Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Eugene Chadbourne and Co.: Musical Bones vs. Tendrils of Gel

Hm. Interesting. Not paying close attention (ie., not being stoned), when I played CORPSES OF FOREIGN WAR (by Eugene Chadbourne with the Violent Femmes) back-to-back with COUNTRY MUSIC IN THE WORLD OF ISLAM (by the same Dr. Chad, but backed by the Sun City Girls), I mostly noticed the similarities between albums -- the strong continuities to be found throughout th' body of Dr. Chad's more, uh, song-oriented material. Paying close attention tonight (ie., being stoned) it really comes clear to me the marked differences. There are both continuities and differences, really, but they come out at different times... am I able enough to write (in this state or otherwise) to capture the difference in language? The Femmes collaboration is much more angular and folksy, as one would expect. The moments of Chad-wrought disorder are more digressions, diversions from a bouncy, if twisted, dancin' skeleton at the heart of the whole thing; however flexible the skeleton, and however musical the bones are when struck, its joints are pretty solid, and only usually bend in certain predictable directions. Not to say that that's a bad thing: it suits it better, f'rinstance, if ya wanna focus on Chad's more discursive side (ie, his lyrics). Still, the interior structure of the Sun City Girls collaboration is more fundamentally gelatinous, more inherently amoebic, with the order existing more as a solid tendril anchoring said mass of pulpy gel to your brain. Pattern is only a means to an end. The human system is not designed to appreciate chaos in its purest form, so to really receive the beauty of it, to apprehend it, even, it needs to be tied to some sort of order... It's probably impossible to appreciate chaos as chaos per se; certainly the noisiest stuff I listen to is perceived as some form of order... To perceive is to order. Somehow, when perceiving order, I tend to prefer an order that emerges organically from the chaos... It's hard for me to always enjoy Bach, say, beautiful as it seems at times, since there's just so much order to be dealt with; it exhausts me... I prefer it when the tendril is fundamentally gel, where I can help make the order myself, where even being able to hear the stuff as music is an interactive experience; where I'm not being dragged through pipes but floating in the bath... the minimum possible order, only as much of it as my mind absolutely cannot do without. The Sun City Girls CD gets more at this than the Violent Femmes one. I think it suits this state better.

I wish I had some Camper van Chadbourne. Oh, and apparently I shouldn't set water on to boil for tea in this state if I plan to leave the kitchen.

Post script: I just put on Bach (did you know that Dr. Chad had adapted Bach for the five string banjo? I wish I'd picked up that CD when it showed up at Zulu used...). I guess the growing interest in noise-as-music can be productively tied to the breakdown of authority, tradition, culture, etc. we've witnessed in the 20th century. Even perceiving Bach requires a kind of submission to authority, and taking pleasure in it needs a respect for and appreciation of expertise, tradition, learning, for a unified hierarchical culture which you locate yourself inside. All of this -- I've been reading Hal Niedzviecki, and its about to start to show -- is fundamentally at odds with the desire for us to experience our own states, lives, individuality as important, special, etc., RIGHT NOW, to appreciate our own "specialness," to live in a me-ordered world (where even listening to music is all about you, your perceptions, your tastes -- not the academy, not "culture," not the values of elites); the conditions that produced Bach simply no longer apply today, hence the feeling that it is difficult to "identify" with this music (and God knows identity is everything these days). Consumer capitalism (aided by modern communications technology and a general increase in the western standard of living) has liberated us (with the help of a general rebelliousness and hostility towards old forms, which it's becoming increasingly tied to -- witness punk rock and its increasing commodity value) into a sort of mass individualism that is fundamentally anti-hierarchical... There is social breakdown, decay, chaos, a document of the anarchy into which we are plunged, inside music like that of the Sun City Girls and Eugene Chadbourne (or a thousand noisier, weirder bands); it's simply not the sort of music that could flourish in a strongly hierachical environment (hell, in many such countries, particularly those with unifying religious principles interwoven with the state, ie., Islam, it would be illegal... hm, is that what Dr. Chad is getting at with that title? Really, it's about as non-Islamic as country music could be... Country music in the world of Islam would probably sound a lot more like Garth Brooks, only in Arabic). What's interesting, though, is that, however non-hierarchical it is on some levels, there is also genuine cultural expression -- almost something like an emerging folk culture -- found through the act of embracing, composing, performing, recording, listening to, and even blogging about, this sort of music; there's a tribal element here (witnessed also, I guess, by the Sun City Girls fascination with the music of indigenous peoples, particularly where it interfaces with modern communications technology). The community that is embracing it IS a sort of tribe in its own right, and doubtlessly has its own hierarchies... but how different, how new, how fragmented a tribe it is. But fragmented in a unified way -- the "conformist individualism" of which Niedzviecki speaks. Uhh... it's how culture is adapting itself -- the growth of a different sort of culture, in the wake o' the collapse of that Western one they speak of, as a kind of tribal superglue. It isn't all bad... uh... except that it divorces us radically from tradition, is in many of its baser forms consumption-driven and market-mediated, and is probably not very sustainable in the long term for our species. But it IS culture! Some people hunt heads and worship trees, some folks dig Bach, and I get stoned and listen to noise.

Viewed objectively, culture is only a mirror (or maybe an index) of the conditions of the society that it manifests itself in... Uhh...

I think I need to listen to some Luigi Nono now. From the liner notes to his VOICES OF PROTEST, quote from the "Second Declaration of the Avana," whatever that is:

because now in the fields and mountains of America, along the slopes of
its sierras, in its plains and its woods, in solitude or in the traffic of
cities, on the shores of great oceans and river banks, this world begins with
every reason to stir and show its hot fists.

No comments: