The Gospel According To Presents… ‘It’s Not The Band I Hate, It’s Their Fans: A Look At The Culture Of Jandek’
Sorry for the delay in new content, folks: I’ve been trying to get my life back together lately, and my other writers have been busy as well. However, Jonathan has some great bile to spew towards a certain subset of fandom, while Danielle Bakker has pics that we shall post tomorrow! And now, without further ado…
I hate humourless, closed-minded people, and I continue to be amazed by how many of them I still encounter at the extremes of taste.
Amazed, but sadly, not surprised: I’ve been seriously listening to music for fifteen years (I turn twenty-five in a little over a week and I was ten when I bought my first Beatles albums; even though I’ve been a ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic fan since I was eight, I obviously wasn’t drawn in by my cognizance of his strength as a musician or brilliance as a satirist – just that the sound of his work made both inches of my pre-pubescent member shiver in juvenile delight), and it becomes apparent through conversation or analysis that most people don’t ‘get it’ in terms of the things that they digest, that there’s an innate quality to most things that becomes overlooked in peoples’ mission to derive a superficial pleasure from stimuli, in the process forsaking the infinitely fuller satisfaction from grasping the depth, context, intention, and consequent integrity of a work. It is in this regard that most people become complacent consumers instead of self-aware digesters of work – there is much to be gained from picking out and tasting the various flavours of a meal as opposed to indiscriminately shoving food down your gullet because you’re hungry, and although I’m spending my weekend indoors giving the shallowest of listens to my The Sea And Cake CDs (one skipped and needs to be replaced, so now I have to make sure that they all function), my approach to any sort of art is to try and get inside the head or heads of whomever dictated the artistic direction and process of the work.
You would think that the more difficult that a piece of art is to enjoy by conventional merit, the more scrutinizing and intellectual the individuals at the other end of the experience would be. I would hope this, too – it’s very difficult to find anybody to converse with that’s a fan of anything that isn’t able to engage in any sort of rational, balanced discourse that deviates from the party line or consensus. I’ve never been somebody that seeks to fit in or belong at the expense of blindly drinking in any opinions, as I wouldn’t want be held in reverence for holding my tongue on any matter in which I felt obliged to speak up about: as such, I have no issue poking holes in arguments or tipping sacred cows: in fact, I relish pointing out when I feel that the obvious solution or answer contrasts greatly with the accepted (which are generally easy) notions of what something stands for. Like I said, you would think that the more esoteric that one’s predilections stretched, the more amenable they’d be to constructive, enlightening debate – or, at least, to boast enough maturity to handle disagreement in a mature matter.
I would think this, too, but you and I would both be very wrong, and it is particularly related to my experience with Jandek fans that they have cemented themselves as the most myopic, blindly faithful, and ultimately pitiful group of people with whom I’d had the misfortune of consorting with.
Which is not to say that everybody that enjoys the music of Jandek has been a shitty person to deal with, per se: there is one notable Jandek fan of whom I’m fairly fond whose YouTube videos exhibiting his vast collection of every Corwood Industries product was one of the main influences in me pursuing my digestion of Jandek’s work when initial attempts to swallow it were met with results more befitting ipecac than the more-realistically vinegary nature of the artist’s catalogue. He’s also a fairly eccentric guy, and though we don’t see eye to eye on every matter regarding the artist (there is a very clear inherent bias on his end that needs to afford Sterling Smith – the man behind the Jandek moniker – an almost superhuman amount of proficiency given that he is convinced that the musical nature of most [if not all] of the work is both deliberate in composition and repeatable, if the constant player involved was at all moved to do so). It’s not that he’s untalented, this person opines, but that his talents are on a different plain.
While I wouldn’t call Sterling ‘talented’ in that he would be able to play conventional music with ease, I will certainly agree with the notion that he is capable on a level that is entirely his own: as a musician that straddles the lines of folk primitivism and free-improvisation without enough verve or understanding of what he’s doing to reach the logical ‘free-folk’ conclusions that the work of more traditionally competent acts like Thuja or Sunburned Hand of the Man has been designated to qualify as, the work of Jandek – particularly any record in which he is performing alone and on a stringed instrument – undoubtedly occupies a rather unique, inimitable territory: not inimitable because it’s hard to do, but because most people (especially those who are already musicians) would lack the ability to perform such convention-free music with serious, unwavering conviction, not to mention the self-release of 73 albums (that are repressed when one run sells out, too – and they actually do sell out!) since 1978. Even if one disagrees that there’s qualifiable or quantifiable integrity in the content of Jandek’s work, I can think of very few artists operating in any realm – never mind avant-garde music – with a comparable integrity in regards to work ethic or ensuring the availability of their work.
But, I digress – it’s not only this one individual with whom my fraternizing is owing to a mutual interest in this artist and his output. I’m friends – as in I actually encounter these people in my physical existence with some regularity – with an older, married couple, the female of whom is pursuing her doctorate in ethnomusicology with an academic dissertation relating rather specifically to the tunings employed on the early, definitive Jandek records. They have managed to accumulate the original vinyl pressings of the 23 Jandek albums that were issued in that medium so as to have the best possible sources from which to gauge the intervals (the sound quality is markedly better on the vinyl – not because vinyl is a better medium [it’s not], but because whoever is mastering the CDs is doing a very bad job). My first comment regarding my friend’s goal to determine the tunings used on the records was that it was a fool’s errand (Jandek is theoretically bereft and the microtonal tunings used on the albums are a result of his aleatory experimentation and not based on any aforethought science or contemplation), and I still hold to this, but I’ve come to learn that she didn’t necessarily disagree, preferring to catalogue the information as it’s a curious facet of the work that has been talked about for ages but never academically scrutinized. My point was that it wasn’t like the only factor precluding Sterling Smith from playing any previously-released material was his inability to recreate the tunings. After all, the improvisatory nature of the work in tandem with the necessary ineptitude of its principal performer guarantees the one-shot nature of any musical outing he takes.
But, you get a bunch of people – especially some denizens of the Jandek mailing list group on Seth Tisue’s otherwise wonderful (if not outdated) fansite – who refuse to subscribe to any beliefs or conversations that don’t give the Corwood proprietor anything less than omniscience and an ungodly amount of intentionality and control regarding his work. And heaven forbid you think of him as a mere mortal: there was a fantastic article published in 2009 by Houston-based singer/songwriter Andrew Karnavas wherein he turns a chance encounter at a bar with the man from Corwood into a philosophical conversation that gives a rare look into his process as an artistic entity as well as an even rarer degree of insight into how he perceives his work. As a fan, a musician/artist/what-have-you, and someone who gets a particular thrill from dissecting the intentionality of a work based on the instinctual stimuli of the listening experience in combination with what I can psychologically process from the artist’s mindset, an article like this was especially exciting. For me, held against some personal correspondence I’ve had with the man (I’ve been writing him since right before my first order in 2009), it confirmed for me Jandek had a strong work ethic and considerable naïveté regarding the sheer otherworldliness of his art. I found it to be an enthralling read and it made me feel positive about the man and his project. You’d think that other people would have found the encounter and its subsequent recounting as invigorating and empowering as I did, right?
Nope: the comments section for the article was flooded with hateful, arguably violent Jandextremist ranting and derision.
One user, Benjamin, was the first person to express dissent, albeit reasonably: do you really think Jandek would say it is okay to publish this private conversation?
You can see a bit of that ‘overprotective fan’ thing come out, but not in any way that attacks or persecutes the publishing. Given Jandek’s historical preference for privacy (which – since his initial 2004 live performance in Glasglow – have seen further precedents of undoing), this was a reasonable ethical consideration when held to the standard of his earlier days, but now – especially in the internet age – it hardly seems like a big deal. It’s not as if he’s truly a ‘recluse’ as was painted by the media: an introvert, yes, but he’s always had a public address and phone number. He doesn’t live behind a gate like your Tom Cruises, your John Travoltas, and innumerable other closeted Hollywood types, after all: I’ve always made the argument that Jandek’s an easier artist to have a direct interaction with than most other people working in the entertainment world – it’s just the aesthetic of the work that intimidates.
Another user, going by the pseudonym ctopshelf, completely embodies what I’d like to call sheer cunthood. I will publish their idiotic comment as it originally appeared, care for punctuation be damned:
I got lost in the blog thinking this was sneaky.Interesting your recollection of the conversation, maybe you recorded and transcribed, right? Nice. You got him though, he never suspected you to blog out his personal views, and of course you never asked. Even got a pic. Pat yourself on the back, but be careful there’s not much backbone there.
