Take Me to Church

The Prodigal Son

Seeing the nave and altar of Notre-Dame de Paris after its recent fire, and thinking of it open to the elements, I had an eery sense of, well, déjà vu. I had been there, literally, with my family on a 2002 trip to France in celebration of my parents’ fiftieth wedding anniversary. But I had been in that ruin, virtually and earlier, twice more. Continue reading “Take Me to Church”

Careless Whisper: Pansy Patois

Men photo image

In December while trying to verify the colloquialism in The Smiths’ song title “Reel Around the Fountain”1 I noticed that the band’s singer Morrissey had employed a now-abandoned slang in his solo single “Piccadilly Palare,” sung in the character of a former street hustler. It was the lead track on his album Bona Drag, but I hadn’t really collected Morrissey records and skipped that one because it was a compendium of singles. I had, however, collected much Smiths, but I was confused by the band’s many, many compilations and 12-inch vinyl product. In fact “Paint a Vulgar Picture,” from the final album, can be seen as a commentary on this excess, as it laments a pop star’s exploitation in death but also questions the star’s complicity in life.

Satiate the need
slip them into different sleeves!
Buy both, and be deceived

Continue reading “Careless Whisper: Pansy Patois”

Everybody Dance Now 2: Adansual

Kazuo Ohno and Yoshito Ohno photo image

First, a couple of cartoons…

This second installment of movement musings begins (or rather ends…) below with a variation of a video sampling technique that I covered in “Kneee, Sugar” of the last section of Everybody Dance Now 1 (Knee, Sugar, Hammer, Shame). I also look at what was suggested by “Shame”: what might be seen as anti-dance, or what I call adansual.

I first became acquainted with the Australian band Bumblebeez 81 via their suggestive “Pony Ride” from 2002. Five years later they released “Dr. Love,” the promo for which involves a parody of a dance music video that could have been shot on a smoggy day along the Los Angeles River. All the performers sport Sharpie-ed chest adornments: pushbuttons and keyboards, chains, phones and headphones, a bandolier, a mink stole, an LP, even sham shoes. Rapper Christopher Colonna sports markered bling, and his sister Queen ViLa, an eyepatch through which she easily sees. The promo’s coda reprises the song’s sonics with pushbuttons pushed and keyboards keyed, essentially A/V sampling.

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Marx and Eno

Marx and Eno collage

In a fortunate instance of synchronicity, my recently departed comrade, Lowell May on September 12, 2011 forwarded a snippet of Karl Marx just two months after musician Brian Eno had issued his collaboration with poet Rick Holland, Drums Between the Bells (and six days before Occupy Wall Street). What Lowell sent was a blog post of the same date by one N Pepperell, lecturer at an unnamed university in Melbourne, who felt the quotation from Marx “is on point for the sorts of reading strategies I apply to his style in Capital.” The language of this relatively obscure open letter, published twenty-four years before Capital, when Marx was 23, abstractly mirrors that of Holland’s words atop Eno’s soundtrack. Continue reading “Marx and Eno”

Gang of Four Part 2: I Found That Essence Rarem

Mekons Quality Of Mercy

We’ve all got opinions
Where do they come from?

—“Why Theory?”

Reading Jim Dooley’s invaluable Red Set: A History of Gang of Four1 last year I was fascinated with how some of the philosophical underpinnings of the band’s songs mirrored what I’ve been dealing with in writing materials with comrades in a labor group. What follows is not a review of Dooley’s book, but rather a commentary on the mirrored passages and also, to a much lesser degree, remarks on my exposure to theoretical thought via pop music, of all things. This post is based on the notes I took at my first (and only) full reading, and is not a comprehensive look at Gang of Four reasoning. Continue reading “Gang of Four Part 2: I Found That Essence Rarem”

Gang of Four Part 1: Natural’s Not In It

Gang Of Four photo image

Last month I saw Gang of Four for the third time.

1980

The first was at a small club, probably their show at the Starwood in West Hollywood, capacity 400–800, May of 1980. Earlier that same year, the band had opened for the Buzzcocks and later, Iggy Pop, both at the much larger Santa Monica Civic. But those garnered lousy reviews by the Los Angeles Times, the first due to bad sound, the second to fatigue. The Civic could put a lot of distance between the stage and the floor. And it ostensibly seated 3,000, but when I saw the Clash there, the seats were replaced by metal plates; when we bounced, so did they—and there were a lot more than 3,000 bouncing.

Obviously that Starwood show in 1980 featured the band’s original lineup: Hugo Burnham on drums, Dave Allen bass, Andy Gill guitar, and Jon King vocals. It was was riveting. The stage was small enough to bridge the Civic’s divide, but broad enough to allow Jon King his signature sprints between microphones. If King was a gazelle, Gill was a beast of prey, exactly as described by poet Ted Hughes in his “Second Glance at Jaguar”: “He coils, he flourishes/ The blackjack tail as if looking for a target.”

