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i haven’t had time to write anything here in a while, so i made a tagcloud of the whole blog (an overly difficult, stupid way to avoid having to learn anything else about wordpress). but it worked. here it is.

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Last summer story

I just finished the rough draft of my dissertation prospectus in August 2013.

Typing alone in my room and coffeehouses for three months on a ton of B-12 and coffee. But the strongest force behind me was actually this upsurge of happy emotion I picked up in Phila. from meeting a new friend. (I wrote pages and pages on the busride back to Boston; it felt like 20minutes.) Often writing 10hrs a day on that month-long second wind.

Anyway I called it a draft, and the next day I bought a light rail ticket to Providence and left in the late morning. I was gonna trade my bass for a guitar at this music shop I’d never heard of. Closing-chapter-of-life stuff. Reading Dennis Cooper, Try, on the train down. Providence, end of August was exactly as my memory said it would be: clammy and a little weird with lots of concrete hills. Not enough street signs.

I think I brought almost nothing, map etc., so I spent the first half hour walking in big, unapparent circles with my bass on my back around the train station. So I picked a direction and went straight that way for another twenty min. and came to a major-looking bus terminal. Crazy old man wants to talk to me. Crazy old man 2 wants to talk to me. Then a cute, musiciany-looking kid tries to get my attention. I turn around after one more “hey, dude” than it’s polite to ignore, and he’s like

“Ohh, youu’re not a dude!”

“You’re very beautiful!”

I threw out “Where are you headed?” in a musiciany way. But feeling pretty good. (In hindsight, this was probably obvious.)

“Do you know any place that sells guitar cords–” His friend interjects, “he’s looking for a guitar cord” (obviously).

“Yeah it’s funny you mention it, cause I’m looking for something something guitar shop, I don’t know how to get there from here,” except I said the name of an actual guitar shop in North Providence. I forget it right now, though.

Cute kid tells me he heard from “this guy” to take the 91 bus there.

He gestures toward (another, different) crazy old guy.

I go in the bus terminal’s little cabin thing where they have maps and RIPTA employees to get a second opinion. They actually have the second, and she tells me yes, take the 91 and it’s leaving in like 3minutes. OK, of course I have a 20 dollar bill and no obvious way to make change so I just dig out all of my coins and go get the bus.

Turns out North Providence is actually kind of far from there, wherever the cute kid and crazy guys were, and I can’t really space out or I’ll miss my cross-street. Another musiciany guy is on the bus (which looks exactly like all public buses everywhere), holding his tenor saxophone with no case. He’s talking to another man about how it’s hard to play since he had a heart-attack, which must be from his diet and his smoking but he’s not going to stop or stop playing sax. I like him, but I’m listening for street-names.

This part of North Providence feels big, or rather long, and wow it’s boring. A strip of completely uniform gray sky, tattoo parlors and vacant lots full of broken junk. It might actually be interesting, idk; I guess I didn’t look very hard. The something something guitar shop shares a building with this loan shark place. Animated LED “LOANS” marquee out front, guitar pawn shop in the back. Except it’s not, it’s this tiny, expensive-vintage-guitar shop, like in Manhattan. I go in, greet the guitar nerds who run it, and ask to see the black Strat. “Y’know, that I asked about yesterday on the internet?”

It’s a few years old, black, maple-board U.S. Strat. But it’s got this weird circular thing on the pickguard that I can’t quite make out. They guitar nerds are apologizing for its presence, “we tried to pry it off, but it looks like it’s Krazy-Glued.” Whatever, just cheaper for me I guess?

Now I’m leaving happy with a new guitar and one less bass, but starving. And it’s time to take an hrt dose.

The only thing is Dunkin Donuts.

I eat a horrible chicken sandwich and a huge iced tea, but the one cashier calls me “miss” or “honey” or something that indicates she thinks I’m a girl. Which is good; it’s pretty much what I’m going for. And it makes using the women’s bathroom easier (though it’s not that easy to get in and out of its powerfully spring-loaded door holding a huge hard guitar case).

Now I have Jonathan Richman “That Summer Feeling” playing on my headphones.

