A subdivision of ACIDEMIC

Monday, May 18, 2009

Bardo Pond and synaptical misfires at Louise Point

Bardo Pond is the best and only ones who do what they do - which is create panic attack at the club music... the drugs kick in and everything gets slow and weird and you're surrounded by freakily beautiful loving people, but the guitar, slowed to an alien crawl by your push into timelessness--slowness, blanking - wha? Isobel Sollenberger wails in a soft soaring high/low voice as the guitars of the Gibbons brothers cut in and out of tempo the way a brain stuttering its dehydration S.O.S. might cut in out of your aural perception. Our hearing supplies illusions of coherence the way the eye fills in blind spots and the memory remembers what it wants and buries the rest under thick layers of carpet and yet can still hear the hideous beating of its misery. This is music for when you're infatuated with someone you only recently found out likes you too, and just waiting to see each other again becomes like a druggy sickness. You smoke cigarettes to fill the void the way a kid tosses a rock in the ocean but love makes each wave a surfboard until Bardo Pond reaches up with one jangly hand to pull you off your board like a lifeguard in reverse. Blacking in and out of consciousness downstairs at the dance shouldn't be so easily condemned as a bad thing. In the end they're all just experiences. As Sollenberger puts it in "Sunrise" (off Dilate): "Watching it happen /
watching /
it /

And then this chunky distorted fuzz guitar so tasty you can feel it in your saliva comes spiraling out of the distance and when Isobel suddenly starts singing-slurring again:

"When words turn / to
breath / and silence reigns /
golden /
and the sky is falling /
... watching it happen."

The bass and drums just keep kicking over the same can and almost catching themselves from falling into the basement. It's music to swoon too, and you can, because the rhythm section keeps grabbing your arm and yanking you back up right before your head smacks the concrete club floor, all in one smooth motion.

Rock and roll really IS the devil's music, and its appalling when acts like U2 and Green Day profess to have ties with punk and the devil crowd but then deliver safe anthem nonsense. People like that don't even KNOW what they're missing when they just say no all the time. How could they? People who want drugs illegal have never tried them -- it's just that simple. Anything that kills you makes you cool first.

One more thing: let's talk about peace and Buddhism and shit and who the real posers are now: the new generation of hippie guru carpetbaggers that pass themselves off as the mouthpiece to "your generation" every time you make a collective swing towards the light.

Beware their suspicious, narc-like ingratiation, their brazen attempts to be cool and religious at the same time. Be a leader of yourself and you no longer need to put yourself in a superior position to others. When the object is humility this is even more important, which is why a book title like HARDCORE ZEN smacks of "More Humble than thou" insecurity. A true Buddhist hardcore path would be to make your book as intentionally mauve "Love Affirmations for Mom" or something like that. What about writing something about how to understand and embrace the hobbies of one's unenlightened parents, such as golfing, drinking, going to church, sewing, and television watching? Warner's book should be called "If I'm enlightened, why can't I finally can't let go of wanting to be a badass?" That would be hardcore if for no other reason than all the hardcore kids are afraid to do it.

I know I am.

Even in being "open" there's pitfalls, so don't think I blame Warner or the coming wave of plastic fantastic shamen. Emotional openness and a posture of universal love and acceptance of all things are inherently good, but transcending all opposites and dualities--including teacher and pupil-- is the most fearsome of all. Kids will jump off cliffs or empty out their wallets and wrists just to avoid being loved. Tattoos and piercings and fight clubs are just extreme forms of distraction from the whirling hole of raw forgiveness that is the full you, the one without a second, the one who blows your parent's minds with your raw positive acceptance, who creates room for dialogue so heartfelt it would make Hallmark Cards writers sick in the hallway. Hardcore kids can't even make eye contact half the time, let alone say I love you with eyes moist like a black velvet puppy, or volunteering to take grandma to church, or refraining from sermonizing at dinner how great they feel as a vegan.

Plus, the minute you start noticing other peoples' hearts aren't as open as your own, then you may as well admit yours is closed again. Mine's closed again. Can you tell? My book would be "It's Closed Again, Ma... but I can still dilate... to BArDo PoNd."