This person is clearly a member of the Jandek mailing list (or at least shares in their myopic dissent towards anyone daring to shed light on their proud little secret), because this is the sort of asshole that posts there: someone who – due to their own idiocy or their inexplicable need to elevate another human being to idol status – holds an artist as a sacred being worthy of more courtesy than anybody else they’d meet on the street. This phenomena isn’t only unique to Jandek fans, but I’m heavily into many acts, and I’ve only ever witnessed (both firsthand and otherwise) the level of overreactive drama – and to something as innocuous as a retelling of a simple meeting with an artist that all parties involved admire, no less! – with this pathetic, ultimately sad fanbase.
And I mean, as far as the sad thing goes, one clearly has to be sad or have considerably sadness experience to get Jandek’s work (I mean, it only clicked for me after my first relationship ended) but people like these – people who have the double-whammy of not only being shitty people to begin with, but also pitiful, emotionally-unfulfilled people who need to treat the artist as an enigmatic figure to replace a God (actual or metaphorical) that failed them, and they take it out on those who aren’t as conservative with the man and his image by denigrating our interest as predatory or of low ethical standing. Regarding the circumstance of the article, I think it’s fantastic that Sterling is open to discussing his work in public, and as relatively few Jandek fans exist to begin with, those of us with any knowledge of him beyond what the records may or may not provide are a privileged few to start with: the Karnavas encounter was the first published of what I’d hope would be many meetings with Jandek, but whether out of fear of reprimand or people realizing that ‘hey, this was just a conversation with another human being’, anything further is few and far between.
But, for every person like me who wants to piece together whatever we can regarding a great, prolific, and ultimately peerless artist like Jandek, there will be a ‘david ames’ to say ‘[y]ou violated his privacy. You are a lowlife.’
On that same mailing list, sometime in the Fall of 2010, you can find messages from various beta male pieces of shit condemning me to death based on a tongue-in-cheek review that I wrote for Jandek’s Chair Beside A Window – the version that they saw no longer exists because I didn’t think it was worth stoking the flames of their stupidity with further defiance (and also it was frightening to have such heavy hatred levelled at me over creative writing), but the gist of it was that ‘[a]t this blog, we respect Jandek, so you’ll have to go elsewhere to find out that his name is Sterling Smith; and don’t even think about finding out that his phone number is…‘ et cetera – all with published information. The kicker was that at one point, the article says ‘on an unrelated note, here’s what his house looks like’, with the Google Maps applet embedded underneath and set to view the lovely townhouse that he occupies in Houston.
Yes, my independent article was apparently worthy of my receiving death threats. My review of the fourth Jandek album had become the hobby-journalist equivalent of Rushdie’s Satanic Diaries.
Also, the new Jandek album – the 9-disc The Song Of Morgan – wasn’t particularly good. For starters, it’s just him fucking around on the piano (no vocals) for eight-and-a-half hours without any preconceived direction or thought. It’s pleasant at best and excruciatingly dull at worst. Anybody that thinks that the work has any merit beyond its volume is listening to the artist’s biography on loop in their head as they take it in: unless you were someone who was drawn into the artist’s fanbase because of Glasgow Monday (and nobody was), this is not what you signed up for and you wouldn’t even consider buying it if the box said Yanni or John Tesh on it instead. You are not a special snowflake because you enjoy a difficult artist. No matter who you are, you become pitiful when your idolatry of another human being (for whatever reason) causes you to encroach on anybody else’s feelings of security or safety.
This is going to get more hits than anything else I’ve done because Jandek fans – whether they want to admit it or not – have a ravenous appetite for any Jandek information they can get their hands on, so long as it’s not part of anyone else’s knowledge: I’ll be the first to say that I’m aware of (and have heard one firsthand) bootlegs of unreleased or extended Jandek material circulating, copied from tapes that were allegedly stolen from the man himself, have learned elements of his family history, as well as have accrued other miscellany about the fellow from conversations. Information like this – truly privacy violating stuff that is procured and traded by the same ‘fans’ who throw a shit fit when someone takes a picture of the Rep shopping at Whole Foods or recount an anecdotal conversation that they shared – is not the sort of stuff I’m willing to divulge (partly because a lot of it is speculative), and I also don’t want to create problems for anybody else.
In short, if you’re a Jandek fan who wants to attack somebody else because they wish to humanize the man behind the project, feel the need to express their natural curiosity about our shared hermetic hero (and we all have our curiosities; don’t lie), or – like myself – take humourous jabs at the ridiculous situation we’ve helped to create, you should go fuck yourself. Preferably with a bullet.
Doesn’t feel so good, now, does it?
Hey, imagine that: it’s our 100th post! To celebrate, Jonathan Brodsky wrote 100 haikus about the last 100 albums he bought.
Pretty self explanatory.
Sebadoh – … In Tokyo (Bolide Records, 1994) ****
Not a bootleg, folks:
Bob Fay paid for the pressing.
Put it on, it’s great.
Akron/Family – Sub Verses (Dead Oceans, 2013) ***
One of the better
Animal Collective discs
that I’ve heard all year.
Guided By Voices – The Best Of Jill Hives (Matador Records, 2004) ***½
Robert Pollard sure
puts out a lot of music:
solid three-song set.
Devo – Live 1981, Seattle (Booji Boy Records, 2012) ***½
a misunderstood band at
the top of their game.
Galaxie 500 – This Is Our Music (20|20|20 Records, 1990) ***
These guys have a sound.
Here’s that sound with less reverb;
now, it’s everyone’s.
Galaxie 500 – Today (20|20|20 Records, 1988) ***½
Better than On Fire;
Disagree? Then suck my dick:
I enjoy blowjobs.
My Bloody Valentine – Loveless (Sony Records, 1991) ***½
Millions love Loveless.
Millions also loved Hitler.
Take that, sacred cow!
My Bloody Valentine – Isn’t Anything (Sony Records, 1988) ***
I liked this better
when they went by Hüsker Dü
and wrote less filler.
Sebadoh – Rocking The Forest (20/20 Productions, 1992) ***
These sound like outtakes
from the III sessions. They are?
Well, that explains it.
My Bloody Valentine – m b v (MBV Records, 2013) ***
The new MBV
took two whole decades to write:
this stuff is written?
The Microphones (as Mount Eerie) – Dawn (Buenaventura Press, 2008) ***
Phil Elverum makes
a Phil Elverum album:
this one has a book!
Galaxie 500 – On Fire (20|20|20 Records, 1988) ***
They call On Fire a
legendary shoegaze disc:
It is: I slept fast.
My Bloody Valentine – EPs, 1988-1991 (Sony Records, 2012) ***
all in one convenient place;
good: saves me money.
Foxygen – We Are The 21st Century Ambassadors Of Peace & Magic (Jagjaguwar Records, 2013) ***
All this is is influenced!
Sigur Rós – Kveikur (XL Recordings, 2013) ***
wake up, have an espresso,
and vary their sound.
The Feelies – Crazy Rythms (Bar/None Records, 1980) ***
The title is wrong:
none of these rhythms are crazed,
but the music’s good.
Rodan – Fifteen Quiet Years (Quarterstick Records, 2013) ***
Rusty was better,
but it’s cool to have all their
singles and Peel cuts.
Charles Manson – LIE, The Love And Terror Cult (Awareness Records, 1970) ***½
Cool, Fugsy folk tunes
from a dishevelled nutter;
I wish he would tour.
The Raincoats – Looking In The Shadows (DGC Records, 1996) ***
Loved by Kurt Cobain,
and thus, signed by DGC:
not that bad, but why?!?
Wings – Live At The Cow Palace (Concord Music, 2013) ***
Best Buy Exclusive
finds McCartney in poor voice;
kings have bad days, too.
Wings – Wings Over America (Concord Music, 1976) ***
Way too fucking long;
nice Moody Blues cover, though:
thank you, Denny Laine.
Black Sabbath – 13 (Vertigo Records, 2013) **************
Best record ever!
Stone Sour, cock taste.
She & Him – Volume 3 (Merge Records, 2013) ***½
but feels like Zooey solo;
not enough M. Ward.
Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires Of The City (XL Recordings, 2013) **½
Call it a day, please:
your first album was the shit,
but you’re out of ‘the’.
The Raincoats – The Raincoats (We tHree, 1979) ***
This is important,
but, like, so was Chernobyl,
and who likes that thing?
Devendra Banhart – What Will We Be? (Warner Records, 2009) ***
I like Devendra,
but his writing’s getting dull
as it stretches thin.
Iron & Wine – Ghost On Ghost (Nonesuch, 2013) ***
Leaves the past behind
in search of a soulful sound
from the… past. Oh, well.
Akron/Family – Odyssey Of The Mind (Family Tree Records, 2007) ***½
finds the boys in freak-out mode.
They do ‘weird’ quite well.
Dirty Projectors – About To Die (Domino Records, 2012) ***
Vinyl only thing,
yet, I own it on CD:
thanks, label promos!
The Flaming Lips – The Terror (Warner Records, 2013) ***
Here’s a weird record:
Industrial rock that smiles
while remaining sad.
