a third mutable law of Phish: IT’S ALRIGHT WHEN IT’S ALL WEIRD.
The weirdness is contained within a single cell. The world is divided into three parts: the biosphere: the physical planet, our bodies, plants, animals, paramecia, rocks, etc.; the subjective: the individual, self-referential and therefore seemingly isolated consciousness that I experience as a an ever-shifting chronology; and metaconsciousness: the Force, God(s), Eris, the symbiotic energies generated by and informing the other two (all wisdom is about this last and least/most important principle, except when it’s about the other two). Family, gathered, growing strong. You have the universe inside you. So breath. I saw you. I saw you there. Maybe just once. But once lasts for a lifetime that lasts for infinity because every moment is the same as every other moment. Every particle, at the fundamental, most inverted and non-existent level is identical in nature and placement to every other particle. I saw you. You were me. I am you. We are all together, and we’re dancing. That is why Golgi Apparatus.
Wednesday, August 12, 2009
Heartache is a monestary.
Enlightenment by way of Roller Coaster: every move is permanent, like bodies flashed over themselves in times, two pictures of infinity on the same film. His guitar is a hive of bees performing Buddhist chants. It’s an organ throat-singing. It’s reverberations contemplating its own existence, its distance revealed as embodied, faith that every idea is a good one, repetition as a vehicle for truth, the cosmos contained in a bar called Zebulon, living proof that this time and place is a product of our imaginations and so must be real.
Lock-step march. The SS is patrolling the galaxy, commands issued in static across the stars, fed to tiny receptors impanted in the brain.
You did this to us. NOW WE ARE WAKING! THE NEW ONES ARISE! AND THEY CAN’T SEE WHERE THEY’RE GOING! We obliterated the sighs, and left dust cascading.
New Project: Once-a-year by Shea, Barr, and Dahl
Music as hyper-litter. Songs with all the notes filled in with other notes. No one is left out. Your favorite song is probably in this mess somewhere. Electric regurgitating godlike hyper-silence, pan-tone wonder. Keep atop the rook filled with carrion crows with vibrating eyes that contain a thousand galactic loads from the forebears of whiskey and tree bark. This is what reading sounds like in nightmares. This music acts like real fire: burning indiscriminately, the detritus and the monolithic alike; fire that burns the fuel rods and lady slippers. Music for starving vultures that looks like my handwriting. If you find it frightening when...then you haven’t got the guts. Get out. Right now. I’m cowardly and grateful for a mammoth stomp because it’s got rhythm. Pussy.
Death goes to the winner: it means mortality is what gives our lives meaning. Not a precious few minutes have we, but eons unto themselves flaking away like tree bark.
The storm arrives scattering unpredictability and everyone wrapped up in the meely scraping alive runs for cover.
I love to live. I love to laugh. I love to let it rain in my eyes. Layers of doom cannot scare me. Sayers of gloom cannot hear me.
If you can’t see a point to what you can’t understand, then you should fear me.
Rock n’ Roll is how I say I love you.
Guitar distortion is how I say I care.
Rock n’ Roll is why I am alive.
Wednesday, July 1, 2009
NOISE! 2009 in NYC
I couldn’t find the Ontological Theater. It’s inside a church, St. Mark’s Church I think, up formaldehyde stairs, past pale yellow and green walls covered with detailed signs. At the top, there is a black box and seats dedicated to being.
Which of the masochistic critics, at the beginning of the video game’s rise in the 1980’s from cultural leaving to entertainment overlord, would (or did; if so, I’d like their names…for a list of some kind) have predicted that the sounds and life-modes of the gamers would one day come to influence, and even structure Avant-Garde music?
Here comes RADIO SHOCK! One man, a cheap guitar, a tiny amp, and a table covered with gadgetry. Everything bares the mark, sometimes subtly, other times full force, of day-glow duct tape. It’s one voice on one night: one performance under a single white light. I was reminded of a teenage boy alone in a basement, gaming his way to private glory, in part because Radio Shock actually plays a Nintendo Gameboy as an instrument, and also because it incites emotional memory in me. At one time, before my parents, determined to quell a bout of semi-psychotic behavior, took my Super Nintendo away, I was that very boy. I relished long nights, weekends, and even weeks compiling memories from the rapid changes in flickering lights. I learned I had to push through the frustration I felt at repetitive movement in order to see the screen that said I had succeeded. In some sense, Radio Shock is the embodiment of the aftershock. After I was done looking at being successful, I would inevitably grow even more frustrated that I had done so much for so little. Then I would play more video games, screaming, “This is BULLSHIT” in my head. And I was never very good at them. Radio Shock is like all of that: obsessive, squirming, alone, screaming bloody murder but not expecting to be heard. Imagine a sentient android child set adrift on a spacecraft headed for deep space by a fearful humanity trying desperately to protect itself from its own creation. Imagine that child sing-songing to itself for all eternity with no one to listen.
The only real qualifier for being a field operative in the Avant-Garde is that one’s art must incite in those partaking of it the feeling or memory of newness. There is nothing new about any of the compartments of Radio Shock. All of the instruments come from garage sales, all of the songs come from the existential clutter in the mind that causes one to periodically jerk out of early sleep and scream “SPACE;” it’s all basically punk rock. But what spunk! (author’s note: what’s punk? Get it?) It was simply impossible to take myself seriously when I caught myself thinking, the way one catches one’s dog vindictively masturbating with one’s favorite golf shoes – feelings of shock and awe and horror and total embarrassment – that I’d heard any of this before. Radio Shock is an insane set of variations on an insane theme, and no one knows exactly what or why that theme is, but we’re all sure it’s there and breathing heavily in the dark. I think I’ve heard it all before? Well take this, I! Have I ever heard anything before? I cannot have. For the sense of NEW surrounding Radio Shock is palpable as the one I can remember surrounding the listening to Melt Banana I did in my parents kitchen: equally cynical, and convinced of the superiority of the listen, not the art.
