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“I could be a smack freak
And hate society
I could hate God
And blame Dad
I might be in a Holocaust
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
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.
I watch as the whole country slides by below the wing.
Deep red clays and burned out browns, followed by snow bleached peaks
and now the flat geometry of the middle lands.
Hundreds of miles of patchwork squares and circles, an occasional
building group here or there isolated and tiny city clusters shrinking
in the capillary sprawl, grey and lifeless from above.
What is this all about?
The ground moving does not really alter my perspective up here.
Nothing seems to affect my view these days.
My life beyond stable, static.
35 years, 10 years, almost 5 years.
All these time line hash marks seem have ground me to a halt.
How do dreams and hopes end up frozen?
How can I get back that burning desire?
I am at a standstill now.
The days goes in and out and I get nowhere.
Still no great clang of astonishment, no brilliant flash of light,
no steeple with a wide view.
All that surrounds me, all the things that I have gathered and continue to gather
at such an obscene rate seem to be stones tied to the cuff.
[Lee Ranaldo, “Notebook,”
..says the more-or-less rockstar. Once you’re a rock star, you get beyond the possibility that your own history smothers you under its weight,
Otherwise, you’re not a rock star, but a musician (and LR is clearly a pretty great one). And that’s not necessary or sufficient for being a rock star; I know this much.
You might not know it by reading this, but I feel like I would have to be drunk or something to make the claim I just did, publicly. I’m not, though. I just had a great clang of astonishment, in fact. (LR, maybe this is one way that they happen? Could be). I have a way to detect unconscious rock star ethos. If I ever want to check if I mean rockstar when I say musician, I just take another look at the art business. Substitute “fine artist” for “musician” in what I just said and see if it keeps the meaning. (Not gonna go into what that means, here). Most times I try this, I just get a little ashamed in my mind and then go do something else. Because what I just thought or said fails the test. “Life as a musician[/fine artist] would be a better use of my youth;” “musicians[/fine artists] don’t get hung up on this abstract baloney,” etc. See what I mean? Never mind some mild ‘quizzical’ effect, etc.– the second versions of these sentences could be punchlines. OK, so Gene Simmons will never come out with his equivalent to “Notebook” or “Amarillo Ramp.” You can’t get upset over the lack of something you never expected your main life project to get you. So if you expected mainly money and limousines, and you know what it takes to get them, then you might get them and have no regrets. Romantics don’t get off the hook so easy. (Nor do they get off so easy; what really gets a Romantic off, anyway?) For me, it comes to this: if you’re a Romantic and you know it, but also ambitious and you know it, will the vagueness and ambiguity of aesthetic criteria for success drive you nuts? Not the good crazy that Romantics like; more like inertia from self-doubt. Because the kind of ambition that I see in pure Romantics, people who just seek various experiences for their own sake, is just the drive to get from one such experience to another. Probing what’s around with your greedy pseudopod. But that would drive me nuts. A Beat poetry trance of breathlessly listing memories, that’s what you thrive on in that kind of life. Theme? “Things I have experienced” or “things that came from my mind.” Then it’s all on you to become a damned fascinating theme. Because anyone can breathlessly list what they saw and did today. Your life is your real art, on this model, whether you like it or not. But the life that’s the art, it’s not a bio in an artist’s statement of things you’ve objectively done or said. It’s the life that’s passed behind your eyes, the one you lived through. And I guess a lot of that, if it really is special and unique to you, is inaccessible to others in principle. So, for example, how can documentation (writeups, recordings) not become a chore when you think this way? What you can document is not the art, by definition. Maybe it’s what you can sell, though.
I’m not recommending these beliefs to anyone, and I’m not saying that most artists I know believe that. I mean to say that when I wonder if music would be more fun (than academic research), the kind of fun I have in mind would necessarily lead me to these opinions about the point of a life lived for the sake of that fun. Thing is, as much self-denial and labor as philosophy involves, especially for someone with a Romantic bent, its criteria of success jibe with my neurosis about the point of life better than the “pure Romantic’s” do. The lack of substantial success is what can drive you crazy doing philosophy. Doing Romantic art, do you really know what success even looks or feels like? In a gentler, warmer world without money or clocks or food or illness I could deal with vague, ambiguous goals and vague, ambiguous plans all the time. In the actual world, I think that vague, ambiguous plans are about all my tender, rationalist mind can handle. My brother said the other day that he sees people laugh sometimes to refuse absurdity. People who are “zoomed out” all of the time, i.e., satirists and even cynics. They laugh harder and louder all the time, as the world gets more absurd. He thinks that they try not to see and feel what is real, which is absurd. So I guess he would say that they lack a virtue of seeking the truth. I doubt he would put it that way, though. Cause truth-seeing, as you know, cuts two ways. You can avoid seeing further, since you didn’t expect to see what you did. But you can also avoid seeing the truth altogether if you pretend that you expect nothing and pretend that the nothing you claim to see is more than what anyone can speak the truth about. Kantians, for example, do a lot of the second, but in practice, they care almost not at all about their precious ineffable stuff, and use it as an excuse to put the world behind categorical bars without a real trial.