The Traditional Fools – The Traditional Fools (In The Red Records , 2008) ***
Early Ty Segall:
what’s the big deal about him?
Is he attractive?
!!! – THR!!!ER (Warp Records, 2013) ***
Do you like to dance?
And make fun of those who do?
Then, this is for you!
Major Stars – Syntoptikon (Important Records, 2006) ***
Ah, the Major Stars:
bar band of the underground.
Venus Cures All – Paradise By The Highway (Aurora Borealis, 1995) ***
Reviews cite Jehu:
I hear high-octane Breeders.
Either way, it’s good.
Phleg Camp – Repeat Until Change (Aurora Borealis, 1996) ***½
of wax and radio takes :
Gavin Brown’s a cunt.
Gesundheit – Asinus Ad Lyram (Unmanageable Records, 2001) ***
Local joke metal,
features Guh and Do Make guys.
The Beach Boys – Live: 50th Anniversary Tour (Capitol Records, 2013) ***
The most prominent
member of the Beach Boys here
is pitch correction.
Throbbing Gristle – Thirty-Second Annual Report (Industrial Records, 2008) ***½
If you like hearing
Microsoft Sam detail rape,
this record’s for you!
Mogwai – Les Revenants (Rock Action Records, 2013) ***
Zombie show soundtrack.
Good for fighting off zombies
The Telephone Man – The Telephone Man (Temporary Residence Ltd., 2013) ***
Mathy Louisville band
time forgot from the ’90s;
now, forgotten twice!
Devendra Banhart – The Black Babies (UK) (Young God Records, 2003) ***
Oh, Me; Oh, My cuts
interspersed with outtakes that
would’ve fit right in.
The Fall – Re-Mit (Cherry Red Records, 2013) ***
Mark E. Smith achieves
something thought impossible:
an even worse voice!
Deerhunter – Monomania (4AD Records, 2013) **½
Cryptograms was great!
Microcastle? Also great!
This… this is not great.
HEALTH – Dimensions In Noise 00001 (Lovepump United, 2009) ***
Actual noise from
a self-claimed noisy band who
seldom ever are.
Eric Chenaux – Guitar & Voice (Constellation Records, 2012) ***
Despite the title,
there’s a lot more going on,
but it’s average.
The Angels of Light – We Are Him (Young God Records, 2007) ***½
Good old Mike Gira’s
final Angels effort finds
him in stellar form.
Eric Chenaux – Sloppy Ground (Constellation Records, 2008) ***
The dude from Phleg Camp
makes stuff you’d not expect from
the dude from Phleg Camp.
Eric Chenaux – Dull Lights (Constellation Records, 2006) ***
Turns out Cat Stevens
is a dude from Toronto;
who woulda thunk it?
LiLiPUT – LiLiPUT (Kill Rock Stars, Records, 1993) ***
All the recorded
output of this ’80s band:
way too much music.
Samla Mammas Manna (as Zamla Mammaz Manna) – Familjesprickor (Silence Records, 1980) ****
from these Swedish first-wavers:
shame Lars Hollmer’s dead.
Eric Chenaux – Warm Weather With Ryan Driver (Constellation Records, 2010) ***
I half-expect all
these songs to become Wild World,
but they never do.
Eric Chenaux – More Remote Than The Puma (Aural Borealis, 1999) ***
feature strange, atmospheric
Boris – Performing ‘Flood’ (Fangsanalsatan Archives, 2013) ****½
These guys are the best.
Here’s a short version of Flood:
it should be longer.
Sebadoh – Bakesale (Sub Pop Records, 1994) ***
‘Nirvana are big?
Let’s sound like Nirvana, guys!
Then, we’ll be big, too!’
Guided By Voices – Glue On Bicycle (Fire Records, 2013) **½
from recently pressed singles;
weird and weak (for Bob).
Guided By Voices – English Little League (Fire Records, 2013) ***
What separates this
from other GBV discs?
Why, the name, of course!
Old Skull – C.I.A. Drug Fest (Restless Records, 1994) ****
trades ineptitude for crust
(but not Dominos’).
Old Skull – Get Outta School (Restless Records, 1989) ***½
and overdose make harsh noise
on daddy’s guitars.
Sebadoh – Wade Through The Boggs (no label, 2007) ***
a host of ‘doh errata
that will please their fans.
Major Stars – Mirror/Messenger (Drag City Records, 2007) **½
Bland rock in mirror.
Messenger: ‘fire your singer’.
I miss their psych days.
The Misfits – Dea.d. Alive! (Misfits Records, 2007) ***
Competent at best:
Not horrible given that
The Stooges – Ready To Die (Fat Possum Records, 2013) ***
Rock by numbers with
Iggy Pop playing at goth
and Leonard Cohen.
Bleached – Ride Your Heart (Dead Oceans, 2013) ***
Unlike their singles,
this lacks the magical spark
that sold me on them.
Woods – Bend Beyond (Woodsist, 2012) ***½
Jeremy Earl does
his best Peter Silbermann,
and it works quite well!
Simply Saucer – Cyborgs Revisited (Sonic Unyon Records, 1989) ***
by a Hamilton band that
weren’t really that great.
Codeine – What About The Lonely? (Numero Group, 2013) ***
Strong ’90s concert
by slowcore benchmark setters;
features David Grubbs.
Phleg Camp – Ya’Red Scratch (Cargo Records, 1993) ***
David Yow worship
that misses the point by not
being wild enough.
Wavves – Afraid Of Heights (Mom + Pop Records, 2013) ***
The girl from Best Coast
could do a whole lot better
than this stoner schmuck.
The Mountain Goats – Transcendental Youth (Merge Records, 2013) ***
‘Weird Al’ Yankovic
for people with Lit. degrees
and secondhand clothes.
The Melvins – Eggnog (Boner Records, 1991) ***
Classic doom metal
courtesy of King Buzzo
and his lovely hair.
Guided By Voices – Down By The Racetrack (Guided By Voices, Inc., 2013) ***
First songs of the year
from the prolific Pollard;
nowhere near the last.
Devendra Banhart – Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon (XL Recordings, 2007) ***
This album has a
guest spot by Linda Perhacs.
Otherwise, it’s bland.
Devendra Banhart – Cripple Crow (XL Recordings, 2005) ***½
Banhart’s strongest work:
contains his hookiest songs,
though it’s far too long.
Devendra Banhart – Rejoicing In The Hands (Young God Records, 2004) ***
this left no strong impression;
Devendra Banhart – Oh, Me; Oh My (Young God Records, 2002) ***½
Lo-fi crooning from
a stoned, beach bum hippie who
sounds like Charles Manson
The Residents (as Charles Bobuck) – Life Is My Only Sunshine (Ralph Records, 2013) ***
If you liked their last
ten instrumental albums,
you’ll like this one, too.
Milk Music – Cruise Your Illusion (Fat Possum Records, 2013) ***
Based on what I read,
I thought this would be noisy.
Instead, it’s more Yuck.
Brise-Glace – When In Vanitas… (Skin Graft Records, 1994) ***
Early Jim O’Rourke:
paints abstract landscapes with an
Sebadoh – The Sebadoh (Sire Records, 1999) ***
Their ’90s swan song
is not the proudest moment
in their catalogue.
Sebadoh – Harmacy (Sub Pop Records, 1996) ***
Who do you prefer,
Eric Gaffney or Bob Fay?
Well, Fay’s on this one.
Guh – We Are Sunburning (Unmanageable Records, 1999) ***
This is certainly
another record by Guh.
Less bagpipes, more songs.
Guh – Flog (Unmanageable Records, 1997) ***½
Guh’s finest hour,
as opposed to the three that
made up their debut.
Guh – Guh (Unmanageable Records, 1996) ***
If these three discs were
any longer and harder,
they would be my dick.
Soundbreakers – Amalgamatation (Drone Syndicate, 1971) ***
Nippon collage music
influenced by World War II
and Jon Lord’s organ.
Akron/Family – Akron/Family (Young God Records, 2005) ***
Gira’s Brooklyn faves
make their avant-folk debut,
and it’s pretty good.
The Fall – Bend Sinister (Beggars’ Banquet Records, 1986) ***
I’d have loved to see
the look on John Leckie’s face
when he tracked this stuff.
Slow Loris – The Ten Commandments And Two Territories According To (Southern Records, 1996) ***
A jazzy affair
as clever and long-winded
as the album’s name.
The Fall – Seminal Live (Beggars’ Banquet, 1989) ***
Five studio tracks
and some concert detritus
with the rambling drunk.
The Men – Immaculada (Deranged Records, 2010) ***
This isn’t Leave Home,
but neither is anything
else that they’ve released.
Boris – Vein (Daymare Recordings, 2013) ****
Contains neither of
the original two Veins;
the prank continues.
