Tuesday, March 12, 2013

History and the Past

We are all taught in history that we must learn from the past so that we do not repeat history's mistakes, but people are also taught to adhere to tradition and the teaching of elders. Often, tradition is built upon mistakes that are then magnified and compounded to a point of no recognition and no return. Then we have groups who want to kill one another because of a 1000 year old transgression no one can remember. 

How does one differentiate from mistakes and tradition? From Legacy and Fantasy? Where is the way forward in a world of tradition kindled thousands of years ago? 

Do not misunderstand, I love studying history and learning the past. I spent a good chunk of this very afternoon reading more about the history of San Francisco, which is fascinating and colorful with a healthy dose of pain and misery to temper the nostalgia.

We, in North America, all watched M*A*S*H while growing up. The Korean War was in our collective living room for almost four times as long as the actual original conflict, but in a weird twist, the conflict outlived even the television show, and North Korea has a young buck in charge who wishes to make his mark upon the world stage. He is staging tests and war games and rattling his sabres, and our stupid powers that be are responding in kind as they do to any troll on the internet. It makes the sense of fear rise among the populace. Forget fearing fear, that is an old, tired adage best left in the dusty catacombs of history.

But. Well, But, Well, Really, this is the point. Old Speeches mean naught. The old guard was weak and miserable, but the new guard has it all figured out, and more the better for our citizens. But, yet and still, this is a different time.

The first Korean War included the Canadians, Chinese, Russians, Australians, and more, but now.. ... . . . . ?

The Middle East is a kettle waiting to explode. There are little explosions every day, but there is a world stage watching every move already. Oil and fire and grease and butter and kindling and timber and news are a great fire indeed. And the war mongering, and the fear mongering of all our countries is perverse. Can we stop it?

What do we do if we cannot? Do we fight? Against whom? For how long? Toward what end? I cringe to know, but I do fear that World War III is nigh, and we are the tiny piglets who will be asked to go forth to die, and I am not afraid of dying. . . .  But I do not want to die for some snot nosed Power only looking for profit in the killing. 

But that is the truth, we are run by corporations and public interest groups. Oh the name is so perverse, 'Public Interest Groups' because really they are not interested in the public interest. They are only interested in their own interest, and they have so much money to throw around, but they do not throw at the people who need it, oh no!
It is only thrown at the politicians who get paid too much already anyway. 

This World War will be much messier and far more over arching consequences involving many more countries and regions  than any before, and the enemy will be nothing like before, and the world will really change as a result of this war, and i am not certain it will be for the better. 

And finally, I believe in Gun Control but I want to own Guns. That's the point too. Authorities are taking guns away from people who are documented as crazy or unstable, but they are lettling normal, reasonable people keep their arms.  There used to be a number of hospitals where known difficult people were kept under surveillance. How do you justify locking up an American Citizen? Well, the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. Most Armericans, indeed, most humans, are fine to leave alone to their own devices with their own lives, but there are a few who go a little wrong. We want to try to help, but sometimes wrong is wrong. 

Which is something else we've learned from history. Some decisions are alright to be left alone, and some must be scrutinized further. Nothing is simple, but life does go on.  

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

We've gotten too big
and we just cannot see
the lie that we are
and no one can be
as huge as we say
we never could be
as huge as we wish
as huge as we say

Nick Cave; Ripples In A Lake

Nick Cave apparently knows no limits to the widths and depths of possibility.  Some of his records hit you over the head immediately and say here I am, look at me! Some lurk in the corner and wait for you to discover them in your own good time. 'Push The Sky Away' is one of the latter.

When the first single was released, I have to admit, I was a bit put off. It was spelled We No Who U R. For better or worse, I am still resistant to the text spelling trends though I find myself texting more and more these days. It seems to be the new email. Of course, it also sounded like his song 'Abattoir Blues', which I love (the song and album), but it sounded like a bit of a repeat.

Well, I need not have worried, well ok I did with Jubilee Street a bit at first, but I think it only took hearing it a number of times, without that video, for it to grow like ivy in the spring on brick.

That is the essence of this record. It lurks, and it grows. There is just enough of a hook here and there to bring you back in your haze of uncertainty. 'Wide Lovely Eyes' is beautiful. 'The Water's Edge' hearkens back to 'Sad Waters' with its quiet menace, but this new song has a little new release at the end.

