Down in the clearing. Tater is hovering around the mud bank of the creek. I’ve got my ipod w/ mini-speaker attached bumping random musics and typing this on the laptop ’til the battery gets low. I need to be out here. This space is gathering the last of the late afternoon light. I can see this clearing glowing with that light from the house, when the rest of the above lawn is darkening. Trip on down the bank on the rough steps I made with concrete this summer (smooshing and troweling bits of brick and block together) and you’ve got another 30 minutes of fantastic, warm sunlight. Birds are making moves, branch to branch, pausing, floating, pausing, flying. A furry stri/ped bumblebee warbles around and over these scraggly purple flowers. They look like jagged summer-swept stars ‘arming’ out from yellow, textured cores.
Saw Sun Kil Moon last night in Portland, Mark Kozelek’s band after red house painters and it was so good- voice like the albums, a solid band and i swayed and moved and felt emotional, bopping and almost teary at points. It was hot around so many people and I felt that feeling I do sometimes- a bit more connected, part of a pulse of strong expression and rhythm and world-weary optimism. He gave us all something else to think about for a while that was teeming with different depths, his lyrics like stark diary entries about family and different people he has known who’ve passed. I don’t see a ton of shows any more. Actually it was always pretty sporadic- but I went to see swans in boston this spring. Second time since they’ve reunited, thanks to Sean Lonergan getting me off my ass. They make a live show more like an exercise in hitting emotional and physical highs; driving, deep, loud loops, chunky, slow and trance-like.
Maceo Parker was another memorable concert experience. Held at the asylum in portland, around 1999, I remember it well b/c it held some of the greatest dancing energy I’ve ever been a part of. Maceo plays sax, used to tour with James Brown. His whole funk band was bright and tight. I remember being up front, close together with people where no one was trying not to jostle other elbows or be careful of their personal space. The crowd was like a loose, attentive mob, bouncing and smiling with wide open grins. I have a specific memory of looking over at this dark-skinned kid with long curly hair, skinny and carefree and bumping and I didn’t feel that usual surge of jealousy or embarrassment about my chubby white self, I felt utterly cool and a part of the pattern, in full swing and spirit and purpose, enjoying the brass and drums. The music led us up and out, for an hour or so. It’s always so short, but it was a great example of what music is really for- to bind, to blind, to connect, to be smashing. It makes life new again.
Other enjoyable live sets I’ve seen include Threshold Houseboys Choir, Stars of the Lid, The Jayhawks, The Flaming Lips.
Watched the movie Bird a few weeks ago, with Forest Whitaker as Charlie Parker and realized I didn’t have any charlie parker in my collection. I’m not a jazz fanatic by any means, but I have a selection of stuff I like the best. Miles Davis, but not Bitches Brew miles, more like Gil Evans collabs, Sketches of Spain, Quiet Nights.. I got more into Yusef Lateef this summer. I am a sucker for Herbie Hancock’s Inventions and Dimensions album, as it’s really percussive. Money Jungle, an album with Max Roach, Charles Mingus and Duke Ellington is also one of my recent fave finds. So anyway, I downloaded a bunch of Charlie Parker songs from Youtube online, some of the more somber, sultry stuff. Yes, I buy music too if that makes you feel better. Although anyone openly giving people crap about ‘supporting the artist by buying their work’ is a schmuck, said artists included. Don’t tie my love of music to how much of it I can AFFORD. Don’t tie an economic percentage to how much my soul craves new beats, new voices.. Like Bird, I improvise. Now, I’m much more likely to buy local music- at least there you have a bit more stake in it- helping a local scene to happen.. But people I’ve never met in places I’ve never been to? I don’t care How you make your music, just make it. It’ll probably be better if you ARE flipping burgers somewhere.. “Art and money don’t mix” is a big mail-art culture phrase, akin to the ‘why cheap art?’ manifesto that Bread and Puppet used to circulate. Rarely do you get to a point where music can support your life w/o having to tour forever, sell your songs away or do a commercial, and that feels shitty to me. Mark Kozelek from Sun Kil Moon has thrown his music into commercials as well, so what’re you gonna do? There are exceptions, but I’m sure you’ve seen what I mean. There is a push to get ‘the world’ to see your work, but I would advise against it. Spend your time creating, not marketing. Trust me, you’ll be smarter for it.
As Bill Hicks said: “Here’s the deal, folks. You do a commercial – you’re off the artistic roll call, forever. End of story. Okay? You’re another whore at the capitalist gang bang and if you do a commercial, there’s a price on your head. Everything you say is suspect and every word that comes out of your mouth is now like a turd falling into my drink.”