Simply Saucer – Half Humans/Half Live (Sonyc Unyon Records, 2008) ***
Some legends don’t die;
they just reform and pretend
that they were legends.
Rome – Rome (Thrill Jockey Records, 1996) ***
Post-rock? That’s not it.
This stuff neither rocks nor posts.
Current 93 – Thunder Perfect Mind (Durtro Jnana Records, 1992) ***
David Tibet talks,
musicians play underneath:
R.E.M. – Live In Greensboro (Warner Records, 2013) ***
Record Store Day set
that has the leftover cuts
from Green’s bonus disc.
Wolf Eyes – No Answer/Lower Floors (De Stijl Records, 2013) ****
Really strong outing
from these Michigan noise kings;
imagine more Dread.
Ducktails – Landscapes (Art Union, 2009) ***
Matt Mondinale’s gig:
More hi-fi than Ducktails II
but more of the same.
Iron Maiden – En Vivo! (EMI Records, 2012) **½
This title misses
the proper Spanish grammar
like they miss the point.
METZ – METZ (Sub Pop Records, 2012) ***
Is this really what
passes for ‘noise rock’ these days?
Give me some Big Black.
FIDLAR – FIDLAR (Dine Alone Records, 2013) ***½
This is dumb and fun,
but neither of those are bad;
just mildly trendy.
The Gospel According to Presents…’Play It Again, Sab: A Brief Overview Of The (Largely Unnecessary) Reunion Phenomenon
Mr. Brodsky takes a look at the new Black Sabbath album and finds he has a lot to say about the album, rock and roll, rock and roll reunions, and the state of making money in the rock and roll machine. Jonny boy makes some poignant points about the influence of income on the average rock and roller’s decision making.
This past Wednesday, I toiled in the garden for a few hours. My cousin and I uprooted a sizeable section of my mother’s backyard so that we could plant some daffodils, hostas, and other miscellaneous flora that I wouldn’t be able to tell you the names of even if I heard them again – one of them sounded something like ‘Euronymous’, but if I was burying the long-dead guitarist of Mayhem, I’d probably have noticed that.
But, a bouquet of Øystein Aarseths or not, there was metal present.
Now, in the interest of full disclosure and context, I’m not much of a ‘metal guy’. I think that metalheads are simultaneously the least intelligent and most opinionated people on Earth; I have thought on several occasions that the world would be a better place if serial killers exclusively targeted them. When recent studies linked metal being one’s strongest musical preference to relative unintelligence and conservative political opinions, I was upset that someone wasted actual time and money collating such common-sense data: I’d rather see tax dollars going toward less obvious fare, like proving that the sky is blue or that fire burns.
But, instinctively, there’s something about a good metal record that complements manual labour – perhaps because it’s the only sort of work most metal fans are qualified for -, and as such, I put on one of my absolute favourite LPs, genre notwithstanding: 1973’s Sabbath, Bloody Sabbath (the comma is mine – I like keeping things grammatically correct because I’m not a metalhead).
That record has all the hallmarks of a great album: smart sequencing, strong performances, a unique production sense – it only happens to be metal (and metal in 1973 had a very different connotation and standard than it does now). It avoids the pitfalls that plague its predecessor, Vol. 4 – namely that record offering little in the way of diversity (while Changes and FX are very different than anything the classic Osbourne/Iommi/Butler/Ward line-up would, the other 8 songs are fairly mundane and homogeneous) – but, given that even early metal fans were myopic idiots, the canonical consensus seems to be that SBS was an over-ambitious mistake that cost them fans, causing them to take an artistic step backward with the still-excellent but less colourful Sabotage in 1975.
Anyhow, as happened to many bands before and since, personnel changes to plague Sabbath after two more albums that many metal fans consider poor (whereas I consider them severely underrated and, in the case of 1978’s Never Say Die!, a masterpiece that never got its due), and though the band remained consistently active through 1995, they were dead to most of the world until a brief tour in the late ‘90s that spawned a nothing more than an interesting if not occasionally-laughable live record (Ozzy’s first vocal parts on War Pigs are brilliantly out of key and time) and two studio tracks that neither added nor subtracted to the band’s legacy. Having made some money again, they no longer had to feign friendships for the PR machine and parted ways. No harm, no foul: kids got to see a concert they never thought they would and no new piece-of-shit record materialized to (further) belittle the artist’s legacy.
That’s the sort of reunion I can live with, and luckily, that’s what happens about half of the time: the Police, for example, made no secret of their reunion being motivated by capital, candidly admitting to the press that they all still hated each other as they toured sold-out arenas around the world in promotion of a concert video from Japan (no new material!). When Omar Rodriguez-Lopez of the (thankfully) recently-deceased Mars Volta was asked by Rolling Stone why At The Drive-In reunited after a highly-publicized and acrimonious 2001 breakup, he conceded that the promoters’ offers got too high to turn down.
Somewhere, a bunch of rock ‘n’ roll ‘true believers’ (read: young boys, young men, or middle-aged men with hair like mine who don’t possess even my limited social graces or the luxury of procuring complimentary sex) are sad about this, but I couldn’t care less: I’d rather hear the truth than have a bunch of old men (and the occasional woman) feign to be motivated by passion and integrity, like they still have something ‘vital’ to share. Most above-average bands who make conventional music (you know, acts that don’t whack off onstage or release a 7” of poop noises) have about one or two great records in them, tops: coming back from the dead only increases the chances of you further being disassociated from creating great art by the combination of your aesthetic being less relevant (if not irrelevant entirely) as well as your compositional skill being handicapped by rust or exhaustion.
Even with cult acts that didn’t achieve a high degree of mainstream success or household name status, enough of an audience exists now for nearly any act who put out a great record or two and disappeared: When Slint reunited for a couple of brief tours in the mid-aughts, I got a fake ID three weeks before turning the legal drinking age just so I could see them. When Jeff Mangum came out of reclusion and played the second night of his comeback tour at a local church, I paid a stupid price for a ticket – and now that Neutral Milk Hotel are active again, I’ll do the same thing if they announce a realistically close show. When Godspeed You! Black Emperor announced their intentions to reunite, my heart nearly exploded between the euphoria I felt at my finally having a potential chance to see them (I did, twice, and they were incredible) and the anxiety of my worry that they might put out a lacklustre reunion album and destroy what was previously an elusive near-perfect run (they did, but I got over it).
But it’s here that we segue into that other, more unfortunate type of reunion: the one where the band continues to stick it out and release a slurry of new crap, no matter how greatly it would serve the best interests of their legacy to either call it a day or limit their activity to touring. The first band that comes to mind is The Rolling Stones. Now, most people aren’t aware that the band haven’t been continuously active through 1962 to the present – there was a 3-year period in the mid-late 1980s where they ceased to exist – between the abortions that were Dirty Work (anybody that claims to dislike Harlem Shuffle is lying, though) and Steel Wheels. It’s no secret that the band largely exists in a bubble of blues-rock and internal rivalries that’s only punctured by the occasional ill-suited collaborator (Carrie Underwood and Taylor Swift on this latest tour?): given that they were long past their expiration date during their initial disbandment, that anybody could conceive that they possibly had anything to offer behind a greatest-hits night out would take an especially deluded type of fan; given that fan is an abbreviation of ‘fanatic’, this is sadly enough of an occurrence that the Stones managed to hike up ticket prices to unprecedented rates, and they pump out a new record or compilation every few weeks as an excuse to tour.
What these bands lose sight of is that they’re the last vestiges of ‘rock stars’ in terms of legitimate performers who have the momentum of being considered ‘important’ acts by the former promotional machinations of the industry. The media has hammered it into the skulls of the unthinking lowest common denominator that they’re supposed to like the Stones, and they do. It’s this mentality that has lead to Rolling Stones giving unconditional five-star reviews to the countless stale acts who continue to pollute the arenas and casinos that themselves litter the planet while underrating current and pertinent artists, if not neglecting them altogether: seriously, if I see another mediocre modern-day Bruce Springsteen or Tom Petty album get five stars, I’ll bite off David Fricke’s cock myself.
And this takes us back to Black Sabbath – while they released 11 studio albums (one under a pseudonym) of middling-to-poor quality after Ozzy’s departure from their fold in 1978, the people had a clear desire for more material with the original frontman. The reason seems to be unclear, given that any attempts at expanding their sound during his tenure were met with derision from critics and fans alike, why was the world obsessed with getting more of the same?
