issue 10   october/november 2001
page 2



by Tom Smith

Van Dyke Parks sure as fuck ain’t no Hoagy Carmichael, and that hapless buffoon Spooky is just a teensy astronomical unit shy o’ being worthy of huffing an atom of, Jesus, a Luc Ferrari fart, much less a post-petit four expulsion from the likes of Pierre Schaeffer. That’s just the way it fucking is, was, ever shall be, your dad’s really into that Roy Montgomery cat, and The Strokes have crawled up your ass and died. Riches exhaustless of mercy and grace set your battlements alight; you’ve the least plausible tights and tunics on record! Matthews Southern Comfort scholars! Lathe-core apologists! The no-pussy NZ/Opprobrium scene!

And that’s what’s expected of me, right? One absurd antipodal screed after another... (Pun intended.) I’d sooner suck puke from Christian Vander’s oft-reamed Gallic arsehole than consciously fucking repeat myself. I’d rather slide a silver-serving dish of To Rococo Rot’s sick down my Deep Southern gullet than plagiarize from the august Myth oeuvre. I’d…

When I’m really stuck, I stack the latest shipment of shitty promos – Bare Essentials Volume One, Baraka Orchestra, Skinny Puppy’s Doomsday Back and Forth Volume Five: Live in Dresden, anything on Thrill Jockey – and throw something at ‘em, a old running shoe usually, most often the left half of a pair of eight-year-old Adidas I keep around because they still look really cool – featureless, blue and white blazoned vanilla-ass Trail Runners with no fucking tread at all. The discs topple, clatter… and crack, if I’m lucky. Should one land near the spine of a book, I open the tome, and heed its instructions: "They know it is not a matter of honesty." Thus, honesty, as lead-riddled as you might perceive my store of said intangible to be, is paramount.

I’ve blown a few deadlines in my time. I hit the wall often and hard. Something will ooze across my desktop, usually a dreary, misbegotten CD, or a Bob Marley compilation video. I write heedlessly at first, confirming my prejudices, sounding the depths of various genre biases. My instincts are fucking platinum, of course, but I just don’t trust a goddamn thing, myself included. As much as I abhor vile old "experimental" wank like Borbeto*****, fuck, Grandpa Sauter may want to give me a shitload of coke and a blowjob some day, and you’ve always gotta be prepared for unexpected bedfellows. (Even the perversely grotesque ones, the kittens who just fucking make your skin crawl, the snoring, 29-year-old Marion, Ohio jazz-tap instructors named Karin, or Cori, or Ronnie, the ones who’d likely prefer to be raped by Kalashnikov-wielding prog-core extremists than attend an event enlivened by humans doing interesting things in interesting ways.)

Case in point: in late August I accepted an assignment to write a Creative Loafing menu blurb for touring free-jizz pioneers Blues Traveler. Although biases were certainly retained, I put a smidgeon of English on the text, and the subsequent anti-clockwise wobble seemed to completely piss off my editor (a somewhat esteemed, er, rock author):

It's been a scant four months since their Eskaton "tYe DiE" collaboration with Thighpaulsandra, but that brazen act of re-invention seems to have catapulted Blues Traveler into the first rank of contempo elektronische purveyors. Laying waste to their discography (all extant inventory copies of their previous "jam" recordings destroyed at the band's own expense) was an unprecedented move, as was replacing guitarist Chan Kinchla with a Bearcat 500-channel TrunkTracker II base scanner. It might take fans weaned on the likes of "Four," "Straight on Till Morning," or last year's "Bridge" some time to become accustomed to the sight of the now shaven-headed Popper sporting a bandolier of sleek Sony VAIO laptops, but times change, and Blues Traveler has changed with them. Recommended: their new note-for-note recreation of Pere Ubu's "Dub Housing" album (with guest performers Kid 606 and Can stalwart Irmin Schmidt). Miss this engagement at your peril.

It was rejected outright.