Monday, April 6, 2009

#1 Greatest Rock Moment: Joe Cocker, "With a Little Help From My Friends," at Woodstock 1969

"All we gotta do is love now," he starts croaking, the bass starts sliding away then rolling forward with a spine-tingling acceleration, in come cycling piano thirds, pounding drums, Cocker just roaring along like a big Welsh punter on his first acid trip. It's Woodstock, the movie... if we've slogged through all the dated folksy stage-building and soggy folk songs to this moment, it's suddenly all worth it-- all those Mrs. Gulch's bike chained and-pig-shit covered black and white-mired Kansas black and shirtless hours--for this emerging into Oz-colored unity and sun, this big lovable probably-wasted Welsh set of sideburns flanking twisted lips spazzing up to the microphone as the bass and drums slow to gentle coaxing relentless draw.

The charge of "getting together with all my friends" was huge at Woodstock and it comes through in the movie and the sound quality--way better than we'd expect. What we're hearing of course is the preservation of a beautiful and transcendent moment in time--witness and experienced in unison so profoundly that the recoding medium seem improved, altered, as if carrying a message beyond either sight or sound but some third thing.

That's part of why Woodstock is so well-remembered, such a collective high the way a loving group will always remember the moment they all became friends--when boundaries and self slipped away together, like falling in love spread over an entire group just dropping acid together and dancing late at night--the way nature and circumstance seem to respond, plants change their growth and water crystalizes in new ways--we can't repeat the magic, of course, and we know because we try, with Altamont and the Isle of Wight, and every party the group gathers for for years in the future.

But luckily, for us as a nation, a world, even if we were then unborn, have this one song so brilliantly captured.

It's glimmer not just into universal brotherly love but a moment in time when being on acid and being a moron weren't one and the same. Super competence reins because these are the kids who already knew stuff, were in college studying to be doctors and lawyers, before they dropped their first hits. They already knew guitar, or sound mixing, or bass frets, and then the acid came and blew them to the next level, and beyond, wafting them to the pinnacle of their crafts the way a wind might blow leaves up the steps.

 I forgot that myself, when I was in a band.  As acting coaches and patient directors tell actors, you learn the words first and then forget them...

Whoa, flashback just thinking that. In fact I get one every time I see or hear Cocker's amazing anthemic freak-out. To me it's like watching Jesus appear, the perfect blend of high, help and friends surging through his soul. One can't imagine a better moment in a rock singer's life - a big crazy stage, fans into infinity, the dawning of the age of aquarius; everything was going to be okay. There was no longer any doubt of it in anyone's mind. We, the freaks, had won. Cocker comes on with a little glass of beer or water or something. A little drunk, tripping, mystical, massive beautiful side burns, a colorful T-shirt completely soaked through with rain and sweat, hair wet, hair blowing back as he bobs, Cocker howls like a deep banshee, not from need or want but in the name of love, an electric feedback squall of pure transformative selfless but sexual, fraternal, familial, audiencial and ballsy rock. Look at the picture up there, with his tie-dye exploding outwards like he just took a love bullet in the ribs, his wild English face is the mirror to the explosion on the shirt, from the depths of his diaphragm and soul, all eight chakras blazing, out through the diaphragm from the serpent lair West Village, clearing the stalled traffic with mighty kundalini light rays all the way to Woodstock, to and through the people, the past, the future, to and through the endless masks of God... until all masks are gone and it's just empty space, all clouds remembering they were only ocean and air and then letting go even of that, then letting go even their own existential despair at losing the illusion of separateness, and then letting go even of emptiness. And then finally - love without limits. Born anew in the arms of friends to the sound of Cocker, the smell of mud and crap and weed and patchouli.

The performance would be nothing without the Beatles original though, from the influential Sgt. Pepper's. Ringo's pleasant modesty in answering the spiritual questions: "Yes. I'm certain it happens all the time," it was all too much genuine open-hearted non-gender specific communal love for the unprepared ego to handle. Sgt. Pepper's lit the minds of anyone who heard it on fire, you didn't even have to lick the buttons on their tacky uniforms to get way high, it was in the wind, a wind which had fanned a big flame that was now a raging Woodstock bonfire sea. The words are like Poe's (and Zizek's) Purloined Letter finally and inevitably arriving at its full expression. Just one simple message in that letter: Love Everyone, Right Now. It's okay. We all love you. That was all we needed, and in that one moment, Cocker was its undeniable messenger, and his message was heard and embraced by all.

