That's My Jam: White Courtesy Telephone Please

I'm not sure if this is a good thing or not -- but as I was waking up this morning with coffee and blogs and TV and whatever, I came across a quote that made me think of that painting that always reminded me of that one part in Laurie Anderson's 1984 performance art concert/movie "Home of the Brave" where former Frank Zappa/King Crimson/Talking heads sideman Adrian Belew is sitting in the middle of the stage playing his guitar with a knife and a fork.
Good evening,
This is your Captain.
We are about to attempt a crash landing.
Please extinguish all cigarettes.
Place your tray tables in their upright, locked position.
Performance art as a whole (especially in the 80's) is a befuddling thing -- because almost by it's very nature the vast majority of it is just ridiculous crap. And yet, if you can get yourself into the right frame of mind or you understand what the artist is protesting enough to actually be mad about it yourself to some degree you can find yourself actually buying into it.

The problem is that to in order to do that you usually have to sit through far too many wackjobs hopping around the stage whipping themselves with chicken feathers and rolling around in fake blood shouting out the names of various government agencies first -- which means by the time you actually find someone worth listening to, you've usually just sorta written the whole concept off as stupid.
Your Captain says: Put your head on your knees.
Your Captain says: Put your head on your hands.
Captain says: Put your hands on your head. Put your hands on your hips..

This is your Captain-and we are going down.
We are all going down, together.
I remember a sound gig I did once at Theater Jacksonville -- it was this monthly thing we did for local bands and artists, which occasionally revealed some hidden awesome talents this town had at the time (Arvid Smith, The Crawfish of Love, Rein Sanction, Big Air, etc.) where after two OK but largely forgettable local bands came out and played rock songs -- a guy came out on stage and did this poem about the suffering of animals while he poured a bag of potting soil on his head.
And I said: Uh oh -- This is gonna be some day.
I'm sure it was supposed to have some sort of deeper meaning and all, but speaking from the perspective of the guy who had to sweep all that shit up off the floor before we could set up for Artimus Pyle's set -- it was nothing more than pretentious noise that made me want to go buy as many fast food hamburgers as I possibly could.
Laurie Anderson is different.
First of all, she wasn't just some hippie burnout with a cross to burn and a need to shout at local audiences. She was an accomplished artist, musician, and poet. Her work was more universal, and even as it frequently spoke to specific issues -- it was always entertaining in a unique, off-center sort of way.
Think Bjork -- but like 25 years earlier and with a much broader focus on
mixing music, visual art, and theatrical interpretation into a single vision.
Anderson's unique solo performances throughout the 70's earned her the attention of John Giorno (a contemporary and friend of Andy Warhol's) which led to albums featuring William Burroughs, and a relationship with Lou Reed that eventually turned to marriage. She's worked with Peter Gabriel, Phillip Glass, John Cage, members of King Crimson, and even Andy Kaufman.

And yet, even with all this going for her -- it's still performance art. She's not the type for chicken blood or insane tirades -- but for the uninitiated her work still usually comes off as two hours of people in tutus and sombreros wearing neon face paint under blacklights jumping around like weirdos.
Uh.. this is your Captain again.
You know, I've got a funny feeling I've seen this all before.
Why?
Cause I'm a caveman.
Why?
Cause I've got eyes in the back of my head.
Why?
It's the heat.
Or to put it another way -- It's not something you can just casually toss at most people and say, "You'll love this, it's awesome."

If you get a chance, try to find "Home of the Brave" on DVD. Seeing the whole thing is an experience. It also helps bring you into the story as a whole -- which unfortunately showing you one or two songs from the collection can't really do effectively (especially if you're not use to her particular style).
This is the time.
And this is the record of the time.
This is the time.
..And this is the record of the time.
At it's best her songs have a waking dream quality to them. Like you're stumbling out of sleep with only fragments of the story you were a part of in your slumber, mixed with the staccato repetition of musical themes -- like an alarm clock you can't quite reach to turn off, only to find that when you finally do clear the cobwebs to realize that it was all just in your head -- you're actually already in a world that is much, much stranger.
Put your hands over your eyes. Jump out of the plane.
There is no pilot. You are not alone.
Here's one of my favorites of hers -- From The Air.
I'm sure I'm not the only one out there who's library has one or two artists who they couldn't just introduce to their friends without a little preparation first. That sort of "out-there" album you adore, but can't really explain why without going into some long-winded explanation about the things that you were interested in that led you to that one album with the cool cover art that was so bizarre that you couldn't help but laugh at it the first few times you listened to it -- only to grow into a deeper appreciation and love for it as time went by..
So, who are some of yours?

