Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Pollarding the Holly: or, Glissandoed Arpeggios

"A little sentence he had once read came in to his head: 'Happy is the man who believes he is happy.' Yes, he thought, and more accursed than the murderer is the man who works to destroy that belief." --Paul Bowles, A Spider's House .

I've already claimed in this word-water that I'm not what the kids today call a "hater": it seems the worst instinct to use this forum--and other online word-rivers like chat groups as well--as bully pulpits for your/my bloviating. At the same time, that's exactly what most of these dispatches from the global interweb overground are: bloviations. Some are more informed if not funnier or more well thought-out than others. Still, there's no reason to disregard blo(g)viations. Plenty of good to get done here in this word-droniverse: nothing wrong with openess, certainly nothing wrong with words . In any case, it's difficult NOT to think about how we let the power of our opinions frequently define us and, as writers, what else might there be to write about when the narrative lines start to loop in on themselves than what we think about this movie or that book or another productivity app? We are in large part what we are because of what we like, what we choose to submit to and, simultaneously, what we decide we will NOT submit to through liking (to paraphrase: ..."when gravity fails and negativity won't pull you through.")

The old bastard Hunter S. Thompson argues that the movement of many maturing writers towards objectivity is, in short, bad. Writers develop, or, more generally, intellects develop, inside of a societal mold that rewards objectivity; people are sought to seek objectivity--hell, it's what I teach in one of my classes--because objectivity is supposed to be informed and, therefore, truthful. From one perspective, Great! And thanks for the, uh, honestly and truthfullness. From another more interesting perspective: What an illusory and boring construct, that we're all moving towards a similar version of the truth. As Bunny Wailer might say, I overstand.

So let me state at the outset that I have actually thought about the infinitely subjective nature of what pleases us, to wit: I know the joys of the complex but simple pleasures that life often offers up, whether a bit of pleasant or noisy music or a well-made cinnamon and pecan muffin, maybe an interesting article about yogurt-aged clay pots or a random childhood memory shot through with harsh winter sunshine and the phantom-olfactory presence of wet wool. I know there is some satisfaction to submitting so completely to something that you abandon any pretense of actually thinking for yourself. It's hard actually having to think all of the time, isn't it? And a relief, to many, that a Spielberg movie is always going to be Spielbergian, a Willeford book always Willefordian, a Matthew Bower record always feeding back at you in a Boweresque way. It's also nice, sometimes, to submit to the idea of sentimentality, to that notion that it's too exhausting holding the present/future/unknown up to the same standards as the familiar and oft-processed past and sometimes it's best to drift. I know all of these things.

But it's articles like these that make the hater come out in me and also, by extension, force me yet again to recognize how so much music writing is just a waste of everyone's time, including the writer's. And also how I very often feel like I'm from another planet.

I have nothing personally against the cluster of fellow human beings who wrote and performed rock musics under the moniker of Guided By Voices and who, if we are to believe this article, are now finito. In fact, I did spend some time with an old "classic" version of the band and found them to be pretty good eggs. I watched the "Dayton line-up" every day for two weeks when we played Lollapolooza in 9(?) as Palace Songs, and they were pretty fun, the first day anyhow. Kevin Fennell beat the crap out of his drums, Mitch slunk around with a cig always Andy Capp'd to his bottom lip, square-ass TSprout looked like the third-grade teacher, not BP, and only Demos, on temporary vacation from his law firm, seemed to intuit how ridiculous it all was (he wore the same pair of striped pants every day). By the third day I noticed BP's leg-kicks seemed to occur the same place during the same songs; the theatrical brew-chugging and cig-huffing reminded me not a little bit of David Lee Roth's regular onstage upending of a Jack Daniel's bottle (It's tea! claimed my friends), and pandered to a lot of the indie-teens and fratstons who were there, and who I reckon went out and started buying GBV's records post-haste. It was like watching a bandfull of older embarrassing Uncles showing off for their cute teen nieces and nephews. We party, just like you kids! In fact, we could prolly teach you gize a thing or two! Backstage we heard more than once: We're GUIDED BY BEER! We Palace fellows had a fine time bellowing out effeminately I AM A SCIENTIST, I SEEK TO UNDERSTAND in our van while we were driving from one sun-baked parking lot in the midwest to the next. But we cracked on the Flaming Lips (Drozd got his heart hurt by Kim Breeder) and Luscious Jackson, too; I am not being overly humble when I say we ourselves probably were awful: we played exactly at 1pm, the same time the Boredoms started on the big stage, to a bunch of nitwits half looped on pilfered creme de menthe choogled out of nalgene bottles.

GBV was a perfectly fine rock band. Why the hagiography? Is it because at their very heart GBV satisfied the simple and brainless dictums of the honky rock crits' glorious teendom? Sang about comic books, superheroes and the joys of beer? I don't claim to know. What I do know is that Pollard must've been an extremely deluded egotist by the time it all "ended", and maybe he'd be the first to admit such in his great supplication to the idiot godz of rock and to the pseudo-dionysian gesture of the rock fool said godz require of all their supplicants: Whether Bowie canning the Spiders onstage or the apex of absurdly pretentious self-importance, the Band's Last Waltz, the whole "last show" drama is a directive for all you sucker fans to get dewy-eyed on cue. Pure gooey sentiment. Blech.

Again, I understand the desire, if not the NEED, for such hagiography, though I also recognize that it is destructive to both the worshiped and the worshiper and without any real worth. I guess part of this worship has to do with the idea that Pollard stuck to his guns through the thick and thin of, what?, not being *recognized* while he was making a perfectly good living as a teacher while writing and recording music?...poor chap...but then it's great that everybody came around...an example of karmic justice, a reminder to (cue swelling cellos) *never give up*?

Start the countdown to the reunion tour .

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Things I Read and heard This Annee Past that I Hope I will Hear and Read AGain (as well as worthy things revisited): Will In the World , by Stephen Greenblatt: Jacques Pepin's The Apprentice ; the below-mentioned book on deKooning; 'Forest' by Finnish freaks Circle ; Hala Strana's 'Fielding'; the Hototogisu 3lp jobber about the Japanese hummingbird; Anomoanon 'Joji'; has there been a better record made in the history of rock music than Mellow Candle's "Swaddling songs"? I dont think so. It's been years since I listened to The Dukes of the Stratosphear's cd comp of the two eps, and what a dandy it is, better than most if not all XTC. Speaking of Circle, I also enjoyed "Prospekt", "Guillotine" and "Pori". And the Pin Yer Ears to Your Head award goes to...the Parson Sound cd.

1 comment:

  1. I hate blogs entries like this one about how unfortunate it is about all the blog entries about hating things such as how much you hate this piece about GBV. Actually, though, I'm kidding. Hey Jack. What up? Nice to read some of your stuff, even if in these informality constraints. More about Africa, like next fine entry, if you don't mind.

    The reason I wouldn't get too upset about the hagiographic piece: most of us don't know beans about GBV. (I've heard the name, but no music that I know of.) So this "monumental career" crap is just absurd.

    But mostly my comment is: hey.