John Maus responds!—in 24,000 words, no less.
In June, when John Maus shared the track “Bennington” from his upcoming Collection of Rarities and Previously Unreleased Material, I decided to write him an open letter about the song in lieu of the customary, disposable, three-sentence blurb. Three weeks passed, and while I had hoped for a reply, I never really expected one. Yesterday, out of the blue, John sent a cryptic email stating that a person by the name of “Frank James” had ripped up Ad Hoc and that I should go clean up the mess he made. He signed off with a winky face.
The following is John Maus’ response, a staggering 24,000 words posted over the span of 20 blog comments. Long enough to fill a small book, the piece includes some backstory on the rarities collection, a revisiting of his much-misunderstood comments on record store closings, and an in-depth musicological analysis of Gary War. There’s also an extended meditation on the subject of unrequited love, along with a reprinting of his letters to the girl from Bennington between the years 2005 and 2009. Wow.
//How are you? I am fine.//
I apologize it took me so long to respond to your letter; these days it seems every second that passes ends up dedicated to the non-musical work I have been doing. It is not good that man should be alone. In the house one night, I was watching this popular science show. Standing before a troop of baboons, this scientist started explaining how the brain of an animal transforms when it is isolated from its group. He claimed this transformation involves the deactivation of regions associated with reward and empathy; that it is damage done by things like stress hormones, released to signal the animal back into the safety of its group. His claim was all too uncomfortably appropriate to my situation, but do you think it absolutely corresponds with any positive or immediate matter of fact?
I have always tended to be critical of claims that it is absolutely a certain way. I have tended to suspect instead– and it is something I seem intent upon sharing any chance I get– that whatever certain ways might be, they are also through the process of their being claimed as such; through a questioning of themselves as certainties using solely what is or would be proper to them. Certainties, then– like the certainty that the potentials of whatever singularities have been or are being arrested in the name of something else than themselves and these potentials– are not necessarily immutable, even if only because they need not be what will have been.
This is what I was sharing with the Psychic Warfare people in Sweden: forget about the hobgoblin of little minds and remember Theodore Logan and Bill Preston; remember doctors Samuel Beckett and Emmett Brown. Of course it is ridiculous and/or dangerously close to making a mockery of the certain arresting I mention above, but what else could there be than an uncountable infinity of potentialities? Everything we already are no doubt, but whatever that possibility is itself capable of becoming is without any conditions we might not eventually participate in creating. I agree with the scientist from the television show, but then only to the extent that my agreement would avoid claiming to have identified the thing itself once and for all. On another television show I was watching, a show very similar to the one I mention above, they claimed the reason temporality seems to accelerate with age is the relative disproportion of novel experiences that necessarily accompanies this process.
Time moves so fast these days. This spring, a robin nested in a shrub right outside my kitchen window. She was ill at ease with me at first. I watched her tend over her egg, and then take care of her chick when it had hatched. I would surf the Internet sometimes for recordings of Robin song, for example, the songs of dawn and dusk, and I would play those recordings as loudly as I could, watching her reaction. Her nest was empty too quickly.
Time is moving too fast; the corn came in so quickly this year. You would think that if this acceleration were something that really concerned me I would not watch so much television, each show obviously has a duration, but then I would rather there seemed to be more time for watching television too. My brother calls time spent in distraction from the more essential solitude, that is, the solitude of the work or the death sentence, “staring at atoms.” Staring at atoms is one thing, and while living here I have done my share of that, but then to watch some molecular combination of these precipitate from within a cooling solution is another, and I have done a little of this as well. Have a look at a KEGG reference pathway sometime, they are beautiful.
I sometimes regret my decision towards music and the humanities. The natural sciences can be just as productive of a truth. I will never understand the disproportion in our situation between those making music in their bedrooms and those growing neuronal cultures in their basements, though some explanation for this should be mine to give.
Regardless of time misspent staring at atoms or in loneliness, living out here does have its upsides; for example, I pay only $250 a month to rent two-bedroom house, and I am never bothered by helicopters, sirens, or that obnoxious garbage truck that seems to come twice every single morning when living in the city. I have said as much before, something as problematic as it is worn out, but I find the rhythm and the sound of the country does not put itself upon everything so violently as it does the city. It is more accommodating and open in country. I wish all my friends living in these big cities lived with me out here instead. Regardless of the admittedly problematic accommodation I suppose it affords, only amongst others does the chance remain for getting mixed up with things like love and romance.
These last few years I have not made enough of an effort to find ways of helping others. The few feeble attempts I have made in this direction were abandoned as soon as I was told I would first need a Tuberculosis Test, ESL teaching certification. It does not help any that I have a petty criminal record either, because most of these voluntary charitable organizations automatically deny membership on this account. Why go on about something not so different in substance from the message of any daytime “feel good” talk show? My interest in doing so is in relation to your question. If someone would like to know how I am doing, they might just as well ask me what I have recently done for someone else than myself. I also have some shows coming up this summer, starting in a couple of days, and the subject is also relevant in that respect. Before a show I am always thinking to myself as I sit nervously, “You have not made the effort to help anyone recently, you have not done any good, and so what can you possibly hope to give from that stage but your own stupid trifling?” I worry about the shows, and compared to some of my friends, I do not even give that many of them. I am meant to be grateful for the opportunity to even get up on a stage, and I am, but the shows have grown so much this last year, and as if in proportion to this growth, this gratitude has become unbearable, too humbling. As with anyone else I suppose, when I get up on a stage it feels as if the whole thing has fallen to me alone. Who dares take responsibility for such a thing has in advance failed responsibility itself. The shows have grown in size, and sometimes this has meant that all the fear, however great already, is both confirmed and magnified in that it is met with an enthusiasm entirely undeserved of it, enthusiasm as beautiful as it is creative and productive of a truth.
This last year in Madrid, they threw beer in my face and booed me off the stage. I sometimes surf the Internet after a show. Maybe out of vanity, either way, it is honest feedback. Some of it is helpful. What I will never understand about internet commentary, speaking generally and in no way pertaining to myself alone, is how little regard most of it would seem to have for its own capacities. Bullying an ugly kid on account of his ugliness, tearing down the weak and the vulnerable. Many of these comments are output by computer programs designed to raise brand awareness. Others of the comments, however, are nothing more than the confirmation of what all the critics have been writing regarding our political impotence while online, our inability to achieve anything through these channels. These comments confirm this criticism precisely to the extent that they are exhausted already in resentment and banality. To willfully occupy the position of the slave, or to become the ugliest man, to will that there be nothing rather than attempting to create– it is all something like the Police, something all but the saints have participated with no doubt, but even so, it is something I will never understand.
I never know how large a show will be until I am already setting up. I would imagine the shows this summer will be as large as any I have done. What else am I supposed to do in order to better help create an enthusiasm amongst those who only see a cynic doing karaoke? My suspicion has always been, regarding my own show, that lasers, lights and video screens would themselves be cynical. My dad recently told me I should wear a cape, “Mick Jagger was always doing stuff like that; wearing top hats and shit.” Should I get a backup band? The music was not made by a band, and besides this, who could /I/ rightly ask to “back me up?”
//I heard you’re formally releasing all of those songs that you posted on Mausspace on Ribbon Music!! That’s awesome, and a really smart thing of you to do because the songs are pretty good. Why didn’t you release them in the first place? Sure, they don’t feel as fleshed-out as the other things you’ve released on your proper full-lengths, but considering how intensely you labor over your music, it’s really charming to hear your songs in their developing stages.//
These last few months I have been listening to the song “Afterburner,” from Panda Bear’s last record. The song deserves more thought than I will be able to give it here, thought regarding the use of additive and subtractive processes in the melody, the symmetry of the resulting melodic figures, the use of thematic inversion, the beautiful harmonic underpinnings. From all of this, from the sonic mediacy of the thing, an affect springs-forth. “Afterburner” is a singular in many ways, and perhaps none so much as this: the lyrical dimension is so in accord with these other dimensions that it somehow becomes uniquely indistinguishable from them. This all may have to do with such things, for example, as the gradual ascension of its melodic figures on the word “up,” the keeping-up of each pitch successively added to a melodic figure as is sung “to keep / to keep up / to keep up trying…” The harmonic underpinnings, as well, always seem to be moving in either direction, struggling this way or that, but then never finally deciding.
All of this is to say, I suspect we can make a rare exception in the case of this song and claim that the lyrics are in such strange resonance with the entirety of the sound, that they suffice to speak for it as would their fulfillment. “I don’t buy it,” and he knows full well what he does not buy, “only hope / it’s not too late […] to keep it real.” The affect given in the lyrics speaks to belief, real belief’s refusal to be put to work by the very thing already putting it to work: and so it is an enigma, fueled by a thrust or drive I cannot imagine anyone finding anything but heartbreaking. Some of the songs on the album Ribbon is releasing were included on various compilations. I did not release the others because, at the time, they seemed like failures, “Maus Droppings” as someone just suggested. When Morgan Lebus– at Ribbon– approached me earlier this year about putting together a limited release comprising some of what was not included on the three LPs I was humbled and flattered, it was something I could not believe. But then, after all these years, many of the songs they ended up including were the very songs people have told me mean the most to them.
Why mention “Afterburner?” Because, in helping get this whole thing together, I encountered affects entirely gone from me now, something similar, on to itself, as what I was trying to approach in my superficial remarks about “Afterburner;” that “Afterburner” can find the extra drive to hope at keeping real. In those old songs, failures or not, I discovered and share a similar drive, I was taken back, taken aback, contexts and relationships entirely gone from me now, the energy and impudence no one in their twenties, myself especially, imagines ever exhausting. It tore me apart, helping get that music together. Trying and hoping to keep it real requires drive, and whether one succeeds or fails, the attempt will always come across as such to anyone willing to suspend whatever interests they may have in insisting otherwise.
Laugh at it all you want, I invite the deserved “who’s the pitiless censor now?” jabs, however, nowhere have I heard this drive and not found it admirable in its right. In this music made by someone who, for all intents and purposes, is essentially another person than myself, I can honestly say I hear the drive. It was a win/win in terms of the vulgar calculus of the thing too. On the one hand, I am always humbled and flattered anyone is willing to put their label on anything I have made. On the other hand, I imagine that because it is not a new record, it is not anything to which I can presently be held to account. Only those already interested could possibly go out of their way for something like this album. The B-Side rarities compilation is an institution, like a Peel Session or anything else.
