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2/27/2006

Slipp'd Back Under The Mattress


Kinda the Point This Time: Ariel Pink


Ariel Pink: terrible live act. Terrible at being alive - surprise! Now I will remind you that it's not the point, just like I hear it's not the point to listen to Sonny Rollins or Lightning Bolt or Anthony Robbins on CD.

The weird thing about Nick's take is that I suspect we're vaguely yin/yang about it, acknowledging similar concepts in different ways. The Ariel Pink-as-idiot-savant is totally hollow, though probably what a lot of people basically think about him. Still, the Ariel Pink-as-artiste/con has its own complications, namely that he's been doing this for years with next-to-no audience. While he's not actually "backwoods" or a "madman," his ambition and tenacity is a sorta tragic existential blooper; if his comic jones is selling out shows and putting on bad performances, ours is relishing in the fact that he ostensibly loves embarrassing himself (and skipping his show next time around).

The pornstar comparison that Nick suggested was sort of exactly what I was thinking when I left the show, because like porn, Ariel relies on the distancing powers of his medium to actually exist (again, ghosts); it's why we have additional, crucial concepts like "stripper." I don't think he even had to play the haggard version that night, but on other levels, it makes sense. Ariel's nothing without his rouge, because that's all he is - cut him, he bleeds makeup; seeing him au naturale is a psychically chalky experience.

Of course it's a schtick; that's never been in doubt to me. Still, any schtick can produce a real reaction via concept or not. Ten minutes before I left, I was blathering on about how Ariel Pink is like Vito Acconci's Seedbed, where he lay under a ramp in the middle of the gallery and masturbated while talking about the people that were actually in the gallery, who could hear him but couldn't see him. And we know that all good ghosts are heard and not seen Seriously, who wants a long-haired Italian guy standing in front of you fantasizing aloud and masturbating?

2/24/2006

Unclassics 2


A Pacifier for PBW: Robert Ashley, 1975, Straight Abstractin'

(Dear MP, so as to never betray the titular Breath)

UNCLASSICS 2: Robert Ashley, Private Parts

"When he is alone, he forgets sometimes to walk; he just moves."

For me, the early 90s will always be about two things: perennially chapped lips and the Blizzard of Mortality (just came up with that). I was a neurotic child, but it was only then - in the midst of the very earliest strains of adolescence - that I experienced the humorous psychic upgrade of being able to actually conceptualize my own obsessiveness in addition to being it. If you get my meaning. Point is, I thought about death constantly and just assumed that everyone else did, too; someone did me an unfortunate injustice by actually pointing out that No Mike, you are just obsessively morbid. (Thanks, Mom!) Anyway, the holy men didn't help, but Samuel Beckett eventually did; I don't have any of those books I got at that weird shop with the Egyptian figures outside anymore, and eventually, I heard Private Parts.

Ashley's legacy with "pop" (read here: non-classical) listeners is probably "Automatic Writing," seven minutes of which was excerpted for the OHM early electronic music compilation. It's an amazing piece of music; what I personally always loved about it was its unsettling nearness: close mic'd manipulated vocals that sound like spit hitting a fryer, or the mixed blessing of a salamander's tail tickling your ear. I'll talk about sex another day.

Private Parts, whose two 20something-minute-long pieces bookend Ashley's "television opera" Perfect Lives is none of that, and it's also none of what I take to be the relative tedium of his other operas. Mom used to give me meditation tapes during the Bliz. of Mort., but I'd turn them off (they were lame); "the light" and "pyramids" are actually pretty stressful, it turns out.

Private Parts IS a meditation record though, insofar as offers an experience that doesn't combat thought - a dumb goal, if you ask me - but one that takes thought at a manageable speed, with reigns. Just Ashley's passive, conversational monotone slipping in and out of rhythm with polite tablas, the absolutely intoxicating shlock of "Blue" Gene Tyranny's new age parlor-room piano rolls and the wash of synth strings. The crux: thinking happens too fast - or, too fast for us to record - the regularity of conceptual lilypads and leapfrogging is a mixed blessing. Private Parts is a stream of consciousness narrative screwed to a crawl; you get each idea, one by one, in illogical succession. Sensibly, then, it provides equal room for the abstract - "I am a city of habits" - and the mundane - "the sculptor has made the horse look stupid"; sometimes they embrace in clumsy eurekas: "the camera is obsessed with what it sees: the park, the ragged edge; nothing moves except the edge / the edge moves; it's as if there is no other place."