In, God, 26 years I’ve had a lot of stuff published, y’know, so I can’t really complain about the priggish nature of fate. More often than not, however, I do myself in. Here’s a first draft of a Marianne Faithful piece. Three years on, I still don’t know what the fuck I was thinking…My efforts to enter a subject’s synaptic cache occasionally result in dreadful coding errors:

The sputtering wheel rims’ laborious predations lead the church in final triumph o’er the shirt from her iconographic back. A bloody parcel, a paternal name picked up in the cradle; the subject, disturbed, is incapable of assuming any state of body at all. She often sees them better than the first spectator; a black hat with wimple, a high fur-trimmed collar. This is a tantalizing puzzle – the pattern of tensions resulting from invisible forces (neither accidental nor excludable) kept cropping up on the tape. As any handloader knows, the redoubling of lecherous appetites is itself a well-wrought optical delight…

This too was nixed – rather vociferously, as I recall. Can’t exactly blame the editorial side for the pink-slippage. Sometimes you win by rushing pieces past them, but…

"I know nothing," I whisper.

(The whole received for part, perhaps, but no parting for the synecdoche blown.)

Likewise, an early version of a Hovercraft review (naught but Mute’s press bio dissembled) was greeted with unalloyed hostility. My third draft (composed after actually having listened to their shitty lil’ CD) passed muster, but O, the grief I received for this:

Receptors’ portions (perfections of projected) range, altering associations’ demulcent scumbling. Suggestions lead conclusions! Is their complex about confusion? Audience quickly own… It was Campbell (which Campbell?); visual cognitive listeners’ state. 1993 Sadie (a Sadie), most, get trick. Is meaning visual? Is formed 2000? There, this, or no-this. Evolved state of pushes? 2000 to nothing, not test-message music… Rhythmic drums of Hovercraft! Viewers (and, crucial), the blurring of resultant near-images of breaks of ideas. Total development musical musician? No, solely experience listener lengths. Rhythmic drums of Hovercraft! Down of pauses full, and the utilizing words.

Nothing could have saved H’craft’s pitiable, sub-sub-SY-ish career, but I like to think my piece (the one that was eventually accepted) helped dislodge the very first chunks o’ gristle from their liver-spotted flank… (Vanity is ever appeased.)

I totally fucked myself out of a very cool writing gig with Philadelphia’s Carbon 14 – Leslie Goldman and Larry Kay were gracious enough to acquire press credentials for me at the Erotica 1999 convention at the Jacob Javits Center in New York, and I promised copy befitting my annihilative, contrarian rep. (Burp.) I attended the confab, took snapshots of the less appalling (or, seemingly more interesting) attendees, sat down with Al Goldstein, chatted with Ron Jeremy (who of course directed a wee lil’ 1986 vid entitled To Live and Shave in L.A.), drooled and stammered before the too-groovy Candida Royale, and… Just had not one fucking clue as to where to begin to cover such a belligerently non-erotic, convulsively self-congratulatory flea market. One would have been more likely to get a spontaneous hard-on from twelve hours of police interrogation than from prowling about Erotica’s distressing, antiseptic stalls.

Yeah, I know. I should have written something on the order of the above. (As it turns out, Lisa Carver submitted a funny mini-feature along similar lines for Nerve.) At the time, however, my cerebellum went into traumatic vapor lock. I sent the photos, but dragged out the text deadline until… Five issues have probably come and gone, and I’m certain I’m still on their death list. When things really suck, I freeze.

As a frosh pup ‘n phenomenology major at Valdosta State College I fell under the spell of André Breton. Through my investigations of Breton, I discovered the writings of Surrealist/psychoanalytical avatar Louis Aragon. This passage from Aragon’s Je n’ai jamais appris à écrire has informed a bit of everything I’ve recorded, filmed, fucked, or carved into birch bark since 1975:

Having observed that all of the mythologies of the past became transformed into romances as soon as people no longer believed in them, I formulated the idea of reversing the process and elaborating a novel that would present itself as a mythology. Naturally, a mythology of the modern.

I have failed at this more often than not.

To whit: the deficiencies of TLASILA’s Vedder Vedder Bedwetter album have been oft blazoned, most loudly by yours truly. I find it unspeakably poor (good libretto, impenetrable music, absurd, overblown "mix"), but there are masochistic cabals who espouse it for the reasons I decry it.

