and I Can't Get Up...

Page 15

splitfinger ...John Fahey then? (Christ I can't remember everything) but here is Fahey in '67 on acoustic guitars creating an amazing mix of folk and classical and blues solo pick-and-strum that sounds like it was recorded yesterday. Then I'm remembering and ask "wasn't it some recently discovered recordings of Fahey that [Ohio] played for us a few months back (Burning Rhythms of Haiti on the way there) when he turned to us and said 'you are the fifth person in the world to hear these.'" (And then he explained and confirmed this as truth by describing how they had been found and naming the first four and I sat there feeling honored and amazed.) Well yes it is, and I remember that it sounded so authentic to me—like the hundreds of backporch/ prison-cell/ cottonfield recordings cut in the early decades of the century by all those creators whose songs were later absconded by Zeppelins and Heats and Years After whence it all started spelling product instead of art, the former being easier to make a profit on in a playing field being stripped more and more every day of all detail and distinction—that I could not have told the difference. Here now was a young guitar aficionado who could perfectly capture the feel and style of his influences while still maintaining his individuality.

The next thing I learn in this school is that here we have the precursor to that limpid sac of tepid swill now known as "New Age." Now I don't mean to imply that an entire field of music fits into this or any other critical hand... I'm just being catty. As with anything else, perhaps 10 to 15 percent (and here the liberal in me leaps to the fore) of a given arena of endeavor shall be considered to add to and extend that arena, while the remaining percentile shall be the rank and shallow pool of commercial effluent that floods the marketplace in an embarrassing attempt to soak every last dollar out of our gullible pockets, and in the middle of which that worthwhile augmenter bobs its struggling head in an attempt to at least be noticed, and perchance given a fraction of the attention that it actually deserves. (How many rock fans listen to Lloyd Cole? How many jazz fans listen to Cecil Taylor? How many country boys and girls pay attention to k d Lang? This is the beginning of a book-long list.) So Kenny G and Madonna and Garth Brooks get the big push by the marketplace because they are (without any judgement being made about entertainment value) simplistic, unchallenging, and driven by clichè—the constant repetition of and slightest changes made to what we feverishly bought two hours ago. And of course if we listen to the same thing, basically, all of the time, we become physically incapable of hearing anything else. It takes the form of a commercially imbued "sense" of tone-deafness.

curveball Parallel Bar: I once wrote that the fact that I was unable to listen to Charles Ives' Fourth Symphony during breakfast was no fault of the composer's. That be true. It is an intense and beautiful work that I as listener am unable to cope with at 7:00 am. My fault. Then there's the visual corollary, the thing about some galoot eyeing a painting by Picasso or Motherwell or Chagall and making that "missed connection" sound, that "commentary based in unknowing," blurting HEY MY FOUR-YEAR-OLD KID COULD PAINT THAT GOOD!! A loudly revealing statement that is so far removed from a whole world of perspectives on art and the influences of creativity. So hidden away. How'd we get like this? How obvious an error, to not realize that anyone with any grounding whatsoever in art history could easily pick a Picasso out of a grouping of four million kid's drawings because they know what they're looking at, their eyes are bigger—because more wide open—and similarly there are folks with bigger ears. I can't imagine what it would be like to have no awareness of the weight of cultural history behind the movements of the new and radical, no clue that the world of humankind and its exploding volumes of encyclopedic knowledge knows better, that the individuals who struggle to connect with whatever details they can reach in this brief life needs to cultivate an attitude of humility in the face of all that they do not know and understand, as opposed to the common scorn we heap upon all that is unfamiliar. (...see what I mean? Questions: Where the hell am I going? / What the hell is this? Answers: I won't know until I get there. / How can I tell if it changes so much while I'm doing it?)