//Oh man, how great would it be to hear one of these songs redone on the next album! I think that’d be sick; people like to see how artists grow over time, and it’s this kind of shallow comparative analysis that gives people the illusion that they’re on the brink of understanding you. It could make your body of work more digestible to casual listeners and lazy writers. Maybe then more people would buy your albums because they’d think that they’re one of the few that actually get it. But then again, who cares what they think?//
I care what they think, and so I’m going to rant at you about precisely that and save the dissection of comparative analysis for later, if you don’t mind, but please, please don’t think it is because I think I deserve to rant at you, /really/, the opposite is the case, I don’t think anyone should bother with listening to my dumb ass, anyways, what better evidence is there that I care what /they/ think than that apology or explanation I gave for that awful, awful, awful list I made which, unfortunately, gave everyone so much trouble, alas!, I have become the worst of the worst, that is, the stinky cultural signifier, the “brat” who, and without any apologies, comes into everyone’s life and brings nothing but posturing pretense and self-satisfaction, but this is precisely why I’m so intent on speaking with anybody kind enough to listen to me, because I swear I am not that guy, I mean, sure I am as guilty of pretense as anybody else, as well all are, that is, I do sometimes try and make the impression that I am better or whatever than I think I actually am, but I’m not /that/ guy, I swear, I’m not the bloated fuck taking the piss on everyone and laughing all the way to the bank, I’d never laugh at some poor guy whose store was just closed down because everyone today would rather live in cloud city, I swear to you brother!, thinking back on it now, I’m almost positive that when I was telling that interviewer I “was happy record stores were closing” I was explicitly referring to, or at least certainly had in mind, that terrible Virgin Megastore I worked in, every morning, five in the morning, for seven dollars and fifty cents an hour, with mean bosses, we’ve all been there, at least any of us who have joined the ranks of humanity have, and we all know it is the worst, that is, jobs like that, so if I relished in any “closing,” it would have been the closing of the Virgin Megastore on Sunset and Laurel, I’m glad /that store/ is closed, as for the others I’ve got nothing to say but that the whole thing came out stupid, you know? I did, for example, say the clerks can be snobs, but so what?, aren’t they snobs sometimes?, anyways, I explained all this already in my awful “apology” or “explanation,” and I’ll come to that later, because this is the question at hand, do I care?, and so this example of caring gone wrong, what I am setting up for you here is the /scene/, I wake up one morning and suddenly people on the internet, my only window to the world beyond the corn shucks right now, are talking about how I’m some arrogant pretentious bastard who is happy that all the little record shops of the world are going under!, now, with all this in mind, I’m sure you can understand why I’d want to try and explain myself to anyone who could stand listening to my dumb ass for even a second, I mean, mistake me for anything if you want, but please don’t mistake me for some bloated fuck who thinks that rad music and rad philosophy should be used as some kind of /cache/ to make people who are not yet familiar with it feel inferior or something, I swear to God brother, the only reason I ever try to bring that stuff into these interviews is in order to share them with people, that is, without pretense and certainly without any mind towards cutting some figure for myself or sounding smart or something, I just want to try and share, even if only in my own pathetic way, and the best suggestion I’ve come across on how best to do this is the whole “ignorant schoolmaster” thing, if you’re not already familiar with it, and I’m sure I have it all wrong anyways, the idea is to begin from the supposition that everyone is intelligent, you know?, contrary to this commonplace idea that there are stupid and ignorant people, the “ignorant masses” whose fault it all is, the /they/, the duped masses duped by ideology, no!, instead of any of this, we suppose that everyone is a genius, (in the most proper sense of the word), and so I say something off handedly about some philosopher or composer or something, and I figure if people don’t know about it yet, and they’re interested or something, they’ll go and check it out, you know?, and maybe they’ll be into it, or if it is a little too difficult a place to start, (as it is for me, right now, working through the dictionary of mathematical functions/transformations/programming and the rest) then maybe they’ll look elsewhere to try and get the groundwork necessary to eventually move towards their own understanding of it, yeah…, that interview, that list, I’d never blame anyone for thinking I was one of these “brats” after reading that, especially to sweet dude recording me on the phone, but, if you’ll humor me, let’s go through it really quick, if you’ll listen to me and if it isn’t too presumptuous of me, let me try and give you a little context, the thing is still online, and I /do care/ that people not suffer from thinking another asshole who could care less has sprung into their lives, okay, so before they ask me anything I apologize for like a half and hour, I tell them that I’m really nervous because I know a lot of people read their blog, (it is a chance, certainly nothing to be snobbish about unless you are an idiot), I disclaim about a hundred times, firstly, that I can’t imagine anyone would be interested in whatever the hell I’d have to say, and secondly, that I have a few bones to pick with the very idea of lists, you know?, I don’t think I said any of this snobbishly, I mean, I imagine pretty much everyone today is already familiar with this idea that talking about the music and the books and the movies we like has unfortunately become a way of turning these things into a means of distinction, a way saying of more about ourselves within some “economy of the sign” or whatever than the very stuff we’re supposed to be talking about, you know?, and that isn’t cool, identity as something we consume, no one wants that, and I swear!, I didn’t mean to sound like that much of a douche bag, like that much of a brat, I just really supposed we all understood the problems involved with lists like that, anyways, they ask me what I’m listening to that is “from today,” and they specify that it can’t be anyone I know, (or else I would have answered Gary War, or Geneva Jacuzzi, or whoever), I apologize another hundred times, and tell them that I’m sure there is lots of rad stuff out there, but that I don’t know much of it right now, and then, just in order to give them /something/, I tell them my little brother showed me an Odd Future video and that I thought they looked pretty interesting, eating bugs and throwing up and everything, but then I also said something stupid like it runs the danger “of becoming its own fetish,” but then even this was magnified in all of its stupidity because it somehow came out as if it didn’t make any sense at all, perhaps it didn’t, but it was like this dude I was talking to around the last album for a weekly, the guy wrote I said something like “art is like an infinity of primes,” what the hell does that even mean?, as stupid as I am I can’t imagine I’d ever say anything /that/ ridiculous, so…, I write the guy back, and I tell him that what I probably said, or certainly what I /meant/ to say, was something more along the lines of “genuine art is always a kind of demonstration, like Euclid’s demonstration of the infinity of primes,” okay, okay, even after my correction I can see how a statement like that probably strikes people as ridiculous, or at least as a statement made by some arrogant bastard!, but I swear, my intention here was merely to try and share with people this idea I like about art’s all too often forgotten similarities with positive science and mathematics, you know?, I was just trying to say that it seems to me that good music possesses an irrefutable/inaccessible element, the same way any mathematical demonstration finally does, (and if you’ll forgive a digression, I just want to disclaim that I don’t mean the work points towards something “deeper” or something “beneath the surface,” I mean that it marks a kind of conflation of essence and appearance [because the essence of art /is/ its appearance, you know?,] that is always somehow /more than/ merely appearance, you know?, this is all I meant to suggest, and of course as nothing more than a suspicion I invite others to verify with me, and if I use a ridiculous lexicon or off putting vocabulary, again, it is only to reject this idea that in so doing, that is, in attempting at the same kind of rigor of language the best philosophy demands, I am inviting others into an interesting conversation, instead of speaking down to them, making caricatures for them like the popular science guys on TV telling us about physics or whatever, anyways, I hope you’re still able to bear me brother, I can’t imagine how stupid I sound going on like this, but the whole point I’m trying to make is how much /more/ (if it is even possible) asinine anything I’m saying now would sound if it were both mistranscribed and taken out of the context of my conversational or automatic tone here, anyways, they go on and they ask me about my dream collaboration, I tell them that with all due respect, and at the risk of sounding bloated and silly, I’d already had the incredible fortune in life of “collaborating” or “studying” with several of my heroes: Ariel, Michael Pisaro, (who’s one of the few guys I know still doing interesting work along the lines of Cage and the whole American Experimental tradition), Friedrich Kittler, and so on, after that, I shared the story about Bill and Ted visiting Beethoven with an ipod, do you think that was snobby of me?, I thought it would be really funny, you know?, I thought it would make people laugh!, and more importantly, it /really is/ something I’ve wondered about, that is, /what would those guys have thought about punk rock music?/, this is, indeed, something that really interests me, you know?, how would have/will this epoch appear to the ones preceding it, nevermind the ones to come!, thinking about this a little, I can’t imagine it would be much different from how they appear to us, anyways, I’m digressing again, the point of all this was all these different things, completely different from another, completely disjunct despite all the fancy schemes that would try to trace some organic development from one to the other–appear so beautifully, and betray so much about the situations from which they arose but to which they are not finally reducible, think about how much melody, for instance, tells us about each situation it came from, Mahler’s melodies vs. Beethoven’s vs. Haydn’s vs. Bach’s vs. plainchant vs. The Sensations Fix’s, anyways, the point of all this is I really feel bad Beethoven hasn’t gotten to hear all the rad stuff that came after him, that was inspired by him, that took what he did and carried on in its own way, and so continuing on with the list thing, we come to the last great concert I saw, now, as another instance of mistranscription, (not the interviewer’s fault, it just happens) I’m sure I said “arrogant” there and not “ignorant,” I don’t know if you’ve ever seen an orchestra in a concert hall but those places do seem a little stuffy to me, they do seem as if they have very little to do with the spirit of the music and more to do with putting on fancy clothes and schmoozing with other fancy people or something, but maybe I’m wrong about that, maybe they are really warm and friendly places that are all about an enthusiasm for music, I don’t know, and so we come to the favorite music question, (the whole time I’m thinking in my head how awful the whole thing is, you know?, I mean, that people don’t want to hear me listing off the things I ‘like’ [lists are for shopping, right?], they want to hear what is strange and/or singular to us not the things, not our favorites, here unfortunately become a list of products we’ve bought to stand in for ourselves, the things which would stand in the place of humans, fetishes or whatever, anyways, I apologized, and said I was going to talk about “old music” because that is mainly what I listen to and because even though there is probably lots of rad stuff going on today I’ve been unforgivably lazy in digging it up and have thusly spent all my time listening to the “old stuff,” so…, I apologized and said I was going to talk about “old stuff” even though I knew, or it at leasts seem to me from my experience, that it is relatively unorthodox to make references beyond our recent past outside the provincial “discourse of the university,” so I then went on to give the list: Machaut, Handel, Josquin, and so on, the list thing /was/ really starting to get to me now, I mean, I really wanted to be a sweet dude, but wouldn’t a sweet dude in any case try and speak from his heart, am I so stupid for having bones to pick with the whole idea of favorites?, let alone lists!, anyways, my heart was telling me in that moment that all the stuff about how we’re living in an upside down world where, more-and-more, human beings define and distinguish themselves through consumption, but this is a banality!! to even point out, isn’t it?, I guess I am so out of touch I thought this was something we all took for granted, that is what the whole book thing was about, you know?, I just wanted to apologize that I was talking about “the books I like,” so I apologized for it, the facebook-dna thing didn’t make any sense out of context either, if you can believe it, I was taking issue with Agamben’s whole reading of the bioplotical as the locus where power is most evident today, saying that facebook doesn’t have our genetic codes on it was to suggest that it isn’t our fingerprints and DNA that power is interested in so much today as in our “likes” and “dislikes,” predictive analytics, the societies of control, not Alex Jone’s style reptilians or whatever, the bad faith which refuses to acknowledge that there is no big Other, but rather something so obvious it is already over-thought and ubiquitous, that is, if you pick up just about any theory book today, it is usually ten chapters of condemnation of our situation followed by a brief afterward regarding the possibilities of emancipation from it, anyways, the chromatograph comment was probably the most ripped from context of them all, I told the guy about four thousand times that I thought that question seemed pretty awful to me, is that douche baggy of me?, to think that “what is the best thing you have purchased all year?,” isn’t what we’re meant to be asking each other, especially where and when the question/answer would enjoy some kind of relatively great visibility?, again, I really don’t mean to sound like a dick or sound like I think I’m better than anyone, (I used to take comfort in saying “I am a million times worse,” but I can’t even do /that/ today!).
I just believe we should maybe all take a step or two back when we’re asking things like that in contexts that enjoy such relative visibility, I told him I had no answer for him, and after all my protestations, as an aside, added “Okay. Okay. I bought a chromatograph last year.” That wasn’t the answer! It was a little aside I went on after ripping on what seemed like a ridiculous question for us to be asking eachother, again, and I can’t stress this enough, none of this debacle was the guy who I was talking to’s fault, and it especially wasn’t the fault of anyone annoyed that another asshole had come into their life, but then, I probably shouldn’t have written that letter, the apology that is, because even though the whole point of this rant is to show, or explain why I think I should care, using this all somehow as an example that, the apology would have seemed to betray that what I actually care about is what people think of me (as necessarily) in the guise of a commercial character. Anyone would be right to hate this character, as they should hate the face of a celebrity spokesman selling them iPhones from the cover of a magazine.
But what everyone needs to remember, is that, and needless to say, /I don’t/ regard them as an invisible mob of idiots, what I mean is, I reject this idea I sometimes seem to hear that there are stupid people, there are no stupid people, there are material conditions, structural injustices, and so on, I guess there are Police, and zones of madness opened by the State of our situation which can turn even human beings into mindless greedy killing machines, and their are trolls as I mention above, but trolls are usually cool if you reach out to them from the heart, here and now, in this zone, human beings don’t have /fans/, they don’t have /little monsters/, they have friends and potential friends, and so it is always my duty to try and apologize to other human beings when they claim to have been upset by something I have said, to try and own up to my part, to try and explain wherever my explanation wouldn’t avoid this owning up, I mean, this isn’t philosophical or anything, it is just acknowledgement of others, maybe I did say something thoughtless about record stores, who among us hasn’t said something stupid?, but I was in front of people, and so, I should have written the letter, because it was a chance to try and be naked before other humans, that is, I was not driven by a lust to sell anything to my fellow human beings, I was driven to get naked with them, and not in the way young people are seen “naked” in fashion magazines and “edgy” commercials, those people aren’t naked at all, are they?, it would seem to me they are covered over more even than the woman in the burka, if not them then certainly our plastic surgery disasters, I mean, how much more mediated and obscured are they in their Levis commercial?, vulnerability, the whole of what was once critically signified by the concept of nakedness, it is just one of those ends our situation today seems most eager to abandon to the interests of its own, I would never mean to suggest that there is anything worth salvaging in designations like ‘shame’ or ‘indecency’ as these have stood in relation to sex or the body.
What I would suggest, however, is that I suspect it is shameful and indecent to take from a body any of its capacities, and that this includes especially its capacity to be naked, or in its nakedness as an end: the body’s capacity to be truly naked or vulnerable in the sense that it would resist its own abandonment as such to whatever calculated means our situation today would police it into abiding, what a concept like ‘modesty’ might radically affirm or signify today is precisely the thing absent in these mockeries, they are already given over to a morality more old fashioned and less creative than those they seem to suppose they would defy, do I have this all wrong?, do they not merely copy sexual excitement to make fun of it?, is this a really stupid thing to say?, but anyways, maybe I can still try and do good with the minor visibility afforded me, my own part to rip it down, but I surely have just a few more moments, I mean, I guess all I am trying to say is that my desire was good, or at least I think it was, desiring nothing more than to converge on my being-with-others or whatever, nothing more than to tear down a world where some hold a monopoly of visibility over others, and all that.