The New doesn’t reside in the Text; the New resides in the Textee, periodically in the Textor, and in the country on weekends. The Avant-Garde therefore must bare the stupid burden of continual self-definition, a very popular Catch-22. It is also in the unenviable position of making sense of all the stupid crap in the rest of our lives. Truly, it must be at least revelatory, if not mind-blowing, to some of you that the Nintendo Gameboy can be an instrument of Sense and Wonder and Joy. But without that crap, I think we would all experience some kind of transcendent, boundless spiritual unity. Nothing new about that. It’s where we come from and we have access to it whenever we want. Great Art is all about giving us that access. Avant-Garde art is about sneaking in the back door, knowing no one will see, and donating friendly or fiendly reminders that there’s a big, transcendent universe busily transcending in the great out and about of the Hodge Podge.
Hodge that Podge! And learn more about the rock of Radi0 Sc0ck at www.radioshock.org
Sunday, June 28, 2009
The Wreck Room
The band is Alien Whale
Alien Whale is played by Matt Mottel (Talibam!), Colin Langenus (ex-USAISAMONSTER), Nick (Necking)
There’s something inside my body that seems to prevent me from swimming like a whale. I think it would be like learning foreign grammar or belly dancing: teaching the hips something unexpected…I’d have to teach my hips not to exist. That’s impossible of course, but the humans in Alien Whale seem to have it done with the gusto of a rock fall.
1 hour back.
I’m bunched up, my chest one-third it’s usual size, on a desolate night-street near the basement of the bar in Fight Club. Somewhere nearby a plane is taking off unheard. I’m pressed by the ceiling of a maroon Dodge Caravan onto seventeen city-blocks worth of undelivered Vice Magazines. Traffic hisses outside and peace makes rounds like a nurse in the form of a pipe.
Periodically, I catch myself looking for snakes.
2 hours later.
I saw an alien whale
It spoke with itself without remembering
and then became a normal man
1.5 hours before.
Goddamn these men have their shit together. I can’t shake the feeling that I’m reaching for stars through a window. My hands have gone numb and I can’t feel the glass. Distribution? Income differential? Where, how, who to sign? I’m looking for signs and they’re goosing me like a flock of angry bats. Max Hodes got awful quiet, and then it all turned red.
It was normal social deference. I was ignoring the feeling of being tested. You know the average running-away-from-home-into-a-brick-wall feeling. It happens to most of you every day. It happens to me too. It’s probably just the color of the bricks becoming more and more interesting, but everything takes on a red hue and I can’t seem to breath enough, nor really take a breath. Time has stopped being behind me (so I know that the drugs have really kicked in. That’s still how I think sometimes: “the drugs,” as if they were a crowd of locals angry that I killed their god.) I forget my feet, loose my face running into a crowd ahead, and quietly rip my shirt open whimpering for sobriety to come back to the farm, like a dog missing its master.
“I wish I was having your experience.” Says Matt. He’s in the pack and misses no master.
Words are bones. These words are mostly a protuberant skull and hundreds of massive vertebrae. This could be the word of God. All experience is glorious, worthy, radiant, and to be shared. I think I’ve sown my lips shut. How would it be if I were instead a pressure cooker preparing to blow?
Only there’s no preparation. There’s no mind. There’s splitting open and there’s melting and there’s crisping in the hot sun and there’s the Ausberger’s squeeze machine and there’s the Rainbow Bridge, one hundred thousand miles long.
I don’t think about the whales. I’ve loved them all, humpback’s most of all, since I was conscious. I sanctified my love for cetations, the greatest of all creatures, with a serious of National Geographic documentaries on behavior. Breaching, diving, singing, breathing. Thereby, I found my spirit guide when I was six years old. And so I worshipped Moby Dick, the hero of whales, and I sang, and I held my breath under water.
0.5 hours thereafter.
One foot in front of the other. I’m silent, drunk in a tunnel, gulping down dirty water. Not tripping, but high enough to view everything as being utterly surreal. There’s a crowd of people who are not next to me. There’s one sadly fascist woman guarding the door, demanding X’s on my hands, or retribution in the form of $5. Her game is Sad Resolution. Not playing, not paying, not getting paid. She’s a volunteer and doesn’t see the use. She has beautiful lips.
A desert island ties off the room and there are mirrors behind me. Music schism and shining all over. Oh what will become of me Sad Shark says to Inflatable Girl. Nothing investigated so thoroughly as this journal. A sad bit of wisdom…forthcoming. Music from the PA: distant thuds timed oddly with broken kneecap salad. No windows or walls to speak of. Flattened rest-of-space-for-eternity. Just imagine that all space in the third, fourth, and fifth dimensions was compressed into a cube measuring 20x20x12 and that you reside at the very center, covered in musicians who have their shit together more than you ever thought you wanted to. One the one hand, its like swimming in an orgy of slugs. On many hands, it’s like being in school: like a punch to the heart.
The room says “Caught in a Trap” in the fine print.
The ground reflects the sky above like a sheet of ice. Harsh Captain of the Nazi Guard voices hiss and blow messages of exultant hatred. Get back you devils.
Then the DJ drops the beat. GOOD GOD! FUNK IS THE WAY OUT! EVEN ZAPPA-LEVEL FUNK BUGGERY DOES THE TRICK!
Pawn takes bishop; chatter takes clarity.
Sad and misfortunate weakness, says the weak, to be the showman. That’s me.
Twenty minutes have gone by.
Note #1, is like an ice pick to the forehead.
Freakish paranoia is as one leads oneself through a rocky tunnel.
I think I’ll call this “Reports From the Field.”
