Anyone that has read this blog over any amount of time will know that Morrissey is one of my musical heroes. Here is a really interesting article by Kevin Michael Klipfel about Morrissey and existentialism. Although anyone that is a fan of Morrissey will like this article, I think music fans in general and those that are also interested in existentialism will find something to take away here.
I read the following quote by bassist Jah Wobble today:
To be honest I am turned on more by the renaissance that has taken place in USA TV and the TV of some European countries over the last few years. Great narratives , great writing multi layered meanings and fantastic social commentary. It’s almost reinventing the wheel; fiction that documents better than documentaries. Against all odds TV has become the medium that makes most sense in and of this crazy post modern, late stage capitalist, samsaric world that we live in. Music, and its intelligent use is obviously a part of that renaissance, but it isn’t the main thing any more. Right now, like the novel, ‘the album’ format seems a bit moribund. I still hear the odd tune that I like. It’s just that ‘the muse’ seems to be hovering over the likes of HBO script writers rather than musicians right now. That’s where innovative stuff seems to be happening.
You can read the full interview here:
While I would argue that there are still great albums being made, and that there is obviously plenty of bad TV, it does seem that at its best, television is right now where some of the best entertainment is being made. There are many reasons for this. I think that special effects on TV have caught up with films. TV doesn’t face the kind of censoring it once did. Television no longer has a stigma for big name actors. There are many different things in our culture at this place and time which are allowing TV to tell stories better than ever before. However, I would also bet that economics play a large role in this. The television industry has done a much better job of protecting their products than the music industry has. While one certainly shouldn’t need large-scale fame and fortune to commit themselves to an art form, it does help if people can at least make a living at what they are doing. Also, making really good sounding records is not cheap. Even a self financed low-fi record can end up costing a couple grand. I can’t say this enough: If like me you love music, and you wish that more great records were being made, it is important that you buy records from the artists that you like. In a capitalist system we vote with our dollars. If enough of you invest in the artists that you love, you will see those artists make more records and many of those artists will also be given more freedom to create in the studio.
I often mention the films of Terry Gilliam. He is one of my favorite directors. The above link is to a retrospective of his work. For those of you that are not overtly aware of his films, this is an excellent place to get an overview. I agree with the retrospective that The Brother’s Grimm, while having some things to recommend it, is his weakest film. Visually the film still has many Gilliam hallmarks, but the script is the most generic of his movies. Tideland is one of my favorite of his films, but it is also one of the most challenging, and it is best if you become accustomed to his style before watching that. I believe the themes of that film are easier to understand once you have some insight into the way Gilliam sees the world. Jabberwocky, his first movie outside of Monty Python, while worth checking out, feels to me as if Gilliam was still finding his voice, as later films are more substantial. So if you haven’t seen any of Gilliam’s films, I would check those three out later for the reasons stated above. Otherwise read the captions and dive in where you please. Gilliam is one of the true visionaries of the medium.
Although I am a giant fan of great pop song craft, lately I have been listening to more dissonant fair like Public Image Ltd. and Rollins Band. Lately I have been listening to some jams that Rollins Band did with free jazz saxophonist Charles Gayle. Here is one called Miles Jam #2:
Now I completely understand that there are some people that will just not like this kind of stuff due to the dissonant nature of the music. I’m sure that there are even some of you out there that will think I can’t possibly enjoy this stuff, that I’m just claiming I like it to be different. But honestly, I find this kind of stuff beautiful. (And some of the insane language that Henry Rollins uses I find quite funny in the way that certain parts of Apocalypse Now are funny.) I feel like when musicians play, that they are creating small films. Music is really visual to me.
When you go to a movie theater I sometimes want to see different kinds of films. Sometimes you want to see something that tells a great story. Sometimes you want to see something that is more surreal and visual. Sometimes you want to see a comedy and sometimes a horror movie. Sometimes you want to hear a great three minute pop song and sometimes you want to hear almost thirteen minutes of dissonant metal jazz! Each kind of music creates different imagery in the imagination.
The only kind of music I don’t like is stuff that just creates vanilla imagery. There are a lot of modern country songs that are so bland I feel like my brain is being sucked out of my ears by a vacuum. There is a lot of pop that has been autotuned to where the singers voice has been drained of all personality. Those kinds of things leave my mind empty.
