Tuesday, February 06, 2007

King Ink, King Shellac

I've gone mad. In the last 2 weeks I've spent precisely 26.49 on vinyl albums and singles, and I don't even have a fucking player. Admittedly, 1.50 of that was spent on downloading a single by Danananakroyd (the first time I've ever downloaded music), but still I fear for what's left of my already-dwindling sanity. But what I find more distressing is that my love of certain bands is a purely private, almost shameful thing. The whole variety of music I love with such a bizarrely-warm and fuzzy heart - and it would take too much fucking time to name them - is ignored-to-despised by EVERY SINGLE PERSON I know, every single one of my friends. The only exception to this is Gay Mark, who likes Crass, The Fall, and British Sea Power, but also likes Leftover Crack and UK Subs, and is therefore not really included. This fact perturbs me not because I'm the sort of man who likes imposing his opinion - especially if it involves billy clubs - but because, to put it simply, it isolates me. I'm an island of enthusiasm, and it's beginning to annoy me. And whilst the Internet is filled with freaks like me, all spilling their guts over Wolf Eyes vinyl or pictures of Kate Jackson, I'd kinda prefer to be able to talk about it with, you know, real people.
But this isn't what really perturbs me. Whilst buying independent music makes it more likely that money will go to the artists who deserve it, and many artists and labels are pushing entirely ethical musical product - like the Resonance FM magazine's latest CD carbon-neutral, for example - I'm still uneasy about it. As a consumer - and I have to admit I'm nothing but - of cultural product, I'm in the position of the ordinary spectator. I'm not pretending to feel uneasy about this just because of Situationist policy - the idea that being part of a typical spectator-performer relationship is 'ideologically unsound'. It's that I'm left with a certain feeling of paralysis when I think of how much music I listen to, and the actual physical act of listening, of choosing and buying and listening: of consuming, greedily, and of not in turn producing anything myself. I think about the physical nature of music, of the actual physical presence of music engraved into the pieces of plastic and silicon surrounding me, piling up.
And what's more, I think of all the ways music has affected me in my adolescence: it's been about 4 years since I got my first CD, and I have about 120 by now; if I had the money, I would have about 6 or 7 times that number, not including all the vinyl I also crave. I think of the times music has - prepare for a made-for-tv-movie treatment - helped me, how it's affected me, the times I've felt almost emotionally dependent on it: no DJ ever saved my life, I've had to rescue myself; I think how listening to British Sea Power or Slint or Danananakroyd has more or less saved me from the last despair; how The Holy Bible made me write almost 100 pages of screenplay in two weeks, and drove me into a near-nervous breakdown; how listening to Coltrane or Tchaikovsky or Pink Floyd or Morton Feldman held me in a trance, "wondering at the beauty of it all". I think of the times I've felt so in love with music as to be not merely emotionally but physically addicted, unable to speak to other people because words seemed so inadequate in the face of rhythm and crystal melody. And it seems almost shameful in the face of the near-total indifference of every single person I know. What exactly is this love of mine doing?
I have a few friends who also happen to be in bands. The quality of the music they produce veers from brittle-and-sub-par to just-plain-awful. I would claim that this is what you'd expect from 17 and 18 year-olds, but just look at These New Puritans. Jesus Christ. Personally, I blame the corrupting influence The Libertines have had on British rock. Crack-lighting, bomber-wearing, rubbernecking, mumble-mumble...
But I digress. I once read that music writers were just frustrated musicians; and I must admit, there is no musician in the world more frustrated than I. The best musical instrument I can play is the triangle. I'm not even coordinated enough to play the spoons. I've always wanted to play the guitar, even considered learning to play Arto Lindsay-style (so, not learning). The problem also comes with the fact that the sheer profusion of music I like - and, OK, I like every single genre except lounge, new age and acid jazz - means that in terms of 'influences' I'm pushed in a hundred thousand directions. And how on earth can someone even try and make music after hearing something like Coltrane's Interstellar Space or Om, or something like PIL's Metal Box or Augustus Pablo's King Tubby Meets The Rockers Uptown or the first Red Transistor single? And the further and further I push on through time, the more and more it seems I'll always remain on the rough end of the scale, both economically and artistically. I know from the periods of isolation that the music geek is one of the most reviled of figures.