It takes another forty minutes, I think, to pick up the next 91 bus and get back to the train station. I think the next day, though, I wrote a song on that guitar about the person I met in Phila. That was the first song I’d written in over a year. Later next month, my friend posted on the internet this song “Black Walls” by Pavement from a show around 1991, writing that I’d showed it to her at a certain time and it meant something that she wanted to remember. In the video, young-kid Stephen Malkmus in a big flannel shirt playing.. a black Strat. I was thinking of Throwing Muses and Kristin Hersh, too, the whole time I was in Providence.*

Anway, the circular thing on the guitar is this brass medallion inscribed “SEABEES”, which apparently is a special unit of the Navy (?)  My point is that it’s a cartoon of a bee-person holding a machine gun, which I think should be self-justifying.

In conclusion,

SEABEES

*They’re from RI and they played that particular kind of guitar at the time, afaik.

PS

Seabees is doing OK but desperately needs a real setup atm. Am sure that this guitar has more songs in it. Will see about that once my other work junk is done in a few weeks.

Update: figured out the setup problem. And done with work for a few weeks. !!

Frost from fire

I’ve no more business to marry Edgar Linton than I have to be in heaven; and if the wicked man in there had not brought Heathcliff so low, I shouldn’t have thought of it. It would degrade me to marry Heathcliff now; so he shall never know how I love him: and that, not because he’s handsome, Nelly, but because he’s more myself than I am. Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same; and Linton’s is as different as a moonbeam from lightning, or frost from fire.

[Emily Brontë, Wuthering Heights, Chapter 9]

(Re)-reading the book. May be more on this later.

Reject the rejection

“I could be a smack freak
And hate society
I could hate God
And blame Dad
I might be in a Holocaust
Hate Hitler
Might not have a child
And hate school
I could be a sad lover
And hate death
I could be a neuro
And hate sweat
No
I hate my way”

[“Hate My Way”, Kristin Hersh, Throwing Muses (1986)]

The singer delivers the lines backed by a very square (‘sewing machine’like) minor pentatonic figures played on electric guitar and bass, and open fifths punctuated by a single snare drum. In other words, militaristic elements, or maybe a more disciplined version of those Rite Of Spring-style figures originally meant to evoke barbarism (iirc). (Not that the significance of these sounds hasn’t changed since then, but, it’s there, too). The performance is not bluesy, despite the instruments and material. Rather, it is overtly lacking in such features (swing, note bending). It’s not rocking either. There is no groove. In fact, it features silence between repetitions of the backing figure, leaving just the voice. The content of the song‘s lyrics up to this point creates tension with the form: lines about hating various figures of authority, humans’ mortality, and the human rationalization of murder and enslavement (Nazism). Delivered against this militaristic, sort of anti-sensual accompaniment. Playing this kind of thing on rock and roll instruments, etc.

The lyric, accompanied by a punctuating three staccato quarter-notes and silence, declares “No / I hate my way”. The sentence is grammatically ambiguous. Either the way is the object of the speaker’s hate, or else the speaker hates something, in their own idiosyncratic way. The context of the other lines aren’t enough to resolve the ambiguity.

I think the second reading is most relevant within the song. The speaker begins by enumerating kinds of subjects and the objects of their particular hatred. By juxtaposing these lines with the militaristic and simplistic musical accompaniment, the song implies that the speaker rejects or escapes from the fate of adopting one of these subjective options from society’s pre-determined menu. The speaker considers and rejects (negates) different forms of negation of social authorities (god, fathers,fascism, human mortality). More on this later.

The form of the song undergoes a major change at this point, cutting without much transition to a dreamy, but austere figure in 3/4. It revolves around a descending bassline, essentially, though the bass guitar part is melodic within these restrictions. The electric guitar essentially cycles through plagal (churchy) cadences (4-1) throughout this section, mostly arpeggiated over the square, ‘sewing-machine’ eighths we heard in the song’s first part. The most fundamentally changed element of this section, however, is the vocal delivery. Hersh sings this section in a restrained, serious-sounding voice, lacking vibrato and flourish but not defying vocal technique, either. The voice sounds less glib and more sunk in suffering, frankly.The lyrics’ content agrees with that reading: “I can’t rise above the church / Vines tangle my hands [..] A boy was tangled in his bike forever / A girl was missing two fingers”.