splitfinger Yeah, well— so generally speaking they took the folk/classical thing from Fahey and friends, brushed a thin coat of corn syrup onto its surface, reached down its throat and ripped out its blues chords (its soul) and its dissonance (its spine), so that what remains is a gelatinous mass that sounds irrepressibly and relentlessly pretty because it has surface attraction as opposed to depth of beauty. So we're listening and a few skronk chords go by, a few bent notes and bluesy-wavers, and I'm told "See, that, that... or that... does not show up on New Age records nowadays." Because they are complex, because they are expansive in both aural and emotive quality, because it doesn't sound like the cliché it's'posed to, because they view us with contempt and consider us stupid and deem us matte, featureless, a lowest common denomination with brains the size of capers, and sadly this has been going on for so long that they have in part created what they wanted, which was a mass, susceptible to their market. And folks it is much easier to market 40 songs if you can convince everyone that they are Tops than it would be to market all of the beauty in song that wafts o'er this wild wild world at any given moment.

"The maestro says it's Mozart / But it sounds like bubblegum..."

—Leonard Cohen, Waiting for the Miracle.

curveball Fahey on one cut plays a rare Bacon and Day guitar, and gosh it sounds unlike any guitar I've ever heard and then I learn that it was a famed banjo company that only made guitars during one year of its existence and I think that, given enough time with this sound, and not a single hint, I would have eventually come up with exactly that to explain it. Pass that test. And recently Fahey was living at the Salvation Army in Portland, Oregon, but maybe not today since Rhino just released a double CD "best of" and hopefully that wasn't one of the guitars he had to hawk while waiting for someone to remember him. And all this has us sidestepping to...

The Incredible String Band? This stuff now, which I have never heard before, sounds like... Like Gilbert & Sullivan, holy cow!, like something you'd hear in a Hollywood movie about tall ships setting sail during the nineteenth century, two long-tressed troubadours with puffy sleeves and bad hats perched on barrels on the busy dock, singing and strumming. Not like it would've sounded in real life mind you—definitely some kind of version of something else. Then you listened to the words, and you'd get spun fast forward into '67 London after a long and invigorating night out, and the whackiness would of course have you scrambling for...

splitfinger The Bonzo Dog Band? And no I never really heard this either but right away I guess "so they were listening to the Mothers weren't they?" and the lights go on and the buzzers go off as I learn that in fact this album was a parody of the Mothers. Imagine that! Then more of the humor thing and it turns out that Neil Innes, a Dog Band member, can be seen clomping coconuts together in Monty Python and had gone on to musicate for them and—the strands! The strands! And a line in a song, a call and response pops out: "Oh really? No, O'Reilly," and I've heard that line it's from a crazed baseball tune sung by Danny Kaye that I've been listening to and thinking of transcribing for this, coming back from twenty-five years ago to tweak me further and do you see this, how these doors open up? This is how it goes the trail is like a tight-wound gut string and on every point along the way where you deposit your memories from this thing or the last thing, whenever you pass that spot where it lives or hit one later on that has a relation to it—it sets all of its connecting intervals humming with the surprise and pleasure of remote recognition, so that when I hear a strange three-chord progression in some '30s folk tune it might conjure seven places where I had heard its influence in the ensuing decades, and it builds for me the vision of an infinite and glistening web that I begin to read more easily all the time, and its form coming clearer always is what I'm after, no end to it, no resolution possible, just keeping that tasty cheese coming, that high heat, that one-thing-after-another overwhelm me if you can. This world wearing its influences on its sleeve the way I wear my heart on mine. How many corners of this shimmering place can I go crazy trying to keep up with? And here I spy cut seven, "The Bride Stripped Bare by 'Bachelors'"—and it's almost too much, a paraphrase of the most famous piece by my favorite artist, Marcel Duchamp, and the cords, they begin to quiver... then a line of lyrics in the air, singing: "Sometimes the pattern is more obvious..."

curveball And this evening begins to wind to a close, the walls of recordings wavering in front of us, and someone says: "We've never had this before." Meaning this trail, this pathway, this knot configuration—"On a typical evening back then," he adds, "I'd listen to all this stuff and maybe some Mothers of Invention, some Firesign Theatre, Lenny Bruce, some Leadbelly..." wrapping it up, gathering it all in, looking back at where we'd just been...

"'Why,' said the Dodo, 'the best way to explain it is to do it.'"

—Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland.

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