If Private Parts is ever dull - which it isn't, to me - it's because it seems to stretch for Placid Yogic Meaning and the faux-poeticism of monolithic statements; still, Ashley slips enough humanity into the narrative to remind you that hell yeah, this is just earth, and it's always at least mildly funny, and it's boring, and it's wonderful; the main character in "The Park" sitting on his hotel bed, drinking whiskey from a plastic glass: "he thought to himself, if I were from the big town, I'd be calm and debonair; the big town doesn't send its riff raff out."

Lou Reed's asinine motivational epigram - "between thought and expression lasts a lifetime" - never seemed more accurate, more accidentally meaningful. Private Parts is important to me because it's a meditation record that never leaves the ground; the words are soothing and linear; each tiny space between thoughts is protracted in time. Ashley even acknowledges it: "Thus they came to make a great division between that which was impermenant and that which was permanent... On the permanent side of this great division of reality is a notion they referred to as 'space,' and by that term, they meant nether conceptual space or space as given by our senses. They meant connections. They decided that such space is irreducible and not transitory, and that it exists as long as one is alive. They wondered, naturally, what becomes of it."

Me with Private Parts, 10 years old, finally calm, stroking my chubby chin:

"His idea is that death always takes one by surprise. Always. There is no way to prepare. He imagines absolute awareness on the other side; he wonders, as we all do, how it comes to you that you are dead. We were distracted by the fluid right edge."

2/21/2006


Steely Dan at the precise moment that they became slightly repulsed and deeply, distantly amused by even their own existence


I've been listening to Gaucho a lot more lately and I'll be damned if it isn't one of the most interesting, funny, and complicated records I think I've ever heard. In this scheme, I will, of course, not be damned.

("The Dan" is really one of the worst band nicknames ever.) In service of "The Dan"'s greatness and in an effort to make them more "accessible" i.e. marketable to that coveted Under 35 and Earnestly Thoughtless demographic, I am pitching a concept to Rockstar Games (makers of the Grand Theft Auto series) for a Gaucho video game.

Bullet points include:

- Walter Becker is late for a session and boy, is Gary Katz angry! You have to find Becker in his hotel suite - which is ample - before MCA goes over budget on the hired session musicians; the MCA DollarClock in the upper-left hand corner will tell you exactly how much Becker's mischievious antics are costing the label. After five minutes, Becker starts blowing coke and the DollarClock accelerates exponentially. Is he under those magazines? Behind that shower curtain? On the move? Upon losing, an A&R man pats your balls with the back of his hand and buys you a Greyhound ticket back to Cincinnati. Becker sniggers.

- A "rhythm"-based section (a la Dance Dance Revolution or Guitar Hero) wherein you discover an extremely tired and dejected Mark Knopfler alone in the studio, having just heard the final mix of "Time Out of Mind" and realizing that several hours of slaving under the fickle whims of Becker and Fagen were reduced to about seven seconds of bright guitar squiggle. You have to copy all of the "licks" rejected for the album; if you succeed, Fagen calls a car service for Knopfler, who sobs softly and erratically bleats "You know what? I like the ECM catalog! Yeah, the whole fuckin' thing! Not just Keith Jarrett!" Fagen looks away.

2/20/2006

Willie Nelson: Gay Enough?


UP YOURS, YOU STRAIGHT BASTARDS: WILLIE NELSON AND ANOTHER HETEROSEXUAL MAN

How about them gay cowboys, etc. Radicalism is passe and all, but doesn't this sound sort of like Christmas? Wait, I guess what I meant was, I didn't realize that it was every gay man's dream to be a straight woman. Wait, I guess what I meant was, at least you could have tried to put some gloss on 25-year-old rhetoric. Elsewhere: "Mỹ Lai, Maybe," a vaguely anti-war song Willie dug up from 1969 and "Syncopation Is Alright (In Moderate Doses)" a 1979 attempt to traverse the disco crowd. I want to be happier - gayer, even - about this, but softball just isn't that fun.

2/17/2006

Apotheosis, Finale



Steely Dan, Gaucho :: AIBO

All the annoyances and charms of earthly faults excised! Something so exact as to be completely alienating, something whose mimicry of life is precise to the point of totally missing the mark! In missing the mark, it shoots right to a vacant lot in your fucked-up bog of emotions that you never realized existed and takes a lifetime lease.

2/15/2006

Wherein The Question of "Who Let The Dogs Out?" is Once Again Tastelessly Referenced but Not Answered


44 TERRIERS AND I'M STARTING TO THINK SOMEONE GOT ROBBED


I don't celebrate Valentine's Day for about a hundred obvious, boring anticapitalist complaints about the commodification of love and so forth, but this year, it went thoroughly and especially ingored because it was Day 2 of the 130th Annual Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. Fellas (and ladies), you need a lady or maybe a fella that understands you, and my beloved knows that if there's one thing I like more than coffee or saunas (or her), it's looking at dogs. They're just better than people. Because we've bred them that way.