Because I believe we are together, and because I therefore believe I am obligated to speak to people when they claim to have been upset by something I have said, I apologize to them. Not because I think there is a “public,” (because I don’t, and none of us could really desire the pretension involved in something like that anyways). Not because I think anybody should care what I have to say, because (over and above the merest ethical standard which we all must have for one another’s potential) I don’t. And above all, not because I have some interested reason like money, or commercial visibility, or hype, or whatever, it is because I suspect it is good to apologize to those who are rightly upset when they think another idiotic ass has come to affirm the machinery. I care… I mean, I care about people, I care about what they think, I care what they think about me and what they think I might be able to do for them, so long as it’s them I was doing it for, them alone, each of them, not something else than them, not some /they/. Don’t get me wrong, I’m just as much an asshole as anybody else, I speak without thinking all the time, I don’t return phone calls… But I’m not /that/ guy, /that/ guy isn’t even a /guy/, he is an advertisement, isn’t it?, the carrot held above us all, who supposedly gets to enjoy everything all the time without regard for any of us, if that guy is a guy at all we’ve got to help him out, don’t we?, help him see he is guy and not /that/ guy? Or something?
Also, I was wondering if you could take a second to explain more about your very first Tweet, which reads “GARY WAR IS THE FUTURE”. He has a new album coming out on John Elliott’s label, and I wanted to get your thoughts on it. I feel like Gary War is pretty awesome but he’s never quite caught on on the same scale as a lot of his contemporaries, and I haven’t really seen too many people get deep with the ideas that he’s working with. Write-ups in the past usually go something like “here’s two sentences about something Sacred Bones put out” plus “this guy used to work with Ariel Pink” (I’m sure you know how that feels, are you sick of that?). I feel like you could be the right person to explain why Gary War is so next level. You should talk about it somewhere.
I recently asked a professor of music/experimental composer about pop. His answer echoed something from Marcus. What makes pop music unique is that it somehow, at times, proceeds under the sign of politics. Pop music, he suggested, is an explicitly mass music. Moments of great invention within it always coincide with attempts to change what is visible on the largest scale, when there becomes a sense that anyone can make a great record (not that everyone does). He added, finally, that he did not believe we were in such a period now. The only problem I have with this suggestion is that it puts pop under another sign than itself, that it neglects pop on its mediate sonorous level. That this music has been pivotal in various redistributions of the sensible is beyond any doubt. Questions around these events, however important, are questions around these events. Pop music remains music. If we set aside the question of music in general and suppose that its answer involves listening, then another approach upon the question of pop is opened. An approach through listening that would not be an approach through lyrics, context, affinity.
It would be an approach through the hidden relationships and technical procedures listening already implies; the interpolation of its intimate details and so around the unnamable they would achieve. To arrest the unfolding life of these details in terms other than their own is to confirm nothing more than what they may have overcome. Marcus makes a remarkable attempt towards setting this question in relief. The last best attempt. He has already defied the comparative analyses you mention above that tries to wrest the thing in terms as useless as genre when he suggests “punk was not a musical genre; it was a moment in time that took shape as a language anticipating its own destruction, and thus sometimes seeking it, seeking the statement of what could be said neither with words nor chords. It was not history. It was a chance to create ephemeral events that would serve as judgment on whatever came next, events that would judge all that followed wanting–that, too, was the meaning of no-future.”
Through his own détournements, however, the question is too rarely aimed at the work on these levels, the site of the event he evokes was made of words and especially chords, punk /was/ musical, and so a crucial dimension is neglected. He is closest to this dimension where his object is the voice. Most often, however, the approach is through attitude, lyrics, context–no doubt mobilized only to the extent that they bear upon this dimension–even so, the empty eyes of this dimension continue gazing at the listener while the listener refuses to immerse himself into their incomprehensibility by listening. To whom these eyes belong is contemplated, then, through every approach save looking into them.
The music of Johnny Rotten embodies an irreducible desire to change the world. It brings the unsettled debts of history back into play. It is the wound of a damaged society. If we are going to mobilize something as decidedly outdated as the dialectic–however détournés–in our approaches towards the question of Johnny’s music, then why not through something developed more explicitly to this end? The means of analyses that emerged around the situations of aristocratic and bourgeois concert music are as inappropriate and old fashioned as this–the verse to Anarchy approximated: I – / I – / I – / IV iii. I have suggested before, and perhaps it is an ignorant suggestion, that I find pop music strangely reminiscent of the birth of pre-tonal triadic harmony, before the modes were codified strictly into major/minor, before modulations, explicit functional relationships, equal temperament.
With modality, greater accommodation is afforded sound as it is supposed immediately. The polyphony of the Renaissance, for example, sets forth sound in its supposed immediacy and so with more of its naked mystery in tact. It really does set mystery forth in the world. Nothing of the horizontal dimension is made to serve much else than itself. It was Schoenberg who suggested that, if the tonic follows the dominant, it happens only in the same sense as when a king sends his vassal, his herald or his quartermaster on ahead to make preparations for his arrival. It is no mistake then, that Schoenberg also suggested modality was a primeval error of the human intellect. The seventh partial of the overtone series, heard justly intoned, sets forth sound in a way that is, for lack of a better word, “cosmic.”
In the Western European musical tradition– something rightly contended against as a violence and no less irrevocably lost to us anyways– music itself seems to have been happily enough at home in this cosmos. With only the heavenly music of spheres above, it remains at home here for more than a millennia and a half. Across entirely disparate epochs and musical situations, the seventh partial was allowed its capacity to stand bare. I do not believe there was any decisive moment that it took place, at some point, the primeval error embodied at least partly by this seventh overtone was corrected, was “enlightened.” This poor partial, so seemingly evident in sound itself, was beaten into shape by equal temperament and functional harmony; hidden from view alongside the newly confined mad and criminal. The barbarity of torture gives way to the civility of confinement, and the seventh partial is– is what? Represented now by the leading tone? Transposed up a fifth and allowed only as the seventh of the dominant? The worker in a pin factory led by the administration of the invisible hand to take its place, resolving again and again, towards the third of the tonic?
Pop music seems to begin from all but the most childish caricatures of these relationships (e.g., I-IV-I-V-IV-I, I-vi-IV-V, etc.) only to then mostly forget about them altogether but in the vaguest of ways. It shares an affinity with the music I mention above so at home in the cosmos in at least a couple of different respects. This continues to be my suspicion, because, in the first instance, it is the rules of voice leading, however different from plainchant to Palestrina, that allow whatever horizontal correspondences to take place, and in the second instance, because the guitar line, keyboard line, bass line and vocal melody, bound to their own anarchic version of gradus ad parnassum, do the same the thing. Think about that Puro Instinct song, “Can’t Take You Anywhere.” It is an especially good example of this because upon closer inspection of it we realize that, as with some Medieval and Renaissance music, the “chords” (I-IV-v-I) are never really aware of themselves as such. They are instead as an accident of the different modal melodies (guitar, bass, vocal, keyboards, etc.) interacting with each other, their horizontal counterpoints. There is not ever a moment where one could look at the notes in this song, as they might be transcribed directly, and say, in the strictest sense, “there’s I, there’s IV, there’s v,” because there are too many non-chord tones and unresolved dissonances involved, all resulting from the independent voices as they move melodically through time. With the “v,” we have the equal temperament approximation of the seventh partial as relatively free as it ever had been over that millennia and a half.
I am not suggesting we cannot as easily say “there’s a I, there’s a IV, there’s a v.” I am suggesting that in doing so we miss something more interesting: the compositional thought here clearly has more concern for the independent voices moving along their horizontal axes than it does for the vertical sonorities we might wrest from them– as I am doing here. Rowche Rumble is another quick example. It can also be taken up within this alien vocabulary as two chords repeated over and over again: down-a-half-step / up-a-half-step / down-a-half-step / up-a-half-step. This is not, however, the obvious compositional thought: Hanely repeats an ascending five note melodic figure, Scanlon plays the same figure an octave beneath him, then Smith joins in with his typically excellent /sprechstimme/. We can suggest these strange sonorities, however unintentional, already have precedent in Jazz or in the so-called “Impressionist” music of nineteenth century France, but again, the compositional thinking in both of these other musics has a deeper conscious relationship to functional harmony and a stricter idea of “chords” than we are likely to find in much of our best pop music.
The instrumentalists of pop can and do learn chords and functional relationships. For example, the little squares with fingerings and chord names in any tab book. This obvious fact is again not something I have any disagreement with. What I am suggesting, is that such instruction is about something else than a certain dimension unique to pop. Regarding Ariel Pink, then, the first thing I would say is that I could never possibly tire of any affiliation drawn. I would like to make a few remarks about Ariel here before coming to your question about Gary, however, I would also like to make a disclaimer in advance that these remarks will be so brief and so superficial that I feel more ridiculous making them than I have about anything else I have written in this letter so far, and that should tell you a lot.
It is early in the morning now, and after the rant, and the little hypothesis above, along with Gary and girl from Bennington ahead, I am a little confused and quite frankly, burnt out. The reason making this disclaimer is so important to me is because Ariel Pink, as a musical figure, is also very important to me. I was speaking recently with someone about this, and it used to be that when certain events happened in pop, they were regarded as such. What I am thinking about here, then, would be the image we have seen in movies where, returning from the Pistol’s concert the Floyd poster is torn from the wall. Upon hearing Cobain thinks GNR are stupid, Appetite is thrown out with the garbage. We’ve seen this in the past, as with poor Verdi after Wagner. I am absolutely of the conviction that something like this should have happened when “House Arrest” or “The Doldrums” or whatever first reached the ears of its listeners.
Speaking with writer David Bevan recently, he shared with me an interesting idea he had regarding all of this, namely, and with the caveat that this may not be what he meant at all, David suggested that something precisely on par with all this /had/ happened with Ariel, only if posters weren’t torn off walls it is because in cloud time events like these will unfold in entirely different ways than they may have in the past. How a figure like Ariel Pink appears today is entirely different from how a similar figure may have appeared only a decade and a half ago. In the recent “Witch Hunt Suite for WWIII” video Ariel directed, I think he seized his place once and for all– while seemingly but a few took notice– as the musical figure or thought of the last decade. The world needs more Simon Reynolds’, his thoughtful meditations on pop, his insights, for example, into “post punk” and the various conditions–geographic, political, biographical, cultural– that partly informed its sonic mediacy, are invaluable. I would be wrong as well as fool to suggest I possessed even a modicum of the encyclopedic knowledge of pop he invokes in his writing.
With all this in mind please take my suspicions here with a grain of salt, and those are that I disagree wholeheartedly with his assessment of Ariel Pink. What exactly it is Reynolds has in mind when he can suggest songs like “Good Kids Make Bad Grown Ups,” “Make Room From Harry,” and/or “Haunted Graffiti,” have precedent in our recent musical past escapes me entirely. The retro is only retro in any of this in its reference to a musical idea, not as an explicit parody or direct borrowing. It is something we hear in some of the Top 40 music of our recent past, but only as the thing that we could never finally name, an inoperable self-identity, unique in each instance, and so something that has already foreclosed any possibility for comparison in advance. Much of what I heard across the landscape of so-called ‘independent music’ over the decade Ariel Pink made his first nine albums, as well as over the decade preceding this, were things like endless loops on one chord, open fifths with parallel unison “disenchanted” vocal melodies, would-be rock songs with beats taken directly from Hip-Hop, “alternative” stadium rock with symphonic or “progressive” ambitions. Carrying the thread from where it had once been dropped is nothing like a retromania. It is no mistake that R. Stevie Moore is the only figure who appears alongside Ariel in the Witch Hunt video. R. Stevie carried the thread for forty years, and in Ariel’s own words, between the two of them R. Stevie is the one who did it right.
If we decide it is retro we dodge the more essential point regarding what it corresponds to in our recent musical past, /what/ the music remembers. Were it even remembrance alone anyways, there would still be the creative supplement always involved in remembering. That is to say, all this talk of nothing new is tantamount to saying the landscape painter has done nothing new because the landscape he painted was already there. I suspect that what Ariel Pink’s music remembers is the thing which seems to have been forgotten or lost from the across “independent music” as it went about from Nirvana until Pink. Ciccone Youth, for example, gave us a cover version of “Get Into the Groove.” It may well be that something productive or significant– some kind of interruption– takes place in this cover. With respect to what I am after, however, more important is the thing found missing, coming through only strangely from time to time whenever they allow the original over which they are playing to be heard on its own.
There is another wager altogether with Ariel than the wager that would have punk rockers throwing in their lot with celebrated contemporary artists and experimental composers from the forties. Just as surely as Foiley Foibles begins within a landscape which may be perfectly at home amongst the experimental tape compositions of earlier times does it suddenly take flight towards something else. This something else is what it shares with the Top 40 track, and what is missing from Ciccone Youth’s cover of the Top 40 track. We are dodging the question, however, when we claim this has anything at all to do with retromania. Unfortunately, with respect to any possible hope of articulating the thing, we will always find ourselves at a complete loss. This impossibility arises from the fact that it is what each song itself would be asking after in its own way. It is there in Ariel as surely as it is there in some Top 40 music of the recent past, but each time it is there, it is a novelty, a self-identical thing incapable of comparison with anything else. I have no time to get into this here, but even on tracks like “Helen,” where everyone may be quick to say some reference is being made, perhaps to the Beach Boys or something, the obvious thing is missed. All of this could be avoided were we to look the empty gaze in eyes, on the level of its details.