But really if you try to think of music as being visual, so much more of it will open up to you. Some people are painting beautiful landscapes with sound and some people are using dark surrealism. Imagine walking through an art gallery and each kind of music is a different period. Give it a try.
My allergies have been really bad the last few days, on top of other things, so I haven’t been as productive as usual. Also, to create anything, be it a blog or a song, you need to take in a large amount of material. Other than listening to records, which I never stop doing, about the most I have been able to concentrate on is watching The Walking Dead. I am finally caught up with the newest episode.
Zombies have typically been used as metaphors for different political situations. George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, which takes place in a mall, has been seen as commenting on consumer culture. I feel like because of the complexity of the storytelling, and the density of the imagery, the politics of The Walking Dead are complicated, and it can’t be simplified down to a left or right thing. There are different scenes and story lines and images that feel like part of red and blue America.
One of the things I really like about it is the fact that the cast is racially diverse in a way that most mainstream entertainment is not. I also feel that, for the most part, the characters are sufficiently complicated and are represented as human beings. While the characters, such as Tyreese and Glen, are not stripped of racial characteristics, they are never defined by them either.
All art is political at some level. Sometimes you just have to read between the lines. Even pieces of work that are expressly non-political are political. Things that are just escapism, which can perform the altruistic function of allowing you to disconnect from the stress of daily life, is essentially saying that everything is OK. In not challenging the dominant narrative of society you are you are making a political statement by abstaining from the discourse. Again, I do believe that escapist entertainment can have an altruistic purpose, but one shouldn’t say that it is non-political.
However, in the realm of escapism I think there are different levels of worth. Some escapism champions materialistic values. Something like American Idol is not only not asking you to not think about the real world, it is also full of the kind of shallow materialistic values that are a burden on our society. A great deal of mainstream country and mainstream rap, whether singing about trucks or bling, communicate the message, that is hidden under the guise of fun, that you are what you own.
I do think that The Walking Dead, while being entertainment largely, manages to ask questions about human nature. How far can people go and still retain their humanity? Even though the killings in Episode 3 of Season 5 seemed to be justified, they were filmed in such a way that was meant to make the viewer feel uneasy. In Season 4, especially, you see the damage that a society structured on violence starts to psychologically damage the children that grow up in it. The show is still asking you to think even while it creates a narrative entertaining enough that it whisks you out of real life at the same time. It is an interesting balancing act.
Today I have also been doing some reading on the current political races in Texas. If you want to see the definition of despicable, google Dan Patrick, who is running for lieutenant governor in Texas. He is a former radio shock-jock that has now gone into politics. If you are not from Texas, and want to learn about who this man is you can read the following article:
If you are in Texas, then I hope very much you will do whatever you can in your power to make sure this man loses the election. Even Rick Perry looks respectable next to this moron, and that is saying something.
In Texas Greg Abbott, candidate for governor, has a history of trying to suppress the vote. In the above article from Dallas News Abbott, while he was Attorney General, had an organization that was trying to register people to vote raided and then, after the charges were dropped, had the raided materials destroyed. This is a prime example of how low the Republicans will go to suppress the vote.
This will be my last post on John Lydon for awhile, but since I have been posting about him, and I included a post about Russell Brand yesterday, I thought that this would be a good video to put up. I can’t agree more with Lydon about voting. I also completely agree with his advice on reading.
I apologize. I originally linked to the wrong video. The correct video is now above.
On the road last week I finished the second book I have read by John Lydon (Johnny Rotten). This book was called Anger is an Energy: My Life Uncensored. A couple weeks ago I read his first book Rotten: No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs. The first book dealt explicitly with his younger years and especially his time in the Sex Pistols. His newer book dealt with his entire life story. Out of the two books I felt that Rotten, the one on the Sex Pistols, was essential reading if you are interested in the topic of popular music, where the newer one was more for the completist or fan. I read the second one because I am a huge Public Image Ltd. fan, which was Lydon’s second band after the Sex Pistols.
