Monday, November 30, 2009

Who will save your filthy, filthy soul?

"Hypocrisy is woven of a fine small thread,
Subtler than Vulcan's engine: yet, believe't,
Your darkest actions, nay, your privatest thoughts,
Will come to light."

John Webster, The Duchess of Malfi

One of the ongoing challenges with the Industrial Jazz Group is walking the line between a.) appealing to the wholesomeness of the mainstream jazz community, and b.) staying true to our more raucous, obscene natures. It's a bit of a balancing act, trying to read an audience before a performance, and adapting our presentation accordingly, all while trying to comport ourselves in a way that feels genuine.

E.g.: sometimes, in the middle of "Big Ass Truck," we shout "What the fuck?" At other times, we shout "Fiddlesticks." It all depends on the scenario. (And we don't always guess right.)

You may know that in its early days, this band was driven by a much more innocent aesthetic. Sometimes I worry that maybe, by going over to the dark side, we've screwed ourselves out of mainstream success at some point in the future (not that I crave mainstream success, but it is a good way to get the band paid). The internet never forgets, and, like a beauty queen trying to outrun a sex tape, perhaps our chastened future selves (ha!) will discover that we're shit out of luck the next time (er, the first time) we want to play a high-class, upscale jazz venue. (I'm reminded of something David Ocker once said about Frank Zappa: "Can you imagine what the Board of Directors of your average symphony would say when confronted with a piece for full orchestra called PENIS DIMENSION?")

Or perhaps not.

I just came across Save the Linoleum, an incredible (I mean that literally) early promo recording by that monster of folk-pop (I mean that affectionately), Jewel. The first track, "God's Gift to Women," is remarkable. The lyrics are not quite safe for work, so if you're at work, well, then, for goodness sake, don't read the quoted section below!

Would you like to ram your tongue down my throat?
Would you like to grab my thighs
Yes, I have got nice tits
They are the perfect grab-me size

I'm just a nice girl
Thought I had everything
Until you flashed me
And I saw what I've been missing

I've been saving myself my whole life
For some slimeball like you to come along
I am so desperate
I'll do you and your mom.


I was just thinking
That it'd really turn me on
If some guy would drive by
And show me his tongue
I was just thinking that it'd really make my day
If he offered me a place to stay with pay


I've been saving myself my whole life
for some sketcher like you to come along
I am so desparate
I'll do you on the front lawn.


I was just thinking that it'd be really cool
If I got hit upside of the head with a manly tool
That way he could have nothing left to say
And have his way with me all day


I've been saving myself my whole life
for some motherfucker like you to come along

Which is actually not so dirty compared with, say, Lil' Kim. Clearly, the song is a satire of creepy men and weak women, and on that level it's very successful. (Of course, record company executives are never very good at divining non-literal meanings, and so I'm sure somewhere along the line someone got to the young singer-songwriter and said: "This is way too freaky for us. Let's tone it down and clean it up." And the rest, of course, is history.)

I guess the real question, though, is why should this be surprising? Propriety is always a veneer. To pretend that it isn't is a form of hypocrisy.

And how much hypocrisy can art (and culture in general) really take?

I for one wish Jewel would make another album like this.

[Photo credit: jenniferlstoddart]


Anonymous said...

Easier to get away with if you can quote latin

Andrew Durkin... said...

Ha, thanks for that! At first I couldn't get the link to work, then I realized there was a small typo. In case other readers have a similar problem, here it is, amended.

cinderkeys said...

Do what you want.

If you don't have a label capable of putting out enough payola to get you on the radio (do jazz stations do payola?), you might as well just be you. If you invent the niche, you OWN the niche.

Seriously. How many other jazz bands do you know that put out songs with names like "Big Ass Truck"?

Funnily enough, I worry that my band is too mainstream. We're not about to change the sound -- we make the kind of music we want to hear -- but when you're not famous, mainstream appeal does you little good.

Andrew Durkin... said...

Hey, thanks for the comment, Susan. Obviously, the bottom line is being true to whatever your inner muse is, even if that inner muse involves naughty words, or being "mainstream," or... wizards. (Thanks for introducing me to the "Wizard Rock" genre, BTW!)

In my own case, though, while I am perfectly happy to stake out a given niche, I also like change. I certainly don't want the IJG to be pigeonholed for all time as "that foul-mouthed, clownish big band." And that's the only reason I was imagining a future time when perhaps we might be doing a show that wasn't quite so bawdy (though personally my affection for bawdiness will never diminish). I like to stay open to the possibility that we could evolve in a lot of different directions. And then evolve back. Or not. And so on. The problem is that audiences aren't always supportive of / patient with those sorts of shifts. (Which may be one reason while this early Jewel recording is not more widely known.)

The only way to navigate the situation, as you suggest, is to stick to what feels right.

Good luck to us all!

cinderkeys said...

Yeah, the flexibility to experiment without pushback is inversely proportional to the number of people who like your current sound.

That could be a whole 'nother post. :)