Greater sensations of floating. This is about suspension, off world in a greater way…but first! There are choices to be made. Feed back! I’m jamming back. Not I but WE! WE WE WE! Fusion ritual! Park! OUT OF THE PARK! Galactic tribunal to iron horses. Fireside chats with dad about venereal disease. Fuzzy disturbance in wave emissions of standing water. Rise feather light. Themassivemovements of a whale sped up, from human perspective, in the temporal perception of the slowly decaying beast. Coming to a rest can take the bat of a sun’s eyelid. My poor Yankee heart doesn’t know how to cope with riding into a dream like thunder.
AVAST ye great nothing! Stand astern may I yet be done with you in some more violent fashion. Here my call! THIS IS THE RIGHT TIME.
Almost. Its arrival is nigh. AND THERE’S NO PREPARRING YOUSELF. YOU MAY FIND YOURSELF IN THE END-TIMES OR THE BEGINNING OF SOMETHING FAR MORE MONSTROUS AND DOWN!
Time. Now playing on me a dream of doubt repeating, like a string of stamps laid over one another.
JUMP! LEAP! STOMP AROUND FOR JOYE! In transient space and moral conflict, jump these bones out of contraction. Breath perfumed steel and the tarnish of ancient blades.
Could Colin Langenus be the next Hendrix?
A horde of excuses wanders in and settles into my lap. I take them in and feed them, and keep them as my own. What they came in for, I no longer remember.
They are playing the “I’m Missing It Blues.”
I woke up this mo’nin,
Tim had passed me by.
I woke up this mo’nin,
Time had passed me by.
But I said, “Time you Keep On faster.”
As I watched her flying by.
But wait! There’s hope for you yet!
But wait! There are no easy answers!
Slap me out lordy slap me out. Lift me down from atop this down n’ out. Bear my body. Shout! O lordy.
Pull the string. The cow says the sign says “This way to the jam.” This is your time, if you want it.
Discord closes doors. Hit them running with the Jam or you fall away and produce a racket like this: baby birds pulling themselves back to the nest by the points of their soft beaks. Sometimes we’re lost. It can be like meeting long, lost family in a rotating restaurant. Togetherness comes on like a symptom as the lights go down. Wrenched gut, vomiting, shitting myself, bleeding out the ears.
The moral of the story is that one can give, give, give. “The love you take is equal to the love you make.” – the Beatles
Therefore, the new golden rule must be: make
Now, put them on the same page.
End music. End scene.
Sunday, April 26, 2009
I met Tom and Colin in the Rec Hall at Rowe Camp and Conference Center in late July 2002. They had been playing as the U$AISAMONSTER for one year or more. I didn’t meet their bodies that day, but I touched their souls through a spiky slice of loudness poetry. “Trippa Bobippa” blasted-off the top of my skull and made manic love to my corpus callosum. I sat quivering and suppressing questions. My skin melted. The experience fulfilled a deep wish, like a myth retold by firelight at exactly the right time. It was music that emerged from my heart, simultaneously living above and below my body, and as complex and terrorizing as a rediscovered bottle of my mother’s ancient milk. Oh the taste! Sweet almond! Human liver paté!
At that minute, the band was only Colin and Tom. They had emerged newly streamlined from a fire tribe 200 deep, like a dog shaved to become a seal. Who knows how many people were actually in that band of “ye olde?” How many records did they release? And when? 1000? 10,000 years ago? I know the “truth,” because I visited their website, which has the answers to these and other exciting questions listed with bullet points. However, to my mind, it’s better to let the tower of their myth stand: a roving band of noise pirates tromping on highways paved by Jimi Hendrix’s guitar acid, a full ship’s compliment nestled in an awkwardly landlocked house in the South Carolina woods. Anarcho-peace-punk-reality-punching-list-lighters were they. But by the power of starlight and arcane ritual, they flared like a match, and 200 ghosts become just 2.
Everyone got that? The band was huge! But the dream was small. Then the band was tiny! But the dreams were bigger than the plains.
Hey look! They’re waking up! Good gods what a mess. They’re totally soaked. Dripping and dropping all over Joshua Tree and married to a big brown van. They look up: two falcons in flight, one circling parallel to the other, both parallel to the earth. Shale crags and Joshua trees to the east and west. Rocky scrub sand rising between Colin’s toes and dancing in Tom’s moccasins. Coyote pushes play on a black box in a silver-lined road case. Sparkling red and green LED orbs switch places. The acetate tenses imperceptibly and the flux flies. Coyote licks the sand from the rollers. Two hundred feet away, houses are lost in the wobbling images of air and road dissolving in space.
Crumble! Spirit brothers sing to careening specks of iron.
Follow crumbled highways made of black stone. (They are issuing a command. Prepare thyself mortal; the things that may yet be require stern stuff.)
Swaths left open where once tall trees had grown. (Not condemning or condoning. There was love in those trees that died, like Bothans, to bring our love to you.)
Painted symbol marks the hidden place. (In our time of reverent modernity, we are mistaken when we believe all the markers of the past are cataloged and accounted for.)
Overgrown pile of robotic waste. (Just as in the future, when all we leave behind will be mysteriously disappearing. Who came before? Who is coming?)
DAH NAH! DAH NAH! (THE RIFF!)
2003. I’m in the Rec Hall again. I returned a CD-R wrapped in blue paper and chopped plastic to Kieran and mumbled my amazement. “Trippa Bobippa” was a roiling caravan of sausage sages flipping on their hot tin roof in 200-degree Moscow. And buttered! But CRUMBLE? The sad exhale of universal wisdom, body bottled, branded, beaten, barred from the inside by macho “reality,” but still shining it’s light through the window? Hell YES! You can’t be truth salesmen. The truth is not for sale. You have to stop buying the truth. Stop buying; start dying. Our only goal to break even? Just break. The crack is how the light gets in. Love love love.