Everyone, man, they spend so much time worrying about who loves them and if they are loved. Dig, it only works the other way around man. That's what the Professor was trying to tell Dorothy. "It's not how much you love," he says, "but how much you are loved by others." That's the attitude of Hollywood stars when they lose the ability to love something beyond themselves unless it's with the implicit advance understanding they will be getting all that love back immediately and with interest, like insecure kids so terrified no one will sign their yearbook that they have no nerve to ask a single person.

Whoa, get back on track, man! Before we returned to that nervous self-sabotage and fruitless longing to return to ignorance-is-bliss apple allergy mall rat innocence, there was one more echo of Cocker's great performance, John Belushi's hilarious, dead-on impersonation on the then-cool Saturday Night Live. Obviously loving and heartfelt, Belushi could clown it to the top with air guitar and staggering and still honor the greatness of Cocker's moment in time, a moment we all can still feel in our blood every time we watch it, especially loud.

And there you have it, the decline of manhood in a post-feminist age, from . into the raging rock manhood of today,  from the empathic outward feel good angelic possession of Joe Cocker at that one particular moment in time, to the narcissistic nightmare miasma of today, with Tom Cruise our fetishistic icon, soon to be dipped in the volcano wax like a wick (-er man), and Bono still prancing around going "Take me instead, I'm ever-so mythic!"

Alas, the Carnaby-spruced titans of old are now just that -- grandfathers with overlapping generations of children and mistresses who tour and record only to have an excuse get out of the house. Cigarette-related illness, ODs, and pop corporate selling out took the rest. And now the only people singing at Cocker's full raspy bold levels are loners adrift in the critical acclaim and mainstream avoidance of selling a safe amount of no records. Love has a hard time being so cross-generational in our splintered endless entertainment options landscape- which is not to say it's gone, man. We're getting by and our little friends are helping - via Skype, if we can handle the glare.

We can't.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Joni Mitchell's "He Comes For Conversation"

This song, from Ladies of the Canyon (1970) is a song about a love triangle, of which Joni is the unloved part. It discusses "he" who comes to her little Laurel Canyon kitchen to undoubtedly sponge coffee, wine and snacks off her--lady that she is, perhaps tea--while bitching about his girlfriend ("Why can't I leave her?")

He comes for conversation
I comfort him sometimes

Patiently she relates to us, her listeners, what he says about his girlfriend-- the one Joni hopes to replace:

She speaks in sorry sentences
miraculous repentances...
I don't believe her

Mitchell's delivery of the last line is curt, spoken rather than sung, as if shooting us an eyeroll while he natters on and on. It's a powerful song and Joni is a genius, I tremble to think of it. I used to listen to Ladies of the Canyon and Blue all the time while driving around Seattle, all lonesome and addled and lovestruck for whomever I wasn't dating at the time. I loved a girl named Florabeth (not her real name), she had long blonde hair like Joni, and on a big billboard along my courier route in downtown Seattle there was a Virginia Slims ad with a huge photo of the same girl, the Alice in Wonderland version, but same hair, so was she chasing me or I her? Am I the Mad Hatter like I hope or just a druggy caterpillar? It was never a sex sort of love, but more chivalrous and ancient. The muse is seldom the same as the lover; the muse should always be far away, on the other coast. Flora was back east, still in school. I could let my heart melt in gushing Lancelot-esque tears for my queen back on the other shore with old King Arthur. Ah, the vaniglorious associative-depressive miracle of youth.

So I would listen to Joni while driving and thinking of Flora, and suddenly the tears would start. "All I really really want or love to do / is to bring out the best in me too," she sings the very first song. "I want to shampoo you / I want to renew you again and again." I wanted her to do that to me, but it was also me wanting to do it to her and the world; she opened me; the sunshine was her shampoo as it flooded through my windshield.

1977, my mom was working in a runaway shelter, and brought home for Xmas weekend one of the runaways, Toots was her name, because "everybody calls me Toots." She was Joni Mitchell in mood, and Venus-like in pristine 16-year old beauty, and denim. Nothing much happened between us. I was only eleven, but It didn't need to. I remember my mom gave her two packs Marlboros wrapped up for Xmas and I remember it took me like five minutes to work up the nerve to ask, voice croaked in fear, "Hey Toots, do you want to do Doodle Art?" Which was my gift from Santa, and it was her gift--and God's--that she deigned to do it with me. I was madly in love, and still see straight blonde hair over denim and I fall apart.