13 – a confusing title given that this is the 20th Black Sabbath album (27th if you include sanctioned live albums) – is a sterile, repetitive affair that suffers due to a scenario wherein nobody can be truly satisfied (if they make progress, it’s alienating, but if they play to expectations, is unexciting) in addition to time and excessive usage of narcotics wearing on Ozzy’s vocal range, reducing it to a three-note spread that even a Carlos Santana guitar solo would roll its eyes at. Speaking of famously-mustachioed guitarists, Tony Iommi remains Tony Iommi – a miraculously inventive player who is sadly now relegated to self-plagiarism (hey, kids; who can count the most re-used Ozzy-era Sabbath riffs? – the root-octave-tritone motif from their classic eponymous song gets used twice!) so as to make a Black Sabbath record that Blacks the proverbial Sabbath for Black Sabbath fans to go all ‘Black Sabbath!’ over – people apparently not realizing that if they want to hear the War Pigs riff, there’s a really remarkable song that already used it. Geezer Butler’s presence as a bassist is severely underutilized (and his lyrics are horrible this time around – you can sense his utter and total antipathy), and Brad Wilk (note the initials) doesn’t try at all to be like Bill Ward (you know, the member who sat this out – ‘classic line-up’, my ass) does a great approximation of a faceless 1990s’ alt-rock drummer (though I do love those early Rage Against The Machine albums… although Dr. Zoltan Øbelisk would disagree).
And this is the real problem with 13 – it’s an alt-rock album. You know – the pitifully mundane genre of music that most adolescent radio-digesting metal fans gravitate to, often misidentifying its angst as genuine tension and drop-tuned guitars as heaviness. Considering that Sabbath – not being irredeemable dreck like Stone Sour – know what they’re doing, it’s an above average alt-rock album, much in the way that you can identify a smart retard, a tall dwarf (more on those soon – watch your Stuff That Doesn’t Suck listings for details), or a decent pilsner: being exemplary at a flaw still doesn’t mean that you measure up to a genius, a giant, or a beer that’s worth drinking (seriously – fuck pilsners and the Kölsch they rode in on).
Anyhow, what else is notable? After 8 agonizingly undynamic songs later (unless you bought one of the deluxe editions like I was obligated to because of obsessive-compulsive completionism), 13 ends with the bell chimes that first introduced the band in 1970: lets hope they meant this as a bookend, a declaration of surrender, a white flag. This record is listenable, it is pleasant, and I don’t hate it inasmuch as I resent it – it is one more in a series of unnecessary reunion albums by bands who had nothing new or vital left to offer early into their original run. It is unnecessary, it distracts people from other music that is more deserving of time and attention, and it proliferates the big music industry promotional sector lie that the only relevant music is made by old men who would never have been signed today (even if they were new bands putting out the exact same albums that made them famous the first time around)… or Justin Bieber.
Fuck this shit, I’m sticking with Paranoid.
Afterword: The preceding article purported to be about 13, the new album by Black Sabbath. If you are upset that it was barely discussed (or are a metal fan and want help learning what the big, scary words mean), keep in mind that if it didn’t have Black Sabbath written on the cover, you wouldn’t have anything to say about it either. Don’t let my opinions anger you: please continue to enjoy your sad, narrow reality – it certainly provides me with no shortage of amusement or comic material. Cheers.
Jonathan Brodsky wants you to know all about the worst music you’ll ever hear. Join him on a magical mystery tour through the world of Gerogerigegege.
Have you ever pooped?
By golly, I have!
To be absolutely honest, I really enjoy defecating; I don’t know if that means that I’d enjoy a man’s penis going in and out of there – in fact, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t (a woman’s penis, on the other hand…) -, but the act of passing stool through my colon and out my rectum has served as a very relaxing and pleasurable pastime for me, granted I’m within close proximity of a clean, available bathroom. And yes, I did call it a pastime: between my irritable bowel syndrome and my irregular body clock, number two is probably my number one favourite daily occurrence. I even downloaded a little iPhone app the other day that keeps track – via GPS, of course – of all the places that I lay cable. I can’t wait to start using it.
But it’s never only about the experience: the result stands for something, too. I’d go so far as to say that I’m incredibly proud of some of the movements I’ve composed (compost?) over the years: I’ve even taken pictures of several of the more notable ones, though most of them – like the abstract blasts of feces depicted therein – have been flushed away by time and circumstance, but the fond memories remain. Many a spicy dinner has left its stain on my porcelain kingdom, the capsaicin and habanero extracts dancing a fiery tango in the ballroom of my anus with such fervour that, in their wake, they leave behind a surprisingly potent waft of steam. This is more than poetry or artful expression: this is the aftermath of my eating a pound of Armageddon (very much a proper noun in these circumstances) wings at Duff’s. And that will stay with me and anyone unfortunate enough to be using an adjacent stall for many years to come.
So, yes, as we’ve ascertained, I’m not above the occasional Excregram® (wait for it: it will be a thing), but how far would I be willing to take the posterity of my posterior? Without divulging too much, pretty damn far, but the one avenue upon which I just wouldn’t be able to muster creating any work of sincere conviction involving my rectal waste would be in my music. Oh, I’m not at all fond of the songs I used to write, but I’m speaking more literally.
“But Jonathan,” nobody said, “wouldn’t incorporating crap into your music be a really original thing to do?”
“But, Jonathan’, nobody continued, “GG Allin only ever shat as part of his act: he never incorporated it into his songwriting.”
And while this is true, I am not here today to write about GG Allin (although I did see the Murder Junkies this week, and that Dino Sex can sure take a pair of drumsticks up the ass).
No; today, we’re going to take a trip to Japan, where weirdness is as commonplace as the nuclear fallout that in all likelihood precipitated it. Particularly, we’re going to take an imaginary trip to the seedy Shinjuku district of Tokyo in the 1980s, where one of the most egregious, challenging, and boundary-pushing artists of our or any time hails from. I am, of course, talking about Juntaro Yamanouchi, noise experimenter and cross-dresser extraordinaire, and his remarkably diverse anti-art project, The Gerogerigegege.
The Gerogerigegege (pronounced ‘gerro-gary-gay-gay-gay’) – literally ‘simultaneously vomiting and vacating one’s bowels’ – was conceived in 1985 by Mr. Yamanouchi as an outlet for the art influenced by his experiences working as an entertainer in the homosexual S&M clubs in the aforementioned Shinjuku region. The early work released under the name hinted at their future, with 1985’s self-titled cassette hosting two sides of abstract noise and 1987’s Showa LP (housed in a sleeve which depicted a portrait of the then-recently departed Hirohito) featuring the Japanese national anthem followed by nearly 40 minutes of audio sourced from a Japanese pornographic videotape. Even their most traditionally musical offering, a 1988 7″ record of surprisingly slick rock music entitled “Sexual Behavior In The Human Male’, interspersed its relative convention with audio verité recordings of ‘senzuri’ – the Japanese colloquialism for ‘male masturbation’ – being carried out by a middle-aged man that Juntaro met and befriended whilst working together in the underground sex trade.
While other collaborators came and went, most fans agree that the core members of the Gerogerigegege were Juntaro Yamanouchi and this older gentleman who, although born Tetsuya Endoh, preferred to go by the title of Gero 30 (the number coming from how many years older he was than Juntaro). Gero 30 was (at the height of the Gerogerigegege’s activity) a fellow in his mid 50s who was no stranger to the urolagnia and scat-play that enticed the audiences who flocked in droves to Tokyo’s red light district. While Juntaro was the conceptualist behind the Gero’s many varied works, it was Gero 30 who best encapsulated and brought to life the sexual motivations behind the outfit’s work: regardless of how Juntaro was expressing himself at any given moment or phase of the band’s career, fans could always rely on Gero 30 as a constantly masturbating anchor, holding down the band’s perverse and subversive ideologies with a flick (or a thousand flicks) of his imaginably tired wrist(s).
And so it was that among their myriad concerts, manifestos, and recordings that 1993’s rather innocuous-looking Night 7″ was released as a vinyl-only edition of 500 on the German Ant-Zen imprint. Aesthetically, it was in keeping with many of their other seven-inch releases: the same year’s Yellow Trash Bazooka boasted 80 ‘songs’ (read: blasts of unintelligible noise) across its 13-minute runtime, only distinguishable by the title announcements separating them. Mother Fellatio – also from 1993 – was similar in execution, albeit with an infinitely lesser sense of where the 84 tracks it claims to host across its 12-minute length begin and end.
Night, by comparison, appears very terse: the monochromatic sleeve with its near-congruent layout suggests that these 7″ records are part of a series, but this entry appears to be the odd man out of the trilogy: where 164 songs are alleged to exist between the other entries, Night provides only one track per side – Night T2 – T4 and Night T3 – T1, respectively. Are these two ‘pieces’ merely the same territories of grindcore being explored, albeit at a more epic length, or are these just more multi-track suites of the Gero’s binary ‘on-off’ noise that Juntaro merely couldn’t be bothered to individually name?
