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Friday, October 07, 2005

A Capilary Hint of Red

I-DelousedSm.jpg DO ENJOY the writings of Mr Outer Life, but I'm still too scared to read him every day. I've probably written before that he has the uncanny knack of writing about things I happen to be thinking about or experiencing in my own wee life at the time; but writing far more eloquently than I ever could. It's that synchronicity which gives me the willies.

He wrote a wonderful post, oh, two-three months ago? - about rediscovering a way to enjoy his CD collection, borne out of the fiscal stringencies of his youth. He recalled that, back in those days, back when music was important to him, he could only afford one purchase a month, and that he would compel himself to love that piece, whatever it was, and to play it exhaustively for the next four weeks. In consequence, then, he valued his music, listened to it more attentively, more appreciatively, than ever he has since, in the flush of wealth: when it costs one so little to buy new music, he contends, one invariably does; but one treats it with all the respect and care one does for other commodities. Carelessly. Throwaway.

... The mix-CD enticed me back into my collection. I blew off the dust and brought them into my car, one at a time, falling for my forgotten friends all over again, those relics of my peanut butter days polished and gleaming again after repeated listenings. Meanwhile, repeated listenings revealed so much of the new stuff I'd bought in quantity as the barely listenable crap it was, incapable of withstanding the rigors of attentive focused listening.

I'm obsessive about music again, and that's a good thing, I think, for I'm diving deeper than I've been in years. I'm listening more and reading reviews and bemoaning all those wasted years apart. I'm following leads and threads, desperate to unearth more. We're engaged again, music and me, and I'm making a list, 100 items and growing, of more music I must have.

He wrote that late June, but I read it mid-July: while flush with excitement I hadn't known for twenty-odd years at having discovered a new CD, a rock band, that filled me with the kind of joy I hadn't known since long hair and air guitars and one-or-two albums a month. Here I was again, listening to one solitary album over and over and over and over.

Like I say: creepy.

But truth be told - or rather, objective truths revealed - it was wrong of me, this one time, to crucifinger Outer: I have always been a little obsessive about music, as I have of other things. Trivial things mostly, such as the lay of the sheets before retiring to bed, but music has never been trivial, though I listen to it less often than I used to. The only thing odd about my present obsession - for so it remains to this day - is the type of music: I had long, long given-up on rock in favor of classics and operas. All new bands since 1980 have been crap: Rock and Roll, deader than Latin since the day I Meh'ed my electric bass.

I have bought one other CD since that last - by the same band too - but I did not particularly care for it. However, using Outer's Rule on purpose, I did not give up, did not discard, but listened to it relentlessly in the van. It snapped into place last week. Though the technique was this time contrived and deliberate, the manner of its turning was nevertheless an old and familiar story, for it has been the same with every one of my past musical obsessions. It begins - it always begins for me - with a single solitary phrase picked-out of the background that, for no discernable reason, haunts my ear. Beethoven's Ninth, for example, the fourth movement, it was cymbals in the "Turkish March" - out of all the wondrous glory in that symphony, it was some wee guy clashing a pair of cymbals ten minutes from the end that caused me to listen to that piece, solid, for six or seven months. And I listen for cymbals still when I play the piece today. It begins with a tiny phrase that catches the ear, which is then repeated over and over and over. Gradually the rewind-net widens: you delay an extra second or two before winding back, you wind it back a little further than the time before, and there you find another phrase, another discovery. Repeat and rinse until, inevitably, the entire record is the phrase you must repeat.

So it was a guitar phrase near the end of the final song on De-Loused in the Comatorium that launched my newest obsession, which as I write this, unable to find sleep, is reverborating through the darker caskets of my skull.

Oh Lordy, you're all thinking, another fawning review of that shitty Mars Volta! Heheh - not quite. Follow that link, it leads down another dark rabbithole of youth, back to the days when you used to read "NME" and "Melody Maker" every week only to be disappointed by yet another crap review of a band you love by some smart-arsed spotnik with a degree in Smarmy Cynicism from Luton Polytechnic. P'tah - I remember when "NME" first wrote a piece on Rush. They were, of course, labelled Fascists. As I've said before in connection with my kids' tastes in music and paraphernalia, The Shirt Remains The Same.

No: no glowing sycophantic review, no gushing Buy It! Buy It Now!'s this time. Only, two things about their music in general: how frantic or stressful it is to listen to, and how surreal are their lyrics.

The music of Mars Volta is not at all the kind you can play in your iPod earphones to darken yourself into sleep. It is indeed very stressful to listen to: by which I mean you cannot help but feel actual stress while listening to it, as though beset by bats after having fallen off your crutches into a wardrobe while on your way for a 3am pee. I did just that, by the way, but there were no bats. In this respect the band reminds me very much of the orchestral music of Richard Strauss, or Gustav Mahler: frantic [again - sorry] and audibly striving for something always just out of reach. It's a very peculiar effect, and a difficult one to pull-off successfuly - that I'll keep listening to it, and obsessively?