The line “I have a gun in my head / I’m invisible” initiates a marked change in Hersh’s vocal delivery. She reserves a furious, growling hollar for certain lines whose content is obscure, maybe purely expressionistic (“I can’t find the ice!”). Meanwhile, the lyrics’ content moves back toward that of the song’s first part, with the phrase “ask myself again / how do they kill children”, which points to the reality of Nazism mentioned earlier. Particularly, it highlights technical concerns over the pathos which this part easily evokes“how do they” rather than “why do they,” or even “how can they.” Hersh: “And why do I want to die?” Again, the lyrics make suicidal desire a chance for rational reflection, saying “why..” instead of just “I want to die”. The expressive care Hersh uses in her delivery this one line, when she makes her voice tremble, calls attention to the comparative lack of “passionate” or “vulnerable” affect in other parts of the song.

By and large, the song operates by means of a contradiction between its form (musical accompaniment and vocal delivery) and content (the lyrics). In the section with the most austere, mechanized-sounding accompaniment, the lyrics assert the idiosyncracy of the subject, not only against apparent realities, but against various objections to that apparent or actual reality. By omitting mention of the object of their hatred, but emphazing its quality (“hate my way”), the speaker places themself in opposition to thoughts or reactions that threaten to reveal themselves as false, i.e., that depend on illlusions. As emphasized in the obscure or expressive imagery of the song’s second part, the speaker has retreated into the more particular aspects of their own internal experience. Hersh’s intense, furious vocal on some of these lines only raises the persistence of the speaker’s hatred to an exclamation there. Without any determinate content, though, this hatred may eventually be conducive to false consciousness. Move right from the hatred of sweat to the hatred of Hitler, and you raise that possibility at least.

There is no safe or correct resolution of the conflicts the song expresses within the song’s own characteristic domain of experience. You can’t turn off this hatred and march to the beat of the army drummer any more than you can mistake it for critique. Or single-handedly overcome capitalism, the father’s authority, militarism, etc. The song is a scream of pain from inside the barracks of deformed rationality that legitimately still commands us, as rationality.

Well this was bound to happen eventually

I’ve been listening to “Daydream Nation”, along with everyone else I guess, since I was about 12 (1996). The record wasn’t all that old yet. I saw them standing on that street-corner at night with all the blue denim and crummy t-shirts, and I wanted to go to that place immediately. The record doesn’t sound old to me in 2013 though, honestly. Everything it dredges up– emotions, cultural imagery, rock sounds & styles– seems more or less unchanged today. My mind has phosphor burn-in from this album like they used to warn you would happen to your computer screen. What this looks like is more like the awesome color-river you can see by putting a strong magnet to the other side of that glass, in synch. with your parents’ horrified eyes and open mouths as they watch you tempt permanent damage. I sort of wish DDN still made parents want to shield their kids from permanent mind-damage (if it ever was in that category).

Anyway, I’ve been thinking about the actual music on the album for a long time, too. I’m no music theorist, so the following paragraphs are gonna be a mixture of personal reactions and notes on harmony and rhythm I hear on the record. The songs reference aspects of the other songs a lot. It’s no accident that it feels like one whole thing (part of their anxiety about making a double record I’m sure– the post-60s “concept album” dreaded by punks). Anyway, here it is:

“Teenage Riot”

 

Major seconds and major pentatonic scales all over the place. The first three unique pitches, the guitar with chorus on it, are a fifth apart and a second apart respectively. None of it seems to be going anywhere though, just roaming. There’s that rumbling guitar noise far in the background (Lee’s Eventide-processed guitar?), vaguely ominous behind all this. Then a minor third comes in, then a major third. major pentatonic scales instead of minor, but otherwise the standard rock moves (1-4-5), but leans hard on the dom7 of the 5 chord. At least one guitar is tuned GABDEG, which certainly makes the seconds more natural to play on the neck. I don’t know this stuff too well, but that stack of notes in the tuning also reminds me of the harmonic series– the first nine or so harmonics. To me, it definitely feels good to play an electric guitar in that tuning very loud. It reminds me of Rhys Chatham’s stuff a little bit, which has links to spectral ideas in music, right?