A song like “Strange Fires,” for example, is not a looking back even where it would seem to be. Carefully interpreted and understood, it is as a crazy monstrosity, and with respect to every single dimension of its complexity. An approximation, in some ways, of the vaguest idea of something, but then only finally to the end of itself. The tempo of the song gradually accelerates beneath the threshold of listener’s ability to notice; ninths, sevenths, and so on, fall on the downbeat over and over again as each instrumental performance is a virtuosic achievement of ineptitude. There are thematic relations between the bass line, keyboard lines, and vocal melody. The meter constantly changes– and to relatively unusual meters no less–often and as surely as it refuses to give up that it is doing this beneath our ears. The song is utterly unto itself. If ever there were a pop music that demanded interpretation and at the level of the detail in order to be appreciated it is Ariel’s. Whenever a thing would seem to be repeating itself, it is always really some unique variation. Whenever there would seem to be an idiom being enacted, it is always really only there to be antagonized to the end of the singular question involved. Nowhere in our music have technological means been taken up to such expressive ends as this, and always only subtly. The recording and production of the thing becomes a question in that the technologies supposed to be abandoned where and when “high class” production is available are not, being turned to the end of the song’s own question or problem instead.
All of these remarks are more superficial than superficial, of course, and nevermind that we could continue going on about the harmonies and the form of the thing. What is maybe worth noting here, however in passing, is that it does not ever become about any one of these dimensions alone, just as certainly as it is not exhausted in misguided ideas about attitude or concept or whatever else over listening. It acknowledges the historical transition from intervals to frequencies, from logic to a physics of sound, but it does not abandon itself to this transition, even if only to the end of setting this very transition forth subjectively. It is the repetition of a possibility, not of something that already happened. With Ariel’s Witch-Hunt video we have begun another TV party than Black Flag’s, a fitting honor to what was most certainly a great party, but then neither is it the sickening waste of a TV party Gus Van Sant has Kurt Cobain throwing in his movie “Last Days.” In the absence of any time here I would invite anyone who considers their vocation the criticism and/or analysis of popular music, especially those intent on writing book length elaborations, to get out some staff paper and a pen, and transcribe any single one of Ariel’s songs (or at least almost any single one). Only in this way will we begin to hear what is actually happening on its own level. I believe there is truth to the idea that a piece of music cannot really be understood until it has been played, or at the very least, analyzed along the lines I am suggesting. If you have any doubts, try for yourself. They may look like simple send ups or whatever, but they are not, not in the least. By all means say the thing sounds like x combined with y, that was influenced somehow, but then please, do us all the favor of showing us just exactly how this is the case. “Among Dreams?” What possible precedent is there in all of music, nevermind pop, for “Among Dreams?” Is it a retroliscious looking back upon the BeeGees or something because he sings falsetto? There is not anything like it anywhere ever. Listening from beginning to end, from part to whole, from voice to voice, and all of that, means to listen to the thing as it is capable of becoming and on its own terms.
Believe it or not, I have done this with a few of Ariel’s songs: Strange Fires and Trepinated Earth being amongst them. There is so very much there that might be drawn out and transposed into language, offering genuine insight into the thing. But to simply dismiss it as nothing more than some remembering takes it up into the abstract idea of remembering to the misfortune of the music. But how and why it works, whether and in what ways it might superficially imply a remembering, and so on, can only be confirmed from a standpoint possessing the bare minimum of engagement that comes from approaching the music in the becoming of its details. How I wish I could spend so many pages on something like “Trepinated Earth.” It would defy the most adept attempts at wresting its singular logic. It stands over so much else with respect to the integral relations of its melodic figures, especially to the extent that these relations open up a whole or a work so thoroughly part and parcel with these details themselves that they would almost deem to disappear into the thing. And all of this within the vulgar idiom of pop. I played so many of these songs, and already that put me at an advantage in a certain way, but only those I have analyzed, “Strange Fires” and “Trepinated Earth” amongst them, by taking the time to transcribe the thing pitch by pitch, have I even slightly begun to approach the minimum understanding which, to my mind at least, must come into play as a correlate to the thing itself.
Moving onto Gary War. Let’s start with the G. War song I most familiar with, and that is “Born of Light” off the Police Water EP. I suppose the best thing to do is use the playback time as reference point seeing as how, without the ability to put a score in front us, it is really the only reference point we can have in common. The song runs ~4:09. It is comprised of six parts. The first part (0:00-0:32), which serves doubly as an album intro I would imagine (the song is the EP’s opener), is a repeated loop of hand drumming. At around 0:32, we get the first inkling of where things are headed, as synth oscillations of some kind join in with the drumming. These oscillations rise and fall throughout the song. Were they to be sounded alone, this music would be right at home with the experimental noise being made today by pop musicians, in fact, much better than most of it, but then it seems Gary has decided that is not where musical energy today is best invested. High Speed Drifting, maybe a race car is as beautiful as the victory at Nike, maybe masses of molecules and spinning electrons are more exciting than the smile or tears of a woman, maybe the thing itself is purely about timbre today.
But then how can one drift? How can one oversteer where the expressive dimension would be almost just beyond our perceptual threshold? Without a road, without any relations, there is only timbre, and so Gary continues, and these oscillations, beautiful and expressive though they may be, leave the fashionable provincialism of the dead avant. We then come to 0:38 and a drone on E interrupts everything. What is this pitch doing? What is going to happen with it? It is a good thing to hear a pitch, because pitches can have relations and directions mere noise and oscillations are incapable of having, and so they open upon evermore greater dimensions, dimensions through which and over which the oscillations might become even more, unleashing their potential. How is this pitch going to be contextualized in what it sure to follow?
At 0:42 the song begins. I mention above that the song is comprised of six parts, and so the part that begins at 0:42 would be the second part. This second part seems to function as a kind of verse, in the conventional or idiomatic sense of the word, throughout the track. The E is sustained, as a the drums, nice and flat footed, are joined by a bass line of constant eighth notes, where the second of the two eighth notes is an octave higher. The bass line runs so: A—/B-D-/G—/E—. At 0:48, this bass line is repeated, but it is now joined by three other voices. I’d have a hard time imagining anyone in our situation today could claim they had ever heard anything like what follows in music before. The clearest of the three voices is a sweep synth of some kind, over the four measures of bass I mention above, and the incredible synth sound (Gary’s own I’m assuming, as I know he has gone out of his way, saving up money as a construction worker, to purchase synthesizers capable of doing these things) sweeps to its highest note somewhere around the second downbeat of any given measure, and so accompanying the four measures of bass mentioned above we have C-E-/D—/B-F-/B-E-/. The second of the three voices is a counterpoint to the bass and the sweep, it is a sixteenth note arp:
The song really hasn’t even started yet, and already we are in a world, with respect to the song’s mediate sonic details, unlike any other I’ve encountered. Firstly, we’ve got the timbres of each of the pitched voices. They aren’t presets, they aren’t some protools soft synth or some fancy new Nord. They aren’t the work of a team of producers with millions of dollars at their disposal. The dust in their circuits is speaking, just as clearly as the voltage controls themselves. Beyond the threshold of our hearing, FM waves, VHF waves, and all of that are there as well, recording the day’s news. All the while, the oscillations still haunt the track. Not as the music of the spheres in the cosmos I was going on about above, but rather as the noise of the man made stars flying over our heads today: without any noble purpose but to feed us entertainment, guide the robots to destroy the sand people, and keep us Tweeting about everything and anything else than the ridiculousness of it all.
The harmonies in all this would seem to make out, and here the third voice comes into play, which so far as I can make out is playing chords quietly in the background, goes something like this: Am/Bdim/G7/Em… But to put it that way (which is interesting enough already) is to do what’s actually happening a cruel injustice. For example, during the would be “Em,” the fifth is retarded for the first two beats at A. It seemed at one time also I could make out both an A and C during the Bdim too.
Anyways… I feel so very stupid putting it in this ridiculous “lead sheet” vocabulary, as if what were actually happening was all but the vaguest suggestion of these chords, but what are we meant to do if we want to actually talk about what we are listening to in terms of itself? Say what other bands it sounds like? It doesn’t sound like any other band. And even if it did to some extent, this would be precisely what didn’t matter at all or ought to remain beneath the consideration of anyone truly interested in wresting from the work what is singular to it… But then here I am using “lead sheet” notation. A way of explaining things meant for another music altogether. Perhaps I should try the even more ill suited functional explanation? Sure… Am: i/ii/VII7/v… You see? It really doesn’t make any functional sense, but then it strangely kind of does too… That it can even be spoken about in this way, and that it can only be spoken about in the vague way I have suggested is unique to pop, places it heads and shoulders above much else. Here the functional relationships aren’t merely enacted as if played out in advance, but then neither are they forsaken to some stupid functionless loop, some “pristine” awareness of “chords,” or the exhausted drone of the open fifth.
I said somewhere the guitar does not afford any expressive possibilities today, that these possibilities were exhausted, something like that. I certainly did not mean this as an absolute. What I might have meant was something like this: how much more affective complexity is afforded, and objectively so, with respect to the timbres we are listening to over and above the three piece grunge band? In all these things, and in a way impossible were Gary to be performing this with nothing more than a guitar, a relationship to technological civilization is invoked that is utterly complicated The functional relationships are mobilized as vaguely as is necessary to the end of the work. In this task they are not its master, but rather as so many partners in crime. There is a High Speed Drifting of the thing involved, an oversteering into the madness of the work. This happens quite a bit throughout the song, consistently so, you have vague suggestions of tonic/dominant relationships, but then there is the question, is v/i really anything like a dominant/tonic… I don’t think so, without the leading tone, what you have is in some sense bound to the natural minor or Aeolian mode. And in the G7, the seventh of which is achieved by the aching sweep /B-F-/. The use of the F here, that is, the note of the dominant seventh which is most dissonant, which, so they say in the stupid vocabulary I am using now, wants most to resolve, is as perfectly used as it ever has been.
It could be I am absolutely mistaken in all this, but I don’t think major seventh chords or diminished chords are something we hear very much in music today. I was talking with Adam Harper about this once–whose book “Infinite Music,” if I am not mistaken, suggests something like an engagement with pop music very much along these lines I suggest above–we both agreed that a fully diminished seventh sounds like a woman being tied to the rail road tracks in a silent black and white film to the generation of the spectacle. Somewhere I remember reading someone say all of Beethoven’s genius can be summed up by his proper handling of the diminished seventh, this is what I was going on about here with the seventh of that G7 (not a fully diminished seventh, but close enough).
A terrible and as awful and as stupid as everything I am doing here is, it is along these lines I think the works next levelness can be approached. You’d be hard pressed, and again only insofar as I know, to find me an example of it where it wasn’t functionally anchored, that is, presently and even where we have it in pop’s past, these types of dissonances were almost always only used in their functional sense G7-C, or Bdim-C. Again, I could be wrong, but you never had these strange dissonances anchored in a modal context like this so regularly in pop music, played by synthesizers where the timbre of each voice has been frought after no less than the harmonies they make up, and all this more-or-less as the result of voices as independent as they are capable. But then and of course everything I am saying here is entirely wrong, perhaps it is there all the time.
More importantly than any of this, is that they are headed somewhere, they are part of a singular work with an end in itself, the serve the work’s end (as partners in its crime) as we shall see and we’ve really only just started, I mean, the bass line played four measures (0:42-0:48) and then repeated those four measures joined by the other three voices. Immediately we move to the first ending (0:55) of this second part. This second part has a different ending each time it is repeated. With the first ending, the bass is no longer playing octave eighth notes, but rather major thirds, my dash (-) per quarter won’t allow me eighth note resolution, but you get the idea, F and A, followed in the next measure by G and B, and the final measure before returning to the top, E and G. Interesting things are happening here. Firstly, in that I’d suppose most listeners today would expect–as is the idiom of the pop song (even and despite such masterpieces as “Good Vibrations” and “Happiness is a Warm Gun”, but then, what is different in this is that it would imply the idiom while still accomplishing the fragmentation we find in these masterpieces)–that those first four measures would be repeated and repeated, but Gary throws in this weird yet strangely appropriate ending to return to the top: Fmin7/G/Emin. Again we have the minor five playing as if it were the dominant returning to the Am at the top. But during the Emin chord, the bass stops playing thirds and does this strange “escape tone” effect, E and F, and so again, we have this vague harkening to function, where the F would be the third of the diminished seventh of Am, something you hear all the time in common practice tonality, where the dominant would be E major: EFEFEDCBA!! But it isn’t E major, it is Emin.
What I’m getting at here, then, and again and again, is the strange and effective manner in which this song vaguely harkens to but is not bound by functional relationships as well as the idiom of pop, the way in which it is thusly able to mobilize them, or rather, invite them to become its partners in crime, but, and as we shall see, these relationships are torn more and more apart. The song is never what you think it is. But it also has the peculiar genius of not making a point of that, that is, of never being clever for the sake of being clever. As I explain above, all this “lead sheet” nonsense, and “functional” nonsense, has always been, it seems, (as in the oldest polyphony), more of a coincidence than an absolute necessity or a ground. Just as what I was talking about above, it is the same here, and especially given all the passing tones and so forth within any given sonority. It is almost Baroque, but then it isn’t, because the vague functional relationships, though they happen, aren’t yet written in stone.