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Hanky and bandage, cigarettes and perfume

Hanky and Cigarettes

The other day I stumbled across Prashant Bhilare’s recitation of a poem on YouTube. As it streamed, themes like beads were strung on a thread (sūtra, from the Sanskrit)—of imperialism, impermanence, love, possession, exposure. And I was reminded of similar work, such as Marguerite Duras’s The Lover, which I’ve mentioned here before. Her roman-à-clef received the prestigious Prix Goncourt despite its subject: an intergenerational relationship that otherwise would bestir the book burners if not the gendarmes.

Bhilare is more circumspect. Yet, I thought to myself, somehow he shares Duras’s audacity, if not her craft. And I returned to him. The poem is titled “ME.” (Unlike Duras, no subject-or-object equivocation.) Who dares title this thus? Continue reading “Hanky and bandage, cigarettes and perfume”

Everybody Dance Now 1

House Of Trés still image

The following is an initial meandering musing on dance: casual, staged, amateur, professional, choreographed, spontaneous, celebratory, liberatory.

Dance Music

Six years ago Pet Shop Boys issued their album Electric and I bought it for the cut “Love Is a Bourgeois Construct,” a sentiment I’d been voicing for some time. But I was much more taken with the promo video for the more nuanced “Vocal.” Directed by photographer and filmmaker Joost Vandebrug, it is compiled from amateur video shot at British late-’80s raves as well as Manchester’s Haçienda club. Given the visuals, the song suggests a nostalgic number, but the singer is surprised: “Every track has a vocal/ and that makes a change.” The music—“Expressing passion/ Expressing pain”—is the glue that binds its listeners as well as the promo’s dancers. It can be seen as a tone-poem-take on the experiences of ecstasy, a drug of choice at the time.

In the milieu of the multitudes, Vandebrug’s choices convey not only that E-intimacy but also a heterogeneity—racial, sensual, presentational, more.

The “Vocal” visuals only hint at what was taking place across the pond in the waning ’80s, as do those for Madonna’s promo for “Vogue” (1990), which is an oddly literal (mm… periodical) treatment, a recreation of classic West Coast film and fashion photography, even as her choreography, by Karole Armitage, was a lite—and largely synchronized—version of East Coast ballroom moves (at least in the five-minute cut). Continue reading “Everybody Dance Now 1”

A Perfect Crime?

Phrenological Diagram, Leopold and Loeb

Yes, this involves Leopold and Loeb and their victim Bobby Franks…

Killing time a week ago in the expansive area devoted to new releases at the central branch of the Denver Public Library, a title beckoned: Nina Barrett’s The Leopold and Loeb Files: An Intimate Look at One of the Most Infamous Crimes, issued last summer.1 If overly familiar with The Crime of the Century—title of Hal Higdon’s 1975 book2—one might ask, Why another rehash? Continue reading “A Perfect Crime?”

Chef Boy-Ar-Dee and the Red Diaper Baby

Jon Appleton photo image

I keep forgetting we have the realm of music at our fingertips. Long-forgotten or barely remembered works are available if I’d only remember to search online. Not long ago I went crazy looking through my LPs for the electronic manipulation of a Chef Boy-Ar-Dee jingle sung by the Andrews Sisters—not remembering I could have DuckDuckGo-ed the keywords. I couldn’t even remember the name of the composer. Turns out it was Jon Appleton, and I had it on a CD…

Tonight I finally wised up and did the search, which led me to a YouTube stream by way of Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, the label’s founder Moses Asch having recruited Appleton to help in the release of electroacoustic works. Chef d’œuvre (1967), the object of my pursuit, is emblematic of such manipulations, being so well known perhaps due to its popular-culture source material. In the notes for his CD collection, Contes de la mémoire (Memory’s tales, 1996), Appleton complains good-naturedly “that composers are often saddled by others with a ‘signature’ work.” And so it is with Chef d’œuvre. “It is my Boléro,” he writes. Its now-doubly-ironic title translates roughly as “masterpiece.”

Appleton’s various compressions in this composition can be seen themselves epitomized three decades later by rock musician Robert Fripp’s five-second condensation of what surely was a much longer “First Inaugural Address to the I.A.C.E. Sherborne House” by J. G. Bennett, included on the album Exposure but understandably absent from YouTube in our era of attention deficit, the Age of the Feuilleton (a newspaper’s necessarily lightweight literary pages), as Hermann Hesse put it. And as they say, “That’s five seconds I’ll never get back.”

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