'Mermaids' is endlessly fascinating. It prowls and meanders hither and yon from a bad relationship to  religion, to fantasy and hope. The melody does just the same rising when you least expect to a peak of hope that rises above all that came before. Hope is, after all, all that we really have from day to day.

The entire experience casts a spell. There appears to be a bit of a narrative and continuity. There is a connection with the elements of water and air and breath and life that lurks below in the undertow of the Bad Seeds' music that sets off the sometimes ambiguous words perfectly. I can't help but think of James Joyce a bit here. Except here we have Brighton, where Nick now lives, instead of Dublin. There are a number of voices and lives and experiences across this 45 minutes, and I find myself endlessly drawn back over and over.

I laughed and cryed to 'Mermaids' alone.

I wondered at 'Higgs Boson Blues' and its lonely protagonist on his futile journey of loneliness, and the seemingly more autobiographical, 'Finishing Jubilee Street', and I cried again a bit during the song, 'Push The Sky Away. Life is futile, but life is rich. Life is empty, but life is beautiful. You can try to end the futility, but you'll miss so much. That's what I get from this record.

At first, I was a little annoyed at Warren's loops. I love his violin playing, it's why I love him, and his loops, to me grew a little loathsome on Grinderman 2, but my mind has adjusted to the new template. Well, that is the thing. This is new. The first Grinderman, to me was amazing, and the second, not so much, but now it feels like a palate cleanser for this beauty of a record.

I highly recommend it, and I know my writing about it will never do it justice. It needs to be heard. It demands it. Only, if you do, do not just listen once, dive in again. Pick a spot, pick a song. It is like ripples. One song, whichever you pick, leads forwards and backwards again like ripples in the lake, until the whole is consumed by your ears and brains. See if you agree that this shadow lurking in the corner could become a central figure in the spotlight.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

I have always thought that performing a song from another artist you admire is a chance to display your respect for their creativity and originality by exposing other aspects of light and shadow and possibility held within the framework of their creations. In short, what can you do differently? Imagine trying to stretch that notion across an entire album. That was the goal of the remaining members of Throbbing Gristle who had dubbed themselves X-TG after Genesis P-Oridge abruptly left the group via e-mail.

The idea apparently originally came from Peter 'Sleazy' Christopherson, and the final double album plus bonus remix album is dedicated to his vision. Released two years after Sleazy's death, we can wrap ourselves in the warmth of these tendrils of music. No longer confrontational, these strands of sounds are welcoming and warm like an old friend. This is, I suspect, the point, and I think it is my favorite release of 2012.

The first disc is chock full of guest artists singing to laid back tracks of sound and noise. . . nothing too jarring; all wrapped in love and comfort. There are standout moments, for me in particular, Blixa Bargeld's takes on the German tracks. He sounds at home in these soundscapes. Where else would he be after all? Blixa sounds at home in the bowels of hell and damnation while singing of love. Of course, Cosey Fanny Tutti sounds great. This is her home. Sleazy, her friend, Chris, her partner.  She brings a pathos to the words and the mood. The loss and the life are monumental and equal.

The noise and the fury that build only hint at that of the past fury. So again, it is comforting and warm.  Dissonace becomes harmonious and sound as antagonist becomes sound as joy.

Of course, it is difficult to write about this without mentioning that absent voice you cringe to name. The second disc really sounds barren and cold and wanting. It really makes me miss the Voice of Gen.
i can feel the hole. I can feel its roundness and limits. Whereas the first disc has its presence and voices, the second disc is wholly lacking. I suspect this is the point. Peter is lacking as well. Well. . . It is I believe a reflection of the lack of the whole. And that is I believe the point. Sometimes the guiding light is just in the shadows like a conductor. You can see the motion, but there is no sound of the conductor. Only the sound.
Old is new, and old is well, history. How? Why? Why? Indeed!

Here I am again immersed in early Hall and Oates. Specifically again, War Babies (1974). This is dark and unrelenting. There are no hits. There are no uplifting moments. There is reality, and there is life, and there is pain and fucked up human beings. There is also Todd Rundrgren who, i think, encourages and loves this aspect of life. There is the memory of the past juxtaposed with the reality of the present. Yet darkness uplifts in its own way. I love this disc. I have for years and years. Days lead to weeks to months to years to life and more and so on, and where does it end, if ever? There is darkness illuminated by tv screens and life illuminated by death scenes. Life and death. Begin and End. Sink and Swim!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

I came to an interesting realization a few mornings ago while at work. We usually have some satellite radio station or other on. Often there is current music playing by young bands, and I usually do not care for much of what is presented.  Oddly, I try to listen to plenty of new music, and I enjoy much of what I hear, but (my realization) I never hear any of it on these satellite radio stations. I never hear Wild Flag or Corin Tucker or the new Sophie B. Hawkins or the new Lindsey Buckingham. And I most definitely never hear the new Rush though they officially released a couple of singles from the newest album, Clockwork Angels . I am certain I will not hear the new Scott Walker or Swans or X-TG either singles or no. 