We’ve only come to the first ending (0:55) of the second part… The part is repeated again (with vocals now). Gary never allows the naked voice, this affords that the voice become more integral to the song, still another partner in crime, but it also speaks to much more. I could joke around about fingerless glove girl, but whether it is her or the would-be grunger from Seattle, the voice always betrays everything, doesn’t it? I mean that, to the extent that a voice was praised by its mother, “Chris, you have such a sweet voice, you are going to be a star one day” is the extent to which we can hear in that voice the voice of the mother’s praise as well. We can hear Chris being a star for his mama instead of struggling after a work. A voice rattled by machine gun fire, by family trauma, by the types of things we’d rather all stay hidden from view, the criminal’s voice, the voice of the crack or the fissure, these will never sound so sweet as the spoiled brat’s.
Enough ink has already been spilt around the expressive violence our music is capable of bringing upon the voice, technologically speaking. So what could possibly be unique to this song in its use of this? In a strange way, and in contradiction to what I said above, I think that it is precisely /this/ that does lay the voice bare. It acknowledges the mediation always already happening to the voice and so it gives the voice as it might sound here and now truly. Let me add here again that you have nothing to disagree with in any of these speculations, because I offer them only as such, as invitations to verify, as something I will not be held to account for as if I had claimed they were certainties. And so I suspect Gary’s voice gives something in this way… But how is it anything more than Laurie Anderson and her vocoder? Or some Hip-Hopper’s and their auto-tonys? It buries the voice behind the thing while refusing to celebrate the fact that it really can’t be any other way right now.
With auto-tony, and all his bologna, the voice is supposed to appear naked, only equipped now and strengthened in its truth by mediations and bionic implants. With what Gary is doing here, and it is a combination of many things, each technological envelope mediating the voice is as much a partner in crime as anything else, as the voice itself, they are singing right along outright instead of pretending to give us a naked (but bionically “cured”) voice. The vocals cue in at around exactly 1:00. On the second ending (1:13) a measure is dropped, but also the bass, still playing in thirds, plays the root as the /second/ of the two eighth notes now. In other words, the crime of the thing is syncopated, but subtlety. It is subtle variation like this that makes the song so powerful. That each ending to this part is different, that the bassline variously syncopates the root, and so on. The song is filled with details like these. And where else could the song be than in its concrete details?
More importantly, above all, all these details are aimed at something unique to this song, what it will accomplish, what it will come to… I will elaborate upon this, but as seemingly replaceable as they may seem, all of these details have an end in mind, which is the work’s accomplishment. The verse is repeated again, and on…….the third ending (1:28), two measures are added, /F—/G—/, as if the ending were going to repeat itself twice (/F—/G—/E—/F—/G—[/E—]). But that final /E—/ is dropped.
Now we go to the third part (1:52), there is a key change, but to a completely unrelated key. The bass line now avoiding either octaves or thirds and playing only intervals of seconds. In a way this concentration characterizes the whole of the song, from each section to the next, the length gets shorter and shorter, the intervals the bass plays get smaller and smaller. This is what I promised to elaborate upon. What makes this music great, this song, is that, by the end it will not have the quality of being unrealized. In juxtaposition, for example, with something like a merely pretty song, we play it over and over because of what it promises to give us, but finally, it does not give us anything, it asks nothing of us…
The counterpoint in this section is wonderful too… We find a minor seventh on a downbeat here, and even a ninth on a downbeat (which is a retardation up to the third). And so, Gary isn’t playing minor seventh or ninth chords, although he is as these arise from the motion of the independent voices. Perhaps it is that whoever we’re celebrating in “independent music” today are all more deserving of our attention than Gary. Maybe some of them make a point of making sophisticated polyrhythms. Maybe some of them use extended vocal techniques. Maybe some of them just old fashioned rock out. But in all that I have said about “Born of Light” marks, if you’ll forgive me for saying so, a molecular convergence upon dimensions native to pop and nothing else takes-place, and as if it were the song’s question alone.
He isn’t making punk caricatures of experimental music, he is experimenting with punk. But then how I can say this? After having gone on for so long about Medieval modes and all of that? Aren’t those things old and foreign to punk? Because, and again I would claim none of this as a certainty but as an invitation, all of this has always been part of the thing. When Chuck Berry told Beethoven to roll over, he did so using the dominant/tonic relationships Beethoven had already torn to pieces. How could it possibly be then, that whatever standard there may be (and it is doubtful there is one at all) for determining the relative levels, or plateaus, or planes of a pop music’s relative truth–and of course there is never any more or less here, the thing is accomplished or it isn’t–than the sound of the thing? And as a procedure, as a track through our situation–what has pop ever been but the détournement of the commodity logic Marcus suggested it was twenty years ago, and in the wake of its phase transition after the Pistol’s no less. If “control” or as engineers say negative feedback is the key to power in this century, then fighting power requires positive feedback.
Endless feedback… Play to the powers their own melody… High Speed Drifting, the intentional over steering to achieve drag. Not snobbishness towards the race track, that would be idiotic, in the literal sense of the word. Seven measures into this third part, which is itself nine measures, Gary throws in two extra beats. There is a relationship worth pointing out here between this third section and the endings of the second, again we see this figure where three notes seem to have a gestalt, the first two are repeated so that we anticipate the third, but instead we come to end (again a subdominant relationship). He doesn’t make any point of it, that is, as if he were being clever or something, but what I think is really interesting about it is how it anticipates what is to come, what to me, as I have said, accomplishes the apex of the song. At any rate, this third part struck me as “bridge like,” that is, we heard the “verse” (or the second part) repeated three times, and then we move into this third part, which is not repeated, it is in a remote key, from a natural minor to something like Eb Lydian…. However much or however little meaning functional harmony holds in our memories, we’ve still got to hear a distance like that. Besides, senseless key changes like these have also always formed a part of the idiom.
Part Four: (1:52) it is very short… No longer strictly modal but infused with a certain chromaticism, from the second section to the third, we saw A natural minor go to Eb Lydian, but then in this section a chromatic mediant move from Ab to C to F… We have no idea where we are from a either functional perspective or a pop “repeat the four chords over and over again” perspective. It doesn’t make any sense, but then it will make perfect sense especially and most importantly in terms of the song itself, what it will finally accomplish. There is a great section in an Ariel Pink song from the Doldrums, the song is actually called “Haunted Graffiti,” it explores something similar to this, this relationship of chromatic mediants and forths, So, let’s say the section from Haunted Graffiti, like Gary’s, begins in Ab (which it doesn’t), Ariel’s goes from Ab to Cm to Eb to F back to Ab to C to F to Bb, etc… Just thinking about it now, it is just great, relationships only found in the thing itself and here explored and experimented with in ways only maybe slightly implied earlier in pop, like in the Castaways Liar Liar… Chromatic mediants/”borrowed” seventh… But then there of course, the thing is just repeated over and over again. That doesn’t happen here… And even still, the thing somehow seems as if it were a pop song, just as the Castaways.
What’s most important is that that is not the point. This isn’t about musical sophistication… Frank Zappa, or Math Rock, or whatever. I’m talking about Gary dropping a beat, using modes, etc., not Gary using metric modulations of non-retrogradable rhythms (and even that, I think, from the standpoint of the non-existent “experimental vanguard” which supposes to exist today, would all be backwards child’s play). It is a game that can’t be won in that way… But it is a truth that can, perhaps, be experimented with through such harmonic relationships as these. I should mention here as well, in each subsequent section Gary changes the timbre of the voices. Subtley and so to great effect. This work bears every indication of tremendous labor and dedication, /warring/ to such an impossible degree within and against the conventions of pop music that it becomes a kind of “phase transition” of those conventions, arriving at a place where they might finally betray something else than themselves, that is, somehow /speak/.
Maybe it is just nonsense, but that’s what happens, and that is what is happening here. If I am not mistaken, one can hear truth in the thing, one can hear the struggle actually come up to the point where the language itself reaches a kind of bifurcation. In the voice buried so that each mediation burying it might too become expressive, in the timbres, in everything, a critical point is reached and some weird new ground is
And so we come to the fifth section (2:00). I found it interesting, for whatever silly reason, that, what to my mind at least, marks the culmination of the song, marks its achievement, falls exactly a minute after the vocals entered at exactly a minute (1:00), but then out of curiosity I checked, and sure enough, it also falls more-or-less at the golden mean of the song’s duration.
So just to recap: section 2, nine measures, repeated three times, a different ending each time. The bass notes primarily in octaves, save for the endings where they play thirds until the final bar of seconds. Section 3: also nine, but not repeated at all, and as I said and as will become important here, adds two beats to give us a measure of 6/4 at the /inverse/ of that section’s own golden mean. Section 4: five measures… Again, in all this it perhaps bears mentioning that regular divisions are avoided (e.g., repeat four times, repeat four times, etc.), and, importantly as well, no point made of this as an end in itself, as if trickery were the end instead of the music, it is seamless. Section 5: is two measures, in 6/4. The whole song pivots on this moment in my estimation. The bass /G—B-/Bb—Ab-/. The high Gs above the Bb and Ab played by the sweep, the unison at the octave with the arp. This music is telling us, it is speaking. And, from a structural standpoint, it literally has boiled down to this, as everything crunched down to this moment.
I am at my wit’s end here, Ric. And I’d be the first to admit that I’m accomplishing nothing towards the end of your question… I talk about fingerless gloves and lukewarms and pseudo-experimentalists, but I don’t suppose there is really and person on earth exhausted in these stupid cartoons, they are meant only as ridiculous counterpoints, imaginary figures, conceptual personae?, that would help me set Gary’s music forth, can we agree that however stupid and misguided an engagement with the thing using a vocabulary as alien to it as this, might still approach it better than would saying it sounds like x and y? Maybe not… I’m sure everything I have written here is full of contradictions and stupidities, I have written it quickly. I shutter to think what a musical school student might make of my terrible misuse of these techniques.
But anyways… We return to the top (Ab down to A). Things are repeated, differently this time, the sixth section is a guitar solo 3:09… Greater care is taken, with respect to the production of the song, than one is likely to find anywhere these days. It isn’t so important, indeed, it is absolutely superfluous, that an army of engineers wasn’t standing between Gary and his console, that instead he turned every knob and recorded every instrument in his air conditionless shitty ass NYC apartment probably over the course of weeks when he could find the time after rewalling the condos of trust fund kids. What difference does any of that make? It isn’t so important that Gary didn’t have a band of friends or an entourage sitting in a studio with him, watching him as he played, dialing the knobs for him as the tape rolled, plugging in cords for him and/or otherwise mulling about to make sure “we’re getting good levels on the mics.”
None of this matters, because, after all, how much of our best pop or punk or whatever was recorded in precisely this way? What matters is that anyone who actually listens is invited to hear all of that in the music as it would be mobilized to the end of something disinterested in anything but its own question. To hear something that bears within itself the refutation of the “industry standard,” speaking sonically. The technology isn’t used to clean up the noise, but rather relatively noisy technology, smaller frequency spectrums, and so on, are mobilized to concentrate a work upon its impossible accomplishment.
Many of the details, as I have suggested, move in that direction, as opposed to say, the direction betraying nothing more than a childish desire to please some imagined /they./ Purely at the level of the song’s mediate sonic reality, irrespective of conditions of its emergence or respective of them only as they were seized expressively to the end of accomplishing an impossibility: a /new/ song. The songs problem, then, as I have tried to explain it from the standpoint of details such as its mobilization of vague functional relations, smaller and smaller intervals, the voice, shorter and shorter sections in its six section form, is how to use the pop idiom to boil down to a pivot point. An attempt at High Speed Drifting through convergence upon the center thing that is unique to this song. I suppose it is all subjective, whether it is a pretty song, or a catchy song, or what other band it sounds like. But engaging the work at the sonorous level of its details and relations, however I may have failed to do so and even with the stupid vocabulary of chords which I’ve admitted a dozen times already is precisely at odds with what the thing it would tell us about, has to be a better way of appreciating the thing than x meets y………
I have a few quick personal questions. What’s the story of the girl at Bennington? Do you still see her in your dreams? Also, how do you love her eyes so much without ever actually seeing them? Does she really exist? Does this relate to some philosophical concept that I’m unfamiliar with? Either way, she must’ve been super cute. I’d kind of be interested in seeing what she looks like, and then compare her to other girls I’ve been obsessed with. You should post a pic of her in the comments section. Think about it– it might be really funny!
Let’s get personal. When I was playing keyboards for Haunted Graffiti (with Gary War on bass and Tim Koh on guitar), this would have been in 2005, we played some small East Coast private colleges. The lyric was ‘Bennington,’ but the event in question might have taken-place at Bard, or even Vassar. (In other words, let anything other than the maintenance of this poor girl’s anonymity be frustrated from the start). The names then, XXXX, will always be changed to protect the innocent. Please believe me as well when I tell you: just as this only scratches the surface it is by no means ‘the best of.’ Much the correspondence is lost now, whether in the transition from Myspace to Facebook, or whether because for the first few months I did not have the “save sent mail” option checked on my email platform. You asked, and so here it is, pathetic as ever. If there should be any need to point this out now, I am not writer at all, writing is not my vocation. When I have attempted at writing to academic ends and so on, it has always been in a tone entirely different than any of this letter. Either way, no more apologies, here is what I could dig up:
[All of the initial correspondences, that is, the emails before this one, are missing. The boxes at the end of each of my stupid letters indicates when and if she replied, nothing else.]