No overt mythopoeia contrived with An Interview with the Mitchell Brothers; its texts were known. I supplied a parallel narrative, working on the book for the better part of a month. Unfortunately, the music had no longitudinal axis; frissons (crude as they were) were in short supply. I was shooting for opera, but instead I bagged a direct feed from a blown PA head at a boggin’ competition… It was issued (as was Vedder) in 1995, and recorded, mixed, and mastered in a day on a dare from Audible Hiss honcho and terminal weed addict Ned Hayden.

My bad.

These disasters sparked an autumnal epiphany, however, and in the next six months I finally found full stride. (Not, of course, in any emotional sense…)

I connected, albeit in a destructive, wholly non-narrative (and thus equally narrative) manner, with the exploded views and corneal pinwheel trails of 1998’s Where a Horse Has Been Standing and Where You Belong. And now, yeah, there’s The Wigmaker in Eighteenth-Century Williamsburg. Imperfect as the marriage on which it was based, but close enough.

In print, my 1987 Forced Exposure parody (submitted in the guise of a Peach of Immortality tour diary, and published in the very same rag) and the "Incredibly Terrible Music" column I penned for Bananafish #14 have come pretty close to making me sorta happy.

My current fave scribe is Maggie Cutler. Her "Secret Life of Kitty Lyons" essay series for Nerve is superbly delinquent; the latest installment, "Enemy Mine," is one of her best:

Osama makes one of his famous hand gestures. His forearm moves in a slight arc. The wrist, like a diva drifting towards a divan, leads his long fingers, supple as silk, into a swoon. No wonder Condoleeza Rice banned his videos: he has the hands of a saint, or at least a great gynecologist.

She’s always wry, terribly sexy, possessed with marvelous instincts. Each line is a model of skewed elegance and measured acerbity.

(As opposed to the not so carefully monitored Deuterium seeding which precedes each instance of what might be loosely described as my writing…)

Myths born of the critical moment are spun from histories sewn from the weft of long-shed skins. "Om Myth" – tongue deeply lodged in cheek, of course, a paean to Aragon’s foresight.

How should one go about dismantling the auto-complement PR machinery at this, the most profoundly abject level of the entertainment business? By staunching the wearying tide, O slubbering ones! By refusing to live with the stench of profluvium in our magnificent flared nostrils. Columnated ruins? Scattered fucking old-ass rocks…

(I’m one to call the kettle, y’know, but I’m learning.)

Do your ever-bloodied works, and leave it at that. Relish the sensation of traveling below radar. Celebrate others before touting yourselves…

We know nothing. Life, thus, is perfect.

(Feel free to shit on any part of the above. It won’t change a goddamn thing.)

From an early draft of a review of 1998’s brilliant Strangulated Beatoffs:

Dignity is the enemy. At least of the "rock" part of rock (and "rock" for this humble truth serum guzzler encompasses every extant sonic particle -- from Anthony Braxton’s time-compressed home recordings of the turbid fizz of a terrarium lamp to those dusty Menudo posters you’ve lodged between your Air and Gomez albums). And you can just tell that Stan Seitrich and his worm-riddled compatriots in Strangulated Beatoffs bid a not-too-weepy adieu to dignity a long, long time ago. They’re braver than you, you see…

Celebrate others. Resist the urge to codify the obvious – that you’re in it for the ego boost ‘cuz you didn’t get laid until you were 23, ‘cuz you were listening to noise cassettes and The Ex boots and dispiriting glitchcore white labels, and your would-be squeeze preferred something with a fucking beat, horse hooves clomped in time to a David Rose Orchestra run-through of "Red Roses for a Blue Lady," the declamatory rhythms of the second act of Janáček’s Jenůfa , Jesus, anything. But not a loop created from the sound of a dusty, fuzzed-up needle sliding across the face of some dire old Dead C album, and not because they abjured the inversion of genre orthodoxies or the subordination of narrative convention...

Maybe because they had a wee bit o’ life in ‘em, and Andrew WK or White Stripes or Sightings (or even fuckin’ SheDaisy) look a damn sight better than any of the manifestly gormless hacks who shill for the approval of ….

(Breathe, breathe…)




Louis Aragon  Candida Royale  Hovercraft!

Forget harmonica-slinging, John Popper is harmonica-signing.   Ms. Marianne Faithful  Tom Smith



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