[Listening to:  Laurie Anderson - "Sharkey's Night" ]

Comments

unMuse said…
einsturzende neubauten.

oh people have heard the name and even recognize the logo, but that's about it besides, "you know, that weird experimental german band". My attempts to introduce anyone has only been met with blank stares and most likely internal questions about my sanity.
Satorical said…
Trying to get anyone to listen to Devo's music beyond Whip It is like pulling teeth. The band has a will to annoy that shares a spirit with Johnny Rotten's habit of spitting on the floor no matter where he is.

Netflix has the first five seasons of SNL on Instant Watching now, and I went back and watched Devo's 1978 appearance. The second piece is Jocko Homo, and that song is just aggressively weird. You could tell that a lot of the audience's applause is of the relieved variety. At the end of the show, none of the SNL cast says hi to the band; they kind of look at them and dismiss them in the way people do in meat market bars.

Yet for those who give the band a serious listen (and watch their crazy videos), theres a fantastic screed on idotic consumerism that predates even the "Greed is Good" 80s.
whatigotsofar said…
Generally, I dislike anything that is "weird for the sake of weird."

The weirdest stuff I've been able to "put up with" are:
- The 60 minute feedback loop that is Lou Reed's Metal Machine Music.
- I seem to remember Art of Noise being relevant to me back when I was seven or eight years old, but when I went back to it in later years to listen to them again, I didn't get it, not one bit. Weird is sometimes more tolerable when you're too young to know it's weird.
- I know I'm going to take some flak for saying this one, but seriously, if it wasn't so well done and actually mildly popular, Jackyl's Lumberjack should be pretty fucking weird. It's a guy on stage revving a chainsaw. What part of that is normal?
- Not that I ever really dug this album, but the Alan Parsons Project's first record was a musical interpretation to some various works of Edgar Allen Poe. Maybe it just sounds weird because it was so poorly done, but dammit it's weird.
- And there is/was this band in Canada called The Salads. The music was pretty tame. Canadian says it all, right? Ska/punk/crap whatever you wanna call it. The music wasn't weird, but there was this guy in the band. I never saw him contribute either vocally or with an instrument, but he was always on stage and in the videos dancing. It's like you've got a list of band members and next to each name is their function. Guy 1 guitars, Guy 2 drums, Guy 3 merry jig. I find that incredibly weird.
whatigotsofar said…
Oh, and Todd Rundgren.
Werdna said…
Any J-pop needs some prep when played for Americans.

I mean I could crank Brilliant Green all day but it isn't everyone elses bag.

Some novelty stuff needs introduction as well, like Dr. Octogon.
Hex said…
unmuse -- those pesky Germans and their electronica. Kraftwerk gets a similar response I think (but I think in their case its because they tend to sound dated).

Satorical -- I think the real key with Devo (because I was the right age to think of them as Whip It only as well for a while) was to see them live (or watch live performance footage). There's a lot more to that band than people think. Revisionist pop culture history sucks.

WIGSF -- I love me some art of noise, but much like Laurie Anderson's work (which I put on a much higher plane) I kinda have to be in the right mood/mental place to go there. Perhaps it's just my metalhead background that makes it that way, but as much as I like my off-center stuff-- it's not usually everyday listening, unless it's some kind of crossover between styles -- like Mr. Bungle (whom I adore).

Also -- I think you're leaving out an important part of the possible Jackyl Lumberjack/chainsaw song -- and I say this as someone who's worked on a sound crew that did a performance they were a part of -- is that the dude usually did that part of the show NAKED.

Chainsaws + Danglage = not normal.

But if you're into chainsaws as part of the whole mood setting thing, might I suggest you check out GWAR? They like to use them on stage too, except they usually use them to cut up full body prosthetics of politicians and religious figures, complete with fountains of spurting blood. Sounds gross, but trust me -- It's AWESOME.

Werdna -- I love me some Brilliant Green. Shonen Knife, Larc En Ciel, Yoko Kanno. All that stuff. But I agree, it usually needs a little prefacing. Kind of a shame, really.
shaina said…
I love art of noise...pretty sure one of my ex boyfriends jacked my Who's Afraid of (The Art of Noise) cd. SO UPSET.

Lately, I'm listening to sick amounts of Shogu Tokumaru. And some serious mongolian shit.

Oh, and Soap and Skin.
polkatronixx said…
Hugo Largo - Drum. I guess it's an EP (or mini-album), but same difference. And the singer was a performance artist of sorts, I believe.

And pretty much anything by the Fall before 1984, though I think people who don't like the Fall are just people who don't understand anything about music!

(This is Adam... I have no idea why it won't let me just use my name instead of my google ID).