Anyhow, I thought that in the spirit of Dog Awesomery, obvious, etc (be a good sport and look at the pictures to get in the mood):

U2, How To Dismantle an Atomic Bomb :: Golden Retriever

Last night I was actually at the dog show, and you have no idea how much idiot noise was made for this pup. Lowest common denominator. People in the stands who are obviously as blindly emotional and uncritical of dogs as I am blurting Oh yeah the golden, that's a great dog, wow. Just think of this exchange:

Oh what kind of music do you listen to
Oh I dunno like rock music
Oh like what
I dunno, that new U2 is great

and sub out "music do you listen to" for "animals that you like" and "rock music" for "dogs" and "U2" for "golden retriever" and you know what I'm getting at. Like U2, Golden Retrievers are just pretty good, and so omnipresent that you often forget that they exist.

Girls Aloud, Chemistry :: Pekingese

When you first look at it you think "oh well sure, it's no wonder young girls love this," but then you keep looking at it and you start thinking this dog is fucking insane looking how does it fit together? After that, you maintain a queasy, self-conscious love for it, but one ultimately governed by a hybrid of awe and repulsion.

Ariel Pink :: Dandie Dinmont Terrier

It looks and moves as if it were enveloped by stale air or has some rare pulmonary disease. My first thought was that it was actually a Trojan Horse for alien life forms; a dog that someone would make if it were trying to somehow infiltrate and destroy the whole idea of Dogs, period. It creeped the hell out of me and I couldn't take my eyes off it.

The Arctic Monkeys, Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not :: Old English Sheepdog

There's definitely something good here, but it's hard to really figure out what it is because you're a little distracted by all the fluff surrounding it, aren't you.

Cat Power, The Greatest :: French Bulldog

Great quasi-hip MOR stuff for people who are afraid to admit how stinkingly MOR they are. Also, you can't walk six blocks in North Brooklyn or Lower Manhattan without seeing it.

The Go! Team, Thunder, Lightning, Strike :: Welsh Corgi

Announcers on dog shows often say things like What personality! BOY, now that's a big dog in a little package! Well, yeah. Also, Corgis have a kind of nice, fat body but tiny lil' legs, so they don't really go anywhere.

No-Neck Blues Band, Qvaris :: Lhasa Apso

Mystical, long haired, seemingly wise, vaguely disgusting.

M.I.A., Arular :: Pharoah Hound

This dog is great: sleek, beautiful, and somewhat exotic. Nobody owns them.

2/12/2006

Honey, That Frosting is Improbable



Snow sprinkles outside still; I spent the morning huddled on the couch catching up on work, breaking to watch a video of PiL on American Bandstand. I could strut and flex whatever metaphorical muscles I had (delts, mostly), but nothing goes so far as simply watching Lydon forcibly shove unsuspecting ladies onto the stage, not smiling but hardly able to contain his glee; he doesn't bother to mime performance, and neither does the rest of the band. "Careering" finds fun people smiling happy fun dance what?

Trying to find some information about the event, I stumbled on collective musings on when American Bandstand proverbially jumped the shark; one man, heart broken:

"This was much like the curtain being drawn back on the Great OZ. At the same time I was on the floor gasping for breath with laughter, I also felt a deep sense of betrayal. Dick Clark had lied to me!! To us all!! From that moment forward AB became a sad joke to me."

Firstly, two exclamation points is always weird. Had to say. Hoo. Anyway, it's a great comment because it suggests a time when stuff like PiL was actually slithering around the mainstream in an antagonistic (at least interesting and entertaining) way, when seeing something like that would've actually fucked with an unsuspecting audience rather than simply stroking the "experimental" set; see also the odd paradox that music like this can't really get any POP defamation-scramble going because there is no comparable event nowadays to PiL on American Bandstand and it's almost impossible to imagine one. (Incidental charm in comment - laughing hysterically while feeling betrayed: rare feeling, good feeling.) Now I guess the hopefuls are supposed to be content with a separate piece/peace, the suggestion of a cosmic head pat, sweet-ass remasters and message board discussion (I often feel like I'm huddled at a fire under the Great Bridge of the Universe with hobos eating dirt and developing sores). Anyway, yeah, it is inspiring to see this. Slap me out of my coma when Janet's other tit slips out of her corset or Kanye starts defaming lesser apostles.

On another note, whoever did the inappropriately upbeat soundtrack to The Last House on the Left is almost enviably sick; like The Benny Hill Show but, y'know, over 17-year-old girls being raped, forced to piss themselves and hit each other while they sob in terror by some convicts that basically look like The Strokes.