These music superstars and the weirdo lifestyles they get into.. Superstars. What are we supporting there? Even Robin Williams said “cocaine is god’s way of telling you you’re making too much money.” If you happen to have internet access, community music sites have made individual music makers working in a variety of styles readily available. But these platforms also (almost insidiously) urge you to sell your music, because they’re a business, and don’t want to go under. Whatever. Go under, I don’t care. I draw weird lines in strange sands. I don’t charge for any of the music or zines I make, but I got into making mosaics to sell b/c i wanted a way to supplement my income. So what IS the point i’m making?.. Mebbe not what the people who are creating art choose to do with their craft.. Sell it, don’t, I might buy it, I might not. But it’s the judgment that people pass ALL the time that has to do with money.. That rhetoric of buying as a form of support that people throw around. I mean, the whole system is oppressive and corrupt as fuck, but it’s different when it’s money spent on artwork? Hm. So I find that people will complain about money in one context but will practically defend it in another.. It’s tricky.
Anyway, you need a job to have money, usually. And some people just can’t keep jobs- it takes a special kind of crazy to keep a job. Rumi said, “Everyone who is calm and sensible is insane.” I love that. But it doesn’t get a lot of real world recognition. No matter how much we struggle with the economic system in place, we still live through it daily and in a way it does support and nourish us, isn’t that sick? (Now maine’s ABAWD policy is making sure food stamps get administered more stringently – food is becoming a privilege, not a right.) Freeing yourself from it is a subtractive process. You take away, take away, take away all the things that you buy with money and it leaves you with less and less. You feel like you can’t live w/o it, but it’s doable. My family pooped in an outhouse ’til i was 10 or so, lived in a one room shack early on, dragged our water out of a frozen stream in winter. It’s incredible how much you DON’T need money. But we keep with the daily grind, somehow. I don’t think you are capable if you can keep a job, I think you are beaten. But, me too.. I’ve had mine for 10+ years and it snatches at my soul in different ways, gives me headaches, makes me tired, angry, makes me crave a good tune to immerse myself in (just discovered new tracks from someone named Perfume Genius).
Growing up in the country with 2 tv channels in the 80’s I think made me focus more on music as a way to interpret, as a way to relax and focus. Even now I have music going All the time. Too often, really. I was listening to Casey Kasem’s Top 40 countdown as well as my parents’ record collection. I got doses of the Stones, Buffy Sainte-Marie and Phil Ochs at the same time as I was getting into the Fresh Prince, Vanilla Ice and the Fat Boys. Later on in high school I listened to Jane’s Addiction, Swans, PJ Harvey, Nirvana. Then my cousin Myles introduced me to a wealth of experimental music in my early 20s: Art Bears, Fred Frith, gamelan music.. And from there it was a constant and steady exploration into anything. Tindersticks, Boswell Sisters, Toad the Wet Sprocket. As long as it spoke to me, or I could sing along to it, give it over. I was making mix tapes off the radio from a young age into cd-r comps into mp3 file sharing. Today, music is increasingly more referential, more sample-based, more recycled. I have no problem with this. I love all forms. I like what I like. This reminds me of a Jim Jarmusch quote:
“Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, trees, clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows. Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic. Authenticity is invaluable; originality is nonexistent. And don’t bother concealing your thievery – celebrate it if you feel like it. In any case, always remember what Jean-Luc Godard said: ‘It’s not where you take things from – it’s where you take them to.'”
I’ve been in bands before, but now I do music mostly solo with a good eye on collaboration. Being in a band is great fun, and it sucks a bunch too when things go sour. Creating gets in the way of relating. Creating becomes a drug.
Last year I fell into a genre of music called Vaporwave. The word is a play on vaporware, a product that is announced to the general public but never released to sort of keep the buyers interested indefinitely.. It’s basically inspired by consumer culture theme songs, video game background music and the internet’s first attempts at ‘virtual reality.’ It smacks of the psychological manipulation techniques of muzak, re-packaged and satirized for a new generation that gets the joke and loves the joke at the same time. It’s sort of a branching off of corporate ‘plaza’ music.. In rural-ish Maine there was no plaza music, or none so carefully manicured. Glossed-pop, adult contemporary, society-safe chart hits were eased into the malls I stole from in high school. Saying something is against corporatization is fucking useless. Music is done changing anything, don’t worry. And accelerationist? I want everyone to get out of this time alive and safe.. We’re what we put in. This music can be seen as positioned against intellectual property, a comment on money-diluted artistry, but I really just like the hope and smoothness, the nostalgia of thinking on my ‘teenhood’ in the late 80’s-early 90’s.
