Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Betty you know it's true

Next time I get down on the interpersonal challenges of playing music, remind me to re-view this film. It documents a pretty relentless stream of bad luck / bad decisions in the career of a decent band that came ever-so-close to "making it." (Whatever that means.)

Betty Blowtorch's "failure" is even more bittersweet if you consider Bianca Halstead's history of childhood abuse. And how hard everyone in the band seemed to work.

Anyway, here's the rundown:

PHASE ONE: Fire the guy who formed the band you joined. Wait for him to sue you (by serving you papers onstage).

PHASE TWO: Watch as the guy who joined the band as the original guy's replacement quits publicly, trash-talking your (major) record label in the process.

PHASE THREE: Hire Vanilla Ice as a guest artist on your next record. No, it's worse than that: hire Vanilla Ice to rap about his penis.

PHASE FOUR: Watch as two members of your band quit (without warning) in the middle of a tour, taking the van and all the equipment. Literally: wake up the morning after some show to discover that half the band and the aforementioned van and gear are GONE.

PHASE FIVE: Die in a car accident shortly after replacing the AWOL band members, and after things finally seem to start going your way.

Perspective. It's all about perspective.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

John you know it's true

It was the biggest statement he could possibly make. There are no compromises in it. You know, there are some beautiful things, but they're not the result of wanting to make something pretty.

That's journalist Richard Williams offering a succinct assessment of John Lennon's Plastic Ono Band record.

Beauty without prettiness. I knew there was a reason Lennon was my favorite Beatle.

[photo credit: "raw sugar mountain," by qmnonic]


Monday, July 26, 2010

Girl you know it's true

This probably expresses the argument in the "recorded authenticity" section of my dissertation better than what I actually wrote:

At our best, audiophiles are the selfless and generous custodians of a thousand small libraries, keeping alive not only music's greatest recorded moments but the art of listening itself. At our worst, we are self-absorbed, superannuated rich kids, locked in an endless turd-hurl over who has the best toys.

With maybe a little more of an emphasis on the latter half.

Speaking of my dissertation, you may be wondering why I paused blog publication of said tome way back in March.

Well, as it turns out, the internet is not a totally useless phenomenon. Among the three or four people who actually read what I did publish was a (very kind) professional literary agent, who contacted me with an offer to help get the thing published in book form.

And though I was, I guess, part of that dying breed of grad students who wrote a dissertation because I thought it was fun, I quickly discovered in the wake of this inquiry that the idea of trying to find a wider audience through traditional publishing channels (ironic though that may seem in today's digital world) appealed to me greatly.

So I am currently in the throes of editing and revising the thing in the hopes of making it into less of a dissertation, and more of a book. (And if, in the end, it turns out we can't get it published as a book, I will eventually finish what I started via the blog.)

Add to that all the work I'm doing to prepare the next edition of the IJG, to be unveiled on August 19, and this is turning out to be a busy summer indeed.

[photo credit: pescatello]

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Why any of us get into it

When he was first interviewed by the author, [Skip] James claimed that blues singing had served as a form of inner expression, acting as a salve for unspecified sorrows. But this was a veil he had thrown over himself to avoid detailing the actual attraction blues-singing originally held for him. Eventually, he was to reveal that he had been drawn to blues singing on a professional level because he wanted to become a pimp. Becoming a blues singer was, in his immediate environment, almost an initiation rite for budding pimps.

(Stephen Calt, I'd Rather Be the Devil: Skip James and the Blues)

You can sublimate it all you want. As for me, it's futile to pretend that music is unconnected, on some deep and inexorable level, to sex.

[Photo credit: lucyfrench123]

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Portrait of the artist as a young techno fodder provider

Based on a tune from an older era ("Building a Fire," something I originally wrote for my early 90s band, the Evelyn Situation), this remix was recently forwarded to me by Ms. Knapp, who is a friend of the DJ in question. Though still only a draft, I hope you will be as impressed as I am at the metamorphosis, from this (the Evelyn version of the tune) to this:

Make and Destroy (Remix of "Building a Fire" by The Evelyn Situation) [draft] by Wonder Nexus

Again, I wrote the song in another (simpler, more maudlin) era. If you don't believe me, here's the lyric:

We went away for a weekend together
High in the mountains and high in the heather
I brought my anger and you brought your fear
We boarded the bus that took us out of here
We stayed awake all night gathering fuel
For building a fire for lovers and fools
We lay it all down in a clearing that dawn
And slept as it dried out all day in the hot sun
Setting the wood took three or four hours
But slowly and carefully we built a tower
We worked much harder than we'd ever known
And when we were done I could swear it looked like home
Then we stood there watching as we burned away
This beautiful thing we had labored to make
I shut my eyes and I thought of our joy:
It's something we make and it's something we destroy
It's something we make and it's something we destroy

What still gets me about this one: the notion of working hard to build something, only to tear it down (or calmly watch its demise) later. At the time, I was writing about a relationship (some of them do indeed work out that way) -- but as it turned out, the song was also about the Evelyn Situation itself (it wasn't long after this was recorded that the band broke up). With a little interpretive liberty, there are other applications too (via):

During the 1930s and 1940s, Hovhaness famously destroyed many of his early works. He later claimed that he had burned at least 1000 different pieces, a process that took at least two weeks; elsewhere he claimed that he had destroyed approximately 500 works, up to 1000 pages in total. In an interview with Richard Howard, he stated that the decision was based primarily on Roger Sessions' criticism of his works of that period, and that he wished to have a new start in his composing.