I always marvel that Nick Cave is not better known in North America. Nick Cave! Sure when I go to see him live with the Bad Seeds or Grinderman, the theater is always packed and feverish, but in my daily life about town (San Francisco no less), very few have even heard of him. And yes, I mentioned Lindsey Buckingham! He of Fleetwood Mac fame. Even he is fond of commenting on the dual life he leads. It is even the title of his latest DVD, 'Songs From The Small Machine'. Fleetwood Mac fans swarm the largest arenas in droves, but Buckingham alone can play to an intimate crowd of a few hundred in town after town. Why the disparity? This even happens from small machine to tiny machine in that Mick Harvey has released some brilliant albums (Sketches from the Book of the Dead is but the latest), and worked on other brilliant albums (PJ Harvey's 'Let England Shake"), but he is almost a complete unknown here if you are not a music dork such as myself though he played with Nick Cave for  35 years or so years. 

Of course, there is seemingly a unifying theme to much of this music, disparate as it all is. None of it panders to the masses, and none of it lowers itself to what a listener might like. While they are all fantastic to my ears, they are not always (that dreaded word)pleasing. Or easy. 

Scott Walker's newest disc, 'Bisch Bosch' will likely find itself on several year-end lists and rightfully so, but it is no easy listen. It is startlingly funny in places, and the listener never knows where the song will head next as sound textures shift under Walker's voice like massive techtonic plates drifting hither and yon. The average listener who craves a beat, always a beat, will give up. It is, happily, not very predictable tho' it is also not very happy. 

I suppose this is Lindsey Buckingham's problem too. He is a part of the group that spawned 'Rumours' in 1977. It sold millions and millions right away, and he immediately rebelled. 'Tusk' was the result. I still don't understand why the song is called Tusk. It is sprawling, and it has beautiful tunes and heartfelt sentiment alongside a snotty, punk rock edge that was everywhere in 1979 and found its way to Lindsey's heart as well. All one has to do is juxtapose Stevie Nicks' 'Beautiful Child' with Buckingham's 'Not That Funny' to feel the push and pull. 

Really, Lindsey Buckingham has that in him as well which is why it works. In a live show, he routinely goes from whisper to scream and back again within the span of a song as if he was wringing out every ounce of life from its fabric. For a society that seemingly wants a consistent beat, this is just too much. How dare you stretch a song into almost unrecognizability over and over!

Without beating a dead horse needlessly because no one needs that, predictability will be our downfall. So many people wish to stand on tradition as the foundation of all that is good saying here is all we need. Absurd. Sure, we need to learn from tradition. There are stories to keep and practices to discard, but ultimately, the best part of being able to climb high upon a peak standing on what came before is the opportunity to see to the horizons. It is the ability to look beyond our tiny corner of the globe. What is leaving from here and what is approaching that's new. 

One of my favorite bands now is Einst├╝rzende Neubauten.  I used to work with someone who had heard of them, but he said he could not listen because he would never be able to pronounce their name. I tried to explain that it is not that difficult to say, but no. He closed the door, without trying, to an entire part of the world because he cannot pronounce Einst├╝rzende.

Well this really happens alot even when there is no language barrier. Kristin Hersh has been writing music and growing as a writer since the mid 80's. Her lyrics are in English, but they often do not make an obvious sense right away. There is truly a sense of poetry to the words. They are truthful and universal. The listener may not exactly know what Hersh is on about in a song, but that only allows us, the listeners, to fill in those gaps with our own experiential understanding which can then reflect back upon the songwriter in unexpected ways. Her band 50 Foot Wave released an ep earlier this year entitled, 'Love from the Men's Room'. 

I know this disc basically rocks, and I know there is sort of an underlying darkness to it that I think I feel as a reflection of my own difficulties in 2012, but I am still not really sure I understand the lyrics per se. Well, and I don't really care. It moves me in a way that goes beyond mere understanding and into something more visceral. 

