The Freelance Mentalists.
Monday, February 14, 2005
Pazz & Jop Comments(somewhat tweaked, like the Country Ballot comments in prev. post):
Much of HAUNTED WEATHER, the Albert Ayler sampler*, and SMILE are built around/of distressed (and being distressed/messed with by) commonly recognized sonic signifiers. Like everything else (we're all made of sound), but here the signs read me like a screen filling up with tap-tap (just you and me and rain on the roof). HAUNTED WEATHER'S "Sferics" sounds like baby birds, small fry being fried, while singing for supper; also fighting songs, as birdsongs so often are ("the singing fry and fray," as I said more compactly in the review). Fighting songs also in the sense of fighting the songs, resisting and changing/ distressing the aestheticizing of violence, and aestheticizing as violence, as imposition. Both artist and material square off, and do what they gotta do, if each can get the other to do wrong just right. "No wrong notes, if you can justify," is the old jazz alibi, and sometimes it works. "Sferics"(from "atmospherics") is an edited field recording, the air on the air, finely tuned in and selected by its composer-cos-he-justifies-by-providing-the-goods (before everybody went DJ), Alvin Lucier. "Sferics" is re-recontextualized by compiler David Toop, not far away from subway sounds that frame a computer, obligingly doing its impression of gunfire, in a passing arcade. Doors slide open, but sounds from the next track have already leaked in, fooling the Discman's counter or whatever you call it.
Street violence in the midst of a misty walking tour may be re-enacted as part of/the point of the tour, judging by comments gradually accruing (and recollected, recontextualized by what was about to be heard, just after the comments, spoken like brief notes to self). In any case, gunshots are responded to by apocalyptic commentary, almost as rapidfire as the street sounds, yet the reporter's images are florid, suitable for framing. (As are the street sounds, struggling in the setting's echoes).
Not too surprising to read that Arthur Russell took his music everywhere, walking through the city with headphones on, seeing how his latest mixes sounded in different (passing) scenes. He's audibly the man from the plains, the wide open spaces, keening and rolling his oatey notes like the Midwest-rooted Wilson brothers.("Rooted"? well everybody's from somewhere and somewhere else, 'specially in suburbia.) Don't wanta be fenced in, but walk long enough and you're sweeping through the city, through the veil of illusion and allusion, with your nice-boy cello, and your get down/ambitious/romantic, yet somehow stoical dance music, that's also being messed with as it comes into existence. Fine, but you know the movie where Woody Allen's marching with his high school band, having to sit down and play his cello, then get up and run to keep up, so he can sit down and play again? Arthur's seen that too. He keeps walking.
Albert Ayler, especially with the hypersensitized (but never overdone) reactions of violinist Michael Samson, keeps finding his way to and through and back to all sorts of recognizable tunes and tunelets and rivets and rivulets. Songs of church and state and work and play. The effect can prefigure Jimi's revisions of "The Star-Spangled Banner," with the exhilaration, but not the violence, of the Woodstock performance, and the sweet yearning, but not the peacefulness, of the RAINBOW BRIDGE version. Albert's distressed gospel songs, etc., are already distressed by the times; he's just making us A Coat Of Many Colors, like in the Bible, and like Dolly Parton's poverty-fighting momma did, way back in Butcher Holler.
But one false move and you might as well be in, I dunno, Grant Wood's "American Gothic," or some other cliche, like "End Of The Trail," the yardsale kitsch painting of the poor ol' Injun, who found a "new" homelessness on the range, on the cover of the Beach Boys' SURF'S UP (wow, heavy recontext). Brian Wilson, leader of that "psychedelic barber shop quartet" Jimi derided, finally finishes what he started to do in the 60s: turning over his personal-and/is-political heritage of fantasy, reality and all (or a lot; his lot, of) dualities, stuck together inextricably with cliches (and karma, self-appointed "Buddhist Bubblegum"shoe Arthur might point out). The significance of Brian's worldview is that he has one! He's the old boy in the bubble, who just keeps rolling along, peering out from the crowd of voices, and telling them and us what he sees. "Columnated ruins domino!" Ruins can do that, if you find the pattern, and the way to play! He wants those playgrounds, even those barnyards, and next time he might even take off his shoes or his hat (sure). And by George he wants those wide open spaces too; he is them. But "timely hello welcomes the time for a change. Lost and found you will remain there. You'll find a meadow filled with rain there. I'll give you a home on the range." Who will? "Who ran the iron horse?" You did! You will! You are! You and the voices, rolling like tumbleweeds of sh-a-a-key nerves, on a mission and a ghost town and a jones town too. Plymouth "rock, rock, rock and roll oh-oh-oh-ver."
So. Iron Horse say surf's up when it's not down, and it's not just the Daddyocracy that's to blame, but to credit, for picking up the pieces of his Daddy's and child-Daddy B.'s own messes. "I wanna be around, to pick up the pieces," workshop's on that, tight as a cartoon. He also loves his vej-tables. And by now must have heard the old one about Brian himself being a favorite vej. That's more of the crap he has to work through and with, getting informed listeners working their own fields and mounds of Brian-associations. Did I mention heritage, his lot, and k-k-karma? "Sleep a lot, eat a lot, brush 'em like crazy." No cello looms, not yet; still, better "run a lot, do a lot, never be lazy." But also,"I threw away my candy bar and I ate the wrapper." Can't even do junk food right! Worse, "And when they told me what I did," at least they pointed it out,"I burst into laughter." A long way from the poor kid who "tried to kick the ball but my tenny flew right off. I'm red as a beet 'cause I'm so embarr, assed," and already thinking up that vej joke? On and on, rolling up in more and more "rock and roll over" grub revelations, recycled junk, at least. "Fire" is now titled "Mrs. O'Leary's Cow"? Perfect (enough to win itself a Grammy, reports Time Traveler), ya dumb Mick who has now relocated to the Midwest (still an Illinois resident, I think). Let's not forget the Timothy Leary way of nearness to that title, either.("Is it hot as hell in here, or is it just me?" And "Grand Coulee/Coolie workin' on the railroad," yow, there's a lingering drive-by.)
But I'm also convinced that he's met a real live girl (not just a "Wonderful" bubble-nymphet projection of his own "good" side), in "Good Vibrations." "I-I bet I know what she's like." Perception, ree-cognition, ignition, somewhat based on (artful, or otherwise earned-seeming, yet dicey) projection as means, not ends. And so he needed his "Wonderful," just as he needed to accept, in some aesthecized fashion, the reality of his "Heroes And Villains." containing/maintaining the hostage/songbird-in-a-gilded-cage/muse figure Margarita, whose memory is "still dancing" in the remix of the memory-myth of "the bullets that brought her down." And he needs to keep going back to another (despoiled, yet equally persistent) memory-myth, wrapped right 'round the verdant blues map of "Blue Hawaii," mainlanders, pirates, hula dancers and all. So finally he could be ready to Smile (not specifically a happy or smiley smile, not now). Going out with (real enough, familiar and new enough) Miss GV. Who may be AKA Miss Alice D, age 25: "I don't know where but she sends me there." Or maybe she's an agent of the muse, although that's not necessarily any more reliable, judging by his track record. But in any case, they do go out, and go out rockin', finally (ain't you glad), including the cello (reincarnation of Arthur's original-"GV" wakeup call?) And the rest of the orchestra follows along, "back through the op'ra glass you see the pit and the pendulum drawn. Columnated ruins domino!" Oh, waiter, checkmate! (And Happy Valentine's Day--T.Traveler)
* I listed Albert's entry as"HOLY GHOST sampler," after being told it was okay to cite the single-disc promo. But P&J dropped "sampler." I'm sure the box is very nice too.
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