ISSUE #2          NOVEMBER, 2000
 
page 8 of 8

 


THE WORLD OF POP #2    I hate crap-pop but I love music. I love love love luv luv lurv music. That was a Woody Allen reference, and all you Woody Allen sycophants better take heed, because it's one of the few references I'll ever make to that overrated man. Did you place the reference? It's from Annie Hall, still my favorite of his flicks (along with the slapstick Take The Money and Run, pretty much the only two I can even look back on fondly, but that's the subject of another column). It's when the Woodman is professing his love to Ms. Keaton, saying "I love you, I love you, the word 'love' isn't even enough to express how much . . ." and then to prove it, or to try find a way to indeed express it, he says it, "I lurv you." I like that, that's funny, and it also exemplifies one of my favorite themes: that words as we know them are often (perhaps even usually) inadequate when it comes to expressing actual soul-feeling.
           Which may sound like a digression, but it's not, because music, which I totally lurv, is an artform in which words are actually unnecessary, and often when do Spandau Muthaf***ing Ballet....they do exist, they are quite willfully secondary to just plain sound - and sound can be as near a correlative for soul-feeling as I've come across in the man-made arts. That's why I lurv it so much, because, as even a crap-pop band like Spandau Ballet said back in 1980-something, "This is the sound of my soul." And they said it during a truly great sexy pop song called "True," a song so smooth and even emotional that it truly might have been the sound of Spandau Ballet's soul, which proves that even crap-pop can come up with the goods sometimes. (If you've been reading my column, you know the ratio: 0.2 percent of the time. 99.8 of crap-pop music is indeed crap. Worthless. You should never, never listen to it. It's quite honestly as bad for you as a drug habit. I'm not exaggerating. It's as bad for kids as eating lots and lots of sugar in their diets. Parents - you don't let your kids drink soda-pop and eat junk-food all day, so why do you let them listen to Britney and N'Sync?)
           Bob Dylan is a great artist who, it could be said, makes words more important than sound. Because he's not a classically 'correct' singer, and his songs are fairly simple chordally and harmonically, the main focus is his inventive poetic flow of lyrics. This is true up to a point, but I submit that Dylan's singing and lyrics can be taken either way: as word-over-sound or as sound-over-word. Because when he really gets going, and really starts chaining his images together, it becomes impossible to really register each word. I defy anyone to listen to "Desolation Row" or "Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands" or "Jack of Hearts" and actually hear each word. You can probably catch and follow and pay attention to 70 or even 80 percent of them, but at some point you're gonna be reading something or dusting your shelf or washing your dishes or staring at the ceiling with your eyes closed, and you're gonna find that you missed a few lines here and there. Just like when you're reading a book, and you realize that you've just read a page-and-a-half without processing a damn thing. You go back and re-read it, this time with more concentration, and even though you've already 'read' through it, you uncover entire paragraphs for what feels like the very first time. The same thing happens when you space out during a Bob Dylan song; it is at these times that the overall sound of the song, including the sound of the sung words, takes primacy over the meaning of the words. Just like in the book where you find yourself reading without really processing the language, the visual gestalt of a book as an object with ink arranged sequentially on its pages takes primacy over the meaning of the words. The sound overwhelms the words, the ink overwhelms the words. This happens to all of us, even when we're listening to pop music. I guess that's a good as an ending for this installment of The World of Pop as any.

 

 

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

 


(HATS OFF TO) HARRY SMITH Well first I loved him because of his films. I saw his grizzled picture in the back of Forced Exposure magazine, accompanying a review of some films of his from the early 60s called "Early Abstractions." By some sort of incredible frozen-hell type of occurrence, some of those very films were showing for free on the University of Nebraska campus just a year or so later, for a class called Experimental Cinema. The screenings were open to the public, so you can bet I went, and as I sat there among puzzled jocks and sorority girls with their baseball caps and Mead notebooks at the ready, I was supremely dazzled by his geometric animations, replete with psychedelic color and moving with the very logic of nature itself.
        Then I realized that this was the guy who got the first Fugs album made. Wow! And THEN I realized that he was the guy who got an ever better album made: The Smithsonian Anthology of American Folk Music. In fact, he compiled it top to bottom from his own collection of 78s. This is the album which John Fahey called one of the most important collections of information EVER, and I actually don't doubt him. After all, it gives us some 60 to 70 songs by some 50 to 60 different artists, most of whom are singing about an era of American history that would be as forgotten as their names if Smith hadn't given their ultra-rare records a new life. For example, the Carolina Tar Heels, singing "In the days of 18-and-1, peg and awl, peg and awl....in the days of 18-and-1, peg and awl....in the days of 18-and-1, peggin' shoes is all I've done, hand me down my peg, my peg, my peg, my awl...." Sure, your history teacher AND your sociology teacher could stand in front of your classroom full of sleeping jocks and sorority girls and say "In 1801, shoe factories were a common source of work" but it just doesn't connect like it does when you hear the Carolina Tar Heels sing about it in their androgynous high-lonesome voices. That's what Fahey meant -- that and much, much more. Listen to it yourself. I hear you can get the reissue CD box set for about 70 bucks on amazon.com, and believe me, that's a bargain.

A young Harry Smith recording some indigenous culture  in his native American Pacific Northwest.

Harry Smith on drugs: "At different points of my life I've taken some kind of drug or other. Naturally I've taken them for many years. The first one of those that became available was Peyote. I first took it on the road just outside Sara Carter's auto court. I wasn't sure if the top of my head wasn't going to fly off. Someone had bought the proper type of cactus in the floral department of a department store in San Francisco, so we ate it. Anything that changes the consciousness to a degree I think is usefulů."

Harry Smith on the results he expected from the Anthology: "I felt social changes would result from it. I'd been reading Plato's Republic. He's jabbering on about music, how you have to be careful about changing the music because it might upset or destroy the government. Everybody gets out of step, you are not to arbitrarily change it because you may undermine the Empire State Building without knowing it."

As printed in Harry Smith's Anthology of American Folk Music, Volume Four (Revenant Records)

 

not-so-arcane 'found artwork' by Matt Silcock

 

MORE INCREDIBLE SURFABLE LINKS

The Sixties: Literary Tradition and Social Change  This is an online history book! Covers the Beats, Vietnam, rock and roll, but starts with literary precursors like Emerson, Thoreau, and Whitman, complete with amazing scans of first-edition books. (Excellent graphics throughout.)

A Guide to SF Music  Not San Francisco music but songs with science fiction themes! Everything from Anthrax's song about to Judge Dredd to "Starship Trooper" by Yes to Sonic Youth's Dick/Gibson references to Neil Diamond ("'Heartlight' is based on 'E.T.'") gets mentioned.

A really good site dedicated to Amon Duul 2  Somehow I didn't expect this to be so cool...don't miss the photos and the lyrics! Especially the lyrics....in this case, English-as-a-second-language really adds to the psychedelia...

 


thank you, this has been
1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8

Back Issues