Those books are the reason I have been posting a large amount of John Lydon stuff in recent weeks. As well as reading those books I have been checking out interviews and videos on YouTube. Lydon is admittedly very shy. The Johnny Rotten persona was a way of dealing with that shyness. He was able to go into the media world and speak truth to power while being able to protect himself with a persona. Somehow, while utilizing this persona, he was able to be more authentic and real than just about anyone he was paired with. If you watch him on film as much as I have the last few days, you start to notice some interesting things with the way he deals with the media.
If you were to only catch one clip of him you might just come away feeling he is egotistical or rude. However, if you watch a multitude of clips you start to realize that he is getting at the truth through his behavior. He exposes the fake politeness that not only is prevalent in the media, but also keeps the media from doing their job. He says the things that many people are thinking, but are afraid to actually say. When you watch a lot of these interview shows there are unwritten rules as to how people should behave. The hosts and the guests kiss each others’ asses for lack of a better term. The host gets people to come on their show and the guest gets to promote whatever product they are there for. It’s such a normal thing that we don’t even question it. However, in real life, people rarely act this way, like best friends, if they don’t know each other. The reason why this can be bad is that, as a viewer, it can make it hard to know what you are being sold. If it is entertainment this might be OK, but if it is politics, this can actually be dangerous. Lydon goes on various forms of television and through his disruptive behavior exposes the facade that the viewer is being sold. An example would be when he went on American Bandstand and refused to mime the words. Another example is when he was supposed to go on the Rosanne Show and he refused make an agreement with her producer that he wouldn’t be rude. Unfortunately for the producer, he had already made a legal agreement that he could film backstage with his own crew. He captured her asking him not to be rude and how he was thrown off of the show once he wouldn’t make a verbal agreement to behave a certain way.
I’ve realized in reading his books and watching footage of him, just how many barriers he has broken down. We are lucky that there is someone as fearless as him out there. He was harassed by the police forces of England, Ireland, and The United States for the political and personal stances that he made. He was thrown in Mountjoy prison in Ireland and he was often harassed in airports traveling between England and our country. His fearlessness came at a price.
Anyway, if you are looking for some entertainment it is worth seeking out John Lydon footage on YouTube. there are plenty of pieces of film worth watching. If you are at all interested in pop music, his first book is really worth checking out. If you are interested in him, but don’t have the time to devote to reading a whole book on him, the above interview with The Quietus is an excellent overview. For those of you that only know him through his work in the Sex Pistols, his other work is really worth investigating.
I found this interview with Russell Brand from Salon very interesting. That’s not to say that my reposting of it is a rubber stamp for everything he says, but I do find him to be intelligent. He is willing to look beneath the surface of our, and England’s, national bullshit story. A sample:
Why do you think it is that your message can get applause on the Letterman show — which is probably American tourists from all over the country — and yet the revolution that we have had most recently is a Tea Party revolution, that essentially started with CNBC and a talking head who was outraged that homeowners were getting bailed out. He blamed all the wrong people, and we’ve not exactly had the equivalent revolutionary movement on the left.
I think I understand. Could I borrow your paper? (starts drawing) I think it’s because of the way the energy must move. I think it’s selfishness. Say that Republicans run on selfishness and greed — which is in all of us — I think the way that that energy travels is fast and in short journeys. I think altruism might have a longer journey. I think it might move more slowly. So I think if you’re trying to fire people up on this sort of fear circuit – these ancient systems of anatomical survival, of selfishness and greed, they’ve been functioning for a long, long time. Now we have a culture that is predicated on those things. We’ve acculturated aspects of our nature that are required only for our survival. And if they are overstimulated, fear and desire create a kind of primeval prison.
So I think why it’s easier to get a Tea Party message, a Republican message, across is because they function on fear and desire. These are fast-moving circuits. It’s very hard for me to motivate myself to meditate and do yoga. It’s very easy to motivate myself to eat chocolate or pursue attractive women. There is a lot of fire for those things. So I suppose what we have to do is look at the methods of communication. That’s why I have to go on “Today.” That’s why I have to talk a certain way. That’s why, I suppose, I haven’t yet left, entirely, this aquarium or arena. Because it’s not time yet.
The always brilliant John Oliver on the wage gap from his show Last Week Tonight.