There is an impulse in art to invest in projects with an eye toward keeping them going forever. I understand that, of course, and there is something to be said, when it comes to bands in particular, for the longevity of a specific configuration of people, or the persistent pursuit of a specific aesthetic goal. I take a special pride in the fact that the IJG has been making music for ten years so far; each additional year I count as a gift.

On the flip side, it's also nice to know when to let something go, or when to allow it to self-destruct in order to work on something new. Otherwise you end up, maybe, with something like this.

[Photo credit: a portrait of the Evelyn Situation by Tom Crofton]

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Welcome to my world

The blog-tastic team at Brilliant Corners (if I actually had the time to read blogs these days, this one would be a regular stop for me) recently published a nice rumination on the subject of humor and schtick in jazz. Kudos to you, Steve Provizer, for using that evil word! (The evil word is "schtick," not "jazz.")

The subject is Mostly Other People Do the Killing:

In the video, deadpan all the while, [drummer] Shea sticks an odd-shaped piece of paper on his nose and proceeds to straddle the drums, hump them, bump them, milk them, tangle with them, move them, disassemble them, pratfall over them and use them as a staging area for a finger puppet show. At one point, it looks like Laurel and Hardy moving a piano, but with the bass drum standing in for Ollie. The audience seems too intimidated by the 'seriousness' of the context to respond as I did-laugh out loud. It's just not done. Mr. Wooster.

After all this, Shea moves the band into a fiery "Night In Tunisia." His is a gutsy, funny and focused performance. I know, performance art, yadda-yadda, but this is essentially shtick and a little shtick never hurt anyone.

This is a subject that is near and dear to my heart, not only because I posted something about it at the very outset of my own damned blog, and not only because it's a critical aspect of my own aesthetic, but also because the IJG has gotten into trouble -- right here in River City! -- at the hands of this very same phenomenon. Damn you, schtick!

But this is an old story by now and there's no point in going into it any further.

Incidentally, I once wrote something about MOPDTK here.

[Photo credit: crazytales562]

No accounting for taste

The Germans are the only people who currently make use of the word "aesthetic" in order to signify what others call the critique of taste. This usage originated in the abortive attempt made by [Alexander] Baumgarten, that admirable analytic thinker, to bring the critical treatment of the beautiful under rational principles, and so to raise its rules to the rank of a science. But such endeavors are fruitless. The said rules or criteria are, as regards their chief sources, merely empirical, and consequently can never serve as determinate a priori laws by which our judgment of taste must be directed.

-- Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason

I would like to pair the above quote with the following observation (they may or may not be related): the thing that irritates me most about professional critics is that they are often very good at explaining what there is to like or dislike about a given piece, and often not very good at considering why they like or dislike the thing they have categorized as likable or not likable.

What these folks do, essentially, is provide lists of descriptive qualities. Very rarely do they follow through and turn the critical lens back upon themselves, like so: Okay, this album has these characteristics. Why do I care about these characteristics? Or not?

As I say, I find this irritating. But perhaps I've got a bad reflexivity habit.

[photo credit: ibm4381]

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

In defense of that effeminate Asian bass dude

I don't want to turn this blog into an explication of "things I've seen on Facebook," but like that damned drummer video, this movie of a transvestite bassist is something that a number of my Facebook friends have seen fit to post recently.

Why now? Beats me. The thing has been out there for a while. I guess sometimes viral video goes in fits and starts.

Anyway. The responsive commentary generally adheres to the expected script. (You know the one: "My eyes! They burn!" and "I'll never be able to unsee that!" and on and on, blah blah blah.)

I'm not even sure whether this video qualifies as "safe for work" or not. Guess that shows how far out of the loop I am.

Anyway, I get it. You're grossed out. (And perhaps a little homophobic too?)

But what about the music? Many years ago I attended a film scoring seminar in which one of the other attendees (I forget who) described how he had been challenged by a teacher to compose while other music was playing in the background. It was an exercise, not a recommended technique, but the point was clear: musicians need to have a high degree of concentration.

And yet, even among some of the best musicians on the planet (as I can say without a doubt some of my Facebook friends are), it is hard to get away from the steamroller of visuality. Sometimes it seems that the image crushes everything, even for people whose auditory senses are pretty freakin' fine-tuned.

Maybe I'm an idealist, but, all things being equal, I'd assume that committed musicians could completely tune out visuality when the moment called for it. If we're interested in the music, great: let's talk about the music. And if the music's no good, well, then, fine: move on.