One of my friends, Tom, has rock-star pretensions of the highest order, believing himself almost impenetrable to harm simply because he's a 'character'. Egotistical, vain, short and dressed in the prevailing fashion for 'rock chic', believing himself to have a unique and inimitable style, obviously believing himself a 'legend' due to his consumption of... um... alcohol and food, he brought an acoustic guitar with him, and tried to wield it. He has occasional stupid ideas about making a band, with him deciding who will play instruments and what songs by what shitty bands we'll cover. Seeing him sat in the corner with that acoustic, so sure of his own wonder, with myself in only a semi-cloud of booze, I felt that it wasn't only stupidity that possessed his tiny head. It isn't simply the fact that he has a girlfriend and I do not - that doesn't matter a jot to me. But watching and listening to the ridiculous long-haired kids in the school common room playing the semi-communal acoustic whilst I sit at the nearby computer, combing Amazon for a particular Mars CD, I couldn't help getting the feeling that I was missing out on something. The darkness wasn't with them - the glowering cloud of depression and crippling shyness I've had to deal with for most of my adolescence; the one I found reflected in 'Good Morning, Captain' by Slint, in the gully just before the last swell of sound. And the fact was, not a single one of them seemed to have an ounce of taste. On one occasion, I remember the kids (and yes, they were all at least a year younger than me) singing 'Living On A Prayer' as if it were a real song and not simply the disgusting lump of putrescent shit that I always knew it was. And it's not that I envy these children, but... they seem to find it so easy. (I include Tom in this 'children' category.) Whereas I have always found it so hard, obviously. They can act, whereas all I can do is think; or so it seems to me sometimes. And if that is the way things are, then what does my love for music do? It isn't merely that it doesn't help me in the slightest, the actual value of taste becomes worthless.
Such is fear.
But more than that it's been my fears about consumption: the numb and hypnotised state of my generation, held in place by the vortex-trance of the commodity. The one-way relationship between industry and consumer has left people passive, has strangled any possibility of new thought, or indeed, life. The belief that it is only the creatives - those who produce, breaking the one-way consumer-industry/media relationship - that can stop this - a nice thought, mostly salvaged from the remnants of Romanticism - has been mine since I began writing, and even before I read the Situationists. The state in which I exist then, as a consumer even of independent music, is worrying. I listen to it, buy it, and write about it.
Fuck it, though, I still do feel that what I do has something meaningful in it. It was the morning after the aforementioned party. On Youtube I found a video of Big Black performing 'Jordan, Minnesota' at their height in the late '80s. Albini, Durango, Dave Riley (I think) and Roland suffer into being scabrous rhythms; the rhythm section is tight like a garotte wire, the pulses so utterly machine-like; Albini and Durango's guitars let out bursts of broken-glass riffs over the top; they both look like the geeks who got the shit kicked out of them at school, but the noise they make, combined with Albini's odd look - wiry, scowling, clothed as fucking roughly as possible - make it clear they shouldn't be fucked with. Despite its social advantages, mediocrity can go fuck itself. No matter how much they may seem to be above me, the musicians I know will never match this; nothing can.
In an early essay, The Critic As Artist, Oscar Wilde says that "Criticism is creative in the highest sense of the word." I may not agree with old Oscar on many things, but it is still heartening to hear that "It is exactly because a man cannot do a thing that he is the best-placed to judge it." I know from musician friends - and my own experiences of writing - that it's impossible to judge your own work. It's just something that emerges, and you may have constructed it with deliberation, but you can only see it as something distinct from you. Whereas, when I listen to music, when I write, it's all internalised: "the highest criticism... is the record of one's own soul."And just as Oscar followed the doctrine of making one's life a work of art, I can help but feel that merely understanding and loving the brilliance, the soul and body's love, made into paper or digital words, or not, is enough.
Or I pray to fuck it is.


Blogger St. Anthony said...

Oh yes, I know that feeling well ... tried to interest a few friends in some different music once or twice ... always a pointless act.
I like to think that listening to music or reading or whatever can be a creative act, if you're imaginatively making-over the music or book, etc. - feeding it through your own filters.

Arto Lindsay ... genius - I love the way he can't play guitar but can't play it in just the right way.

February 17, 2007 at 3:41 AM  
Blogger Dan Barrow said...

There's a running joke among my mates about how my love for noise and evangelism for it. I might as well carry on; I figure, fuck it, if Sisyphus could be happy...

February 17, 2007 at 4:11 PM  
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