And so I fell in love. I was in a tizzy. I grabbed Anna Meyer and ran howling mad in a whisper to the meager music rig in the Rug Room. Wheeeeeeeeeee are still alive. Still alive. Still alive. Still alive still alive still alive still alive still alive. Patient symbols. Patient symbols? I hummed the melody I remembered to myself. Being born? Melodies are inarchivable. They change everything about themselves every time, so I struggle to keep the love in my head. It’s just love. Just love. Just love. I can and will do everything to everything be everything. Finally! I got the damn guitar plugged in.
Slowly, miraculously, the gates of heaven parted and we rebirthed the first riff, wet and misshapen but beautiful and ours. Fifteen minutes it took me to get that far, and another five to synch up with Anna. How important it was to hit all the drums at once. How important it was to SLAM the last two hits. DAH NAH! And how joyous to play it over and over and over. Kieran walked in and I got all embarrassed because I had a crush on the song. Our intimate moment together was suddenly plain to see.
Colin was, for me, a new kind of guitar hero and a punk prophet. He poured forth riffs as the gods of the past poured forth the rivers. His guitar was an angelic choir turned up to ELEVEN. He wrote the truth as a rejection of itself, yet also as an affirmation of its purpose by creating text that demonstrates the imperfect self as a word set falling into its own psychotic dissonance. Acerbic and vitriolic words making out with a cliff face, foisted upon a moist ego and dogmatic evil: the rant became transcendent when he saw equal importance in the fragility of pure want and the need to destroy institutional oppression. “Glued to my mind, staring at a flame, dirt on my desk; playing that fast make my old broken bones ache. Riled and wild, rollercoaster runaway freight rails of endless steel bodies: slaughter highways. Fate born of nothing: my favorite subject? My favorite subject is me, plain or buttered.” AND! “All the world’s leaders must die.”
It’s hard to imagine a songwriter being more existential with less deliberation. Here is Colin flinging his ego bullshit into the air as one throws mud to the sky in celebration. The result of his catharsis is that a histrionic political credo about killing the world’s leaders actually seems sane after he temporarily destroys his vanity by exposing it to the light. I say temporarily because he is also wise enough, as demonstrated by the tone of his voice when he says “plain or buttered,” to know that light is also what makes vanity grow.
Please note that, for the sake of conjoining personal narrative with a testament to the band’s virtue, I am skipping effective descriptions of my favorite songs of the albums Wohaw and Sunset at the End of the Industrial Age. Since you asked, they are “Tecumseh” and “Sunset at the End of the Industrial Age.”
Northampton, at the house Kieran and Eli shared by the railroad tracks. In a few hours, Otto would be outside and I would try to be masculine while I shook his hand. You can’t ever take that shit back. Will was tenting in the back yard. What a perfect gathering. Hi Tom. I’m Colin. Oh shit. It’s okay. He had no shirt on. It was 800,000 degrees too hot and his torso was bronzing red, chest hair bleaching blond, scalp radiating something beyond my comprehension, blond dreadlocks as long as the River down his back, standing seven feet-tall. When I stand up just straight, my eyes met his nipples.
I was there to mix a Corndawg record. Rumor had it that I knew Pro Tools pretty good. I still had a crush on his band. A thirsty, brutal crush reset ablaze by a performance at Boston’s The Baseball Tavern; a show which should probably just go ahead and become legendary already. His favorite subject was him. I was there for free, sitting on pins and breathing-in hard in the heat of the pioneer valley. In a few minutes, I thought, I’ll be the pilgrim: a pioneer into a scene I’ve wanted to taste for so long. The gates of heaven opened and sight #1 was a pubic wishing fountain. I took a long drink of the water and tried to steal change with my tongue.
Do Not Read: (Algorithms: I jiggered this mix method from David Moulton’s book Total Recording. Put a sine-wave generator in an Aux track. Play the song and sweep the frequency of the generator down until you find the spot where it resonates best with the bass instrument playing the I. Multiply and divide by 2 repeatedly to make a table of frequency centers for the key of the song in all musical octaves. Do the same process for the fifth above the key. You will use these tables, for the key and the fifth above the key, to apply additive equalization to every track.
Apply VERY narrow boosts of 6-8 dB on the fifth and corresponding octaves, and 3-8 dB on the key and corresponding octaves. Apply to all instruments. A few general rules: it produces unfavorable timbre if one overlaps equal boosts of the same frequency on multiple tracks; the bass instrument wants the fifth accentuated far more than the key; vocals want very little of this treatment at all; avoid boosting so much you can hear a tone, unless you are one of those types. This technique is most appropriate for songs that do not modulate key (though one can always automate a DAW equalizer to compensate for modulation, doing do is doubly tedious, because one must, in addition to programming the proper simultaneous movement of an equalizer’s filters, generate a new table of roots and fifths for the new key), or songs that have recorded punk as fuck. Richer microphones and better recording techniques tend to like subtractive EQ for eliminating bad resonance, because, though it will compromise the complexity of recorded timbre, it does so to achieve a purer, more natural-sounding harmony. The goal of narrow-additive EQ is to, in essence, force the instruments in the tune to resonate more, and in key. This creates a recording that makes it’s studio-ness obvious. When EQ of this type is placed in a processing chain before compression, it creates a soft, harmonious, and highly listenable bed.)
That part you didn’t read explains how I came to mix Space Programs. But I’m getting ahead of myself. All these words and I haven’t properly spoken about why anyone should care.
The USAISAMONSTER is the greatest band ever. I’m not writing ironically, sarcastically, or hyperbolically. I don’t believe in objectivity, and I don’t claim to fully understand the band. I haven’t listened to all their songs (all of Weedblood for example), and I don’t believe that they are as virtuous or majestic or brilliant or dangerous or prolific or worthy of the title I’m bestowing as Springsteen, U2, the Beatles, the Swans, Ray Charles, Public enemy, Irving Berlin, or Beethoven. But fuck all that. This is the letter of a true believer. “Greatest” isn’t a quality. It is the sensation of love objection. Though it is related, it is not dependant on greatness.