The needle drops and we wait. It catches the wax and we hear the familiar crackle of the pre-groove, followed by Juntaro’s requisite and now-familiar introductory bellow of ‘one, two, sree, foah!’, and then…
Even the band’s fans – flexible, open-minded, and challenge-craving by the very nature of their self-identification as Gero fans – are torn: not only between the validity of what they’re hearing as enjoyable or even ‘art’, but as to what is happening. The liner notes themselves give no hints, only stating that the contents were recorded on August 15th of no particular year in Tokyo and that the sounds we hear were produced live without additional overdubbing.
Although some fans surmise that the sounds we hear on this record (and although both sides contain unique aural content, they’re pitching a similar trajectory) are that of Juntaro noisily performing fellatio on Gero 30, the more common consensus is that our favourite senzuri champion is perhaps adhering to part of the band’s name a little too literally for most of our comfort by going so far as to actually record themselves taking an extended shit. I’ve always wondered what it would be like to be an engineer at a recording studio in Japan and have to contend with the eccentricities of acts like these: perhaps it comes as no surprise that the liner notes don’t list the name of the engineer who helped commit this curiosity to tape.
And as for who is voiding themselves (if that is indeed what’s going on), the liner notes suggest that Mr. Yamanouchi is the performer, but I think the biggest clue – not only as to who is carrying out the ‘accident’, but what exactly is going on – can be taken from the sleeve itself, which appears to show Gero 30 on his knees whilst wearing an expression of visible strain on his face… as well as a diaper. While 1992’s More Shit EP saw Gero proudly granting themselves the title of ‘Japanese Ultra Shit Band’, Night‘s cover image is likely the most confirmation that we’ll ever get of their ostensibly taking the designation to extremes that seem uncomfortable by even their benchmark: the endless rustling of a soiled adult diaper is a bit much for even me to take at some points, so I can only imagine how squeamish most of the population would feel if faced with this.
Gero’s anti-music sound art is not a unique phenomenon – especially in Japan. They were not the first or even the biggest act to strip away whatever limited musicality the industrial and power-electronics movements were hiding in pursuit of abrasive textures or taboo imagery, but they were certainly an act that put a rare priority on diversity and unpredictability: each of their nearly three-dozen releases has distinguishable characteristics that make them easily identifiable: any noise neophyte can tell you how incredibly rare this is, and given that their care to demarcate their works is notable among the myriad acts of this ilk, even Gero’s detractors can agree that they are not your average noise punishers.
Whether setting a homeless man’s rambling to aleatoric piano odysseys (as on Endless Humiliation) or subjecting what is assumed to be an self-oscillating guitar tuner to heavy phasing (None Friendly), not every record was an endless series of electronic clashes, thrashes, and bashes. And given the space of 250 Merzbow albums that are little more than deviations of the above, Gero’s exponential sound traversals, given an eighth of Masami Akita’s discographic occupation, were a welcome and refreshing change of pace in the Japanoise scene. Where others claim to be experimental but fall into a deluge of the same discomforting routine, The Gerogerigegege are one of the few acts in any genre or period of music that truly own and herald the term.
Whether you enjoy this record – whether it can even truly be enjoyed! – it still provides more fun and intrigue in its 8 pungent minutes than Jimmy Buffett has across 43 years of boring island schlock.
And regardless of what you think of Night, we can all still agree that it’s shit.
Jonathan Brodsky sez:
Culture Fusion contributor Sean Hebner posed a question to me recently: ‘What are your feelings on industrial music?’.
My answer was complicated, but not because of any particularly inarticulable feelings; rather, it was because of society’s lack of historical understanding of the true nature of industrial music.
The designation of ‘industrial music’ has been subject to perversion over the years; like many other genres, the applications of pre-existing music classifications and sub-classifications have been unnecessarily and grossly stretched by people in the hopes of simplifying the relation of new and unfamiliar sounds to others via conversation. As such, the pertinent elements of the various genres simplified as ‘industrial’ – a mild-to-heavy degree of electronic instrumentation and a focus on dark textures and subject matter – have given way to an over-inclusive definition that completely skims over the distinguishing elements that keeps the original (and truly ‘original’) industrial music sonically and ideologically demarcated from what most people consider to be industrial but is, in truth, usually just bad metal with gothic and pop-electronic overtones.
Much like ’emo’ and ”country’, ‘industrial’ has become one of those genre terms that has lost any hope of being respected as an art due to being co-opted by generations of derivative and tasteless crap.
So, what are my feelings on industrial music? Well, I like industrial music, but when I say that, I’m not talking about Rammstein, nor am I thinking of Static-X; I especially don’t mean to say I like Coal Chamber or Skinny Puppy, either. Heck, I’m not even talking about some bands I’ve heard referred to as industrial whose music I think is okay, like Nitzer Ebb (who are electronic body music, or EBM for short), Depeche Mode (gothic darkwave/new romantic/pop) or Marilyn Manson’s first few records (I’m tempted to say ‘industrial metal’, but that’s just the indoctrination talking).
No, when I say I like industrial music, I primarily think of one band: the band who started the independent Industrial Records label; the band who coined the term ‘industrial’ itself as an adjective for a new kind of music that relied heavily on the textures of machination and a bleak, factory-like atmosphere. When I say I like industrial music, I mean to say that I like Throbbing Gristle.
Throbbing Gristle came into existence in 1976, formed from the ashes of COUM Transmissions, a faction of English performance artists who toed the line between vaudeville and pornography without any distracting choreography or burlesque camp. Genesis P-Orridge (born Neil Megson) and Cosey Fanni Tutti (née Christine Newby), along with a rotating cast of others, would partake in self-immolation, body-mutilation, sexual intercourse, bondage, urination, defecation, urophagia, coprophagia, and – occasionally – musical performance, beating punk prophet GG Allin at his own game a good decade before his first onstage dump.
By comparison, Throbbing Gristle – the aforementioned P-Orridge and Tutti supplemented by Chris Carter and Peter ‘Sleazy’ Christopherson (d. 2010), were a lot tamer than their antecedent ensemble. While the band’s name was a crude euphemism for male genitalia and the Industrial Records logo was a black-and-white photograph depicting the exterior of one of the crematoriums at a Nazi concentration camp, they otherwise confined their predilections for the taboo and uncomfortable to their lyrics and music, with Genesis P-Orridge focusing on fronting his new outfit with a relatively more traditional approach than he did with COUM.
However, from the perspective of high society – who would have been ignorant to the existence of the underground performance art circles P-Orridge and co. ran in, never mind the extreme exhibition that COUM were party to – Gristle were still pushing the envelope of good taste in a manner that offended in manners both aural and conceptual: TG’s third concert performance (and first cassette release) was at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London as part of an exhibit called ‘Prostitution’ (apropos, given Tutti’s history as a sex-industry worker) and featured the performance of a suite they entitled ‘Music From The Death Factory’, which was comprised of pieces entitled Very Friendly – a rumination on the sadistic ‘Moors murders’ committed by Ian Brady and Myra Hindley in the 1960s-, We Hate You (Little Girls), Slug Bait, Dead Ed, and Zyklon B Zombie. A lot of these titles would appear on later releases, but the lion’s share of these ‘compositions’ existed more as lyrics delivered over a sonic backdrop rather than as notated figures given identity through repetition and structural adherence.
Unlike a lot of later industrial groups who were primarily studio outfits that utilized the recording facility as a musical instrument to tool and sculpt their already-precise and heavily-contemplated visions, TG were a highly-improvisatory live act – a good portion of their early ‘studio’ releases were comprised of material sourced from their various performances that were edited and further compiled into collagist, musique-concrète pieces – a representation of a greater whole based on explorations of similar terrain and concept (this nod to the Burroughsian method was likely something they were cognizant of, given Industrial Records’ eventual signing of the controversial author to their stable of recording artists.)
As Throbbing Gristle were both a strong live act and iconoclastic pioneers who carved out previously uncharted musical territory with every performance, a lot of the technology that their successors would come to rely on – samplers, digital synthesizers, loop pedals, etc. – did not yet exist, and as such, the band would further isolate themselves into a class all their own by being exceptionally organic and ‘human’ for industrial music: while many second-wave industrial acts were mired up with expensive and custom-order gear so as to replicate their studio material, Gristle were very ascetic, low-key, and surprisingly traditional in their early approach: at the ICA, there is some tape playback of pre-recorded samples (Christopherson’s main contribution), but compared to later forays, it was kept to a relative minimum, and P-Orridge and Tutti even embraced traditional instrumentation, playing bass and guitar respectively, although more often than not using the instruments to produce textural content as opposed to anything of strong periodic value. The most immediate instrumental element that one perceives on this (and other) early TG affairs is Chris Carter’s home-built synthesizer, which produces a lot of anti-ambient droning and sci-fi resonant-filter sweeps. All in all, it isn’t too far-fetched to imagine these sounds as the result of any number of Mute Records’ artists captured ‘jamming’ or in otherwise candid or seemingly-unobserved moments.