2/10/2006

Lame, But

The last few days have been more work and movies than music (The Kingdom, TV Party: The Documentary, and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, which was fucking fantastic), but I wanted to at least come here to let "everyone" know that:

You can stream the new Destroyer album here.

You can stream the new Tom Ze album here.

I've been writing about both of them and I'm really excited about both of them. Both. Yes. Friday!

2/07/2006

(Groan)




K-punk, alive, went and drew zombies to the window, which is fine, but me - zombie me of this spot’s banner - wasn't to sit still long. Simon brought a rifle from the basement, but I wouldn't mind letting our blank friends in for a sit, to, you know, pick their brains. See, K-punk’s suggestion – “What Pop lacks now is the capacity for nihilation, for producing new potentials through the negation of what already exists” – rang a big bell in my Warhol house; go ahead and look at Elvis up there, repeated and decentralized, each one an imitation of the other with no original in sight. Warhol broke Elvis’ uniqueness by serializing his being – no essence there. Zombies, too, are mimetic: the infected feasts on the flesh of something living in order to, a la their conceptual cousin the vampire, turn the other being not into itself, but something *like* itself that functions in the same way.

What's interesting isn’t the mere metatphor of the zombie, but rather who gets to lay claim to coveted undead status. Fuck Bret Michaels, who might be animatronic or built ground-up from plasticine, it’s consumers that strike me more as zombie-types these days. Simon talks about download fever and overconsumption; in 1982, I slid out and have been an omnivore ever since. At first, downloading was a way for me to delve into marginalia of favorite bands; over time, it became a street for me to stalk, gnawing at everything that twitched in the corner of my eye.

Part of the issue is perhaps a misguided obedience to the idea of eclecticism. For whatever we say about “rockism” or whatever, I think most people still tend to associate the idea – which is supposed to be about the discourse around music rather than the music itself, I guess – with “rock.” The word, fer chrissakes; get a new one or something. Point being, Simon’s gone into “you can still talk about hip-hop like a rockist” rhetoric, which, while not exactly shocking, does remind us that eclecticism is not the opposite of K-punk’s nihilation scheme, per se. If anything, one goes to blow a smoke veil in front of the other – having more kinds of music suggests to us that there is healthy competition, when really, music just seems more delicately and thoroughly segregated.
(The impression of some difference – the imperfections of Warhol’s silkscreen technique, the subtle variations of color, the suggestion of a zombie’s individuality from the physical resemblance to their pre-undead source material – could remind me of pop’s slim pickins and the confusion between superficial diversity and true negation.)


The thing about Warhol was that he meant well. You know the whole possession trope – “Oh shit, that’s my song” – well, Warhol wanted that too, talking in The Philosophy about playing a record enough to literally empty it of meaning and become a repository for one’s individuality, memories, etc. Warhol wanted this stuff to just get more similar, to get played not into death but into undeath where they could live again as a-conscious placeholders. I’m not advocating that method of consumerism per se, but it does seem to repeat the zombie propagation plan – take something and empty it of itself; make it you.

I’m not sure exactly what kind of hope to have in this other than to cast it in a weird quasi-historical capitulation: the most ironic, inverted aspect of Warhol’s zombie pop vision was that he made his crusade for mimesis/viral repetition/homogeneity into his signature trope, which was brilliant and marginally evil – part of what makes him such an interesting character, really. Still, that ideal’s gone dead; we’re post-possible in making zombies inspiring figures, really.

--

To get out of the space of the theoretical for a few wooden words:

Who the fuck listens to “pop” anymore besides wanks like me/you that are self-conscious enough to use the word? Ask my 13-year-old sister if she listens to pop. Duh, she listens to rock (Greenday) or hip-hop (Black-Eyed Peas); she listens to country (Willie Nelson), but I doubt she’d say “I listen to pop music.” Of course, we’ve got the Pop and the pop(ular) divide to deal with here, one that seems to only have increased as genres spawn indefinitely and we’re all told to respect everything – totally “separate but equal” in some sense. If ABC still exists, it’s through the hyper-critical/self-consciousness of – gasp – Art Brut or through the “enlightened” production fetishists that enshrine Richard X or – ha-ha-ha, Jazze Pha.

I realize this goes in a different direction than the “retro” aspect of what Mark & Simon were talking about, but I think it’s important to lay some sort of responsibility somewhere other than the bands themselves – the Arctic Monkeys don’t have hundreds of thousands of co-workers/proud aunts/girlfriends, they have fans, and they’re hungry for something, anything.

2/05/2006

PBW Hit Current Channels

A hair past 23 years, my first heave-ho. Hopefully more in the future; we'll see if I can "hack it."