I tried my hand at some of these songs last year and released an album on the Illuminated Paths net label under the S/H/A/R/R/P/S moniker (after the M/A/R/R/S hit Pump up the Volume, remember? Probably the first electronic/techno song I ever heard), but my take on it was a blend of vaporwave and plunderphonics (direct retooling and gross manipulation of other peoples’ musics). I snipped from the ends of 80’s movies, slowed down superstar pop voices and recorded warbled tape playback, jiggled with my finger. All tracks contained samples of shit I actually remember, moments that were ignored and then became somehow meaningful. Samples from the movies The Flight of the Navigator, Donkegin, Labyrinth, The Explorers.. I got into vaporwave through my friend Chriss Sutherland- but it related to my unrealized love of early 90’s pop ballads: Vanessa Williams, Anita Baker, Peabo Bryson, Mariah Carey. I finally admitted that I liked this music I’d always heard around me in stores and in the grip of the one pop station we got in Woodstock.
But talking about micro-genres in the underground music scene has become a big problem, revealing everyone’s useless pseudo-intellectualism. Names are not the ideas, perspectives or intents. Names are definitely not the fun that goes into piecing together songs like this- the pure loving attention from people who are supposedly so a.d.d.. We’d rather make songs than deal in the idiocies of this joke-of-a-life we are bought and sold into. It’s far more interesting. It’s a needed break. But it’s funny to me how articles will sometimes influence me more than the actual work. I’ve truly felt more inspired by essays on Andy Warhol than actually looking at his art. Maybe that was the idea..
This past week or so I’ve been listening to Big Star, Moodymann, Actress, various mixes, Exner, Heiko Laux, All Natural Lemon and Lime Flavors, Red House Painters.. I’ve been recording an audio counterpart to letterfounder lately, an ‘audiozine.’ I guess that’s a podcast, but I hate that word. I don’t do digital social networking – much. I do love Soundcloud, where all you share are tracks and join groups to participate in musical experiments. I have collaborated with many people via this site whom I have never met. Someone I follow on soundcloud wrote this about music in a comment and I had to use it:
“Just reading that stuff from earlier about why right-on-the-grid sounds unnatural, my tree fiddy: your heart is indeed a steady knock – its also two notes too, blood in blood out – nature mandates swing. The two chambers in the heart also have differing velocity like a lead and ghost kick. When you add that two-note knock to our need to breathe you get two sources of natural swing modulating the heart beat. those two things meshing are the source of life for us. That’s why i think we gravitate towards that breathing swing in music.”
I was pretty blown away when I read this- I believe they were talking specifically about hip hop, boom bap rhythms- but this took music in a more inward direction than I usually think of it. We are a beat in and of ourselves, a constant steady succession of heart rhythm rushing in and out, voids filled, chambers emptied. I had understood 2/4, 4/4 rhythm as a sort of natural ‘walking, working’ translation, but this hammers home the point that we are making music unconsciously all the time.
The first 25–30 issues of letterfounder were called ‘The Poems From…‘ monthly installment series. ‘Poems From January,’ ‘Poems From February.’ I only published the poems I had written in that month, so it was a challenge. I always had to be writing. The idea was to give some sort of insight into the life of a stranger. It was a good chance to organize my life and see it reflected back. But after a few years this got a little standard and boring. I wanted to publish other things that were of interest to me, that I believed in, that moved me because of their truth, ugliness, beauty, rarity. Other people’s poems, images, expression.. After a while I would just put my poems in every few issues or so. Looking back on these items you would see a storyline; repeated echoes of a philosophy and value system. What made me laugh, what I thought of language, politics, society. But the very start of this ‘Poems From/letterfounder‘ zine was b/c I thought I had a story to tell, however fragmented, and that I would benefit from the telling of it. Now i’m 38 and bringing the zine back to words I have written in the last month, only in prose form. because in the end, what the hell else are you going to do with your life but be a background witness to it? More people than ever before are doing this online with Blogger and WordPress and social networking sites. I’m actually surprised at how many people want to ‘tell their tale.’ I didn’t think the elder generation would get into it as much as they have. but I still believe more in zine work because it is a physical item and the experience of reading it is of a more individual nature. You can fold it, stick it in yr pocket and leave it on a bus (please do). The journey of the words may not be as far-reaching but their eventual discovery is more interesting. That is where the intent lies.
(Movies that I had to have the soundtrack/score to: Shadowlands, Taxi Driver, The Triplets of Belleville, Chinatown, Fantastic Planet, Lost in Translation, The Changeling (1980), Deathproof.)