This is and can be the power of music. It can go beyond the obvious. It can speak beyond words, and it can certainly delve beyond the basic beat and baser needs. That is exactly what I need: something beyond. Something deep. Something real. Something difficult.

I lost my beautiful Grandmother this last July. She loved music, and I played her lots of the music she loved in her final hours as a balm. I feel I have her personality and disposition. Like her, I love symphonic music and opera and ballet and string quartets and piano sonatas. She often said music should reflect the beauty and joy of the world, but I always wondered how music should be constricted to only the beauty and joy. 

Often, I am at a loss for the immense ugliness of the actions of others, and music can often convey for me what words cannot. You can call it difficult listening if you wish, but that does not mean it should not be heard. We digest horrifying bits of televison everyday on the news and on tv programs, but they become disjointed images and soundbites easily removed from everyday life with a smile of the anchor and a quick transition to the weather, sports and traffic. It is all someone else's problem. 

Music can often say something ugly that simple words cannot convey, or words and music together can create an unholy whole. To listen to it is to surrender to it. You accept automatically that all is not well, or you go and listen to Fun.

I suppose this is ultimately why so many of us search for a meaning that explains everything.  They say there is someone above who can explain but won't because we're not ready. We just have to accept. But, of course we don't either. That is the hilarity. We have to accept what we don't understand. But only if we wish. You don't have to accept homosexuality if you don't understand, but why must you understand? You do not live it, you do not have to live with it. You simply need to let others live it for themselves if they choose. I thought that was the basic premise of these United States:  freedom to speak, act and practice as we choose as long as we do not hurt others. Well, hurting each other! This seems to be an odd occupation of a certain, rather large, segment of our population. 

If you feel misunderstood, try listening to some of these less popular voices. They have been where you are, and they were able to redirect their visions into other arenas. There is always hope until you decide there is no more hope. All the seeds are scattered upon the soil. Which will take? Who can know?
Who can say? What will grow?

A name for next time along these lines:

Karen Carpenter!

Merry Christmas, if you wish,
and a Happy New Year!



Monday, November 26, 2012

Well, the year marches ever onwards. There are potentially new and exciting things on the horizon beckoning me forward to the new year. I am not exactly excited about Christmas, but I am not quite as hopeless and cynical about it as I think I felt last year. I am in a new job environment, and I am meeting new people. Those doors I see before me do not feel locked against me.  I do not have all the answers, but do we ever? The journey really is about looking for the answers. Yet there are always, always more questions.  The point is which do we focus on, and which do we ignore because there are simply too many to handle in any one lifetime?

I have been listening to The Carpenters a lot lately. I cannot help but be moved by the sad story of Karen Carpenter. She experienced, with her brother, a brilliant burst of sensational popularity and celebrity that few experience. Yet it brought her precious little happiness in the end. Richard Carpenter was and is a brilliant piano/keyboard player/arranger with a somewhat schmaltzy taste in music. I do not think he meant to exploit his sister. He just wanted she and him to be as successful as possible. The success blinded him to what Karen needed, and the record company, of course, wanted hits, media and publicity. And she felt exploited anyway, in my humble opinion. Or at least, ignored.

She died at the age of 32 from complications to an eating disorder that left her body weak and confused. It does beg, for me, the question of responsibility we have as individuals, to try to help the others around us in their times of need and suffering. What can we do to see more clearly what goes on around us day to day. What can I learn from this struggle.

Plus, I do love much of the music. The albums, 'A Song For You' and 'Close To You' are amazing. And I really like 'Passage' from 1976. Those records really show their range and talents as individuals working towards a greater goal.

Yet and still, Karen thought of herself as a drummer first, and the album, 'Passage' has no drumwork from Karen at all. In the earliest days of the group, she played drums with Rich on keyboards and a bass/tuba player. Later, Karen added singing (from the drum kit). The earliest demos and the first album all feature Karen drumming and singing. Many speculate that her forced removal from the drum throne precipatated in her eating disorder and, eventually, slowly, painfully, her death.

So, I again wonder at the doors ahead of me. I had my difficulties growing up, but I was, for better or for worse, given great freedom to roam and explore. Maybe I am lucky I was born a man. Many women would agree! I do not forget the paths of humans who came before me as I forge ahead. I always try to honor the past while not clinging to erroneous tradition that clouds our judgements about the future.

Yet, I am hopeful and grateful. I enjoy what I enjoy from the past while looking towards what I might enjoy of what will not last.