 

Rhythmic figure on guitars during verse comes back as the rhythm of the hook in “Total Trash.” Major pentatonic feel comes back briefly for the “I’m the captive on the rock” bit in “Candle”.

 

“The Sprawl”

Intro shifts back and forth between a major triad and an implied 9th chord (1-b7-9) which sounds really cool (to me). Common jazz chord but not so much in rock. Maybe I’m just not remembering or listening to the right songs. Neil Young does stuff like this a lot (“Ohio”). Also memorable is the little section in the middle with the Neu! drum pattern where it shifts back and forth between a major 7th chord and a major seventh sus4 chord. Those major 7th sus chords are one of my favorites (e.g., Steely Dan’s “Peg”, part of SY’s own song “Sugar Kane”). I love the lyrics to this song; capitalism delirium (“Come on down to the store”, “that big sign by the road / that’s where it all started”, etc.– culture-industry-managed consumption; “old machines / still and rusting now I guess” – production by manufacturing moves out of U.S. to periphery). I also really dig the title, referring to that mega-city from that William Gibson novel).

 

“Eric’s Trip”

The whole thing is very ambiguous, mostly based on just two sus4 chords as far as I can tell. (The demo of the song included at the end of the “deluxe” reissue’s first CD makes this clearer). The fuzz-wah guitar, mixed way too loud on purpose a la Dinosaur Jr., sort of obscures any chord progression. So does the speak-singing vocal. The lyrics, modeled on Eric Emerson’s monologue on LSD from “Chelsea Girls,” just add to the feeling of disorientation.

 

“The Wonder”

Rhythmic figure on Thurston’s guitar (I guess) is very similar to the hook from Teenage Riot. Except this time around, it sounds angry and chaotic. Thanks in part to the amp-at-10 sound and the flat 9 interval he keeps throwing in.

 

Hyperstation

The flat 6 interval is what stands out to me here. The hook figure that goes 5-10-11-10-b6-5-1, plus the “tone clusters” (as someone on youtube comments called them (!)) that constitute the repeating background figure of the verse, contains the same motion between flat 6 and major 6. An arpeggio over a minor 9th chord comes in right before the clusters, reminiscent of the 1-b7-9 in the intro. to “The Sprawl”.

I love these last two songs.

Note to some busriders

Note to some busriders

Hit hard

49pp. of Georg Lukács just hit me harder than 8 months of therapy.*  Full disclosure.

 

 

*(If you want to know which 49 pages, it was p.149 to p.198 in History and Class Consciousness, a.k.a. part III of “Reification and The Consciousness of The Proletariat”)

Don’t Expect

(1) “Slow it down / Song is sacred”

[from recorded version of “Shoot The Singer”, “Watery, Domestic” EP]

(2) “Slow it down / This song is not sacred”

[from a live performance of “Shoot The Singer” excerpted in the film Slow Century]

“The cognitive utopia would be to use concepts to unseal the non-conceptual with concepts, without making it their equal.”

[T.W. Adorno, Negative Dialectics]

So, what is this contradiction (or change?) from (1) to (2) about? The song is not sacred in the usual sense. It’s not holy music by anyone’s understanding.

So whatever sacred means in the recorded version must be something else, barring that it’s a joke / it’s facetious, etc.

And unless the song actually became unsacred between recording and performing it, or the performance was facetious or a joke, or the song that the song “Shoot The Singer” refers to is not itself, or the recorded version was in error (and the song was never actually sacred), then there is no contradiction between the two versions because “sacred” doesn’t mean in the second version what it meant in the first.

I can definitely see a sense in which you might want to call the song sacred. It’s a piece of idiosyncratic artistic work. The kind of thing that might have a special aura for the artist, especially just after committing it to record in some form. Before it becomes public “property”– performed, that is.  And then it’s clear that, at least, the song might not be sacred anymore, once it’s performed. So it could be a highly self-aware move to change this line of the song while performing it.

But what does it mean to call a song like this “sacred?” The song is barely comprehensible, the product of wordplay, and singing whatever comes to mind or feels right. Whatever literal statements in it are obscured or just not actually intact, in the sense of conveying assertoric information. They’re expressions or images or something. Almost all of the early Pavement songs are like this.

So the song seems much less an intellectually calculated arrangement of words and more a record of half-conscious associations and sound-patterns. So it seems to me more like a product of the “unconscious” mind than the conscious one. But, as is pretty clear from the rest of this period’s song-lyrics (e.g., the “Watery, Domestic” EP), the world that formed that unconscious mind where these lyrics came from is not sacred. Or at least it seems so to whatever is the voice of these songs. From the name of the band to the references to suburban vapidity (“Lions (Linden)”) to the tossed-off lines referring to to some extremely mundane and ruined human geography (e.g, the “shanty town” in “Rain Ammunition” from the 1992 Peel Sessions), the perspective these songs frame is not rose-colored or otherworldly. As “Shoot The Singer” refrains: “don’t expect.”

Whatever unconscious mind formed these images is as much a product of decrepit public gymnasiums, asphalt and, in spite of itself, as often lived “beside the spiral staircase when the money’s coming in” as any other (“So Stark”). It’s not a sensibility super attuned to the sacred, whatever that may be. “I’ve been waitin’ here for oh so long / This is life / And it’s flat” (“So Stark”). Nor does this sensibility hold the usual distinctions sacred. The “natives fussing at the data charts”– are they on this side of the anthropologist’s notebook or the other (“Frontwards”)?

If anything I’m inferring is anything like true, there is serious ambivalence towards sacredness in these songs. Not only does the song pronounce itself sacred and not sacred, but it seems to cancel that ambivalence. It pronounces itself unsacred by its own self-aware implication in this sort of crappy world of its experience. Yet the song proclaims its own sacredness, from the petrochemical material of an EP record no less. Is the live performance a justified correction to the recording?

I don’t really think so.

As much as the words “don’t expect” echo in the concrete facility that houses these songs, they don’t just stop, either. In fact, most of them go on, and on, for some minutes past their natural pop conclusion. Mumbling increasingly tenuous homophones and dragging out bent distorted lines till they dissolve, pulled apart at the joints. The watchword is frustration. Not exactly the product of no (though maybe low) expectations). “Shoot The Singer” leans so hard on hope or expectation that it claims to have barely missed the holy men in its path:

“Well, I’ve seen saints, but remember / That I forgot to flag ’em down / When they passed and in the morning light / You hold that ashtray tight”

At dawn, not only is the ashtray a treasured artifact but literal frustration remains: “you could put it out / But I can’t put it out.”

Magic wretchedness, or magical half-conscious expectations of wretched mundane things. These songs are full of that. Sometimes, to the point where I question if the “every building same height / Every street a straight line”-perspective from which they’re written has any experience of what it tries to drape in sorcery: “shanty town / Look at your lime sparks” (“Lions (Linden)”; “Rain Ammunition”). Or whether the “stunning bureaucrat” who’s “so fucking lost / Signing the letters / And cutting the costs” is really more lost than the guy clutching his holy ashtray at the end of the night. Still. By the end of that agonized scream,

“I can’t live / Beside the spiral staircase / When the money’s COMING IN”

the Iron Cage feels about as real as a 9:00am interview.

Taking these songs as a whole, my impression is that the magic takes place in some kind of triangle between low expectations, ashtrays, and paroxysmic screaming at businessmen. Which actually sounds pretty reasonable to me. I’d like to say “whatever it takes”, but the point is that you don’t seek out the saints and the lime sparks in this crap. Or else you don’t see them at all.  And a conceptual can-opener for the non-conceptual can might be cognitive utopia, but I wouldn’t expect it.

Would I?

I think it’s the same thing

All I want to listen to lately is post-hardcore punk and  jazz/funk/R&B

The first category makes me feel good about feeling angry and critical of everything.

The second one makes me feel good about being sassy and p.much laughing in the face of everything.

I think it’s actually the same feeling, but I just like having different music.