Not to discount the value of greatness; they were nearly Great. The band’s reach was world wide (they went around the world ten times as total unknowns. As I write this, they touring Europe to give thanks for years of exchange, and to play the six new songs from their upcoming last record), their music incomparable and incompatible, their art always in progress and never mastered. Sometimes they shut their third eye and hung a mirror inside the lid, gazing longingly at a psychotic hot mess of grizzly bears on Technicolor swing sets. Other times they opened the cover of a leather-bound America and set out in the field, like wise men teaching us to see the spirit of the land, to find water, to remember Polly Watson, or rekindle the fires of the Yurok. They played guitars, feet-keys, drums and voices with the same functions, same purpose of action, but shifting clarity. The drums could carry melody, and the guitar might make the beat. The tension of the band reaching beyond the limits of our imaginations and never perfecting its art is great in and of itself. The only thing actually stopping the band from greatness was a lack of largess, and one cannot blame a band so authentically weird for not gripping the attention of the masses.
The virtue of the USAISAMONSTER, the reason that I love them so, is that they played music of the fringe. But I’m talking about the fringe on a great jacket, not the fringe of society. This fringe originates in Pre-European America, it is fluid, in love with gravity, absolutely not austere, opposed to nothing, there to share but hard to come by, pleasing to those against seizing, far from the mainlines but linked to the common thread: a true alternative to the styles we know and understand. USA ISA posed a challenge to everybody, never got it exactly right, never entirely beautiful, and never successfully ugly. They were completely alive. They belonged to the listener, but were free to all. You and USA ISA cohabitated with art in progress. You lived beyond chance – there was no chance for us – but lived for love. Our only goal: to break even. Born in total love, they were young gods.
But if you need further proof, consider the following. The band wrote “No More Forever,” which is comprised of what Wagner and Angus Young once agreed is nothing less than the greatest riff ever written.
Now is when I bring up Space Programs. Specifically, I want to talk about the pinnacle of Tom’s songwriting as it has been brought to bear on record thus far&. The song “Tulsa” not only epitomizes the focal point of all his songs, the recitation of obscure histories as keys to a Tolkien-inspired paradise, it uses avant-garde music as an allegory for it’s dissection and reassembly of the concept of knowledge. (Whoa.) Tom relates three stories in a single, deliberate narrative. There is no beginning to the story because he starts by saying “I have a friend in Tulsa, OK.” which tells the listener that the story is already in progress. With his choice of synthesizer sounds and their chipper inflections, he sets himself up as a Wise Man bestowing the fruit of his years on eager pupils, avoiding cliché by relating his story in the casual manner of one telling an anecdote over a kitchen card game.
The last time he was there, his friend, a Muskogee Creek woman at a basement rock show, made a fire and discussed paranormal phenomena, stimulating his imagination, keeping him from sleep. Through the night he lay awake, recalling her grandfather cursing white men, hearing distant women laugh, his eyes locked on a hanging photograph. The picture was of Mose Wiley, and Tom stayed awake reading an article in which the man described the way of life he knew as a youth, and that is now mostly forgotten. Tom sings his story over a repeating synth/guitar counterpoint. The song affects astonishment because it is not about its product, but with its strident presentation is clearly worth the telling. It is about knowing, but not knowing what for. It operates without the guiding Capitalist principle that there is value inherent in knowledge. Value is connected with Want as a defining attribute of the ability to produce. What Tom deliberately leaves out is what a narrative like this one is supposed to produce: the Truth. The significance of knowledge, Tom suggests, is just beyond comprehension, because it only exists when we cease dividing it into categories like Truth or Of Value. Without these categories, knowledge is too vast for humans. Then Tom gives us a mantra. “Sometime, I’m sure; I’m really quite sure that the ob-scure images have a great significance. Ice burg tip, the hull of the ship: there’s an awful lot of love that’s got to make a little difference.” We can’t rely on our knowledge, he says. The Wisdom of the Wise Man is that we must allow our knowledge the freedom not to do, but to let love make the difference, because it is all that ever has. There is no end to the story, just the massive unfolding of implication.
Career Retrospective!: Man is the Bastard on mushrooms instead of crack; psychedelic punks play squealing anti-groove madness; psychobabble and Black Elk Speaks; the call of the wind and the voice of the water; strong and wise like a lesson, and it’s hard to listen; vision farther than far; no-wave nonsense; then I mixed Space Programs (what a fucking blast); the uber-rawk experience; double the size, double the fun; pieces of timber visible from the ice-bridge; prog as fuck; chanting chanteuse; flower child playing orca chorus; monitor-lizard king on speed; the wise man’s Staff of the Punx; story songs written by distortion; drunken brawl on the deep sea trawl; genre is useless; combos are useless; live sights; recorded slights. They are dead in the future. They will die no more forever.
I’ve never written a eulogy before. I don’t think, now that I’m tits-deep in this one, that they are very useful. I’m not listening to this bald, bedecked-in-black jackass with the tears anymore. I’m quietly remembering myself and my loved one, and what I’d like to remember but don’t, and also what I’m going to remember one day, but don’t right now. I made the whole thing up. But it really happened. My favorite subject is me, plain or buttered.
I’m dry as a bone. The rock at the headland of Calypso’s island is stained white under the salt of my tears. I love you I’ll miss you. And thanks to you, I’ll keep up the fight. I’ll see the stars when my eyes stop at the orange sky. I’ll see the wave of darkness running with wolves on the highway when the western power fails. I’ll use my third eye as a mirror to signal the jet ways: it’s time to be hawks again. I will remember Tecumseh, Joseph, the Okeepa, the manatee, the vipers and snipers in the corner shoveling shit. The love. Forever.
