Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Cymbal #25:: Nihil ex nihilo

It's been raining in the capital. The roads are washed out. Traffic moves in glitches. Cars are thick smears of paint on a painter's palette, like butter or  jam, waiting to be scraped and smoothed into their background. You've called in to say you'll be late. You've called everyone you could, including people people who aren't sympathetic. Fights are starting and stopping under flyovers. The only beneficiaries are the trees, which have been touched up and have seemingly grown.

On a morning like this, nothing sounds appropriate. Hip hop's bravado echoes irritatingly; metal has too much space to impale itself; happy music sounds silly; classic rock sounds staged and pompous; ambient things cause foot tapping. Needless to say, you can torch all the radio stations. This is the weather for dirges.

Amnesiac is usually written off as Radiohead's least album- a clutch of out-takes and continuations, ribbons of tape left over form the Kid A sessions.

Radiohead - Pyramid Song - 2001

Maybe this is the song that dolphins and mermaids sing to drowning sailors. The compass points are all in place. The two rivers of mystery cults: the Lethe, falling into which is the forgetting of the things you knew, and the Mnemosyne, which is the remembering of all things. Are you doomed to this same territory even in the next life?

Perhaps this is what you deserve for the venality of your days, the sins of omission and acquiescence you commit, the invisible victims of your lack of judgment. Every day you shuffle paper and kill trees. Your car poisons the birds out of the air. The fools you elected in the spring are busy stabbing each other in the autumn, waving finger puppets as standards.

Radiohead - Knives Out - 2001

Worse yet, you know it, don't you? Can't you feel it build up in the wings of your mind? How long will you keep it at bay?

In Kid A and Amnesiac, Radiohead presented the complete state of the afterlife, as known. It may be gnomic and luminescent. It may be Buddhist and empty even of emptiness. It may be none of your business.

Radiohead - Life in a Glass House - 2001

Thom Yorke hangs between exasperation and wistfulness when he sings "Well of course I'd love to sit around and chat/ well of course I'd love to sit and chew the fat", with the indecision of a man who's gathered his coat and opened the door to see the storm still raging. The violence of everyday persists; we are all still hungry for a lynching.

What does it take to turn a horn section that could have come from a jazz bar in the 1920s into this distilled essence of lethargy? This is music to be played by graveyard caretakers. Those sweet magisterial blasts of horn score the time it takes for things to decay, fruit to rot, the noses to fall off corpses. Like the triumph of a funeral procession, it sweeps the joy from the streets.

No one else is to blame. You have brought this upon yourself.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Cymbal #24:: Forty Years Since Woodstock

It's a good day to assess your relationship with classic rock. It's been exactly 40 years since ground zero for the "Sixties" as a creation, as package of phenomena and emotion, even an extract of the spectrum. Viz.: Max Yasgur - unlikely countercultural hero, a raison d'etre for classic rock stations, beads and tie dye and vans, a way for every damn festival anywhere to get uppity.

The problem is that, musically, there's the hint of a doubt that it was just a bit run of the mill, wasn't it? The music had long been released. The greatest bands of the decade had already been to Monterey and to Altamont. Are you sure we aren't reverse engineering the event to get to the music?

The alleged high point of the festival is that cover of "A Little Help From my Friends". In my opinion, it strips the song of it's sly deviance on one hand and its neediness, and replaces it with the anonymous warmth and shriekiness of an arena rock song. It falters in at least three places, emphasizes nothing in particular and has that hideous falsetto going on. And some spastic air guitar.

Joe Cocker - With a Little Help From My Friends

Which digs pretty close to the root of my problem with the "Sixties" qua mythos. It's a warm pablum mashup of love and drugs and irresponsibility. And above all, the endless self congratulation. It's great to drop out and tune in, but one day you might realise you've named a daughter (or worse, a son) Galadriel. The local kidergarten will likely express concern.

Crossby, Stills and Nash - A Long Time Gone

Real magic, and real rock and roll, have evil in them, and hunting and violence and anger. Listen to the drums in the distance, hearts pound at the atavism. Someone must bleed at the stake for the sun to rise.

Santana - Soul Sacrifice

And not I, nor anyone, can deny electricity it's place in the universe.

Jimi Hendrix - Voodoo Child

If you asked me point blank, and gave me no room to weasel, then yes, I'd admit it. I wish I had been there. I wish I had spent those days in the mud watching belief turn the pages of the generational calender. Since I couldn't, I must nitpick. :-)
And of course, a happy Independence Day to all Indian readers!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Cymbal #23:: Stories and Videos

Sometimes spareness is actually poverty. Lost for long in choppy seas, you miss lush string arrangements, long phrases and above all, songs which tell stories. Stories require a setting of moods, a dimming of lamps, a shared visual context. And conversely, stories afford you instrumental freedom, lend it a range in which to be understood by species which communicates primarily in words.

Fairport Convention - Hiring Fair - 1985

Sometimes the element of a story need not be things happening one after another. A story is just a way of looking at events - a sense of pacing. Even references can import the sense of story telling - "You were Calamity Jane and I was Wild Bill".

The Magnetic Fields - Two Characters in Search of a Country Song - 1994

At times, going round the circle, you will be asked to tell your story.

Yo La Tengo - Here to Fall - 2009

Aren't the planes mesmerizing?
Been workin', been travellin', sitting on my suitcase and playing my harmonica in lonely distant terminals. Pardon the gap.