Frenz*

I’ve been trying lately to be a decent friend to the people I like a lot.  I’ve had enough time since ~2006 to reflect on how I’ve treated friends and vice versa.  I’m not thrilled with either, in some respects.  Long story short, I’m a pretty narcissistic person, and I’ve played a pretty damn cold person in order to satisfy that drive without becoming too vulnerable.

I emphasize that I played a cold person because I still don’t believe that this is who I am.  I think that being really different from most people you meet kind of joins with a history of hating yourself to catalyze this bizarre, cold-war-like social behavior that I have seen and embodied.

The idea is that hanging out with someone is like a game of chicken or Mutually Assured Destruction.  Both know that the other isn’t really *just* the persona they’ve shown to the other, but the first two reveal that she’s more than this persona is “chicken” and thus loses some kind of ephemeral points.  The problem is that these points, and the game itself, is part unconsciously absorbed from the society (various internalized isms?) and part actively constructed by the two people involved.

I think that one other thing has made it difficult for me to own up and be “chicken” in this scenario, to show real vulnerability and put your well-being in some else’s hands for a moment.  I’ve confused the act of standing up and being the “chicken” here with emotional neediness, or manipulative behavior.  I’m almost more afraid of manipulative people, and of acting like one, than I’m afraid of showing vulnerability.  So the two combined were enough to keep me well hidden in the basement of the nuclear missile silo for a long time.

What I think I discovered is that really sincere and direct connections between me and my friends rule out both the possibility of manipulation and neediness.  To be cold or “checked out”** towards those people anymore is to forget this.  The same thing that keeps my nonsense in check also keeps away bad stuff at the opposite pole: manipulative neediness and passive aggression (conscious or otherwise).

**So, I just finished reading Nevada by Imogen Binnie, too.  That’s one reason I want to write on this stuff now.  Maria the main character has brought the state of being emotionally checked out to a fine art.  I guess there’s a reason I felt so much about Maria and ID’d so strongly, like a lot of other people I guess.  But frankly I don’t think that ID’ing with Maria is such a great sign in a real person, beyond a certain degree of identification.  I won’t go into it here, at risk of spoiling certain plot points, for one.  But reading the book (at like 125 pages a day) brought up memories and premonitions that made me want to write this post, essentially.

For example, Maria doubts herself internally, but never shows that to 99% of others much, including when she’s lecturing someone on the one true path to radical righteousness (me, anyone?).  For me, the episode in the apartment and car with James H. was the best thing in the book, and it was a good book, so that’s saying it’s really good.  For the first time in the story, Maria gets a chance to test her whole internally worked-out enlightenment/ideology on James.  Which means that she commits to helping him if she can, but also to making her framework of ideas on herself and the world coherent and persuasive to someone else.  Someone who is actually present, someone whose bodily emotional responses are actually there “in her face,” and vice versa.  The result is that she essentially achieves the goal, to her own satisfaction (unlike on the air when she called NPR that one time).  But that doesn’t conduce to James’ complete enlightenment or wanting to be her friend for real.  He just bails.  The question is not whether James is checking out here (he clearly is).  The question is whether Maria will when she discovers he’s gone.  And even if only to herself, she refuses to feel the let-down and instantly writes him off out of sour grapes, then Maria isn’t all the way over her own major problem.

The thing is that making a friend is full of opportunities to be let down hard.  And chances to let someone down.  It’s too bad maybe that the attractiveness of doing that is feedback-looped by how much you like yourself.  Becoming someone you like whether the peers like it or not is tough for a lot of people.  Right?  And the lengths people go to in achieving that can lay the foundation for bad phenomena later on, as well.  The adaptation that saved your life becomes a curse that perpetually singes your life around the edges, if that adaptation is checking out.   And what I now believe, at least, is that neither clear communication nor great feelings about myself suffice to keep me checked in and keep me from letting friends down.  At least, it takes both.    So that’s what I’m going for.

*Thanks to Mark E. Smith for the lovely homophone.

Thanks to Topside Press for getting Nevada out to people & thanks to I.B. for the novel! You’re rad, neat, etc. 🙂