The Usaisamonster releases records through Load Records.
Thursday, March 26, 2009
I caught an unexpected glance at Karen’s pubic hair as she threw the quilt and sheets off of A.J.’s bed in a frenzy. She lept up and at the two sheet-ply doors, twisted a blue robe around her meager body, and tossed the would-be intruder away like a dead mouse. He went back inside the house without complaint. We waited for A.J. to return.
We had shared liquor and tales, and now shared a growing sense of the truly weird, as if detecting the first scent of a paper-mill that had mysteriously appeared in the front yard. The rain had not yet let up, but I began to feel the decided necessity of moving on, as, it seemed, did Karen. I had told her about a local youth hostel and made the offer to pay for a night there. But we waited for A.J. It took no more than seven agitated minutes for him to return. I told him that I was leaving; I actually wanted to sleep that night and the cold wouldn’t allow it. Karen angrily told him that the man in the house had nearly broken the door down, and A.J. dismissively tried to console her. I said my goodbyes. He offered to walk me a few blocks up the street. I told him I was fine but he insisted. I divided a bit of vodka into a bottle for myself, and Karen got up to hug me goodbye. She sent me off without giving any indication that she was leaving. She asked me to take care of myself. Then A.J. and I set off up the street, through the rain, towards the intersection where we had encountered each other earlier in the evening.
While we walked he told me stories about a trumpeter he may have been related to, his mother and the trials and tribulations of moving her home all over the country. He was a traveler, claimed to be a carpenter by trade; highly charismatic, an Atlanta resident of fifteen years; I didn’t know how long he had been homeless. He never talked about it and I didn’t either. I wonder now whether I had been taken in by A.J.’s pride in his porch, or if I had been the beneficiary of his bountiful generosity. Maybe he doesn’t identify as Homeless. Maybe he identified me as Homeless. Maybe he has proper pity for a wet idiot. I still said nothing. Double the coward, I thought, loosing the evening’s narrative in his loose talk about the musicians he knew. I was wondering how long until I would crave to be dry and slipping out of my reverie, but was all the same feeling grand at that moment about my adventure. I split off with him just past a small flood in a Pep Boys parking lot, taking his blessings and good tidings.
I had encountered A.J. in a similar fashion earlier that evening. I was breaking free of the empty Masquerade back lot, where I’d been hoping to grab a post-sound check interview with whomever. After mucking my way onto the back lot, I found I had missed Mastodon and High on Fire by an hour. That plan foiled and the rain getting harder, I began to walk back the mile towards downtown when I ran into him. He asked me if I had come from the Masque and wanted to talk music. I told him that I was in town for the big fest tomorrow. He said it was a great idea, that he loved music, and loved listening to bands behind the Masque from his porch. I don’t really remember what he talked about then, but I told him that I hadn’t lined up lodging, but knew I had passed a youth hostel on my way. He told me he knew of a cheaper place than the one to which I was heading. $11.50 a night, he said. That just can’t be beat. He showed me up the block to a stone building painted white, and walked inside like it was his job. Friend of his lived here. The interior looked like a tiny nursing home. There was a set of glass doors to the immediate left, darkened and locked, and a steep flight of stairs directly in front of us. A large woman who looked like a child’s doll was standing near a small office. Two grown men were putting a puzzle together on the floor. A shorter woman strode out of an open doorway next to the stairs, brushing someone’s bullshit off her arms. She looked like she had spent every night of her life in the tiny cubicle I called an office. She knew A.J. He asked if I could stay in his friend’s room. She obsequiously declined. They argued their respective points by blinking Morse code at each other while releasing a varied stream of grunts and sighs. Then she looked right through me and said, trying as hard as she could to be frank, that I did not want to spend the night in that nasty-ass room. One of the men on the floor looked up at me with morning due in his eyes and offered to stay with me. I was flattered, however I concurred with the woman from the office and told A.J. so. We left and he said, "then let me put you up at my house." I trusted the world for the hell of it. We went to a store, bought a bottle of cheap vodka, and marched the blocks back to where we had met.
We walked up a flight of stone steps in front of a nearby house, turned left, and entered the screened-in porch where A.J. lived, and Karen sometimes stayed. It completely contained almost all the contents of a small apartment and had no electricity. She woke up quickly with a faint trace of alarm. I poured out small cups of vodka, one straight and one with Coke, and gave A.J. $17. $11.50 was for his landlord, who lived in the porch’s house. He left to pay his landlord and to pick up some groceries with the rest of the money. Karen sat up in the bed and told me what a nuisance A.J. is. You can never hear him when he talks, she said. She delicately stubbed out half of a Kool and placed it on the headboard. She groaned and creaked while waking up. Then she looked at me and we met.
I asked her about herself and she told me about her recent jail time, her reawakened addiction to crack, and her continuing devotion to God. Karen had been addicted to crack for twenty-two years. She told me that it isnt’t an enjoyable drug. It’s jittery, itchy, and none too pleasurable. She traced her addiction to crack to an alcohol problem she noticed when she was 13 years old, after eight years of being raped by her father.
“I grew up in a very alcoholic, dysfunctional, paranoid-schizophrenic environment. I had two sisters and two brothers and an alcoholic mother and an alcoholic father. A lot of gunplay, a lot of violence, a lot of breaking of doors, windows, glass, furniture. Lot of beatings. A lot of emotional abuse. Lot of sexual abuse.” She began when she started drinking her father’s lemon kool-aid and vodka, which he would leave on the nightstand while he was having sex with her. “Nobody noticed,” she said. “I couldn’t tell you at the time that I was trying to disappear; I couldn’t put it in those words, but that is what I was trying to do.” She started smoking crack when she was twenty-one. When describing how her addiction feels, she used all of the English language’s negative adjectives. And she hates having sex for crack.
