TO LIVE AND SHAVE
IN L.A.: The Wigmaker In Eighteenth Century Williamsburg 2CD (MENLO
it, in your heart of hearts, you want to dislike this record.
Itís been promised to us for seven years, over half of TLASILAís
entire career! It seems like weíve been waiting for it since the
eighteenth century, hearing about this new mix or that tweaking
of the libretto, how itís almost done, and how weíre all going
to be sorry for writing off Tom Smith. The hula-hoopla encircling
Wigmakerís sizeable midsection for at least the past four
years is comparable to the epic advertisements for the summer
blockbusters. This is the one thatís going to make our hearts
beat faster, keep us glued to our seats, make us piss our pants
with laughter, or love again like it was the first time. With
each new mix, "Wigmaker" was going to be sharper, faster, better-hung
and more opinionated than any of this yearís comers. Much like
the summer blockbusters, you walk in with a nose primed to smell
smoke and a eye open for errant mirrors. And friends, ainít it
a bitch when you leave the show and realize that it DID live up
to all its promises? Now youíve got to tell all your friends,
"I just saw the best movie, but I donít even know how to begin
to describe it." Isnít that the worst?
Trust me, Iíve been
looking up one side and down the other for flaws. Itís too long,
the lyrics are hard to hear, the songs seem samey after a while,
itís too dense to absorb. These were all valid complaints (to
some degree or another) about past TLASILA discs, but they donít
seem to apply here, even though "Wigmakers" is longer, more incomprehensible,
and denser than the rest of the Shaveís output combined.
Maybe itís because this
time, there seems to be a blueprint behind it all. Trouble is,
the blueprint is written in a pre-Chaucer dialect (not literally),
with an embedded sense of personal mythology and inaccessible
symbolism that one would get reading diaries of departed alchemists.
My initial impression of Tomís lyrical influence was the Burroughs/Gysin
school (itís easier to satirize Tomís writing style than comprehend
itÖcheck out the TLASILA 2 album titles), but the more I read
the lyric sheet, the more I think about William Blake. Tracks
like "Blandina, Oberwilding Ď77," ("Heat is the color of neutral
desire/Her presence queered his well-groomed carrion calyx/Formed
by its tumbling twigs") "The ĎRoseí the Vehicle of Miss High Heels"
and "New Poem Dramatized for Lux Cudgel" are more like apocalyptic
psalms than cut-ups of "Hollywood Babylon." Greg Chapmanís unusually
brief liner notes even point to the end times: "A fitting conclusion
to the Shaveís pre-Apocalypse revolution Ö Doomsday comes for
To Live and Shave In L.A., and the ship goes down in flames with
many guests on board for the final ride. They will not be missed."
Ah yes, the guests. There
really are a lot of them, and if you keep up at all with the underground
movers and shakers not mentioned in Forced Exposureís weekly new
release list, youíll know most of them. Prick Decay, Mr. Velocity
Hopkins, Marlon Magas, Lake of Dracula, Emil Hagstrom, Bill Orcutt,
KF36, you name it, theyíre folded into here somewhere.
And thatís where my stammering
about "Wigmaker" ends, the moment we start talking about the music.
Letís get one thing straight right off the bat: you havenít heard
ANYTHING like "Wigmaker" before. Even if you have every other
Shave album ever, including the live versions of these songs that
have arrived on various limited cassette recordings. Very few
records that are worked on for seven years sound like theyíve
been worked for seven years. Anyone whoís had any interest in
í70s rock is used to waiting seven years for a favorite band to
finish putting the final touches on their big dinosaur rock opus.
But allowances are made in our minds even before buying the record
Ė a year here for snorting coke off a groupieís tummy, a year
there for conquering the Himalayas with a network of sherpas,
six months to teach little Reginald how to read (homeschooling
all the way, you know), and months here and there for various
personal fits and starts. Itís more like a year and a half of
"Wigmaker" is the only record
Iíve ever heard that SOUNDS LIKE IT WAS WORKED ON CONTINUOUSLY
FOR SEVEN YEARS. The mix is dense, yet completely lucid. I can
hear at least four layers of different kinds of manipulations
(tape edits, digital processing, computer manipulation, multitrack
gymnastics), and Iím sure those with a degree in this stuff will
hear more. It wasnít a stonewallÖwhen Tom said he was remixing
this for a fiftieth time, he wasnít stalling for time ("Iíll be
right with you, Iím justÖuhÖpacking my smokes"). Layers shift
in and out of focus, dissolve to static, intentionally overload,
desaturate, flip to negative and snap back into shape with nary
a tear in the fabric. The only comparable mix I can think of is
the Runzelstirn & Gurgelstock/Masonna collab "Arschloch-Onna,"
but the editing and momentum are different. Tomís talk of dub
as an influence really blooms in full on this one. "Arschloch"
is edited like a noise album (albeit a very funny and big-hearted
one), with edits and change-ups serving to escalate brutalities
and throw random sucker-punches.
Like dub, the mix in "Wigmaker"
takes semi-conventional "songs" (theyíre in there somewhere, Iím
sure of it) and digs at their internal organs in order to divine
their hidden meaning. Itís not automatic writing, itís rock ní
roll biology class, and today, weíre dissecting pickled no wave
and glam rock fetuses.
Even with the excessive length,
time seems to fly quickly past when I listen to "Wigmaker." Every
song is different, every nuance feels natural, and you wonít check
your watch once, not even at the two hour mark (which this soars
past effortlessly). I personally recommend driving to this record,
preferably on the highway where you can really open up the accelerator.
Taken this way, itís like listening to a cubist mixtape of glam,
death metal and no wave, with each and every facet remorselessly
visible. Keep the wheel with one hand, because you can pull air
rockstar moves with the other all the way to state lines. Listening
at home on headphones, the mix sounds completely different. The
songs "come out" and greet you. Like the hooks in popular music,
certain hooks here will come back to you as you go through your
day. The snippet of surfish garage-rock in "Ideas Make Men Hard."
The obliterated saxophone line in "Blandina, Oberwilding í77."
The call of "WIG MA-KEEERRRR!" in "Full Choke Wigmakerís Vise."
(Listen also for the computerized "WigMakKer" voice buried further
in the mix. Much like old Firesign Theatre albums, Iíve heard
this album many times, but that little sonic trinket just revealed
itself today.) You canít make 40 songs distinct and memorable,
especially when theyíre placed on one CD which is released months
after a previous CD. But after seven years, itís very possible
to polish 27 gems to a blinding sheen.
In my heart of hearts, I
hope "Wigmaker" acts as a wake-up call to the avant community.
As Christgau said of Big Blackís final album, this acts as a final
farewell even as it decimates all contenders. From a pure technical
standpoint alone, the studio techs are going to be talking about
(and maybe even studying in school) the mix on this album in 20
years Ė I have no doubt about that. If people have any ears to
hear, theyíll have to absorb "Wigmaker" and realize that the bar
has been raised significantly. The laissez-faire attitude towards
pushing the sonic boundaries for the past 10 years is going to
have to be called into question. It shouldnít have been before,
but now more than ever, itís not enough just to play around with
new technology, to gently process field recordings, to torture
and kill pop culture referents like ants under a microscope, or
to pay homage to those previously unheard recordings that first
made us feel all tingly inside. This album reaches the finish
line with the entrails of Tomís favorite artists streaming from
its lips like bad lipstick. Thereís no admiration hereÖthis is
STREET DATE: February 19th, 2002
The Wigmaker in Eighteenth Century Williamsburg