Their lyrics too are completely surreal, abstract, and semantically... difficult. They don't make any bloody sense, in other words. Yet, strangely, I find they do. The words seem to fit even though they shouldn't. Listening to one of their songs the other day I got to thinking about Abstract Art, for which I generally have very little time because I'm too stupid to take anything out of it. Frankly, I don't give a toss for the clichéd platitude the artist is trying to palm-off as deep and dangerous wisdom, nor for his evident ill-health and sacrifice. My problem with abstract art is that I cannot help but try to make some kind of sense of it; pull some kind of tangible meaning from it. I just can't look at a piece of art like that and not ask What the feck IS that? When answer comes there none I bugger off and find me a Rembrandt, or somesuch. Something - anything - with pictures.

And so it is with abstract lyrics, as in these:
Just as he hit the ground, they lowered a tow that stuck in his neck to the gills. fragments of sobriquets..riddle me this..three half eaten cornias, who hit the aureole…stalk the ground…stalk the ground. You should have seen the curse that flew right by you. Page of concrete,stained walks crutch in hobbled sway. Autodafe..a capulary hint of red.. Only this manupod crescent in shape has escaped. The house half the way..fell empty with teeth that split both his lips, mark these words. One day this chalk outline will circle this city. Was he robbed of the asphalt that cushioned his face? A room colored charlatan hid in a safe…stalk the ground…stalk the ground. You should have seen the curse that flew right by you. Page of concrete, stain walks crutch in hobbled sway. Autodafe…a capulary hint of red...

Well, bugger me if I didn't make a meaning out of it, in my driving-the-van-over- the-windy-pass-to-work kind of way? I picked out the bolded words and phrases, and suddenly the song was a paen to 9-11, and a rebuke of sorts to Bushco! I'd found the hidden metaphor and unravelled it! I felt so clever at myself, all the way to work, that I downloaded the "book" from this page right here, and discovered... Not so fecking smart after all, was I?

No: discovered my brilliant 9-11 theory was brilliant bollocks. They wrote this story, see, about this person who kills themself, and the lyrics of the songs are snapshot paragraphs taken at random out of the "book". How many high-paid critics, I ask myself, have made similar arse-ups but never been called on them? How many have written of deep, profound metaphors and allusions while an artist quietly titters There were none?

Makes you wonder, does it not?

I like my version better.

Now, there's a phrase I find myself repeating altogether far more frequently in these days of hardening hearing. I like my version better. Most typically in response to misheard words on television or in conversation. The onset of deafness, most likely, of the faintly kind your Grandpa used to have. Happening to me, ever-so slowly: but what they never tell you, just like with drugs, is that losing your hearing is fun: the kind of fun that makes the cheesiest commercial bareable. I really couldn't tell you what I thought those lyrics said before I read the actual words and, well, gawped. When I collect my thoughts I think I might pursue this further. Is there such a thing as "reading deafness", I wonder, or perhaps "metaphallic deafness" where one fails to catch the metaphors correctly?

Meanwhile, should it somehow happen that Outer Life admits of oncoming old-man deafness tomorrow, or should he write of abstract art or mangey rock bands, you'll know whose timbers have been shivered. Won't you?


Oh, one more thing, completely unrelated. I'm afraid I have a confession: I saw the words "Credible Threat: New York Subway Terror" painted on a television screen this evening, and immediately flashed "Karl Rove Indictment Coming" in my head.

That is just wrong on so many levels, not the least of which being that it's more likely true than not. Or that I hope it is while hoping it isn't, if you see what I mean?


Blogger Whisky Prajer said...

Obscure lyrics, indeed. Those cats are giving Steely Dan and The Man Dylan a run for their obscurantist money, alright.

3:46 AM  
Anonymous stephenesque said...

Surely you must agree with NME that Rush are indeed a bunch of fascists? I would even go further, I would level the accusation of crypto-fascism at them. This "NME" seems very wise indeed.

9:30 AM  
Blogger F.C. Bearded said...

Oh Stephen. I bet you were into Genesis as a boy.

9:49 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey, I like ole Phil and da boyz!

Mars Volta. Hmm. I must confess to having heard some of their stuff while sitting next to my enigma of a stepdaughter while she sat at her computer (the two computers in the house sit juxtaposed to one another, and I am often subjected to teen angst music not of my own choosing).

I find their music hits me sorta like that of Pink Floyd - moody and just plain weird. Not bad, just straaaange.

Oh, lordy, now I have "Hey, You" weaving through through my afternoon.

I, too, have been playing a CD over and over, trying to find the muscial symbiotic "click". It's "Egyptology" by "World Party".

Actually, I already have one track as a favorite: "The Curse of the Mummy's Tomb".


10:40 AM  
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Blogger -jkg said...

ahh... spammers.

still digging mars volte eh? ive been obsessing over arcade fire myself.

gotta love a good band.

5:57 PM  
Blogger F.C. Bearded said...

Being so old and out of it, never heard of "Arcade Fire" - but that's a fetching website they have.

6:45 PM  

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