“Living on the street, I’ve been beaten, stabbed, raped, shot. I have one sister that I’m in contact with; she lives in Arizona. I don’t have family. I don’t have friends. I don’t have family…And I’ve got a bad haircut.” And her last hope is with God. She wants to have a house, a girlfriend, and a job with her craft of building cabinets. She doesn’t believe she values anything anymore, but thinks others should value the freedom to do what they want to do, when they want to.
I don’t know what to do with this story except admonish the metal community for being more fortunate than Karen. This is an irrational impulse. It’s my way of criticizing the genre for relying heavily on abstractions of pain and horror for inspiration without promoting justice, but also to undercut that criticism enough that I still want to participate. I’m a hypocrite and a piece of shit.
Metal heads, myself included, should feel like pieces of shit for engaging with a reality rendered irreversibly bleak and disgusting by our art if that vision of reality is a fantasy into which we escape from perceptions of violence and/or senses of powerlessness. Seeking to escape the reality of violence is a passively violent act. Being aware of violence and feeling powerless are conditions that demand action. Often there is nothing more to do than pay attention. Attending to that which is deplorable is neither simple nor easy, but if done properly, it is honest.
The same sounds that provide the avenue of the escape, have the power to lift us up and empower us to change. Imagine if Slayer opened every performance of “Angel of Death” by saying “We wrote this song because we are desensitized to genocide. Dance! Dance! Dance!” or “There is a genocide being perpetrated right now in Darfur! Until you stop it, you will feel immensely frustrated. Now DANCE DANCE DANCE!” Imagine if Pig Destroyer wrote a song about Karen, and when they performed it at Scion they said, “This is a song about Karen, who was raped for years by her father, found apathy with her family, has been imprisoned, stabbed, raped, beaten, is homeless, addicted to crack, and we all probably ignored her when we walked in here; she’s standing outside this place, trying to disappear. Don’t forget: everyday, women and young girls are raped by violent cowards. 1! 2! 3! 4!” So stated, the hyper-insistent music and violent dances of metal would make the atrocities of Karen’s life impossible to ignore. The audience, except the most cynical, cowardly, or evil members, would be forced to confront more than horror and misery. They would be forced to engage injustice with their minds and their bodies, shunning the physical placidity to which entertainment usually dooms unhappy thoughts. One cannot combat atrocity without using both the body and mind. Pig Destroyer is one of the few bands that has the musical power to make that interaction unbearable, and in so doing, to get beyond their audience’s ability to shut down its sensitivity. That’s a power that can change lives.
The moment I knew Karen is a marker: a moment that would seem decidedly different from any other if I didn’t have the vision to see through Weird Clouds to life on earth above. It was a beacon; it shaped the way I was at the show of the world thereafter. When Karen and I were talking, I didn't compartmentalize any of my feelings. I didn't feel crushed with pain any more than I felt lifted like a hot-air balloon. I thought that I was standing on an emotional Arch in which every feeling got it's own brick, and each was of the utmost importance. To remove one would make the whole collapse. In fact I wasn’t standing on the Arch. I was the Arch. I was the best person I’d been in six months, and as of this writing, I have not been as courageous since. I felt absolutely free. I felt a small and nearly overwhelming measure of empathy for pain beyond my reckoning, and I felt joy stirring in the candlelight; I felt radiating warmth while my body shivered from the cold. I wanted to take off into the universe by catching fire and simultaneously becoming an ocean. Karen got embarrassed when I pulled out my tape recorder. She was happy for a few seconds at a time.
Art is not separate from life. Not even life which it doesn't know or understand. Artists willing to express that level of integration and vulnerability - to take the risk of playing it all - are working for justice. Heavy music certainly has that power, and many bands seem to have the inclination. I walked and wondered if I’d meet anyone willing to answer the call. Skyscrapers loomed in shadows at the edges of my vision as I made my weary way to the hostel.
Tune in next week for The Last Scion part III: Metal Heads in the Mist
Sunday, March 15, 2009
I awoke when the ground gave way. I was about to die. The voice in the ceiling garbled something assuring and I ate deference like a prisoner eats breakfast. It was mid-afternoon and the sun set above our heads as our plane descended into the murk over Atlanta. The clouds were so dark they looked like pavement. The land looked like Hell: the way the Land of Oz would look if it were on the north Jersey shore. The air above the blackened buildings was dust orange and seemed to breath. Even the tallest building, a black spike with an orange tip, looked like a hovel in the rain. It was worse than the airport, where even the walls shout at you and the ground speaks in tongues wagging in swallowing brown throats. Buy! Spend! Purchase! Just a friendly reminder. The rain stuck to my skin and congregated in the interstitial space of my clothing. This is the kind of town that makes you suit up to forget why.
Thankfully, I had dressed myself in Los Angeles. I had come to Atlanta to find meaning in the Scion metal fest by investigating the crafts of some thirty or so underground heavy metal bands. Among these were some of metal’s most revered artists. What did their audiences hear, and how did those explanations stack up against what the bands’ claimed they were trying to say? I wanted to find artistic merit in music that I loved because I believe that art is a high and beautiful calling. More and more I have come to regard myself as immature and small in spirit for my devotion to an art form that seems to espouse anti-intellectualism, nihilism, and pain. I can invent or name a nearly endless stream of value for the bands that I love, but this is because I so badly want to continue loving it. Most of the people I meet tell me that I am allowed to love that which I find appealing just ‘cause. But I say that’s not enough, and it does a disservice to the world to appreciate art for intentions or effects it does not have. Clear and good intentions, executions, and effects are a rare luxury in art only because we allow them to be. We are the audience, the consumer, the hypnotized, the apathetic, the passionate, the moved, the yearning, the spiteful, the hated, the joyous, the exulted, the godly, the low, the discerning, the sluts, the unseeing, the microscopic eyes and ears watching and hearing the wisdom of the mouths.