All this came rushing back to me with Joni's witty but genuinely heartfelt declaration of wanting to shampoo me. The tears came flooding out, I almost couldn't believe it. I hadn't cried for years, and even then only in violent spasms. This was genuine emotional release (In 1990 men still didn't cry).. It was a private discovery, reminding me instantly of other sorts of releases. It got me really high and relaxed, crying did, and I became a junky for it. Now I know it's called "depression!" In my case, alcohol-related, bro, though alcohol also initially cured it. Pills took care of the depression after I quit drinking, and then other pills took care of those pills.

And that brings me as well to "He Comes for Conversation" and our place as the listener in the little love qudrangle we share with Joni. That's the zinger of course: he comes to her to talk about his abusive girlfriend, completely oblivious to her affection for him and that is just what she's doing to us with the song. The confessing to us of her attraction for another implicates us in this schemata. That's fancy talk, but what it means in simple terms is... she's punking us out the way he punks out her - we're the fourth in the roundelay, the bottom rung.

If anyone ever does a rap version of "He Comes for Conversation" I hope they will bear this in mind. Joni never mentions any particular relationship she has with the intended listener of her song; and as we know, even the most private diary is really a letter, but to whom? For me it's always a girl like Joni, my beautiful Other, and yet while it is a letter of longing and needing it is not a case of actually "wanting." When the beloved is alone in the room with you, the love snuffs out, it is only when they are far away that love burns, Virginia Slims billboard-size.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Fiona Apple: Legacy of Hot Messiness

(The following was originally written for Amp Camp, a hipster-esque sub-division of neighborhoodies.com):

Sullen, pouty 19-year old piano prodigy Fiona Apple seemed to fall from the skies with her first album, "Tidal" a preternaturally assured collection of songs that slunk languidly between smoky jazz and Alanis Morissette alterna-angst. Assuring her success was a series of videos demonstrating her waifish sex appeal, particularly "Criminal", where she appears as a strung-out, underwear clad Alice lost in a tawdry lime-green carpeted wonderland of implied sexual misuse, drugs and wood paneling. Her erratic behavior at shows drew some flak from the press, eventually presaging a brief nervous breakdown, and we knew she was trouble when her sophomore album came out with such a long name that no one could say it all the way through. But youth, beauty and genius is a rough combination, and we have no choice but to forgive her. Extraordinary Machine was thought to be in limbo due to record executive nervousness, but when it finally came out it showed the brazen Apple had matured without losing a shred of her gorgeous sorrow. Her jazz-standard crooning sister Maude Maggart is pretty cool, too.

The first thing you hear is a voice that's so deep compared to your expectations of what a 19 year old ingénue should sound like that you think you put the record on the wrong speed. But it's a CD, and so the sound is so clear you can hear her every soft breath in between hitting these great deep notes that slowly evaporate at the end of stanzas (check out the 3:29 mark in "Slow Like Honey"). So yeah she's popular, she's the poster girl for the self-cutting crowd, but she's also as disciplined and regal as Nina Simone and twice as well recorded. If there is any flaw at all it's just that at 19 she doesn't have the sensory gravity, the "soul" that Nina or Sinatra could bring to a lyric. Her style is seductive for the sake of destruction, or as she puts it on one of the albums chart-topping hits, she's a girl who "can break a boy / Just because she can." She's that beautiful anorexic girl who lures you into her bed just long enough to break up your marriage, just long enough for you both to realize there is no "there" there outside of taboo-busting. It's her gift for expressing the bottomless melancholy of a 19 year-old beautiful loner grown way-too old before her time due to the evils of older men. She still finds an inner wealth of maternal comfort for whoever of her listeners are in need, filtered through the slow motion duck and jab of "Shadow Boxer" or bathed in the Joni Mitchell-style piano and whispered solace of "Never is a Promise."

The spookily talented Ms. Apple's third album came with a lot of strange mythologizing behind it. Was the label not releasing it, or was the demo just floating around the internet before it was finally mixed down to the artist's exacting specifications? Whether it was all just ingenious hype or something else, it hardly matters, as the album encompasses everything that was great about her first two works, and then expands from there, managing to be even more quietly assured than "Tidal," and more pumping and assertive than "When the Pawn…"