In Kentucky I saw two ponies wrestling on a green spring hill… I rested in the van to the sounds of the Animal Collective muffled through the wall of the hall… Tomorrow we will be in St.Louis… Very tired… Kentucky cliffs… In Chicago, I fell asleep on the floor of a great old ballroom with baroque chandeliers… A blue and red light show to the overtone drones of the music… The pleasant smell of people… In New York I remember wondering how much different it would smell if the people were gone… I made a mental list of what I would do if I were President in the car… Then became confused when I started to think it through. I said goodbye to some friends and skipped across the street in front of traffic because life is so magnificent… I showed a frustrated man how to make apples disintegrate by throwing them against a wall as hard as you can… I called a strange beautiful girl I met in XXXXXX with that life-affirming intense nervousness running over me each time it rang… I saw some dandelion fields… I stayed in a Holiday Inn with that perfect hotel-smell… bedtime…
Hello Beautiful, I’m so happy that you love your friends and that they love you… Its good to know you are not alone and you have so many wonderful people in your full and amazing life. It sounds like […] you have allot to be grateful for… I’m relieved that the anti-Christ was still born and hope you keep him in a jar somewhere safe so one day your ‘real’ children can point and laugh at their deformed half-brother who never made it… I would have break danced for you with a latex glove on my head (I can’t break dance) while you sassed the nurses…
Pessoa says the sound of the wind makes life worth living, I say its all the things you can do with those latex gloves… It may sound ridiculous, but I had a dream I was at XXXXXX, it was a warm summer night and there were fireflies, some kind of big celebration was happening as I walked in and out of the enormous imaginary halls filled with people, I was happy to be with you (we held hands)…
I will pass the message to Greg for sure (he is in Sweden now). Have fun and take care… And feel free to call me anytime…
[Reply: May 15th 2005]
I’m glad you dreamt about me, now we are even… Yes, it is indeed strange to me that I still fantasize about a girl I knew for maybe six hours… Is this because there is so much room for projection? Or is it because she really was the way she was, in the space of those six hours: perfect? I’m sure many people have told you that you are alive in a special way, they are right, it is plain to see, and I don’t forget rare (rather, singular) beauty like that… Sure, we are ALL singular but for whatever reason, or perhaps no reason at all, sometimes providence or chance presents an encounter that demands some unique kind of further inspection, verification, proceeding under the sign of this, even despite such potential hindrances as distance, age, etc. etc. Not to think-it-to-death, but you are beautiful to me, a rarity, so I know, always and especially beautiful. I don’t mean for this email to be dumb or inappropriate, I’m just trying to say something about it and that can prove problematic… I understand there are an so many ways within language to approach speaking it… And not to cop out or anything, but it is always what cannot be spoken, for, once it has been collapsed into a finite sentiment, into language, into a word, it ceases to have its own living, dynamic, vitality. Maybe that’s one vindication for the worth of the poem or pure music, these things can live like it does, and so they can approach it with greater accuracy… But I’m not a poet… And I won’t be able to mail you any pure music for a while…
Anyway, I’m sorry your friends saw the XXXXX show, it was awful… But we played at the BBC today in the same room the Beatles once played in… I walked around the big clock and Thames this evening after we played a great show at ‘The Spitz’… I shake when I’m nervous, but everyone enjoyed it and had a fun time… Good energy… I like walking around at night… More than the day… The clock is so big and old and dark and ornate, I’m sure they used to put heads on it or something medieval like that… Thames is smelly, the whole place is old and special in a way a I think only we New Worlders could possibly recognize, I respect it, in a special way, and I really enjoy hanging out and walking around it… Like the time Ariel and I went to DC and peed in the reflection pool and hung out with Abe Lincoln… Or the time in Bologna when I ran through that old Roman square at night and laid on my back…
I suppose this is long enough for now, but I will tell you more about London bridges soon. We go to Glasgow tomorrow… It is a long drive… I will tell you about all this stuff later… Your letters make me happy… I like it when you speak to me… And of course I like seeing you vulnerably because you are beautiful naked in this way… I read every word you write and I visualize the images you paint… I bet you miss your friends allot, but you will be back at XXXXX in no time… I will write more later… It is fun to write you…
[Reply: June 13th 2005]
If I wrote stories… Which I haven´t, at least, since I was a child… I would write one right now… It would describe in vivid poetic detail a tall skinny man, unsually tall, with legs twice as big as his trunk… Hairy, white, stilts… He would stand above a naked woman lying on a bed and punch her in the stomach… His hand would ´go into´ her stomach and begin pumping, he would whisper through his ugly teeth ´pump… pump… pump…´ his thick glasses would glitter… Her silly eyes would bobble around and she would grit her teeth like alot of meth addicts I´ve seen… Tossing her sweaty head from side to side with a terrible grin… ‘oil… oil… oil… oil…’ these words would come from the animal place in the back of her throat meat, as oil began ‘coming up’ through her clenched teeth, spilling all over her chicken neck and naked torso, I would spend many pages explaining the look in her eyes as the oil came through her teeth, black and thick; ‘alive’… You understand this, ‘alive?’ He would then leeeeeeaaaaaaaan over her, to give her a kiss, he would open his mouth stupidly and two little black arms would come out of it and fumble around above her face, suddenly, and with force, they would seize her cheeks (digging into the white oil coverd meat) of her stupified face and some thing resembling a sausage would come out of the back of his throat, between the little black arms, and slowly it would penetrate her throat…
Back and forth the sausage would go… We wouldn’t really know whose mouth it originally came from… ‘pump… pump…’ ‘oil… oil…’ And the sound of the sausage gliding back and forth of their throat pipes… And her eyes…
Anyway… That’s why I don’t write stories… I tried reading yours, but it was a mac file, so after playing with it for a while I finally got it up in a fucked-up format… I enjoyed it… It was precise… DAMN! I could say much more… But, they are telling me I have to go now… So I will tell you more later… Good bye!
roof tops in Brussels… many of them… I slept by an open window… The thick summer air came through all night… They have a big square in Brussels… Where everyone sits around at night… Tiny cobblestone streets with lots of little restaurants that serve Piaia and fancy European couples eating it up… (many of them… mazes of them…) I’ve the stink of filth on me… I can go out on the roof right now and look out over the city… The sun sets very late… The seasons are caused by ‘net heat inflo’… The ferry rides are always nice, the sea was a dark blue, like the sea should be, and the cliffs were white… And it was cool and nice… The warm, thick, summer air always electrifies me with restlessness, multiply that by the consumption of Belgium brew by my friends…
We took a walk through the red light district… African women sit in those red windows in those tiny rooms with tiny curtains… They ‘tap’ on the glass at you… So many old churches and old squares so much older than anything we grew up around… They bear every trace, as it seems do the eyes of some of the elderly. I used to walk behind my dad with a ‘fake’ mower (I remember it… It was bright green) When he was really mowing the lawn… Those first summers, and that grass, seem kind of ‘bleached out’… In soft focus, like the films or the television of that time… Brussels is better than Paris… It is better than London… The keyboards here are strange though:
if you see what I,m saying…
Much more adventures later…
There is nothing but Goodness underneath…
How are you enjoying your summer? Rooftops and rain and warmth… I am going to Poland after the tour is over to live for a month before school… Don`t you think eyes can tell you so much that you don`t hear a word the mouth underneath the eyes is saying? And don`t you think that`s Real? Real enough to toil over? When you set pen to paper, when you send the writing to someone, etc. etc.
I`m very tired… Shambles… It has been a little bit since I sat across from somebody and really talked with them and was seen by them, but that is good and okay, I am exactly where I am supposed to be. Do you believe that? Do you believe in God? You sent me that beautiful Borges quote, but do you believe? Here is a funny quote for you, it is a biblical proverb I think: “You are neither Hot nor Cold, you are luke warm, therefore I spit you from my mouth!”
Is there anything I can do for you?
Hello. I am visiting my home in the small town of Austin Minnesota (home of Spam and nothing else). My 93 year old grandfather, Elpert Philip August Maus just passed… He was a great man, XXXXXX, and it was a fitting memorial. My family is magnificent, a happy, ‘good’ family. Grandma is a bit senile now, she kept asking ‘who are these people?’ and ‘what was going on?’ But when ‘their song’ was played (‘Always’ By Irving Berlin) grandma sang right along to all the words (They were married for 69 years, she still asks where he is).
My father is the youngest of four boys who all gave a speech. Three of these Maus boy’s are Attorney’s. The twins are crazy, XXXXXX… They are in their sixties now, XXXXX was crippled in High School so he doesn’t have any kids, but XXXX has three (A Surgeon, XXXXX, who Married an beautiful Irish girl like you, lives in Denver, has three kids and rides a gas-powered scooter to work — A professor of English, XXXXXX, who lives in Chicago, just married and has a child, and XXXXX, who died several years ago when she was twenty-seven of chronic alcoholism).
My uncles XXXXX and XXXX were notorious fighters, they threw people through glass windows and off of balconies, people used to come from out-of-town to rumble with the Maus boys (in the 50’s), even after XXXXXX had his accident he was still given to jumping out of his chair and biting people. Even after they were all lawyers they would get ripped and rumble with construction workers. But they all love their life, win bread, and follow the maxims of their father, ‘life is gold,’ ‘the present is all that matters,’ ‘to the good life,’ ‘no regrets,’ etc. They are loud and excited, they laugh and bellow at each other. They are all very MINNESOTAN and the accent comes back when I’m here. XXXXX has a cabin up North (the lakes) the whole family would visit in the summers.
Good stories were told, the boys loved their dad, it was the third time in my life I’ve seen my old man cry (once at his brother’s wedding, once when I was committed to a psych ward, and at the funeral today). Grandpa was cremated, and they are saving his remains, he wants them mixed with grandma’s when she passes.
My XXXX is eleven years younger than the twins. Apparently he was a real hippie and he dropped out of school and ran away to Europe and North Africa for a year. But he was a stern task-master with us, so, you never would have known. Fiscally responsible, level-headed, loyal, etc. Grandpa went out like Ivan Illyich, my brother confirmed this, the struggle, but he had one last lucid moment where he said goodbye and hugged his sons … Managing to mumble the words ‘hug’ (he had stopped eating and drinking, he had ‘given up’). My XXXX is 100% Irish, both of her folks died in their early fifties when I was still a kid, her mother (of cancer) before I was born and her father a few years after of Alcoholism. I’m related to Johnathan Swift on my Irish side Did I tell you about the spoon player I saw in Ireland? I’ve got two brothers and a sister, XXXXX…
I don’t remember if you told me, but you’ve got to be the youngest of your sisters, you’ve got that ‘youngest’ vibe. I bet your the treasure to any grandparents or aunts and uncles you have, you’re somebody or everybody’s favorite. My brother, XXXX is a recluse writer, very, very, very hardworking and serious. When he graduated summa cum laude from the U of M, I said “XXXXX, you don’t know anyone from your school! ANyone here! They all had fun and partied, but you just hit the books!” “yes.” he said “but the space between their ears is ’empty’ and mine is ‘full.” (he taped his mattress to the wall so he wouldn’t sleep, and once wrote a letter to a professor explaining that he was an atheist, so he prayed to the professor himself for a good grade). XXXX, my brother who is 8 years younger than me is closer to your age than mine (yikes!) he will go to school next year for Journalism, but he isn’t a damaged ape like XXXX and I, he fits with the chimp group, he can give them things, so he will go far.
The funeral reminded me that my best friend growing-up-here, XXXXXX (24), died this year in Iowa City. And still, the Saturn return approaches: so many heroes. But I could never shake the beautiful little poet Irish girl from St.Louis I met in Vermont… That special treasure in all the Earth (that I’ve seen at least). Radiant. She stopped writing me back, perhaps because I’m given to tedious loquacity when I’m trying to impress her… But I would love to still correspond… I’m not always about sinister nonsense. My friend XXXXX is a Nam vet, I could tell you about him, he used to live under a tree and now he is a millionaire… (who gives most of his money to charity). I could tell you about the job-hunt, I’m going to be substitute teaching in South Central LA, as soon as I get the coffee-maker-I-stole-from-Starbucks-for-my-mom-for-christmas-three-years-ago expunged from my record. I could tell you about Richard Strauss.
Was it that scary story I sent you?
Maybe I should have wrote about swimming out on the lake (superfast – they swim to ‘get’ everywhere, all the time, at night, on the lake, to their houses, to their work, but its always a beautiful stary blue night with a big moon).
Please at least give me a hint why you don’t want to talk with me anymore and I will leave you alone I promise.
[At some point around August, she must have written me out of the blue on Myspace. I’m assuming much of our correspondence is lost to this fact. This includes me sending her the song].
“At me too someone is looking, of me too someone is saying, he is sleeping, he knows nothing, let him sleep on. [Pause.] I can’t go on! [Pause.] What have I said?”