But it is P-Orridge that sets this beast apart: bellowing at the audience with the fury of a general, stalking the stage like a spastic asylum inmate, and spinning lurid yarns with the mercilessness and empathic void of de Sade, he speaks of child murders ad indecent sex with the same intensity and apparent lack of moral or ethical affect that makes songs like Slayer’s ‘Angel Of Death’ so chilling: it is one thing to be presented with someone revelling in horrors or empathizing with those who fall prey to natural selection, but it is the cold neutrality and lack of polemic proselytizing in Gristle’s message that makes them all the more chilling. Reducing events to that of binary ‘fact’ gives a reality to the situation without co-opting it for the causes of heroism or villainy. The opposite of love is not hate, but rather, indifference, and to come across as impartial to true horror – like the Moors murders – is to present the supposition that the individuals here are beyond fear, and thusly, it can be reasoned that there is much inside them that is worth fearing.
And this is why, to me, when I think of true (and truly) industrial music, I think of a marriage between our extremes: the catharsis that we get from screaming to the world that which we choose to conceal about ourselves in our daily, mild-mannered lives… and the cold near-sociopathy with which we must adapt to survive while others beneath our stations struggle and starve. I also think of the true direct descendents of the industrial genre – power electronics and noise – which would not have been the same (if even possible) without Throbbing Gristle’s vanguard demonstrations of abrasive audio terrorism paving the way and establishing the precedent that audiences did exist for such left-field and avant-garde productions.
Like they themselves quoted, Throbbing Gristle produced industrial music for industrial people: in tackling the difficult, the ugly, and the formless, they painted a more accurate portrait of humanity than any brainwashed capitalist in a suit would like to admit to. Throbbing Gristle were not a mere commentary on a hypothetical, unfair society: they were the logical product of a very real dystopia that only continues to the present day.
Dr. Brodsky (the title is something I just made up) is at it again as he dives further and further into the world of outsider music art with this discussion of a rather strange performer…
I shop for records a fair bit. It’s therapeutic for me to feel like I’m building towards some level of archival respectability, and it’s also simply satisfying to walk through a store without a pre-determined path and aimlessly flip through the albums in the stacks.
It’s often an educative and rewarding experience, too: there’s been quite a few times that I’ve seen a record that I was previously unaware of and was captivated enough by its appearance to follow up on it when I got home; this was how I found out about acts like Cambridge, MA psych-rockers Major Stars (I highly recommend their 2005 effort ‘4’) and New Orleans, LA ambient duo Belong.
During a recent late-night excursion with friends at the incomparable Sonic Boom Records, I happened upon a very curious section card while looking for the live LiLiPUT CD. It read ‘Angelo Tony Luongo (The Chosen One Of The World)’, and the records therein were very amateurish in appearance: most of them were CD-R singles in transparent clamshell cases that featured inkjet-printed artwork and a garish, italicized typeface in a particularly painful shade of cyan. Each of the discs featured the same rather comedic looking individual – an older, balding man with long, greying hair adorned in gold chains and a chest-baring thrift-store leisure suit – assuming various unflattering poses.
Being a big fan of unpredictable and unconventional music, I’d invested a fair bit of time and money procuring private-press, limited-run, and otherwise ‘outsider’ music, but this appeared to be particularly promising due to my intuition and experience with this sort of world. Said intuition was telling me that I was going to be dealing with a heaven-tier egomaniac whose narcissism was only going to be paralleled by his ineptitude: beyond his earnest-seeming lounge-denizen sleazeball appearance, he clearly holds no grasp of graphic design, taste, or sense what was appropriate to go on the packaging (one disc went so far as to have his date of birth printed on it); consequently, there was no viable reason to have any faith that he had no idea what was fit to press to disc. Yes, if the aesthetic was any indicator (and despite what your mother may have told you about judging books by their cover, appearance never lies), this was the work of a clueless and untalented individual.
Naturally, I couldn’t even wait to get home. I looked the guy up on my phone while still in the store, and was satisfied to immediately see that my hunch was spot on: the first search engine hit was his official website, and the descriptive text read ‘[f]irst there was Jesus. Then there was Elvis. Now, there’s ANGELO.’.
I’d obviously struck gold.
Now, you might be asking why I didn’t go back to the Angelo Tony Luongo section, grab the one ‘professional’ looking product, and plunk it down on the counter along with $20 of my hard-begged money.
Well, for one thing, I have standards. Even when it comes to outsider art.
Something being inept, unconventional, and even bad doesn’t necessitate that it’s ‘bad’. Granted, these handicaps don’t necessitate that it’s good, either, but something being ‘good’ is an argument of subjectivity and context: Nickelback, Three Days Grace, Theory Of A Deadman, et al. are fucking atrocious, but there’s nothing in the execution itself that strays from the accessible. Conversely, myself and many others find a lot of enjoyment in ‘difficult’ (and disparate) artists such as Jandek, Whitehouse, and Harry Partch because of their incomparability in tandem with the contexts of their art. Often, the politics of art justify art. Is this fair? Probably not, but it’s undeniable that all interesting art contains subtext, and most longtime purveyors of art are more interested in something that can move them as opposed to something borne of obvious derivation.
Of course, I don’t doubt that Mr. Luongo’s work is ‘authentic’ in that it comes from a place reflective of his genuine character, but it does not come from a place of cultural cognizance: the main page of his website features a caricatured illustration of the artist coupled captioned ‘outsider recording artist extraordinaire!’, but any notion that the man came to this conclusion himself (or was even aware of outsider music before some smarmy food co-op employee backhandedly complimented him with a tone-deaf Gary Wilson comparison) is certainly misguided. Him identifying as outsider is similar to Tommy Wiseau retroactively branding his 2003 feature-faux-pas The Room as a black comedy: yes, Luongo has more in common with outsider filmmakers like Sam Mraovich and James Nguyen – all of the bravado and hubris with no substance to back it up. Lucky for us that he can’t afford a video camera…
Luongo’s site is chock full of low-budget music videos and references to local stable of Toronto curious ToBeScene (much to my amusement, a statement that ToBeScene will always have an up-to-date page on Angelo is punctuated by a dead link). A section labeled ‘press’ reveals that reviews are ‘coming soon’ – I suspect that this one will not find a place there if that day ever comes, though Luongo will certainly read this article before most people as those in his position tend to look themselves up on search engines. But more entertaining and telling than any video on Luongo’s site is the text: I’m not even referring to his 4-page autobiography (in .pdf format, of course), but the man’s unsurprisingly conservative philosophical manifesto (unwarranted self-importance much?).
Reading both of these (which I recommend you do almost as much as I’d implore you to listen to the music) results in one learning some rather interesting facts about the man’s history and outlook: he’s spent the better part of a decade in mental institutions, he lives on disability, he believes that homosexuality is an illness that medication and accepting Christ into one’s heart can cure, he feels that six attempts have been made on his life because of jealousy over his talent, etc.
Now, I’m no doctor, but what we appear to have here is a good, old-fashioned paranoid schizophrenic with a side of bipolar disorder. Now, while these congruent circumstances brought the best out of unique artists like your Daniel Johnstons – and I suppose, to a lesser degree, your Wild Man Fischers -, it’s likely that these individuals possessed talents that would have manifested separate of their diseases: their artistic inclinations might have surfaced even if they weren’t mentally ill. However, with those of Angelo’s ilk, the desire to make a spectacle of oneself without the skill to warrant doing so seems exclusively co-morbid to the disease.
A curious occurrence that seems exclusive to this school of outsider artist is a complete disregard for the correct way to do something. Now, I’m not saying that hard and fast rules work for everyone, and – after all -, by definition, someone like this exists on the periphery of industry and tends to inadvertently buck trend (if they’re even aware of what’s truly trendy altogether), but the man had a documentary made about himself. I haven’t seen it, but boy, do I want to…
However, the circus of the man’s malapropisms aside, what can I say about his music?
Well, despite the man’s eccentricities and sheer lack of know-how, not too much. Like a lot of ‘outsider art’, the context provides the impetus to give it your time, and much like ‘self-styled outsider art’, Luongo hangs onto the tag in an effort to give himself justification for plying his craft. His sense of rhythm is imprecise, his vocal pitch exists so far out of key that it’s questionable that anybody but a mute would have attacked him out of jealousy (and even then, it’d likely be more driven by principle), the background music he desecrates with his voice sounds, and his lyrics are monosyllabic, homogeneous, and reek of the desperation of a man whose disability checks single-handedly keep the oldest profession afloat. They also tend to betray any notion of his possessing the most finite modicum of metrical sensibility. Some might say that this means it’s bad, and on a conventional level it is, but is it ‘bad’?