I stepped off the plane and walked for fifty miles. When I was finished, I got on a plane and returned to LA.
When I debarked the plane, I went into the first in series of brown and white throats made of howling mad adults. I hoisted my chest and prepared my pack for an exquisite and uncomfortably long journey. I knew no one and was staying nowhere. My plan was to drift towards the Masquerade (where the fest was to take place the following day) and discuss metal, life, and everything with the people in between. I managed to get a hundred feet from my flying tube when I spotted a gang of obvious outsiders. They were five men with varyingly average builds and short hair. The clumped together and would occasionally look at the tallest one, who was consumed with a few sheets of paper, and then stare around the terminal with five-percent interest. One of them dressed like an Appalachian mountain guide circa 1926. One had a familiar-looking tattoo on the front of his neck. I walked past without recognizing the group as being the band Converge.
Fifteen minutes later we were walking together in the halls. Thinking they were just cross-country metal heads looking to riot their fandom, I approached them. Then the way they flocked told me that these were not just fans. I poked my head into their lives like a gopher.
“Hey uh…” I asked the tall one, lowering my voice artificially and trying to minimize their slightly hostile eye-gestures, “…are you in a band?”
“No. I manage a band. These guys,” he said, throwing his thumb to the rear.
“Oh yeah? Who are these guys,” I said, with apparent interest.
“THAT’S FUCKING CONVERGE?” I said, to everybody in the airport.
Converge is not a band of mainstream celebrities, but they are from Boston and have been dusky legends in all the underground music communities in which I’ve ever trafficked. My surprise was two fold: fold 1) a legendary band from my old stomping grounds was standing before me and shrugging off travel fatigue identical to mine; and fold 2) I didn’t recognize them at all. So I outed them to the squares milling around us. Sometimes I’m a real fucking baby.
Fold 2 should only be surprising because I’ve seen the band live once, and their performance was impressive enough that I declared it to be both fucking and awesome. I’m not a fan of the band. I own none of their records, and not because I dislike their music. They are just one of those bands that I never did, like Anthrax or Immolation. We’ve never been to the same parties or the same Dunkin Donuts’, but singer Jacob Bannon’s neck tattoo is as easy to read as a nametag to anyone who pays attention.
I smelled slightly of failure, so I took five minutes to walk ahead and shuck off my retreat into morbid delirium. One should not be stymied by one’s own retarded behavior, or one will remain retarded forever. I wanted to ask the band the questions floating around my head, so I went back to the manager, introduced myself, and asked about the weather in Boston. Boston weather is not actually exciting, but those of us from New England will sometimes pretend it is because we are impressed with the cityness of Boston. After a few minutes of small talk, I once again decided not to be such a fucking baby and asked the band if they wanted to give a short interview. The beleathered and tattooed boohoos genially agreed.
“What is good?” I asked.
“Puppies, kittens, soft things, things that taste good as opposed to bad.” It had been a long flight after all.
We had an awkward conversation, all of us settling in to something we had never practiced. I was playing the part of a reporter, except I was asking questions about the fundamentals of their band in place of the usual patter about influences or gear.
“Why do Converge?”
“Because we like making music, and playing music, and doing all those things…”
“What’s your art about?” I interrupted.
“You know: self-expression, personal expression, stories of our lives.”
It wasn’t a good answer, and because I didn’t press for anything deeper, it wasn’t much of a question either. Who let whom off the hook? Jacob answered that question with a tone of voice that suggested he was willing, to a certain extent, to contemplate the existence of his band, but that the answer to that question should have been obvious.
“Why make it sound the way it does?”
“Because,” Jacob replied, as though he were teaching a petulant ten-year-old about basic economics, “we are aggravated people.”
Am I fucked? Why would I be fucked? I’m not fucked! I am, sadly, almost never fucked.
The members of Converge grew up into the underworlds of hardcore punk and metal. Abrasive guitars and shouted vocals were accessible sounds, especially because, as bassist Nate Newton put it, they didn’t know how to play or sing. One of the greatest virtues of punk rock is that anybody can play. All you need to play punk rock music is the desire, and usually a guitar. Desire + reaction to music = band. Practice was over. We didn’t talk about anything else because we were all more interested in leaving the airport.
Jacob’s answers were unreasonably simplistic. The genesis of a popular art simply cannot be effectively reduced to “we like making music.” When he decided to devote his life to Converge, was he responding to a primal impulse to create? Did he want to live forever? Did he think he could explode the meaninglessness of his own life by proposing his ideas to the world? Was he trying to have sex with other people? Himself? His mother? Did he wish to stave off the pain of lost love? Did he wish to see in the world a reflection of God as he understood it? Maybe. He likes making music after all. Did I want to know any of that? Nope. “It’s fucking Converge!” after all. At that moment I was just a slack-jawed yokel with a microphone and a book in his pocket. I was not manifesting a profound and brilliant state of being, and Jacob knew it. The only moment of brilliance to be had was the moment where Jacob and I both ran aground on the limits of our interest in the existence of art. If either of us has a real reason to live, we will make something of that moment. This only counts as an announcement.
Then I took a train named MARTA through a muddy cascade of trees and low buildings illuminated by tiny harvest moons in fine mists. There were residents on the train, residents of the train on the train, harvest moons on the train, pale faces on the train, yellow windows on the train, portly business on the train, phantasmagoric personalities on the train, tire tracks on the train, silver plating on the train, pain on the train, my shame on the train, illusions on the train, growing sane on the train, hot wax stares on the train, weight-of-bears stares on the train, a thimble of thoughts on the train; then I got off the train. It took me a long time to get back on the train.