Attached is a photograph of me looking south, towards XXXXX. Note the severity. The river in the background finds its way to XXXX and then finally to the ocean. What a river! I think I’ll find my way to XXXX before Feburary so I can visit with someone very special. I wonder, if I put a log or something in the river now, would I beat it to XXXXX?
[From this letter I have removed quotes from a text of her’s she sent me, just as throughout most of it I myself am quoting a text]
Following this empty tautology, which seems to get us nowhere, is the beatitude of not wanting to get anywhere, ‘we would only, for once, like to get where we are already’. Though sometimes, I admit, this beatitude is too heartbreaking for me, ‘it kills me’, as about your gentle contentment, or as about your kindness, there is something cruel, about your honesty there is something dishonest, or about your simplicity there is something remarkably and unnecessarily complex, et cetera. Maybe avoid surrounding what you surround, being beyond what you are beyond, especially us poor romantics, because we love you and feel terrible when you, in turn, have only that distant pity for us.
‘[…] The swans fled outward to remoter reaches, As if they knew of distant beaches; and were Dissolved. […]’ “It was a sunny day today, somewhere. And you were there.” ‘[…] even the seeming of a summers day is a description without place. It is a sense […]’ ‘[…] It is a wisened starlight growing young, In which old stars are planets of morning, fresh […]’
‘And what are poets for in a destitute time?’ asks Holderlin. One answer I suspect is that poets in a destitute time are for writing through this destitution: the Father’s death and/or the imprisonment of the Lion. “[quote from something she sent me]”, or ‘Our Father who art in secret’. You have an astonishing way of discovering the obscure without exposing it to view, of offering it in its obscurity. You understand that we can reach the truth only in secret: ‘truth is secret’, and how much you love this secret itself is striking. ‘The Heavenly Father who dwells only in secret’, ” [quote from something she sent me]”, or ‘pray only in secret’. “[quote from something she sent me]”.
And how could he? ‘God’s great crime is to have created us. That is, in what way is it good that I exist and not God alone?’ Your answer, I think, is this, ‘the World, inasmuch as it is entirely empty of God, is God himself. The abandonment in which God leaves us is his own way of caressing us’, His absence is His presence. I think this is your answer because you write “[quote from something she sent me]”. ‘Instead of interruption permitting exchange through the introduction of waiting – interruption somehow interrupts the interruption which is already His presence’ (hidden in the surprising face of the poor, in suffering, in fragility or in “broken-ness”).
This is a very important element of your bearing. In Jewish Faith, I think, there is language because there is something foreign, some Holy Other capable of instructing me as I wait, for the Christian ‘the Kingdom is already present in mystery’ manifesting its presence not through absence, but through the ‘miraculous signs that attend its [absence’s] proclamation’ (‘if we would only, for once, get to where we are already’ […] ‘at hand’). Really, one would not be far off in contending that the “[quote from something she sent me]” is the Church. “[quote from something she sent me]”. I usually purchase used books as it saves money, something I haven’t got a lot of (‘so tread lightly’). Many times, the used books I purchase are marked up.
For instance, my copy of ‘Modern American Poetry’ has markings all through it. Next to the line ‘Petals on a wet, black bough,’ somebody has written ‘metaphor for those faces’: wonderful. It seems to me much complication arises out of a genuine desire to simplify, as in ‘[quote from something she sent me]’ introductory disclaimer. [quote from something she sent me] definition of old time’s sake: “[quote from something she sent me]” Boy George’s definition of old time’s sake: Because time won’t give me time And time makes lovers feel Like they’ve got something real But you and me we know They’ve got nothing but time And time won’t give me time Won’t give me time “[quote from something she sent me]”
If love is the reception of what always escapes it, ‘an opening upon the unexpected, a waiting that is the unwaited of all waiting, then it is not the self that loves in love; rather, with an extreme delicacy and through insensible constant contacts, love is always detached from the self, freeing one as the love that they become’. Nor is love ever about ‘belonging’. ‘Desire for you, being pure, is not a desire to posses you but only to desire you. I know nothing of you, and I desire you too purely to ever appropriate you to myself. I am thus filled by my very desire: I constantly have you when I desire you, since I desire only to desire you and not to have you’ (desire being ‘the thought that thinks more than it is’).
In other words, only to the extent that you could never belong to me, only to the extent that the distance between us is infinite and absolute, even and perhaps especially if I were physically inside of you, do I love you, and it isn’t even me who loves you; rather, I become my love for you and nothing else. “[quote from something she sent me]”, perhaps, but it is sometimes unavoidable. Though you have a very special understanding of [quote from something she sent me] and his relation with ‘what does not belong to him’, as well as the foolishness involved in his waiting, what you miss, and this is important, is the unspeakable pain that is his helpless waiting. If this pain hollows out an infinite gap between things, between [quote from something she sent me] and the girl that is not his, this gap is perhaps what would be most important to bring to expression, all the while leaving it empty, so that to speak out of [quote from something she sent me] fatigue, out of his pain or affliction, is to speak according to the infinite dimension of language’.
Something like this: “[quote from something she sent me]” ‘suffering is a suffering that can no longer be suffered, and because of this non-power, he can not cease suffering it.’ [quote from something she sent me] suffering not only seems special to him, but it is special, it is always special. For [quote from something she sent me], in waiting for the girl that is not his girl, ‘time is as though arrested, merged with its interval. There, the present is without end, separated from every other present by an inexhaustible and empty infinity, the very infinity of suffering, and this disposed of any future: a present without any end yet impossible as a present. The present of suffering is the abyss of the present, indefinitely hollowed out and in this hollowing indefinitely distended, radically alien to the possibility that one might be present to it through the mastery of presence. What has happened? Suffering has simply lost its hold on time’, and has made [quote from something she sent me] lose time.
‘Is he freed in this state from any temporal perspective and redeemed, saved from time as it passes? Not at all: he is delivered over to another time – to time as other, as absence and neutrality; precisely to a time that can no longer redeem him, that constitutes no recourse. A time without event, without project, without possibility; not that pure immobile instant, the spark of the mystics, but an unstable perpetuity in which he is arrested and incapable of permanence, a time neither abiding nor granting the simplicity of a dwelling place’. I did laugh out loud when I read “[quote from something she sent me]”. I could continue, thank you for sending me the writings, if you go to Iowa please tell me, I will come and visit you. “[quote from something she sent me]”
XXXXX, Sometimes it is scary to have moved across the world, even if it is nice out. I’m not very good at making new friends, and sometimes I get sad being alone, but the wind is good, the wind and the rainbows, you remember what Wordsworth said about rainbows? I try really hard to concentrate on what is right in front of me, and to be grateful, but sometimes one can’t help but get that feeling of hopelessness, and I don’t mean to be too serious, but it must be something about moving far away. At first it was exciting, you know, especially the water is so warm, but then I thought ‘why am I here?’ and ‘where am I going?’ and ‘what for?’ and all that boring stuff.
You know, I was really sad you didn’t call me when I was in the same place as you. I was sad because I like the way you write, it is special, and I remember really liking the way your voice sounded, and I think you are very pretty in the photo’s I see of you. And so… I was sad because I didn’t get to see you again, anyways, it was really hot and my face was shiny, and I wouldn’t have wanted to left that impression on you, that is, that I’m the type of guy who has a shiny face! I’m going to miss the fall too, even though there is lots of palm trees here and I can go snorkeling. Most of all, I miss all the people I love, even though I haven’t seen them since I lived in LA. I have never been at a big school like this, a University, I have my own office and they pay me to go here, but still I can’t help but measure it against where I did my undergrad. The nice thing about a University, though, is that there are so many classes: Greek, Latin, differential topology, machine-level computer language, kung-fu, scuba diving, shit, the sky is the limit! I wish I could take all the classes! Well… I’m going to go now… I hope you are good…
[She writes me out of the blue to congratulate me on my ‘engagement,’ which was, of course, just one of those silly things you can do on Facebook, “John is engaged to Pat” or whatever, a friend, you know?]
Dear XXXX, not I’m ‘engaged’ to anyone, it is all just a bit of stupid internet fun, however, I could never
actually marry a European, I think those family vacations where you drive someplace like Yellowstone are too important, and I don’t know what they do over there, the South of France or Dubai or something else European, in any event, I’m pretty sure you can’t buy a Jackelope anywhere in the South of France, so what is the point? I told you, I want to actually marry you, because of that picture of your back, and that you’re one of a kind, and smart, and enthusiastic, and creative, and classy, and special, and not mean, maybe you’ve met lots of people you can say that about but I haven’t, and all of that on-top-of the more boring and shallow but (I feel) nevertheless important considerations. A few weeks ago I killed a big centipede by the elevator, it was really big and purple, with orange legs, I’m a vegetarian but they sting babies all the time, and the way that they sting is really scary, kind of quickly curling over top of themselves, so I threw some phone books at it, I didn’t have anyone to tell, to brag about my courage to, even when I pointed out the carcass of the centipede boastfully to one of my ‘colleagues’ later, he only looked at me with strange unease and said ‘‘that’s great…’ unconvincingly.
I also wanted to tell you that I drive a motorcycle, not a scooter, not one of those plastic weird ones, but a real motorcycle… Philosophy? Good philosophy can sometimes be like a good poem, don’t you think? Not any of that boring analytic stuff, but the good guys. Anybody who looses their sense of goodness in an everyday way isn’t a philosopher! You’re reading the Greeks? I love Plato just a little bit more than Homer, that is, allot! I don’t like Lucretius or Aristotle too much, but I’d take both of them any day over Atomic Theory! John (Still trying to write you a GOOD song)…
I remain certain of your ‘standing-out,’ even still, and across such an abyss. It was never that you preferred this or that, but how you preferred it, how you present yourself, what you’ve sent me. And as each year passes, how ‘out-standing’ you are is only ever marked-out more by everything else. I have not succeeded in writing you anything, especially music, though, one day … I hope to show you, everyone, tremendousness.
[Correspondences missing, but obviously she stops writing to me]
Dog Baby? That is by far the best.
In a joyous tone: I don’t care that you never write me back, and you know why? Because I’m reckless! That’s right! I am reckless! I am a reckless fool and I care not whether and in what way I may or may not look as one! As for timing and class, taking clues and the like, I have no time for clues… No time… I’d be too busy looking at clues instead of Heaven!! Clues! Clues! I gallop triumphantly to and fro!! Picture me: Galloping here and galloping there! Across living rooms and stuff… Knocking shit off of tables and desks! I slap them on their backs to give them cheer upon my invisible steed. Babies sit on the floor open-mouthed, leaving the entertainment of their toys to stare at me in wonder. ‘Don’t cry’ I tell them! ‘It is a good day!’ Now I dump the food on my head, and I frown, but really I’m very happy… Yes… Very happy… And the babies all laugh!! Laughing babies! That really does feed the soul! And now I rollllllll! Do you like to rollllll!? I love to rollllll! I could rolllllll all night… Rolllllling is magnificent…. That small voice, it says to me, ‘don’t delight in rolllllling my friend’ but I ignore it, I love to rolllll in hotel beds especially! Rollllllling here and there, laughing and kicking and rollllllllling….
And I love you! Why did I roll down that hill for you if I didn’t? I rolled and rolled and you were wearing that dress! Some will say ‘It can’t be real’, (not androids because the don’t use contractions) and I will ask ‘then why did I roll down that hill? So fast and with such great speed I rolled! Like a genuine professional hill roller I rolled!’ Others will say, ‘but what is hill rolling anyway! That is nothing!’ And, taking pity on their ignorance as Saint Francis would have, I go somewhere else and I say ‘Ahhh… But I didn’t just rollll! I did a wheelie in my car! That’s right, in my Ford Taurus I did a wheelie, my front wheels raised with such stupendousness they soared to heights! You’ve never seen such a thing! I came up on the back of the car in front of me!’ And then they say ‘still, it is nothing, doing wheelies in a car’ and then I say aside to myself ‘can a man be so wrong? Can he be so wrong and misguided?’
And I stamp my foot and do the toe tap dance, now this foot now that foot, I know I could just pick you up and twirl you, a smile that the lights up the Universe, the whole Universe! That’s why they invented the idea of the Universe! Why else?! I mean, it makes us so dreadfully small, what’s the use!? Light years and all that! Light Years! The nearest star is four light years away! And the galaxy is something like hundred billion light years across and there is something like a hundred billion galaxies, what is the use of all this? one might ask! And I say unashamedly its what’s necessary for your smile to fill, and even then it is overflowed, and of course I don’t mean the muscles and gums and enamel and bone of your head! ‘But you don’t know her spirit’ they say to me… ‘How could you know her spirit?!’ ‘Well,’ I answer, more calmly, more intellectually, ‘I’ve read her words for one thing, and how much closer can you get to someone than language anyways?’ (if that is too unpragmatic, ((I wouldn’t think so, especially to a writer,)) there’s more) I’ve seen her eyes while inside her (which, by the way, (‘by the way’ how great an English thing is ‘by-the-way’) I regret to the extent that it made a mockery of my seriousness) Yes…. Yes!! Call me stupid and stupid but have I ever seen such a sight?!