Well, the beauty of outsider art is that it’s where the notion of beauty being in the eye of the beholder is tested strongest. I prefer my outsider art to be more competent, self-aware, and less the result of someone ignorant of their relative place in the rather diverse quilt; your mileage may vary. To provide an idea of what I’m talking about, I legitimately enjoy the work of artists in the vein of Jandek, The Shaggs, and Gary Wilson as opposed to the B.J. Snowdens and Jan Terris of the world (though I certainl find them entertaining).
In short – and being very kind -, if you like the first Suicide album but find Alan Vega’s vocals too tuneful and wish that Martin Rev had a karaoke machine and a reverb pedal instead of a broken organ and a drum machine, look no further: this is your new favourite album.
For those who might call me cruel, the charm of outsider art is that it’s different: if Luongo performed the exact same music with skill, nobody would care. Any success and notoriety that the project has generated has been generated because of the objectively poor nature of the work in tandem with the ridiculousness of the performer. I am entertained, so while this may not succeed as music (or possess true artful subtext), it certainly qualifies as a curio, and for that, you should thank your ineptitude. Some might say that it’s sad that a bad artist can overpower a competent one in terms of attention received, but today – in a world where people are struggling to be ordinary and competent – people like Mr. Luongo who excel at failure are a welcome antidote to the morass of bland ‘talent’ that occupies our corporate radio and television programming.
Mr. Luongo, my advice to you is to keep on doing what you’re doing without anything resembling improvement – we need people like you to keep the world interesting.
Culture Fusion is proud to present the work of Jonathan Brodsky, the frontman and composer for Canadian group The Orchid Show and one of the premiere Canadian underground rock and roll intellects. Jonathan’s knowledge of obscure music is practically unmatched as is his savage wit and inherent understanding of his topics. He will be a Sunday regular here.
Today he delves deeply into the past, present and future of punk n’roll by discussing the inherently crude yet endlessly fascinating world of Old Skull. The review follows the picture.
Punk rock has long been derided as a pastime of the inept.
Indeed, the long-espoused cliché that punk is the sound of the common man – as well as the notion that ‘anyone can play guitar’ – could certainly lend the unaware reader to conclude that the results of such an endeavour would more heavily lean towards exercises atonal chaos than anything of musical value.
But let’s take a brief look at the history of punk: while everyone seems to have a different opinion on its genesis, it ostensibly began as an American extension of both ’60s domestic garage rock and British R&B (a genre which once described the sounds of bands like The Who and The Kinks more than that of R. Kelly and Usher). This sound influenced bands as disparate as The Velvet Underground and The Stooges (retroactively categorized as ‘proto-punk’), who in turn influenced a second generation of like-minded bands who had a more chordal-based approach to their songwriting and placed a higher premium on their aesthetic presentation (The New York Dolls, The Sweet, etc.).
The marriage of a conscious image to the emancipation of blues-derived rock from its structural tropes begat a separate generation of musicians who – although not the most virtuous players relative to the prog-rockers of the time – were certainly competent (if not occasionally fledgling). And it’s not like it was truly unsalable – of the mid-’70s NYC Bowery/CBGBs scene, a surprising majority of the acts were snapped up by major labels – most prominently Sire, with Arista, Chrysalis, and Elektra, etc. Heck, off the top of my head, the only ‘legendary’ band of that time and place who eluded a corporate contract were art-damaged duo Suicide, who were especially against the musical grain of even that motley crew and were mostly considered punk due to their association with other acts of the time, as well as frontman Alan Vega’s confrontational behavioural toward their audiences.
However, no matter what anyone else concludes (I think that side 2 of German band Neu!’s 3rd album, Neu! ’75, qualifies as the first time that all the elements of ‘punk’ came together on record), ‘punk’ as widely understood stands in sharp dichotomy to the party line. If anyone can truly make punk, why is it that the bands that defined the term for many were, in actuality, surprisingly talented in terms of both their ability to write strong songs and perform them faithfully in a concert setting?
This is because punk, as defined, was a marketing tool. It’s not that it wasn’t youth music (although, admittedly, it was the early hardcore movement that first offered an honest subculture of rebellion to youth), but it was music that took advantage of its aesthetic qualities to present a portrait that, while not inauthentic, was based more in a fantastical interpretation of reality than reality itself. Even the hardcore movement, as based in truth and principle as it was, was rife with talent – though said talent might not be as immediately recognizable behind the blinding speeds and rough, low-budget aesthetic.
If 1976 was when ‘punk’ formed, when did punk as written happen?
Given the wasteland of private-press releases and horrible bands that never got recognition beyond their basements and friends’ ‘zines, I don’t think that anyone can truly pinpoint an exact moment, but if one thing has recently come to my attention, it’s that there was one band that completely typified the essence of punk as conceived.
And they were three tow-headed children from Wisconsin who, for lack of equivalent academic language, were shit.
But, much like a fly, I tend to wind up in the orbit of shit when I seek out art that entertains me, and as such, anything that threatens to compromise or challenge an art form by merely existing under the header of its classification is mighty appealing to me. As such, Old Skull’s 1989 debut album, Get Outta School, is a compelling listen, even aside from the novelty of its circumstances.
And those circumstances were as such: Wisconsin punk-scene mainstay Vern Toulon’s two pre-pubescent sons, Jean-Paul and Jamie, started a band with their friend Jesse Collins-Davies. This seems unremarkable so far: a lot of kids feel the inclination to play music at some point in their development, and given the nature of their fathers’ interests (Collins-Davies’ stepfather was a member of SST alumnus Tar Babies), the opportunity to do so was more available to them than most.
This is where the normality of the scenario drops off.
Given the sort of music that these children were in all likelihood subjected to due to the punk predilections of their parents, it’s not surprising that their sheer lack of musical ability didn’t turn them away from their aspirations. What was surprising was that Restless Records, a Californian record label with a rather eclectic stable of bands (their contemporary labelmates included The Dead Milkmen, The Flaming Lips, and Devo), signed the band.
Although their collective age was 29 (and they played as poorly as this entailed), the trio tackled surprisingly mature content, though they often revealed their lack of true familiarity with the subjects (‘What is AIDS?/Will I get them?’). This led some people to wonder how involved their parents were with the songwriting; while I don’t dispute that the Toulons were likely prodded towards dealing with certain subjects, the results are authentically juvenile – most lyrics come off like a 4th-grader’s book report. As well, given that Vern Toulon is credited with some of the more refined lyrics on their sophomore effort (wherein the word ‘spics’ is misread by the vocalist as ‘spice’), the structural patterns of the lyrics on Get Outta School tend to evoke a similar pace, vocabulary, and similar disregard for logic (‘How do you kill a dead eagle?/Just kill it.’) throughout its half-hour running time. This is certainly the work of children, albeit crust-punk kids who are a fridge short of being able to hang their drawings.
I’ve spent all of this time building an atmosphere so that I can tackle the music last, and this is because there’s not much one can say about it. It is truly punk beyond any of the music played by celebrated punk bands at the time of the term’s genesis: there is little regard for any metrical convention, key signature is an afterthought, and rhythm isn’t even a consideration. Jesse Collins-Davies’ drumming is more concerned with hitting the drums as opposed to considering why (or when) he’s doing so, and the Toulons’ instruments (guitars on every song, scant keyboards on a select few) offer nothing beyond rudimentary, chugging aleatory. The tracks are engaging due to their sheer abandon, but rarely demarcated from one and other.
Perhaps the easiest musical points of reference to make here are between Kidz Bop™ and Crass; the naïvety and childishness of the former are paired with the chaotic free-improvisation playing reminiscent of the latter’s underrated magnum opus, ‘Yes, Sir, I Will’. The two records even share a certain modus operandi – politically-charged lyrics are shouted arbitrarily and aperiodically over a spastic backdrop that serves to simultaneously propel and bury the message, but where Crass are educated and militant, Old Skull are young and half-informed. For me, it’s comedic that two bands of such disparate composition and degree of purpose arrived at similar aural conclusions. That being said, the Crass album obviously stands as the superior document, but it took them 5 albums to get there: Old Skull were everything ugly about punk’s manifesto from the get-go, and all that it took was moderate effort and minimal skill.
Sadly, by the time of 1993’s ‘C.I.A. Drug Fest’, Old Skull had left the purity of their salad days behind: Jesse was grounded by his parents for a month and was thrust from the band due to his inability to violate his punishment, and in his stead, the Toulons became a rather adequate (for their years) rhythm section, enlisting a new guitarist and vocalist (also similarly aged) for Old Skull. The playing (and writing) became a little more competent, likely owing equal debts to the years they spent playing in between LPs as well as the songwriting assistance of Vern Toulon on a handful of tracks. Old Skull were still certainly punk – and still more punk than most identified as such – but in adhering to the musical conventions that went beyond their consideration on Get Outta School, they left the impermeable purity of their uncompromising inaccessibility behind.
And then they did a bunch of drugs and died.