Never in my life and I have lived with a pack of wild dogs in Athens! Swum in Alpine springs! The Mediterranean of Southern Italy! Conquered old man sea… (I, honestly, thought to myself, ‘My God! This is truly the most beautiful human face I have ever seen!’) One time, in fact, the water in the pacific was too cold, so I got a wet suit, a buoyant wet suit at that, I laughed at old man sea, I said ‘old man sea! You may be cold but that will not stop me from taming you!’ I admit, I cried when he sucked me out in a rip tide, but that is besides the point! The point is I’ve held the hands of dying men! I’ve taken the deepest night inside and reckoned with the great reckoners, and verily, now I glide across the pavement on a blinding summers day with both legs bent at the knee, never touching the ground! I put a nylon on my head a cut a little hole for my lips and I bobble my head around! I said, ‘birds! be quiet!’ and they stopped for me! But in all the cosmos I’ve never seen a sight as XXXXX! You need not believe in requited love at first sight, but grant a genuine unrequited love at first sight! ‘You’re pathetic’ they say to me ‘what an image you have built up in you mind that is so imaginary an unlike anything in real life!’ But then I become a mini-tornado by twirling around with one leg pointed straight out and sail into the heavens back in time before space ships ruined them! I refer to her variously amongst my close associates as ‘the XXXX girl’ ‘the little irish girl who doesn’t write me back’ and ‘the outter space girl’ the last term of endearment being the relevant one…
One phone call, short, interrupted, ‘outer space’ goes through my mind ‘she is really in outer space’ (and that is the best part of space, the ‘outer’ part)! If I could kiss your eyes you would see what a fire! For… Again… This is all I ask… Not to be loved, or even taken seriously, but to be seen, to be seen as I frolic through those empty outdoor night places with the fountains and the lights and the muzak playing softly for no one to hear and thus energizing the night delightfully, to be seen as I get the idea to stop by the bee houses only to run back to my car as they attack me in swarms! To be seen as I see you, in a shopping mall, lighting it up. A shopping mall? Yes, a shopping mall, why not a shopping mall! The trouble you can get into with those carts! In a car, on a long drive, don’t you believe me that your eye could never lose its novelty! Its eternal novelty! Whether in a text but especially on a long drive! Past big grain factories looming on the orange horizon, MAGIC HOUR, past stars and the sea, past smelly animals and mountains. No one I’ve met would say anything like what you would! Can’t you grant me that I know this! Its a dream that seizes me, to spend time all that time with a girl-genius!
Now I will go! But you haven’t heard the last from me! Please remember, all this is meant to be harmless doting, I understand I’m in a world, and I would never do anything really inappropriate or bothersome I hope! I just like to sing about you! I can’t help myself!
XXXXX, Don’t you believe in love at first sight? I don’t know, maybe you wouldn’t love me if you got to know me, I don’t know, the day you tell me to quit bothering you I’ll do it immediately, but you are the most beautiful woman that I have ever met, and you are brilliant too. I know this about you, and that your eyes are beautiful. Your voice is beautiful. Your neck is beautiful. Your poetry is beautiful. Your back is beautiful. Your feet are beautiful. Your forearms are beautiful. Your breath is beautiful. The sound of your breath is beautiful. Your letters to me are beautiful. Your legs are beautiful. Your toes are beautiful. Your hair is beautiful. Your collar bones are beautiful. Your mouth is beautiful. Your smile is beautiful. Your knees are beautiful. Your butt is beautiful. And so on. I know I could add to this list if I knew you better. In the meantime, however, I’ll make you more songs, I promise, and I think it is a shame I don’t live close to you, because I would take you to wherever you wanted, and I would open doors for you, offer you my arm when walking, open chairs for you, watch my mouth, and so on!
You’re still the most beautiful woman in the world.
Truly, it never ceases to amaze me how perfectly beautiful you are in those photographs. It is like getting punched in the stomach every time you put a new one up. I look at them and they make me wish we lived in Mongol hordes instead of America, you know?, so I could just give your father all the whale blubber I had in exchange for your dowry!
The next time you get a chance, watch a bird hop around on the ground, its really funny.
This may or may not interest you, probably not, I do not know. For some reason that makes little sense to me, that irritates me even, I think about you. “It is her poetic sensibility” I tell myself “both rare and beautiful, tremendous!” Sometimes I have dreams about you, sometimes we kiss, but mostly we just go for walks together, at night. Day to day, when something happens, however stupid this might sound, I want to tell you about it. When I fantasize about the future, about spending it with someone, a fantasy that becomes less and less likely the more and more I find myself as ill designed for it, I can imagine no one, no figure more perfect than you to share this with. Before you frown in disgust at my presumption, as I do, and regularly, ask yourself, would it really have been impossible for me to glean your singularity regarding taste and femininity, intelligence and demeanor, humor and creativity, from such a brief encounter? An encounter! An event, and in the most profound sense.
Perhaps this is inappropriate of me, especially given, at least I hope, that you are presently engaged in what is the most magnificent of romantic affairs. Rest assured, I only want to tell you that I think about you, that I dream about you, and that you remain an inappropriable question, something I seem unable to explain away, as comforting as that would be. In my experience, there are very few truths that present themselves like this, as something one could infinitely converge upon and never finally reach. And so, my intentions are simply to share this thought with you, if only as a mere decoration for your otherwise full and happy life, if only as a small compliment like “Gee… That sure is a nice lady hat you are wearing…” And selfishly too, because this provides me some sublimation, however cheap.
If you would spare me, the solution is simple. Tell me that the highest good in life is self gratification; or tell me that there is nothing beyond the present, the surface, and its fashions. Tell me the crowd is always right, and that you prefer their company and their praise above all else. Tell me that seriousness is always misguided, and that parties and clamor mean much more than any “dark night of the soul.” Tell me thinking is always bad, or that NYC is better than an open field. Tell me the organism is more important than the body, or that there is no body. Tell me the poem can be completely understood with respect to power, that the poem does not reach across every culture and every time. Tell me the Passion was nothing but a bad bit of comedy, or that we have nothing to learn from Plato. Tell me commitment is wrong, babies aren’t cute, making love is boring, that there is no sublimity, that you’d never rub anyone’s feet, that Hegel was only a pedant, that dogs aren’t funny, that you don’t believe in love at first sight (even if unrequited), you hate long drives, or whatever … Tell me any of this and I’ll be spared. Oh XXXX, I hope this doesn’t bother you too much, or put a bad taste in your mouth, just let me tell you how beautiful you are, how amazing.
Hey XXXX, I had to take some photos for this promotional video thing, and so, since I had my camera out, I decided to take some photos for you, who knows why, anyways, here you go: www.youtube.comwatch?v=bQ072IaUFc4
XXXXX, why don’t you EVER write me back?
All of that garbage is what remains of my letters to her. By the time she wrote me back in 2011, I had already completed my transformation into another animal entirely. As stupid and as obvious as it should be from the juvenile letters I cringe at reading, I /really was/ under the delusion that I had met the person I would eventually spend the rest of my life with that night. Today I am no longer under that delusion. Today I have consigned myself to the certainty that I will spend my life alone. I could never, under any circumstances, ask anyone to endure the kind of selfish defects I am given to. Anyone who would be willing to do such a thing anyways, could not possibly be anything but sycophantic, and as we all know, there can never be any real romantic love where there is master and slave, but only where there is master and master tarrying with each other.
No Ric, today I no longer believe this is an option for me at all. But with this girl I did truly believe. There was a girl there, after the show that night, and we spent time together. I saw into her eyes. I heard her voice. I listened to what she was saying. Much of what she said I found surprising. She was a surprise…. I believed her, in the sexual sense or whatever, and despite what I said above I still do suppose that I really did believe, believe that this person held the secret, the ‘feminine’ secret of enjoyment or whatever it is that is necessary for the romantic encounter, the event of love, the ‘scene of the two’ as they say.
But how is such an event possible where and when [one] has already begun to understand that it can ultimately be referred back to a male homosexual symbolic order? I mean, I really do believe that what I saw in her was, as I said, another thing than the enjoyment bound to the reality principle, that it wasn’t simply a matter of imagining that if I had her it would make my phallic presence seem all the more larger in the eyes of other men, but who knows? There is certainly an obvious symptomatic element involved in pursuing someone unavailable for so long. But then, I didn’t share her letters with you, and I really did feel as if I encountered something other in each of them. I want to make perfectly clear that I believe, and very much so, in the importance and perhaps even supremacy of agape as a form of love. The love due, and rightly so, anything which might bear a potentiality within itself: in our fellows just as much as anything else, bad faith or not, ‘let me be guilty before the birds.’
I mention this, then, because I’ve always imagined romantic love is another kind of love entirely, a love characterized perhaps, amongst other things, in that it isn’t due anything and everything. I really am too exhausted now, Ric, after all this blabber, to start busting out the graph of desire, the psychanalytics of love, and all that, but love is a traumatic thing. There is that quote from Attali’s famous book that puts it so nicely in terms of music, “A great musical work is always a model of amorous relations, a model of relations with the other…” Any piece of music—and here I am suspending the many thoughtful critiques that would already have it otherwise—can be appreciated in terms of its libidinal intensity. And so all these thoughtful critics should forgive us when such an appreciation tempts us into thinking we’re witness to the sexual being of whatever piece’s composer, if not at least the sexual being of that composer’s objective historical situation, even if this is only some narcissistic fantasy about ourselves, or even if thinking about such things whatsoever misses so many more important marks altogether.
I remember years ago reading Susan McClary’s popular book, whose subject was along these lines… I think about friends of mine who make music, Ariel Pink, Geneva Jacuzzi, Panda Bear. At least on one level I see a perfect correspondence between the sonic mediacy of the work and seeming libidinal constitutions of the figures responsible for setting them forth. What is it these figures desire in general? What world do they imagine? Of course it could be that questions along these lines remain much more important or potentially productive of a thought, but even so, we can still ask “What is it they desire sexually?” “To what extent did they make it through the Oedipal drama perversity free?”
But, of course, it needn’t all be sexual in such an explicit sense. For example, when we talk about a music’s sensuality, we might also have this idea of the caress, of being caressed by the music. What am I rambling about here? A hug from Panda Bear is in many ways like the experience of his music, I suppose no more so than is real look from his eyes. A hug from Gary War, a firm pat, one that is meant, is in many ways like the experience of his music, even if the music itself tells us just as much or more about so many other things. A Geneva Jacuzzi song gives you every idea of how, exactly, she would devour. Ariel Pink’s music, and his in his case just as much lyrically as sonically, is shot through with the sorrows and anxieties singular to his own singular psychosexual development, what type of sexual partner he desires, even as it does so many other perhaps more important things, I can still say, the absolute sorrow and longing one hears amidst the harmonic spectra of a song like Among Dreams, is just as rare a thing as the glimpse I saw in his eyes one day as he waited… And then the whole scatological thing….
And so I’ve gone on about sexuality and music, about sensuality and music, with full acknowledgement, however, that doing so is in many ways reactionary, or in many ways part and parcel with all those reactionary projects which would refuse to us our potential to create new practices of enjoyment far and away from these old fashioned and almost always entirely complicit ‘genital’ ones. If we really are interested at all in a joussaince that would not be encroached upon by the signifier … ‘beyond the reality principle’ … we do nothing to approach it by speaking as I have here. Who would read Lacan today and do so without some Shulgin beside him? Every single page of PiHKAL and TiHKAL evince the immediate and positive dimension of the organism in its Real, the very possibility of the body creatively mobilizing the otherwise inaccessible organism that is its substrate.
To my mind at least, Daniel W. Smith, in that journal article of his, already showed the ways in which these ridiculous book-length caricatures which have been made of Deleuze would in no way follow the spirit of Lacan. And as if Kittler hadn’t done as much already pointing to the modifications of the Real involved such things as slowing down the playback speed of a gramophone. Following the critical turn has always meant, for me at least, not that the things themselves were absolutely inaccessible, but rather that their mediate appearance is bound to conditions of possibility. This is what I don’t understand about these recent books, which claim we need to somehow overcome that turn and return to things themselves. They were always already there anyways! But again, new possibilities are open today regarding the ways in which we might begin to creatively interact with these things. The biological substrate of the Symbolic is opened up here as something the body might creatively participate with. To insist otherwise is also an apolitical refusal to acknowledge that it is this dimension /precisely/ that the Enemy seems so intent on dominating to its own ends.
I will stop with all these speculations now. As you can imagine, I am beyond the point of giddiness this many pages in… And so, in closing now, there is one night, an encounter as radical as any you will ever have in your life, and besides this, an encounter you tragically come to find was yours alone, nothing of it shared by this other who in your eyes was its very foundation. Of course she visited my dreams. And there is always that terrible sadness upon waking, a sadness with which I am sure we are all familiar…. Love, Art, Thought – these events, if and when they are a radical track through the situation, re-anchor the entire fabric of existence. Try and make a radical love just as you would a radical song, or a radical mathematical solution. Never just settle. I loved her, surely I did. My third and perhaps final love. Enough. Enough. Enough.